I just finished reading Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World, by Tony Wagner. His book is one of several, guiding our thinking in the creation of a primary school learning commons. Though a good portion of the book focuses on changing the way universities, colleges, and even high schools are structured to promote innovation, there are important lessons for teachers and parents of children of all ages. He suggests “. . . three interrelated elements central to intrinsic motivation, which is central to innovation: play, passion, purpose” (p. 26).
Wagner shares examples of schools that are challenging the status quo by reimagining education and bringing “play, passion, and purpose” to their students. One is the Olin School of Engineering:
“In classes at Olin, the primary goal is not the acquisition of knowledge. The goal is to develop a set of skills – or in Jon Stolk’s terms, competencies – by solving a problem, creating a product, or generating a new understanding. Knowledge is important, but it is acquired on an “as needed” basis” (p. 175).
From his research, Wagner suggests, “The learning culture in all of the schools and programs profiled . . . have similar characteristics. They are all organized around the values of:
- multidisciplinary learning
- thoughtful risk-taking, trial and error
- intrinsic motivation: play, passion, and purpose” (p. 200).
This is what we envision for the learning commons. Though it sounds simple, creating this type of learning environment, given the complexity of learning needs in our classrooms, is easier said than done.
Wagner quotes Mitch Resnick, Director of the Lifelong Kindergarten Research Group at the MIT Media Lab: “The challenge is to set up systems to follow their interests. People tend to dichotomize approaches in education: The teacher is either telling students what to do, or standing back and letting them figure it out. I think that’s a false choice: The issue is not structure versus no structure, but rather creating a different structure. Students need to be exposed to new ideas and learn how to persist. They also need support.” (p. 182)
And this is our challenge – to create a different structure that provides the scaffolding children need to explore possible passions through thoughtful, multidisciplinary play.
There is one important caveat – the characteristics outlined by Wagner need to be in place for teachers, as well as children. So, our second question is, how can we structure the learning commons so that it become a place of play, passion, and purpose for teachers?
Wagner, T. (2012). Creating innovators: The making of young people who will change the world. New York, NY: Scribner