Wednesday, February 11, 2015

That's the Learning Commons

Our school is identified as a bilingual campus with a diverse student population, more than 60% of whom are considered at-risk. Many of our students and their families tend to have a high rate of mobility, causing them to exhibit gaps in either background knowledge and/or academic achievement. Generally speaking, our students struggle with content knowledge and are further hindered by a lack of experience in problem-solving and critical thinking. During his 2012 State of the Union address, President Obama called attention to the dwindling pool of future U.S. innovators and emphasized the importance of young Americans entering careers in Science, Technology, Engineering,Arts or Math (STEAM). Industry groups are also calling on schools to graduate more engineers while fostering educators with innovation-based skills to help the future workforce qualify for the Science, Technology, and Math fields that are projected to grow in the coming years. 
According to a 2012 Lemelson-MIT invention index, this polled 16-25 year-olds around the U.S. and asked them what could be done differently in schools. 54% said including invention projects during school or a field trip would help. 52% said they wanted a place to develop an invention in school. 80% said they would be interested in courses that would help them develop innovative spirit and creativity and another 45% said that invention was not given enough attention in school. That’s where the Learning Commons comes in. It will immerse students in STEAM related activities that promote creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and communication. Learning spaces need to reflect the way that students learn today and that's what the Learning Commons does. It's an environment rich in evocative objects that will trigger active learning by letting students pick what to engage with. Children of all ages and levels need places where they can learn by touching, manipulating, and making things with their hands. That's the Learning Commons.
"Education must shift from instruction to probing and exploration." This quote from Marshall McLuhan explains the way our Learning Commons works. Our students learn best through independent discovery and creating things themselves. Giving students opportunities to make and create will transform them from consumers into makers and will foster their sense of creativity and wonder. By providing these experiences to our students, we can prepare them to be the engineers, inventors, and scientists of the 21st Century. We are closing the achievement gap between economically disadvantaged students and their peers by providing them with the same opportunities. The Learning Commons will immerse students in those STEAM skills.
School libraries are no longer the hushed, vaults of books that we remember. They are now active, bustling environments where collaboration and learning are on-going. Encouraging our students to embrace their creativity, to collaborate, and to think critically about real world problems is a huge part of our Learning Commons mission. The Learning Commons promotes learning through play utilizing standards-based activities and has the potential to demystify science, math, technology, and engineering. When students are engaged in a playful space, that student will learn more easily. Creating playful information-based spaces allows the learner to explore and engage with content on the learner’s terms instead of on the teacher's terms. 
On the learner's terms, that's what the Learning Commons is really all about...the learner.

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