In education, the debate rages, “What is the best environment for the best possible education?” Many folks are traditionalist and say all learning must take place in the classroom with books and tests and such. Other educators sing the praises of online learning with chat boards, messaging and Skype. Some are somewhere in-between with flipped classrooms, podcasts, and web quests. What is the future of meaningful US educational environments? Last year at a conference I got the chance to meet with an educational team from Finland. (Finland is one of the top countries in the world on educational merit.) Their school is primarily project -based learning. I do not mean building the pyramids out of tooth picks type projects. I mean real world, get out and get dirty community projects. For example,one of their middle school accepted a contract to build a bike path between two towns. As a school, they used math to create the estimates for materials, they used science to analyze the weather and conditions, and they read and created maps. They read documents and cooperated. They worked construction. They worked and learned for one school year and create a bike path.
Learning environment – the real world.
So, what does a bike path in Finland have to do with teaching in the US? Last week I lead a group of 70 students from rural farm community, central Ohio to downtown Chicago. Some members of the teaching community do not consider this an educational experience. I take children who have never seen live theater to Blue Man Group. I take students who live in a town of 1 & 2 story buildings up the 110 story Willis Tower. I drop students in small groups with a chaperone and a map on Michigan Avenue and challenge them to navigate downtown Chicago.
Again, learning environment – the real world.
As we begin to re-evaluate what education is and means, I think it is important to keep the real world aspect in our planning. Project-based learning should be real world projects when and where ever possible. Computers, Skype, and chat rooms can be real world. Books, papers, and evaluations can be real world.
So where is a learning environment? Everywhere.
When is a learning environment? It is when real world learning is taking place.