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For this blog post, I have been tasked with creating a learning experience for my students that reflects what I’ve learned from Thomas & Brown (2011) and Hobbs (2011). However, I was sorely tempted to ignore the task. If the current education system is a leaky bucket (Thomas & Brown, 2011, p. 90), what on earth is the point of one more lesson if it’s not happening in this new learning environment? I need to make drastic changes to my classroom culture, not another lesson teaching yet another tech tool!

But then I recalled from Thomas’s TEDx lecture the three components of learning: passion, imagination, and constraint (Thomas 2011). This task, then, is a constraint. How can I take a legitimate step towards building a fundamentally different learning environment in just one lesson?

Here’s my solution. I’m going to use two tools, one new and one old, to modify my existing routine on current events. Students love current events in my class. It provides a consistent start to every lesson and they always look forward to Game Day. But with a little bit of tweaking I think I can replace the external reward of winning Game Day with something much more meaningful, authentic, and built upon collective knowledge.

Here are more details on my existing routine:

And here is the first draft of my modified routine:

I want my new routine to focus on inquiry and student questions rather than simple recall (what the old routine emphasizes). So I will ask students to write a monthly paragraph that addresses a higher-level thinking skill. Maybe “How did current events relate to what we are studying?”, or perhaps something more challenging like “Which region was the best place to be a journalist this month?” Questions this broad require a diversity of expert knowledge. But this element is also the most important. I need to hear more alternative suggestions here!

Another component of the new design is that I’ve built in constraints in order to achieve the kind of learning environment described by Thomas & Brown in their concluding chapter (2011, p. 106). So when writing that paragraph, students may use as evidence only the daily summaries that they and their classmates have written. This should create “participants [who] are internally motivated to find filter & share new information” (Thomas & Brown, 2011, p. 107). They will also have to rely on a student-created database (p. 106) to access the necessary information. To create this I went for the simplest option that I already use on a regular basis, a google form.

Screen Shot 2013-11-24 at 9.02.50 AM

Upon reflection, I realized I need one last constraint. Under the current system, I often have many students reporting on the same major event, and this would reduce the efficiency of the database. An easy way to prevent that from happening is to require students to focus on different countries. But this leads to yet another issue: it’s not so easy for a middle school student to find current events from reliable sources about specific countries, and when they find them they can’t always understand them. So I’ve decided to use “Symbaloo” to provide a template of reliable sources for them to access news about their country. Although I could have easily just provided a list of bookmarks, I will teach the students how to modify their Symbaloo to encourage further student inquiry and personalization of the research process.

Embedding doesn’t seem to work, so click here to see my Symbaloo starter page.

So was I successful? Is this a legitimate first step towards a new culture of learning? I don’t know. I would sincerely welcome comments and feedback as I feel like this draft is close but not yet there.


Thomas, D. (2011, August 20). A new culture of learning. Lecture presented at TEDxUFM in Guatemala, Guatemala City. Retrieved November 25, 2013, from http://youtu.be/lM80GXlyX0U

Thomas, D., & Brown, J. S. (2011). A new culture of learning: Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change. Lexington, KY: CreateSpace.