Curiosity Driven Learning: Aya Sakaguchi at TEDxBeaconStreet (Transcript)

I have bad news. A Gallup Student Poll recently found that, the longer kids stay in school, the less engaged they become. In elementary school, three quarters of students are engaged. In high school, it’s less than half. It’s as if they are just going on a slide down into the pool. Everyday, 8,300 students drop out of school. That’s over 3 million students every year.

Unless we make a critical turnaround fast, our students are gonna turn into zombies. But we can make this turnaround happen. We can support them in a new type of learning environment. A curiosity driven learning environment. Think about this: 9 out of 10 of today’s elementary, middle and high school students believe that mobile technology will change the way they learn in the future, and make learning more fun.

In fact, 56% of today’s high school students own smartphones and this number is only going to be higher in the future. For the longest time, we used papers, pencils, erasers, to share what we’ve learned and our observations. But, times have changed and, as an educator, I’ve noticed students in the US, Japan and France use mobile technology to share, communicate and interact with each other. It’s time to start adding mobile technologies to classrooms.

Now, I know that there are critics of this, there are privacy issues, kids can take silly photos. But the benefits of having these students learn to use mobile technology as research tools outweighs all these challenges. It’s time to start thinking about how these students should learn to use the mobile technologies.

So I started thinking: “How may we use mobile technology to address that issue of the student engagement slump that we saw?” And with this question in mind I worked on a solution with fellow educators and designers from Harvard graduate school of education and MIT media lab called “curious learning.” We designed a learning platform and environment where students can use mobile technology as real world observation tools. After learning a new concept or theory, they can go and explore and find evidences or examples of what they’ve just learned.

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They can even share their curiosities and observations with their classmates and their teachers. We call this the curious learning cycle. The teacher assigns real world assignments to their students, that complements classroom curriculum. For example, they can ask students to find examples of geometric patterns for math or pollination for biology. And then students go out into the real world and find examples and evidences of what they’ve been learning.

And to complete the cycle, the teacher facilitates a discussion based on the students’ curiosities and observations and brings those photos back into the classroom. Take John for example. He is learning about fractals in his math class. What’s a fractal? It’s an infinitely complex and self-similar pattern. John’s teacher asked his class to go out into the city and find an example of a fractal.

John decides to go to Golden Gate Park, and he is amazed to see that there are examples of fractals everywhere, and he decides to take a photo of an interesting leaf and share it with his class. His classmate Anna, she decides to go to the piers. She also finds an interesting plant but she isn’t quite sure whether this is a fractal or not. So, she decides to take a photo, to ask her class. And the next day, John’s teacher collects all these photos and they discuss and share and compare them with each other.

Remember that sudden engagement slump that we saw? Let’s reverse it! As students, educators and designers and more, we can imagine and create these new learning environments that allow teachers to connect the curricular content with student observations. We can do this three ways. First, we can allow students to have a voice with their curriculum, to be more engaged with their curriculum. Second, we can give them mobile devices to make learning more fun and accessible to them. And third, we can allow more opportunities for students to discover the real world.

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As an educational technology specialist, I want to increase student engagement, both inside and outside the classroom. These students want to see mobile technology in their learning environment. It’s part of their daily routine to take photos and share them with each other. In fact, the word “selfie” was the 2013 Oxford dictionary word of the year. So, why not let these students use taking photos as an opportunity to learn? These are going to be the lifelong, passionate and curious learners.

Instead of looking like bored zombies, they’ll look like Curious George or Indiana Jones. And with the tools and technologies that we have, the possibilities are endless. Thank you.

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