Knowledge is Power: Students Taking Charge of Their Own Learning

Research is creating new knowledge.-Neil Armstrong

We have been studying the rainforest.  Kids love animals and the plethora of exotic animals in the rainforest creates instant interest and curiosity.  One day the wonderment and inquiry had reached fever pitch.  “Does the poison arrow frog have any predators?” ” How big is a giant anteater anyway?” “Are howler monkeys nocturnal or diurnal?” And my personal favorite question that was asked, “How does chocolate come from the rainforest?” I started writing down all of our questions so that we could figure out how we would solve them.  Before I finished, someone said, “I think we should look on Safari on our iPads.” Someone else immediately asked if they could “research” rainforest to find some answers.  Do you see the rich vocabulary here?  These questions and statements are not being paraphrased.  This is what happens when children feel empowered to take charge of their own learning. I barely had nodded yes to the research question when my room looked like the start line at the Boston Marathon.  Someone found a website on Safari that had several rainforest animals.  Peer sharing began immediately.  The students started finding images and information about animals that interested them.  They helped each other and they were engaged, focused and excited.  Without me giving any directions…on their own they started saving images and importing them into Pages.  They debated font size, picture size and word choice.  I facilitated, checked-in with groups, answered a few questions and mostly just let them have at it.  Their conversation was rich with the language of inquiry. They worked on this for over an hour before we had to stop. After lunch they came back to it and worked until they finished.  Here is one student’s work that is finished. Keep in mind these children are 5 years old and have no keyboarding skills other than “hunt and peck”.

This lesson was completely student-driven.  It all started with me reading a non-fiction book on the rainforest.  My plan was to go in a different direction but once the questions started, I knew my plan was out the window and we were headed down a different path.  But…isn’t that how it’s supposed to be?  Inquiry-based learning teaches problem solving and critical thinking skills. It develops student ownership of their learning and builds student interest in the subject matter.  Inquiry allows students to create their own knowledge. The iPads give the accessibility needed for each student to do the research.  With only 4 computers in our class just 2 years ago, this would have never been possible.

I’ve been asked what happens when the children become bored with the iPads.  They say, “Oh, it’s a source of fascination now, but what happens when it no longer is?”  My answer to that is two fold.  First, if it is being used as a toy and not a learning tool, then it will gather dust on a shelf somewhere.  However, if it is integrated into the curriculum properly, it will be as valuable to students as our own laptops, smartphones, and computers are to us as adults.   When was the last time you used a phone book to look up a phone number or address?

My friends, knowledge is power.  Our students are overflowing with wonder and an urgency to learn.  We need to equip them with all the tools necessary to be successful.

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5 thoughts on “Knowledge is Power: Students Taking Charge of Their Own Learning

  1. I LOVE reading your blog… full of rich ideas for teachers and parents… THANK YOU for the work you are doing with our children!

  2. Dillon brought home a drawing of the rainforest that he is very proud of. He was telling me all about it. It’s fascinating to hear about what he’s learning at school without even having to ask.

  3. Kristi,
    I always love reading your blog, but today you made me laugh! I just finished explaining to someone that children will never get “bored” using iPads if they are used as a tool. Here is the analogy I used: If you think about paper, it can be used in many ways. Children can sit and complete worksheet after worksheet that has been run on paper and be very bored with the worksheets. But then you can have them use a piece of paper for art or to fold a paper airplane and they are thrilled. It was never “paper” that they were bored with, just the way it was used. So, too, with iPads. Children might get bored with an activity on the iPad because it is low level (and worksheet like), but they won’t get bored with the tool, especially not when it is used as a tool. Hope that makes sense! Anyway, I had to laugh because here we are across the US from each other, yet trying to get the same point across. Thank you so much!
    An Open Door

    • Camille,
      Thanks for your comment. I really love your analogy and will probably “borrow” it for some upcoming discussions on iPads in my district. It is dead-on accurate!

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