I Can – real world learning

Here is a wonderful video (I was sent today) about an educator in India who started a program to infect kids with the I CAN bug. 


What impressed me was the way they were able to foster learning outside the classroom and this brought about better results inside the classroom.
The work and learning was real and had a purpose. Problems that had to be solved.

This week I had a breakthrough with a number of my students now getting out into the community to do some work which will generate real learning.

Sean – a shadow day with a building contractor

Bonnie – an internship (3 days a week) at ABC Learning

Brad – a shadow day doing computer work at Cutting Edge

Up until this time getting the students to plan these days have been messy, frustrating and problematic.

For these kids now they can work alongside adults and find out if it is what they like, learn something about themselves and get some “know-how”.
Actions speak louder than words. I could tell them about this stuff until I am blue in the face and the penny would not drop.



Know How

I went to a VCAL (Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning) workshop/meeting today run by the guru (of VCAL), David Gallagher.

“The VCAL gives you practical work-related experience, as well as literacy and numeracy skills and the opportunity to build personal skills that are important for life and work.” (VCAL quote)

It was fantastic as it really helped me to see how flexible VCAL was and the importance of students getting outside the classroom doing real work. All of what he was saying I have been trying to employ with my class using the Big Picture principles.

David also talked about Know How, which is the learning gained from doing compared to Know What (content).

Here is some yabby day Know How (left)


Funny thing was that this was the basis of an email I sent to Big Picture staff last week as a reflection of how my work is going so far this year.

Here is part of my email…

I need a healthy dose of a Big Picture transfusion (or top up).

This work is hard yakka (plenty of good things happening) and even though I am working with others this year, which has been a great help, the work is still messy and difficult at times to hold firm on the BP principles:

  • One student at a time
  • Personalisation
  • Importance of interests and passion
  • Real world learning

I have been reading a bit about tacit knowledge and “know-how and now looking at it from a personal perspective.
Know-how is practical knowledge of how to get something done, as opposed to “know-what” (facts), “know-why” (science), or “know-who” (networking).
Know-how is often tacit knowledge
,which means that it is difficult to transfer to another person by means of writing it down or verbalising it.
Understood or implied without being stated.

Effective transfer of Know-How generally requires extensive personal contact and trust.
Examples of Know-How:
·     Learning a language
·     Riding a bike
Know-How is not easily shared. It involves learning and skill, but not in a way that can be written down or taught as facts.
Know-How can be learned by artisans or skilled craftsmen who learn the craft of their masters through observation, imitation, and practice.

How this relates to me personally.
I have done BP training, I have read the books and the materials, I have related to and with BP people, I went to the USA to see it in action and I still find myself struggling many times to know what to do when the pressure is on or things get messy.
It is in times like these I think about what would Viv (Big Picture mentor) do in this situation?
I think because she has been the skilled craftsman (woman), mentor, that I have observed in action the most and seek to imitate.
This is where I have received my “know-how” in relation to the BP way.
I have glimpses of know-how with John H and a couple of teachers in the States and at Yulebrook.
It is this know-how I think we as BP teachers need to draw on.
I read very widely to learn as much as I can but I find this does not stick…the head knowledge (the know what)  does not translate as well as the know-how derived from a mentor, apprenticeship like approach in the real world situation of daily face to face with students. (read John Abbott’s work).

Real Projects

I have posted before how my students are nearly all initiating projects or keen to do stuff which is great.

Some ideas fizzle and die due to all sorts of reasons: they lose interest, don’t have the resources, don’t have the time or something blocks the process such as health, personal issues etc.

Many real projects come about when they are doing their internship with a mentor in the community. What most students are doing at the moment are projects of a personal nature or ones that benefit the group or the school.

At the moment these are:

  • Sean – boxing bag stand
  • Brad – computer desk
  • Aaron – renovate a racing bike
  • Bonnie – scrapbook for the class
  • Thaniel – picnic table for the class

Just the other day we had a breakthrough with an offer of a mentor to come and work with the kids who want to build something. He is a cabinet maker and can weld and builds/races boats. This is just what we have been waiting for so hope it all works out like we have planned.

There comes a time though that they need to produce work/a finished product that will be also academically rigorous and tick off VCAL outcomes.

This video shows how one school does their senior projects…very inspiring.

A 20-minute documentary about the Arbor School in Tualatin, Oregon, and their Senior Project program.

Born to Learn

I have stumbled upon some fascinating writings by a British educator named John Abbott. He is an active writer for The 21st Century Learning Initiative.

He writes a great deal about reforming education and in particular how adolescents learn.

“(Apprenticeship) was a system of education and job training by which important practical information was passed from one generation to the next; it was a mechanism by which youths could model themselves on socially approved adults… it provided safe passage from childhood to adulthood in psychological, social and economic ways.”

“Adolescence, is that deep-seated biological adaptation that makes it essential for the young to go off, either to war, to hunt, to explore, to colonize, – in other words to prove themselves – so as to start a life of their own.”

Why should we think the youth of today aren’t wired the same way? We need to provide a context for this need to take risks, face danger and be challenged…to grow up.

Real world learning = authentic learning

Quote from video below: “Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the trouble-makers, the round pegs in square holes…the ones who see things differently…”

My wrestle this week has been supporting the initiative of my students in their ideas (some seem to me to be crazy ideas). It has been great to see that they are starting to come up with ideas of things that they would like to do. It is happening more and more.

In the early days the kids were conditioned (from years of being schoolled) to be given work to do by the teacher. It has taken months and months to work through this attitude. I also had to detox myself from this attitude and not give the kids stuff to do just to keep them busy and cut the risk of them mucking up or wasting ‘valuable’ time.

Now my challenge is to not jump in and direct them when their idea is forming. I am learning that this is valuable time for them to organise their thoughts, consider all the options, weigh up the pros and cons etc etc. In Big Picture we have a simple procedure for student projects: THINK then DO.

For a teacher who likes to regulate and control his class (was my approach) this is difficult to do. Especially this THINK phase where it gets messy, the kids get distracted, they fuss around, they (appear) to waste time and it appears no work is being done.

This is where I am up to at the moment. I need to keep faith with the approach and hope I can advise and facilitate to help them get to the DO stage.

Here are some of their ideas and they are all at different stages:

  • Thaniel – build a class picnic table and considering setting up a sound studio with a mate
  • Aaron – renovating a racing bike
  • Sean – mural for the school
  • Brad – recording COD movies on his xBox (is now in the DOING stage after many problems he had to solve)
  • Brittany – planning a St Patricks Day
  • Bonnie – scrapbooking project for class

What is also difficult is helping them to find answers to the problems they face, the things blocking them from going forward to start the project, the DOING (Seth Godin talks about Poke the Box). These problems show up as needing money, needing people to help or needing a place to do it.

I will share more on this in future posts.

Here are some examples of authentic learning for the crazy kids…

Here is the interview with the robotics teacher and the author of their book – The New Cool.