From the campfire to the holodeck: Creating engaging and powerful 21st Century learning environments

As usual, I’m using my holidays to plough through my pile of books which I collected throughout 2015 and didn’t get time to read. This one – From the campfire to the holodeck – has been shouting at me to read it for a while and, having just finished it, I can officially say my mind is expanded.

In this book, David Thornburg takes us through some different ideas about spaces (both real and metaphorical) for learning – campfires, waterholes, caves and life.

Campfires are where learners gather around a more experienced person and learn from their stories. Sound familiar? It should – this has been the dominant educational paradigm forever. Or at least a really, really long time. In most classrooms you walk into around the world, this is how most students will be learning, for most of the time. And there are far too many ‘mosts’ in those sentences.

Waterholes are where peers gather and learn from each other through conversations, working together and general social interaction. The latest buzzword for this is ‘collaboration’ but how many times are we truly allowing our students to learn with and from each other? And how often is this valuable time cut short so we can move on to the next thing?

Caves are spaces for quiet reflection and contemplation – time to be alone and think. I think this is an area that needs to be worked on – how much time and space do we give to students to do this?

And life is the practical space where all of the skills and knowledge acquired in the other settings come together to be put to work. Taking the abstract and making it real, giving it purpose. Transfer the knowledge gained across disciplines and see how it all fits together.

Before you start imagining students running off to build caves under tables and setting fire to your carpet, these aren’t necessarily actual spaces, more ways of thinking about learning and the different ways it happens. However some people involved in classroom design have certainly gone down a more literal path and I can see how this could be quite successful.

Further chapters in the text talk about how these spaces can be seen and utilised in the virtual world and how technology can support such a framework.

Most mind-blowing of all is the section of Thornburg’s book about holodecks. These very game-like spaces allow learners to be immersed in real, captivating scenarios where learning is critical to the success of the mission (not just required to get a good score on NAPLAN). At first, I will confess to being a little sceptical but, by the end of the chapter, I was completely won over. I’ve now started reading a little more on the work of Woorana Park Primary in Melbourne – looks to be an amazing school doing truly groundbreaking things.

My mind is well and truly buzzing right now, full of possibilities and ideas. As well as a few potential walls (and people to convince). So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to my cave for a while to contemplate. Catch up with you around the waterhole about it later…

105521304_e0f096f2a3_zimage ‘By the campfire‘ by Cape Cod Cyclist at

What’s so good about being a teacher?

An article in The Age this morning and the subsequent twitter conversation has got me thinking about why I became a teacher and, more importantly, why I’ve stayed a teacher for the last 7 years.

I came to teaching later in life – graduated when I was 31. I’d already got an Arts degree, had travelled, had tried out innumerable other jobs and hadn’t found any that really fitted. Then my best friend went back to University to study teaching and started telling me stories of classroom life. Teaching was something that I think had always been in the back of my mind but I hadn’t felt ready before.

Getting in to a teaching course, even as a mature age student, was challenging with limited places being offered for postgraduates at the time (my course had space for 6 people). But once I was in, I knew it was the right fit and the right time. Others didn’t and the numbers dwindled, particularly in the undergraduate course that we shared classes with. Noticeably, numbers were always somewhat diminished after teaching rounds, as if the reality of daily life with students was enough to put some people off.

In my first teaching role, my colleague referred to me as ‘the enthusiastic graduate’ and, even though the graduate bit is no longer true, the enthusiasm is still there. I honestly love being a teacher. I won’t pretend there aren’t bits that I would happily give away but the highs definitely make up for it. Seeing students eager to return after the holidays and to share their adventures with you. Watching a Prep student ‘click’ and read a book for the first time. Helping a Grade 6 student who has always hated writing connect with a topic so strongly that he doesn’t want to go outside when the lunch bell goes. Catching a parent after school to tell them how confident their child was when giving their talk in class and watching the parent beam with pride. Getting into the zone with colleagues when planning exciting learning experiences, ones that you’re looking forward to because you know how much the students will love them. Connecting with students each day and watching them grow and develop.

I could go on – the list of positives is a long one and I truly hope that we can find a way to attract more passionate, caring, professional, intelligent and dedicated people to the teaching profession. Is the answer to put an arbitrary hike on ATAR scores so that we restrict it to those with the highest Year 12 marks? I doubt it. I know some amazing teachers who didn’t do so well in Year 12 for a variety of reasons who would have been locked out if that were the case. Or is the answer making students go through an undergraduate generalist degree before attempting a postgraduate degree in education? I don’t think there are any easy, one size fits all answers. What we do need to do is raise the profile of teaching and of teachers, however we can. After all, is there anything more important than preparing the next generation to run the world?