Recently intrigued by how much my kids and nephew have learned by swimming around together at a nearby waterhole has had me thinking. How can we combine the natural interests of students with what they are required to learn at school?
Below is a video that was made by my son and posted to YouTube by my lovely wife, Bianca:
When my son made this video he was heading toward the end of year one, he’d just turned seven. He didn’t make the video entirely by himself, he was supported throughout the process by myself and Bianca. And what I think was important throughout this process was that we fostered his interests the entire way. His success in building the cannon is debatable, he dealt with an unruly pig, managed a lack of redstone by negotiating with an online collaborator and ultimately excavated a whole lot more digital land than he had planned. But I reckon he did a fantastic job.
If you watch the video, you will see that throughout the process he is communicating and problem solving at almost every moment. What I’m most interested in however is how I might in future be able to tie similar student experiences to the curriculum – or wrap the syllabi around student interests. Hopefully this post will be an example.
To power the cannon my son (or coolbananas3000) needed to use redstone wire. In order for him to be able to do this bananas needed to either visit the minecraft wiki entry on using redstone wire, watch one of the many YouTube tutorials that are out there, or both. In fact, he had done both, and the fact that he wanted to create his own YouTube tutorial demonstrates their influence. By doing both of these things, and by making his video, bananas has demonstrated his progress toward achieving Objective A from the new English K-10 syllabus:
“Through responding to and composing a wide range of texts and through the close study of texts, students will develop knowledge, understanding and skills in order to:
- A. communicate through speaking, listening, reading, writing, viewing and representing*“
and more specific to the primary stage bananas was enrolled in at the time, ignoring the first part of the outcome EN 1-3A:
“composes texts using letters of consistent size and slope and uses digital technologies“
my son is showing in his video his ability to cover the following content (presribed under the Australian curriculum) under the outcome above:
“construct texts featuring print, visual and audio elements using software, including word processing programs (ACELY1664, ACELY1674) “
The YouTube tutorial above, created by my son is a text which features print, visual and audio elements, and in creating it he has used screen casting software and uploaded his video online, demonstrating his capabilities with digital technology. I would certainly feel confident if I were his teacher that the above content had been covered.
He has further demonstrated his progress toward covering the following objective A outcome and content:
draws on an increasing range of skills and strategies to fluently read, view and comprehend a range of texts on less familiar topics in different media and technologies
The topic of using redstone wiring was one that was initially unfamiliar to my son. By visiting the Minecraft wiki and viewing online video tutorials, my son has demonstrated his use of an increasing range of skills and strategies in reading and viewing a range of texts on less familiar topics in different media and technologies. By creating a tutorial video of his own he has demonstrated his ability to comprehend them. He wouldn’t have been able to use redstone wire to power his cannon had he not been able to comprehend the wiki and video texts.
For a little of the content under this outcome:
- Develop and apply contextual knowledge
- understand how readers’ self-selection and enjoyment of texts is informed by personal interests
My son’s decisions to select the Minecraft wiki and video tutorials were framed entirely by his interest in building a cannon and creating a tutorial video of his own.
The following is a stage one skills outcome for the science syllabus which is currently under development:
“uses a structured design process, everyday tools, materials, equipment and techniques to produce solutions to identified needs and wants“
To build his cannon (an identified want) my son had to use his knowledge of working on my laptop (an everyday tool). And whilst they may not be everyday materials (cobblestone, redstone, switches, TNT, etc), my son nevertheless needed to gather and work with them. He had to redesign the geographical features of his online Minecraft environment to accommodate his cannon, and the cannon itself was his own design. This designing process may have been made more structured by having him plan beforehand the ideal location for his cannon, and how he was going to build it, and this aspect of planning is something that I would introduce if and when my future students do something similar in future. I do feel however that bananas’ YouTube turtorial provides evidence of his progress toward achieving the outcome above.
I think that I’ve been able to show here how I see that the syllabus can be ‘exploited’ or ‘bent’ or ‘wrapped around’ the interests of students. I’ve only managed to cover a tiny bit of the huge amount of content which has to be covered under the curriculum, albeit in retrospect by 18 months. However I do think that with a bit of imagination, and a willingness to let my future students follow their interests wherever possible, they’ll be able to cover some of the syllabus in similar ways.
What is most interesting to me is that my son’s decision to create a video tutorial on building a cannon in Minecraft, whilst suggested and supported by Bianca and I, was motivated entirely by his own interest and curiosity, and through our support of this interest he was able to cover cross-KLA content in a way that was highly motivating, engaging, interesting and fun for him. Of course, there were challenges, but his motivation to build his cannon and publish his video was powerful enough to see that he overcame these challenges and got where he needed to go. Interest based learning style.