In the traditional classroom it's often the same children answering the questions. As a result many young people feel left out and they may become alienated from education altogether. They feel that their educational needs are lost in the large class environment. Their voices are drowned out. But children are our most precious resource. Like our fragile planet they need care, support and respect in order to thrive.
Let' be honest: teachers struggle too. Larger classes, less money. More bureaucracy, less creativity. Examinations not celebrations ...
Collaborative learning can be a very effective way to promote participation in lessons between children.
In collaborative learning projects the teacher provides supportive interventions, and acts as a guide or facilitator, rather than the discipline-obsessed dictator in the corner. I'm not suggesting that teacher abandons his or her role. But the emphasis shifts from teaching to learning; from a state of spoon feeding dependence to the young people doing their own digging.
Collaborative learning requires its own skills of community and co-operation and these have to be learned and can be improved upon. But they are also key life skills that we need urgently to develop if we are to face the challenges of issues that require concerted global action such as poverty, inequality, environmental destruction, species loss and climate change.
What we are finding is that if we trust children or young people to work together on research and the presentation of their findings we will have successful outcomes together with pleasurable and sustainable learning. Collaboration works well because research and presentation exercises involve a process of acquisition and a process of revision. In both regards, collaborative work is ideally suited to an approach driven by process.
Before taking a look at a case-study it ought to be noted that collaboration can extend beyond the classroom to encompass children of different ages, in different schools, in different parts of the world.
And why stop there? What about active collaboration with parents and members of the 'adult' community? The collaborative approach works well when the issue to be explored is complex; when it is open to multiple interpretation and affects a wide range of people. Broad topics are a good starting point but that does not mean that you are banned from specialization at a later stage.
If you want to take a look at a recent success story consider the use of Google Docs & Spreadsheets
to explore strategies for combating global warming. In this flagship project Google partnered with Global SchoolNet to invite teachers and students to use collaborative software. Children of all ages from more than 80 schools around the world participated. Here are their results
- Include global warming/climate change in school curricula (as part of National Science Standards), so when the students are in charge they can make educated decisions.
- Increase availability of low-interest Energy Efficient Mortgages to support homeowners who increase the energy efficiency of their homes.
- Put light sensors in all office and school buildings so all lights go off when the rooms are empty.
- Require that all products contributing to global warming be marked with a specific color (e.g., chemical pesticides could be marked with a red sticker for being extremely dangerous to the environment).
- Use less paper; use the back of the paper to print on or write on; use recyled paper.
- Plant more trees to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
- Teach recycling techniques in classes and school-wide programs.
- Make recycling mandatory in all public facilities, such as schools, parks and beaches.
- Do public service announcements on TV featuring celebrities promoting carpooling, walking, riding bikes, using public transportation, conserving electricity and recycling.
- Give grants and tax credits to companies that invest in alternative, sustainable, emission-free fuel technologies while ending such subsidies for fosssil fuel production.
- The media should conduct interviews of legislators to help the public become aware of their ability and willingness to help solve the problem.
- Replace incandescence light bulbs with fluorescence light bulbs.
- Restrict the use of chemical fertilizer in agriculture.
- Provide incentives and policies to encourage car makers to make more fuel efficient cars.
- Protect wetlands and preserve more open space.
- Provide tax incentives for regular recyclers and car poolers.
- Use solar panels in the construction of new homes and office buildings.
- Substitute local community transportation fleets with hybrid vehicles.
- Require that car dealers hand out fact sheets that inform car buyers about the pollution levels of different cars.
- Send scientists to talk about global warming in schools. They can bring hands-on activities so students feel more involved.
- Unplug all electronics from the wall when they're not in use.
- Have another Global Warming Student Speakout in one year - to see if any of these ideas have been implemented.
- Raise mandatory emissions standards for cars and other vehicles sold in the US.
- Use solar power in the day and use electricity at night when needed.
- Give tax rebates for using solar power.
- Congress should ratify the Kyoto Agreement.
- Establish off-shore wind farms - saves land space and produces reliable power.
- Levy higher taxes on companies that pollute the air.
- Wait until you have a lot of clothes to wash before using the washing machine.
- Provide tax incentives for companies that create Hybrid cars. That will reduce the need for oil.
- Schools and businesses should be fined for not having recycling bins available to the people on their premises.
- The media should tell us about what is really going on with global warming. We don't think that we have all the information we need.
- At the end of the weather forecast, report “CO2 emissions levels today…” or comparative average temperatures (i.e., this year's temperature as it compares to the past several years).
- Lead by example and convert 50% of government vehicles to environmentally friendly cars by the year 2020.
- Place recycling bins throughout the city wherever there is a trash can.
- Require companies to limit the amount of packaging an item can have and it must be recyclable.
- Block bills that cause more damage to the environment.
- Media could reduce advertising costs for alternative energy products to inform and increase sales in these areas.
- Keep your tires fully inflated to improve gas mileage.
- Replace old appliances with Energy Star appliances.
- Promote awareness of local recycling centers.
- Require college and high school students to take a global warming class.
- Give tax reductions to public transportation users.
- Protect our oceans - prevent plankton in the ocean from dying.
- People running for elections should use email, radio and other media to campaign and stop using so many paper signs and flyers that use up our natural resources and then get left out and become pollution.
- Reuse newspapers as wrapping paper for gifts.
- Enforce laws about littering.
- Use less electricity, turn off the TV, read books, walk, run, bike, surf, play tennis.
- Business should require employees to telecommute several days a week.
- Provide scientists appropriate resources to help them research the future of energy and the freedom to explore innovative ideas.
- Deploy images, diagrams, sound, music and video to strengthen your message and to make your learning more inclusive of different learning styles
- Collaborate: community work is often more efficient and more effective
And I'm going round the house now unplugging gadgets.