A Response to @Richardolsen on Coding

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A few weeks ago, Steve Box put out a question on Twitter:

A lengthy debate ensued over the following days.

To be honest, this was a question that I had been thinking about myself for a while. Although I am a big believer of the power and potential of technology to make deep learning more doable, as Bill Ferriter would put it, that everyone should learn the same set of skills seems to me to lack purpose and clarity. I have taught different classes involving code over the  years, from Gamemaker to Lego Mindstorms. I have also had students explore different languages as a part of their own investigations. What stands out though in reflection is that everyone took something different from the process for everyone had a different purpose. The question remains then what does it mean for everyone to learn to code.

I wrote my initial post to outline my thoughts in the hope for some sort of debate. Sadly, although it continued in part on Twitter, the dialogue lacked depth. That was until Richard Olsen’s post. Moving beyond the usual explanations around workplace skills and the ability to build apps, Olsen suggests that coding is a core skill in the modern learning environment. Influenced by the seminal work of Seymour Papert, he asserts that it is coding and the digital workspace that allows students to learn real maths skills, to test hypothesis, to play with different situations. Going further, Olsen suggests that such a learning environment allows the following:

  1. Feedback-Rich Learning
  2. Reuse-Rich Learning
  3. Opinionated Learning
  4. Continuously Evolving Learning

What stood out to me was how this environment would look in many schools today?

For example, sites like GitHub and WordPress allow people to ‘fork’ code to make their own creations. These are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to open source software. However, for a range of reasons, schools usually embrace locked down tools and software, such as iPads and learning management systems. Just as continuous evolution of curriculum is not always desirable in education, nor is the idea of students being able to hack programs for their own use. We only need to look at the case of iPads in California. Such decisions though come at a cost.

We are faced with the challenge of either being able to program or be programmed (to remix from Doug Belshaw). That is where we either control the environment in which we exist or allow others to control it for us. What though does this look like in schools? In a Prep class? When should students own their own domain? Is it enough to go through such spaces as Edublogs? Or should we be encouraging students to use such sites as Known or WordPress.org, which allow them to make their own changes to whatever they like.

So in the end, the real issue is not coding, rather it is control and the dilemmas around embracing modern learning. Like teaching inquiry without relinquishing curiosity to students, Do we actually do more harm than good in teaching code in an environment that ignores the opinionated and continuously evolving nature of coding. We then need to refocus our attention on pedagogy and the problem at hand before we start taking medicine for the wrong problem.

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#WalkMyWorld #LE1 – Where I Begin

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Engage in visual meaning making using still and moving images by sharing selfie or icon that represents you and your journey.


I’ve lost track of the amount of people who have complained that I do not look anything like what I do in my avatar. Some are shocked that I am not 50 or do not have a beard. Others question whether it is professional enough.The irony is that I chose the image because it was a portrayal of how someone else saw me.

A few years ago, when I was still working in Kerang, I was asked if I minded having my photograph taken for students to use in the creation of portraits. I said yes. A few weeks later a student dropped off a bunch of portraits to staff. I have no idea who created it, nor what that original looked like.

I still wonder if I should change my avatar. What does it mean to be professional in an online environment. I am really not sure. So what about you? What are your thoughts? As always, comments welcome.

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REVIEW: Learning with e’s by @stevewheeler

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In Learning With E’s, Steve Wheeler paints a picture of theory and practise in the digital age.  Covering everything from measurement, personalisation, curriculum and architecture, it is a book of questions to be considered, rather than a list of off the shelf solutions to be applied.

With the ability to clearly summarise some of the most complicated concepts, I wondered while reading where this book was when I was training. Yet that misses something important. Although Wheeler draws on a long history when it comes to engaging with learning technologies, this is a book clearly situated in the present. Whether it be the discussion of heutagogy, potential of mobile learning or changes in literacies, it provides a platform from which to explore further.

In the end, what is most significant about Wheeler’s book is that first and foremost it is a book about learning, told through the lens of technology and change. It is a great introduction for any teacher trying to make sense of modern learning.

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Going Beyond 1:1 Devices

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The dream of many when it comes to technology in the classroom is for 1-to-1 devices (actually for some it is 1-to-many). However, for whatever reasons, this is not always the case. (See for example Bill Ferriter’s attempt to raise funds for cheap Chromebooks for his classroom.) Therefore, sometimes we need to be resourceful and think of a different solutions. Here then are some thoughts on different activities that help rethink the use of technology to support learning.


The ideal situation is having each student with a device. This provides a means for all students to be actively engaged in learning. Here are some suggestions of activities:

  • Making and Creating: There are so many different ways to publish work, whether it be typing up a story, making a slideshow, creating a digital poster, recording an audio or videoing a presentation. Maybe it is using Microsoft Office or Google Apps, what application used depends on what device you are using and what you are trying to achieve.
  • Communicating and Collaborating: One of the greatest benefits of 1:1 situation is the potential to connect and collaborate. This can take many forms, whether it be openly engaging with different ideas and information within various virtual spaces, such as Edmodo, Global2 and Google Classroom, or collaborating via applications such as Answergarden, Google Apps and Piratepad.
  • Sharing and Reflecting: There are many ways to share and reflect. Socrative allows a mixture of predefined quizzes and on-the-fly questioning. Similar to Socrative, Kahoot! provides the means to create game-based quizzies. For a different way of sharing, Verso provides the means to engage in a safe environment anonymously. In regards to surveys and reflections, Google Forms provides for a range of options and a useful summary of responses when finished.  While Padlet provides a simple way to collect and share ideas and information.

Group Work

Not every activity necessarily needs 1:1 devices. There are often benefits to sharing devices, especially when working collaboratively. Whether it be Sigatra Mitra’s 1:4 or Donald Clark’s suggestion of 1:3 or simply 1:2 as the YVeLC pushed. Here are some suggestions:

  • Collaborative Presentation: Although presentations can be done individually, they can also be created with others. For example, students can use Audacity to record and edit a podcast, use Google Apps to work collaboratively, work together to create a blog on a topic or add commentary and feedback to a presentation.
  • Research: Providing groups with a device allows them to find information. Sharing forces students to work together to clearly define what they are actually searching for. This can be useful as each person takes a role, whether it be as leading, questioning, taking notes or searching.
  • Rotations: The BaM Video Delay iOS app allows students to record themselves and then watch back in range of ways. In Physical Education, this can be used to provide students with regular feedback when there are multiple stations running.
  • QR Codes: Using a tablet, QR Codes provide a range of possibilities, whether it be tabloid sports where students watch a short video and then complete the task or a scavenger hunt activity which involves using codes that provide clues to the next code. QR Codes can be a great way of getting students moving around.


Whether it be a desktop computer or a solitary iPad, there are many ways that we can use just one device to help drive learning. Some ideas include:

  • Research Computer: So often after students have finished using computers to research they have those odd queries that arise that they just need to look up quickly. One solution is to set up one computer and limit students to a couple of minutes to find their information. To maximise this time, make it an imperative that students have a clear question when coming to the computer, as well as a plan as to how they search for the information.
  • Class Creation: Technology does not have to be (nor should it be) the main focus of a lesson, but can be means of giving voice to it. Even with one iPad in the classroom, apps like Adobe Voice and Book Creator allow you to quickly and easily create whole class presentations. This can be an alternative to having every student stand in front of the class and present, while it also offers the possibility for the user to gain instant feedback and make improvements.
  • Documentation: There are so many ways to use technology to collect documentation. Gary Stager suggests that video and photography offer the easiest means of capturing learning in the classroom. However, there are other useful applications that allow you to build on and organise these, whether it be Seesaw or a class blog. These artefacts provide a way of extending, clarifying and modifying ideas.
  • Measuring the Pulse: Although the easiest way of gaining feedback is in a 1-to-1 environment, there are different things that you can do with an iPad, such as using Plickers, which allows you to easily gauge student feedback by holding up cards, while Post-It Notes and iBrainstorm provide different means to gain information using sticky notes.

In the end, there are so many potentials when it comes to technology, sometimes we just need to think differently. Whether it be a camera, Chromebook, an iPad, a netbook or a desktop computer, each device offers something unique. What needs to be remembered at the end of the day is that first and fore-mostly, no matter what devices you have, it should all start with learning.

So what about you? What are some of the ways you go beyond one to one devices in the classroom in order to create different learning possibilites? As always, comments welcome.

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REVIEW: Now You See It by @CathyNDavidson

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With the recent birth of my second daughter, I was reminded of Craig Kemp’s claim that being a parent made him a better teacher. As I have stated before, I don’t think that being a parent makes anyone better, rather it provides for a different perspective. The adjustment of having two children has helped me realise many of the habits that I had come to take for granted. Just like losing a parent or moving to a different country, such experiences not only provide a different point of learning, but also highlights those habits that our attention has come to consider as normal.

This is the point that Cathy Davidson makes her book Now You See It: How Technology and Brain Science Will Transform Schools and Business for the 21st Century. Going against the grain that technology is somehow hampering culture and society, Davidson asserts that the brain is constantly evolving and always has.

The brain is not static. It is built for learning and is changed by what it encounters and what operations it performs. Retooled by the tools we use, our brain adjusts and adapts.

The challenge, Davidson explains, is recognising the brain’s patterns and breaking with those that are no longer of use.

The problem with this is that we are often blind to world in which we exist, seeing it instead as a part of nature. For once you categorise things, it can be hard to see past this. One method of becoming aware of our attitudes and actions is to focus on that which distracts or disrupts our attention. As she points out:

Without distraction, without being forced into an awareness of disruption and difference, we might not ever realize that we are paying attention in a certain way.

In order to force this disruption, Davidson provides collaboration by difference as an antidote.

David Weinberger suggests that the smartest person in the room is the room and that our challenge is to create smarter rooms, similarly collaboration by difference treats difference as a point of distinction, rewarding the diversity of expertise, perspective, culture, age, ability, and insight. What is significant about this difference is not just what other people might bring to the group, but what they bring out in us. To embed this practise, Davidson focuses on three clear expectations:

  1. Air out differences democratically
  2. Let non-experts talk first
  3. Ask what you are missing

Interestingly, Alma Harris asserts that collaboration needs to be disciplined, so to can it be argued that collaboration also needs to intentionally incorporate difference to be meaningful. With an emphasis on new connections and perspectives, this helps further a cycle of learning, unlearning and relearning, where people are required to continually consider and compromise what they know and understand. As Davidson describes,

The whole point of collaboration by difference is that we cannot see our own gorillas. We need one another to help us, and we need a method that allows each of us to express our difference. If we don’t feel comfortable offering an alternative point of view, we don’t. And without such contribution, we continue to be limited or even endangered by our blind spots; we don’t heed the warning signals until it’s too late and an accident is inevitable.

In the end, collaboration by difference is best appreciated as a convergence of method, mindset and mission.

What stands out the most about Now You See It is that it is most definitely Davidson’s book. Although there are the usual accounts of people and organisations, such as Jimmy Wales, IBM and Quest2Learn, in her discussion of education, work and the brain, these are dispersed between more personal stories of dealing with dyslexia, having a brother suffering a brain injury and teaching Shane Battier. These personal differences help to break with the usual story about the 21st century to tell a more meaningful story.

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Why use Open Badges? #OB101

This is my second post in regards Open Badges in response to the course offered by Think Out Loud Club. My first post can be viewed here.


Image via Bryan Mathers CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

There are so many different ways that you can create and allocate Open Badges. Whether it be high or low stakes learning, badges offer a flexible form of micro-credentialling that is really up to your own imagination. One way of making sense of an Open Badge is as a traditional certificate with built-in breadcrumbs. Another difference is that badges are often a part of an ecosystem. Although they can be created individually, their true potential is ability to interconnect and provide different pathways for learning.


Image via Bryan Mathers CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

The most obvious pathway is the stepping stones aproach. Sequential in nature, it involves doing one step at a time in a prescriptive manner. See for example, Doug Belshaw’s kanban badges using Trello. Another option is where badges are a part of a collection. Like the game Trivial Pursuit, this is where several achievements are grouped together in a non-linear manner. Perscriptive in nature, collections can be linked with the completion of standards or levelling up. In contrast to perspective badge ecosystems, constellations offer a more open-ended approach where users can choose from a range of possibilities, carving out any number of pathways. This is conducive to life-long learning and offers the potential to write your own learning story. Open to borrowing from different providers, it is for this reason that it is descriptive rather than prescriptive.

To make more sense of these differences, lets consider the act of blogging. Although sites like WordPress have badges built in, these are more about engagement and gamification than the actual skills and competencies involved. Approaching it as a set of stepping stones, you could create a space, write a post, add an image and embed different content. This is often the way that Edublogs structures their challenge and the manner is clearly outlined. Thinking about it as a series of collections, you could have a series of levelled badges, each a combination of smaller steps completed in any order. So a Basics of Blogging Badge might include micro-credentials such as creating a blog, writing a post, making an about me page and using tags and categories to organise. As a constellation, a wide range of badges with support, but without set structure, allows users to create their own blogging pathway. This might include such skills as adjusting the theme, improving engagement, turning a blog into a book or self-hosting a blog. You could complete all of the badges or some of them, in whatever order you like.

If you are looking for a guide for creating a badge ecosystem, DigitalMe have a canvas which outlines all the different requirements in a clear manner.

So what about you, do you have an example of a badge ecosystem? Or any thoughts on badges for blogging? As always, comments welcome.

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What’s possible with Open Badges? #OB101


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This is the first module of as a part of Think Out Loud Club’s introduction to Open Badges.

Open Badges are online representation of a skill you have earnt. It is an infrastructure that was originally backed by Mozilla, but has since been taken over by the Badge Alliance, with the support of the MacArther Foundation. Open Badges allow you to verify different information, such as a description, issuer, criteria of achievement and standards met. This is done by hard-coding the metadata, that is the data about data. Some such as Doug Belshaw suggest that the future of such hard-coding is connected with the blockchain.


CC-BY-ND via Bryan Mathers

Digital badges are a continuation of physical badges issued by organisations, such as Scouts, just in an online form. They usually offer a way of gamifying an activity and are usually built into different sites, whether it be WordPress or Khan Academy. A few limitations is there lack transferability and lack of credibility. In contrast, anyone can check credibility of the open badges and they can be shown anywhere. In addition to this, they are not controlled by any one organisation, often devised to be stackable, evidence-based and add an element of trust into the process.


CC-BY-ND via Bryan Mathers

Open badges can be used in a number of ways, including gaining recognition for skills demonstrated and plotting your own learning pathway. Don Presant suggests that they could be used to celebrate the acquisition of skills, extra-curricular activities or the completion of different programs. In the end though, it allows different organisations to develop a secure yet open foundation to recognise learning.

See Bob Price’s book for a more comprehensive introduction to Open Badges:

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REVIEW: Counting What Counts

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I have long had an interest in measurement and assessment. Not only what we measure, but how to go about it. I have also long been intrigued with Yong Zhou’s work and his contention that we often measure the wrong thing. It was for this reason that I took to the new book Counting What Counts.

I entered this collection of essays in search of clarity and possible solutions for what and how to better measure learning in the 21st century. Inspired by those like Amy Burvall, Mark Barnes and Richard Olsen, I have always looked for different means measure and support learning. The dilemma is that in some respects the book covers these things, just not in the way I expected. It offers so many different means of measuring attributes such as diversity, personality traits, motivation, creativity, entrepreneurship, global competences and social networks. Each assessment critiqued in regards to their strengths and weaknesses as to what they offer. What is frustrating though is where to start and for that gains.

Each chapter offers plenty of explanation with many different entry points. However, too often the vision offered seems to be largely systemic, something that can be hard to situate within the confines of an actual school or district. Although it left me thinking about the possibilities for assessing, such things as Genius Hour and connected learning, it offers more compass than map.

It feels like the real question in need of answering isn’t what needs to be counted, but why? Although it might be useful to measure how interested we maybe or our global awareness, what seems more important is what purpose does this actually achieve. In an age when counting seems to be a given and we only care about what we can count, the book it at least offers a vision about what we can measure. I wonder whether just as it is problematic to borrow policy from other countries, what do we gain from aiming for some sort of objectivity with learning and measurement? The question then that I am left with is how might we properly count in a way that recognises context the interconnected nature of learning? Maybe I’m missing something, maybe I’m not. As always, I’d love to know your thoughts.

Also for a more thorough review of Counting What Counts, I recommend reading Stuart Taylor’s post.

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Balancing Between Inspiration and Achievement in the Search for New Ideas

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In his book, The Thinking Teacher, Oliver Quinlan questions the tendency of teachers to find inspiration in every new thing they come upon online. Whether it is be a TedTalk video or a resource picked up online, we need to be wary of taking on and trying everything we discover. As Quinlan states:

We all need a bit of good feeling in our work, but perhaps we should be aiming for achievement not inspiration.

The alternative to inspiration is being purposeful and working towards sustainable habits.

Quinlan’s concern regards inspiration verses achievement got me thinking about my own practise, both online and off. This is something that I am often challenged with as a connected educator. Why share? Why save links to Diigo? Why read endless books and blogs? Why write posts (like this one?) Are these examples of inspiration, achievement or something else altogether? This led me to reflect on my current ‘episode’ exploring documentation, visible thinking and all things Reggio Emilia.

The first question that we are confronted with is who is the judge as to whether something is purposeful or not? It would be easy on the outside to see my interest in Reggio as an example of short lived inspiration. Latest link picked up online, thrown into the classroom, but never properly ingrained. However, to see it as such misses its place within my own learning inquiry overtime into supporting students during the process of learning, not just at the end. Here then area few moments which have influenced how I got to now. Steps in the iterative process.

Starting out as a teacher all those years ago now, I remember manically trying to manage student workbooks. The big problem, as I saw it, was collecting and communicating with students in a timely manner. This was and is always difficult, especially if you only saw students once a week. This led me to explore the use of digital workbooks. Beginning with a simple Word document shared via the school share drive, I soon moved to a cloud solution using Google Apps. This meant I didn’t have to depend upon students placing a copy in the right folder and that I could respond at any time.

In 2013, I attended a keynote at ICTEV by Dan Donohoo who discussed the idea of the village. Amoungst other things, Donohoo made mention of Reggio Emilio. I had never really heard of Reggio Emilio, but his discussion of it piqued my interest and so it became something I became consicous of and looked out for in regards to listening to all voices in the classroom.

At the same time, I had the opportunity to work with an instructional coach. After some discussion, we identified taking notes and keeping evidence during the lesson as my goal. Although I did not necessarily achieve what I set out to accomplish (a simple solution for collecting notes), I did come to the realization that I was trying to own the learning and that maybe I needed to rethink the problem. Rather than how I could capture every moment, maybe I needed to think about how I could support students in sharing and celebrating their thinking and learning.

I have long followed the work of Cameron Paterson and Bianca Hewes are their use of project-based learning as an answer for student-centred learning, especially in the Secondary classroom. In particular, I have been influenced by Paterson and his work around all things Reggio Emilio. It has helped me begin to reimagine questioning, thinking and learning in the classroom.

I understand Quinlan’s warning about the tendency to dip in online for inspiration. However, failing to actively spend any time around the idea well, as David Culberhouse puts it, risks waiting for solutions to fall out of the sky. The challenge is to always be mindful of why we do it. Sometimes I feel that when we talk about achievement verses inspiratiion, the question that is not asked is whose achievement are we aspiring for and in denying inspiration, we are denying teachers a sense of agency? To be honest, I am really not sure, what about you? How do you find balance between inspiration and achievement? Balance between learning with intent, while at the same time allowing space for serendipity and perpetual beta? As always, comments welcome.

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Using Technology to Document Learning

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I recently wrote a reflection about different examples of hands on learning that I have been a part of lately. Although there was no question as to whether these different situations involved learning, what seemed missing was a means of effectively elaborating upon the intricacies of the various lessons and activities.

Take the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Program for example. Students engage in a range of activities, including exploring how to care for a garden, developing an awareness of seasons and learning the different skills used when cooking food. This is done while working in groups of six. The usual practise of reflection involves students (not groups) answering a series of set questions each session relating to the focus on the session, either while the food was cooking or as the various materials were being packed up by support staff.Now this was useful to help fill out the time and provide a point of summative assessment, but often meant that the questions used were one-size fits all and did not necessarily capture what may have happened while learning. For example, one week I worked with a group to cook a stir-fry. Each member shared the jobs, taking in turn cutting vegetables or cooking the food. What stood out to me though was how some members took initiative and helped out others. Sharing their prior knowledge and understanding to help other members in the group. Although the questions at the end may have touched on this, it was not necessarily the focus.  One answer to this dilemma is to incorporate more formative assessment through the act of documentation.

One of the key values of Reggio Emilia, documentation involves learners engaging with artefacts relating to their learning. These artefacts can be in any form. Maybe a conversation recorded, a piece of incomplete work or a video capturing learning in action. It can be easy to dismiss the idea of documentation as just a portfolio of work, collected together. The purpose though is not necessarily to summarise products and projects, but rather develop a deeper understanding and provide a narrative. The focus is not to represent a ‘final’ piece of work, but rather a snapshot of learning to focus on. This inquiry may involve questioning what has been done, reflecting on the process and critiquing the product. As Mara Krechevsky, Melissa Rivard, Ben Mardell, Daniel Wilson suggest in Visible Learners,

Documentation supports the social principle of learning by communicating the importance of the experiences captured, the knowledge gained, and those who participated.

An obvious means of supporting this process is through the use of technology.The most common technology used is the digital camera to capture moments. Gary Stager provides an extensive list of possibilities when it comes to photography and documentation. One of the problems though with just using a digital camera is that it is difficult to view the content using the device, meaning that it needs to be uploaded elsewhere.One solution to this dilemma is to use a mobile devices that not only allows you to capture content, but organise it as well. An iPad works really well for this. Beyond the means of capturing learning in a number of ways, it is portable. By allocating an iPad to each group provides a means for different people to capture significant moments as they arise and then use a range applications to organise it. Some options include:

  • Book Creator: A simple application for collecting different artefacts in one place on the go, whether it be images, video or audio. In addition to this, users can add text to provide further context which can be useful when looking back at a later point.
  • Adobe Voice and Slate: Similar to Book Creator, Adobe Voice and Slate allows users to present information in one place. Both have their limitations, but also provide a useful constraint which can help focus the act of documentation. Usually used more reflective, rather than on the go.
  • Google Apps: Whether it be SlidesDocs or Keep, each offer a simple way of capturing content and are available on iOS. They provide the means to share with different members. Google Photos can also be used to simply share videos and images. An alternative to this is Evernote.
  • Seesaw: A cross between a blog and an learning management system, Seesaw provides the means to capture learning in any form. Like spaces such as Edmodo, you can create groups and classes. However, what is different is that even with just one iPad in a classroom you can quickly allocate artefacts to different students. You can also share iBooks created with Book Creator or Adobe Voice videos, as well as continue to develop the conversation further afterwards. An alternative to the various intricacies of Seesaw is having a class blog organised around tags and categories.

So what about instead of students working individually writing their responses they instead got together and considered the various documentation colaboratively? Making their thinking visible. Looking back in order to look forward? As Mara Krechevsky, Melissa Rivard, Ben Mardell and Daniel Wilson assert,

Learners are in groups all the time while they are in school but not all these groups are learning groups. In learning groups, members are engaged in solving problems, creating products, and making meaning; students and adults learn from one another by encountering new perspectives, strategies, and ways of thinking. Members of learning groups also learn with one another by modifying, extending, clarifying, and enriching their own ideas and the ideas of others.

In the end, I don’t think that this is isolated. The same could be said for all of learning. So what about you, how do you celebrate process of learning, whether it be camps, cooking or coding? As always, comments welcome.

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