Students Speak — Global & Future Vision Through Travel | Part 1

At Future Design School, we know that authentic learning is at the intersection of discovering curricular goals through real world problems. Students become highly engaged in the learning when it moves from an abstract idea to a concrete issue that they can understand in a tangible way. We believe that it’s through these experiences that students start to understand their local, national and even global impact.

For our next Students Speak we have the opportunity to go on a journey with Makayla who is a student who went on a 6 month sabbatical from life in Toronto to go travelling with her family. Along the way, Rachel, Future Design School Education Lead and Sandra, our Director of Learning, corresponded with her to hear about what she was learning along the way. Her experiences were fascinating and here’s what she had to say. 

On the topic of school work: 

I am keeping up with School work through Google Classroom — my teacher sends me homework 3 times a week, and I complete my work and keep up with my subjects. But I am also learning a lot on this trip about different cultures and religions through visiting museums, meeting different people and seeing different things. I do learn some of the cultures in my classroom but seeing it with my own 

eyes is much different than learning it in a text book. This is the way you talk to people, taste different foods and listen to different languages and learn new words.

If I could build my own school, I would build one that uses solar panels for electricity and uses technology, like virtual reality, so that students could see what I got a chance to experience. Our teachers would teach us about different countries, their history, religion, cultures and foods. For example there was a school in Bali that uses sustainable materials (like bamboo) for their building, but the students also did a lot of community work. The students learned by doing, building and sharing different ideas and solving different problems that they saw in their communities. I would also have an outdoor classroom, so we can learn about nature. Our foods at lunch time would be foods from different countries around the world. I would not only be reading from a textbook but actually doing it!In reading Makayla’s words, 

I thought about 3 things:

  • The value of Experiential Learning 
  • The integration of technology in classrooms for relevant learning 
  • Learning by doing

The Value of Experiential Learning 

When we think about the Experiential Learning Cycle, we think about the student being at the center of a learning experience, where they have the opportunity to participate, reflect and apply. This can be further explained as: 

What?: The student is an active participant in the experience, not merely an observer of it.

So what?: The student thinks about and/or analyses (reflects upon) the experience, both during the experience and after it, to make meaning from it and identify what has been learned. 

Now what?: The student applies the learning by using the newly acquired knowledge and/or skills to inform current and future decisions and actions.

For Makayla, she was lucky enough to have the opportunity to experience different parts of the world as her What?. As she participated in this experience, she took the time to reflect deeply (the So What?) and considered the potential for a different type of learning, should she open up her own school (the Now What?). 

Not every student might be in the same position as Makayla and have the chance to travel the world for 6 months. This doesn’t mean that they can’t engage in experiential learning opportunities but rather, perhaps as educators, we might need to use different methods to provide these types of experiences to our students. When students are engaged in true experiential learning — whether through authentic audiences being brought into the classroom or going out into the community — students learn on a deep level and experience the potential of seeing the impact they can have on the world. It’s bigger than going on a field trip and having to write a reflection about what you did on the trip. It’s about bringing the world to life for students and empowering them to reflect on why that might be meaningful to them and then applying that learning to inform current and future decisions and actions. Makayla calls us to think about learning beyond the textbook and the value that can be had. How might you bring the world into your classroom or school? 

The Integration of Technology in Classrooms for Relevant Learning

Tech is a great way to integrate the Experiential Learning I mentioned earlier, in classrooms. From exploring parts of the world through Google Earth or as Makayla suggested, using virtual reality through tools like Google Expeditions, the world can be at your fingertips. 

While Google Expeditions allows you to take your students outside the classroom on virtual field trips, student creation of virtual reality (VR) experiences allows your students to capture the real world and bring bring it into the classroom! When I was teaching a course about urban design and architecture, I often took my students out on walks around the city of Toronto. As I was guiding the tours, I pointed out various styles of architecture or approaches to urban planning, helping them to notice elements of the public built environment that sparked deeper questioning by students. 

In order to engage students in ‘deliberate looking’ I had them use the 360 camera function available on their smartphones to capture images. They were tasked with taking three 360 images during the walk, each representing a connection to something that we had learned in class — for example, downtown Toronto’s TD Center, designed by Mies van der Rohe, is a great example of the International Style of architecture, while Jane Jacobs would have celebrated the walkable streets in Kensington Market.

Back at school the following week, I sat down for a conversation based assessment with each student, and I donned a Google Cardboard VR. As I wore the headset and viewed their photos in VR, the student would explain to me why they chose to capture this image, making connections to the learning goals, and sharing new questions that this particular site sparked for them, such as “How might we better utilize the vacant spaces under our elevated highways?” After the conversation, I gave students feedback on their ability to make connections to the course content, and then they used their questions to launch into a deeper inquiry project. 

Now, with the launch of Google Tour Creator, it’s even easier for students to create their own virtual reality experiences. Students can capture 360 images and create their own tours, tagging points of interest, adding image overlays, and narrating descriptions. They can even link their Tours to 

Expeditions, and take the entire class on a virtual field trip of their own creation.

Now, with the launch of Google Tour Creator, it’s even easier for students to create their own virtual reality experiences. Students can capture 360 images and create their own tours, tagging points of interest, adding image overlays, and narrating descriptions. They can even link their Tours to Expeditions, and take the entire class on a virtual field trip of their own creation.These simple tools don’t require any expensive equipment, allow students to capture their learning beyond the classroom walls, and provide an authentic assessment opportunity for teachers. While I’m fortunate to live and teach in Canada’s largest city, there are interesting things to be found in every community around the globe — from learning about ecosystems in the great outdoors, to investigations into farming practices in rural communities, to inspiring students to take action to address problems that they find in their own communities. Putting a camera in the hands of students helps them to notice the world around them with more intention, leading to incredible questions and discoveries. 

Learning by doing 

I really liked what Makayla shared about the school she visited in Bali where students were learning by doing and that they were working on building and sharing different ideas, while solving different problems that they saw in their communities. This speaks to the type of work that we do at Future Design School around human-centered design. We use a repeatable framework of ideation, validation and rapid prototyping to help students create meaningful solutions for problems that they identify in their local, national or global communities. Students gain deep empathy for their users, testing their assumptions along the way to having an impact. Interested in taking a deep dive into design thinking? Consider registering for our Certified Design Thinking Educator program starting in January Join our next cohort of innovative educators who are eager to develop their skills and gain a toolkit of methods and activities to use in their classrooms and/or schools for solving big problems and engaging students.

This is just a short taste of Makayla’s journey and I’m already seeing ways in which we can further develop a Global and Future vision in students. This is just the first of 2 posts, so stay tuned to hear more from Makayla!

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