Sunday, April 3, 2016

Free Range Learning #ASCD16 #MakerEd

I was talking to my wife the other day about kids. For her job, she organizes events for the community and creates programs that engages kids in healthy living. She is amazing at her job and her programs have won national awards. She is the best. While talking, she mentioned the phrase "Free Range Kids". This means kids playing outside on their own without supervision. I didn't know that this was a term and I don't think the vast majority of our parents knew that was term when we were "Free Ranging" growing up.

The term had me thinking though. As schools take away more and more play time (recess) from students, how often do students get to Free Range anything? Schedules have become so structured and students are so stressed, they have little time to just go and do their own thing. I thought about the idea of "Free Range Learning". As teachers, we always encourage our students to explore the world around them and dive into things they are passionate about on their own time. We know that importance of fostering that inquisitive nature. Having that free time has become harder and harder for students. After some time, I realized their is a way to get more Free Range Learning in schools: Makerspaces

For me, this is a no-brainer. Makerspaces should be designed to allow students the freedom to learn and experiment without considerable teacher oversight. Even when we were young and we played outside, our parents still had an idea of what we were doing and could keep us in line if needed. The same is true for Makerspaces in schools. In my opinion, Makerspaces need to be in open areas where students can freely participate. This can be in a part of the classroom in the younger grade levels or in the Media Center. There will always be an adult presences near by to offer guidance if students need it, but, otherwise, the students are on their own to explore and experiment. Locking a Makerspace behind doors and it can only be access when a teacher is in the room is not a good Makerspace in my opinion and it is not supportive of Free Range Learning.

If you really think about it, playing outside as kids was the ultimate Makerspace. We climbed trees, we made swords and shields out of branches and garbage can lids, we created games, tested them, and tweaked them as we went along. We were Making something new every time we stepped outside. Makerspaces in the school can allow students to engage with an entire world of tools that will foster their creativity, encourage problem solving, and support critical thinking. These are all things we did as we played outside and we can now bring it inside. Kids can explore robotics, coding, 3D design, and other STEAM concepts on their own. Makerspaces are a chance to support independent student learning.

The best type of learning is Free Range. As teachers, we know that students excel when they are able to take ownership of their learning. This is one of the many reasons 20 Time/Genius Hour is so successful. This is not a revolutionary idea, but it is something that can be forgotten as we dive into testing in the coming weeks. I encourage all of you out there to consider how you can give your kids an opportunity to be Free Range Learners.