Monday, March 9, 2015

What Does Awesome Learning Look Like?

Innovation doesn’t start with tools. It starts with questions. 

EdTechTeacher teamed up with Google to host a Google for Education Jamboree in Boston recently. During the opening, I talked about what I think innovative teaching and learning look like.

For me, the process begins with engaging questions that challenge students to address issues and solve problems. Innovation doesn't start with technology, but technology can spur innovation through problem-solving research, creation, and collaboration  The key is to formulate questions that lead to deeper learning and engagement. As Program Manager for Google Play for Education, Marta da Silva said in kicking off the event: “If we’re just asking questions that kids can Google the answers to, then obviously we’re asking the wrong questions.”

During my keynote I played a video about the grand-prize winners of the 2014 Google Science Fair. Three 17-year-old girls from Ireland became interested in addressing the global food crisis after learning about the Horn of Africa famine in 2011. When they discovered nodules growing on the roots of pea plants while gardening, they learned that a certain kind of bacteria lives in these nodules and draws nitrogen from the air, storing it in the plant’s roots and enhancing their growth. Encouraged by their teacher, the girls wondered: How might this knowledge be applied to cereal crops, helping farmers in underdeveloped countries? Through experiments, analysis, and field trials, the girls determined that the bacteria could be used to speed up the germination process of certain crops, like barley and oats, by up to 50 percent—helping to meet the rising demand for food worldwide.

What can educators learn from their example? This life-altering project began with a simple question that sparked the girls’ interest and tapped into their desire to make a difference. When the right question enters a student's ear,  awesome learning can happen. So, let's continually work on asking questions that matter.

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