Cyberlearning Community Report:  Practical Impact in My Classroom

By Sarah Hampton

In my last post, I talked about four reasons we should read the
Cyberlearning Community Report: The State of Cyberlearning and the Future of Learning With Technology. I really believe that what you learn from the report will make you a more effective educator. Let me give you one concrete example of how the Community Report has already helped improve my teaching by demonstrating the significant value of learning opportunities outside the classroom and how they can be leveraged. (I had the privilege of sneak previewing the report over the summer so I have had a few months to implement what I learned!) Check out this excerpt from the report:

“The central ongoing research question in this work (from the Expressive Construction section) is how to interconnect appealing, playful environments through self-expression to deeper learning goals. The dimension of time is important: how can play result in learning at timescales of minutes, or weeks, or months or years? The dimension of context also needs more investigation: how do unique aspects of homes, museums, playgrounds or classrooms contribute to or block learning? Strengthening our understanding of the social dimension is also critical as these activities often involve complex ecologies of support from peers, parents, and informal and formal educators — and are not as simple as typical teacher-student interactions…This research is demonstrating how important learning can occur through playful experience, often outside of the school setting. Yet what students are learning clearly relates to existing curricular subject matter, such as engineering, and emerging subjects, like data science and computational thinking. Studying learning in playful and constructive settings can lead to new discoveries about when, where, and how children can learn important ideas and these discoveries can guide policy about when, where, and how these important topics are taught.”

​In past years, I would plan a unit and then take my students on a field trip only if the exhibit(s) aligned at that time. This fall (after reading the report), the technology teacher and I planned an entire unit around a Smithsonian traveling exhibit called Things Come Apart that is currently housed in the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, a museum near our school. The exhibit consists of dozens of common objects that have been taken apart to reveal their inner workings. We tied this into physical science concepts like electricity, circuitry, and engineering. Before we visited the museum, students reverse engineered their own objects such as mechanical pencils, clocks, calculators, speakers, and flashlights. They also built circuits using PhET simulations, snap circuits, and then batteries, wire, light bulbs, motors, etc. 
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Student exploring circuits using PhET simulations

After that, we recruited local experts who donated their time, knowledge, and materials so our students could dismantle iPhone 5s phones.  ​When the students later visited the exhibit, they recognized most of the components in the pieces and were able to ask and answer more informed questions because of their classroom work leading to the trip. Reading the report persuaded me that rich, authentic learning is fostered when connections are made between multiple environments, situations, and people, and it made me more intentional about offering opportunities across contexts. I would definitely describe this unit as a richer learning experience for my students than the ways I have approached it in the past. 
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Student dismantling the iPhone 5s

Going even further, as part of their final assessment, students are creating infographics on five electronic components and how they are used in one of the pieces from the museum exhibit. This was a suggestion from the technology teacher, and I jumped at the idea after reading about the STEM Literacy through Infographics project in the community report. Our students will present their infographics and dismantled objects at our school STEAM Fair in November.
I hope you take the time to read the report, and I hope it impacts your practice as much as it already has mine. I would love to hear your thoughts after you have had a chance to read it! What did you find most interesting? What innovations are you most excited about? Do you think you might look into one of the projects for your classroom? Post in the comments section below!

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