A bell rings. Mathematics. Another bell rings. English. Rinse and repeat. Rinse and repeat for 13 years. A high school graduate emerges, certificate in hand with an education geared towards excelling in examinations. Loaded with distinct skills, ideas and concepts from a world long since forgotten, ready to take on this world in constant change. Or are they?
On the way home, graduation certificate in hand, disaster ensues. A flat tyre. "I'll call dad". Sorry, out of range. "I'll wait for a knight in shining armour". Oh no, quiet road, there won't be another car all day.
We can all picture and feel this harrowing event. Waiting patiently on the side of the road without any idea of what to do. All the elements to deconstruct the problem, find a sustainable solution and have fun while learning are there. The skills to effectively change the tyre are all there; reading, math, physics, physical education, etc. The problem here is they aren't linked in a way that's useful for taking on real world problems. Furthermore, because of the segregation of school subjects, the skills required to deconstruct a problem to little bits to construct a solution have not been adequately developed.
Concept-based learning takes this idea one step further. Instead of just working out how to change the tyre and going on your merry way, concept-based learning would task students with asking deeper open-ended questions. The best part about it is that the students, lead by their curiosity and with guidance, decide what they find important, jump down a knowledge rabbit hole and take complete ownership and responsibility for their learning.
How does it work?
Concept-based learning connects many subjects, in multiple ways, to the real world.
Concept-based learning takes real life ideas as the starting point for student-centered learning. Students then form collaborative groups and share responsibility for their progress. This group, along with their teacher, becomes their learning community, where the students push each other to innovate solutions to real world problems. In the tyre example, student groups might discuss and work on questions such as these;
Why did the tyre blow out?
What is the tyre made off and what is the history of rubber and the wheel?
What is the impact the combustion engine has on the environment?
How does a hybrid vehicle work?
What is an autonomous vehicle and how will their introduction affect humanity?
As you can see, concept-based learning is learning in the real world. In our current switched on world, when we don't know something we do a quick internet search to reveal all the information we could possibly need. If that is not enough to quench our curiosity, we follow links within the content. These links are what Concept-Based Learning helps build in the students. The world is an interconnected place; why would we teach it in any other way?
Intellectually, students are pushed outside their comfort zones and operate at a higher capacity. They're average becomes exceptional, they're exceptional becomes extraordinary. They're extraordinary becomes the innovation that builds a sustainable future.
What other benefits does it hold for the students?
CBL combines STEAM, 21st-Century Skills and Positive Education.
21st-century skills are the skills required to participate successfully in the global economy. Students need to develop the following;
Collaboration and teamwork.
Creativity and innovation.
Critical thinking and problem-solving.
Communication and digital literacy
Positive education is based on Martin Seligman's PERMA model. Positive education promotes schools as places of teaching and learning that focus on developing key character attributes alongside academia.
STEAM builds on STEM education by incorporating the arts. STEAM is STEM plus 21st-century skills. The arts add communication, innovation, creativity and design to science, technology and mathematics. To understand the importance of training students in STEAM check out the following statistics.
1. In the US, the average median hourly wage for STEM jobs is double that of the average for all other jobs.
2. STEM professionals enjoy half the unemployment rate to their non-STEM colleagues
3. STEM jobs will grow by 17% compared to 12% in other industries
Think about the forward thinking companies that occupy the entrepreneurial landscape. UBER, Facebook, Tesla, Airbnb, etc. They're all tech companies. They've been built by scientists, designers, mathematicians and engineers. As companies like these continue to dominate their independent markets, the world will need an ever growing amount of STEAM graduates.
Companies such as UBER, Facebook, Tesla and Airbnb are built on STEAM.
Concept-based learning is science, it's mathematics, it's technology, it's engineering. The arts arrive when students communicate and present their findings in creative and innovative ways.
Concept-based learning is all about the educational journey and the skills students learn on their way to mastery of curriculum topics. The skills students learn on the way prepare them to be active, functional and happy members of society.
Decorated educator, John Gatto states:
The primary goal of real education is not to deliver facts but to guide students to the truths that will allow them to take responsibility for their lives.
The world is advancing at an incredible rate. Consider a year six student today; they will learn based on a curriculum. Curriculums, by their very nature, are dated as soon as they are printed and are ill able to prepare students for the future. Even a brand new curriculum has been under development for at least a year. If we don't teach with the future in mind, we are teaching in the past. Students need to be learning in an integrated STEAM environment shown to them via the mediums they'll use as they grow into adults.
To truly engage students in their learning, the content must be more than connected to the real world, it has to be the real world. They must work together in groups and push each other to excel. They must learn by solving problems, being creative and being innovative.
Subjects should be integrated and not controlled by the ringing of the school bell. Their learning must be authentic, their outcomes based in reality.
They must be able to change a tyre without prior knowledge while considering the impact cars have on the environment.
They must learn via concept-based learning!
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