It doesn’t happen very often, but my last trip to the car wash gave me a lot to think about. I got to witness brief interactions between two employees that got me thinking about all the teaching and learning we do on a daily basis, without even noticing it. Reflecting on this experience inspired me to look at spaces or environments where people are learning from each other in either informal ways, or ways that we wouldn’t traditionally associate with learning.
1 everyday social interactions: Car Wash Employees
I couldn’t catch a picture of the two employees as they were talking, so bear with me and imagine them standing right past that window, which is exactly where they were.
environment: An informal place within a workspace.
activities: People at work but also engaging in social activities.
interactions: Partnership between one Haitian immigrant and one Salvadorian immigrant. I witnessed the Salvadorian man help his Haitian co-worker say the word “better” in a more “american” way. They walked together to my car, when a women with a stroller walked by and waved at the Salvadorian man. He waved back. He then looked at the Haitian man and said with a broad smile “You can say hi too!” He waved his hand “hi” while making eye contact with him, to communicate that it was ok to say hi to people in the neighborhood.
users: Majority group of Salvadorian immigrants and one Haitian immigrant. Both use English as a second (or presumably even third) language.
The two men, right after the second conversation I observed.
People learn, even in challenging situations (in this case, where one person doesn’t speak the language), with the help of other people in their environment. People can learn valuable information about how to navigate a new space (in this case, in the form of social norms) in informal situations.
2 social media: Teachers at an elementary school using social media to build an online learning community.
environment: digital, twitter.
activities: teachers using social media to share their work with their colleagues and with parents.
interactions: Teachers share pictures of their classroom work and activities with other teachers, administrators, and parents. In addition to sharing pictures, they include questions which could help other teachers plan for similar lessons or activities. Some pictures, for example, are meant to showcase something the teacher might be particularly proud of.
objects: smartphones, computers, maybe even cameras.
users: teachers, administrators, presumably parents.
People learn by sharing ideas with each other. My theory is that, when given the choice, teachers would showcase their best work, or work are the most proud of. Therefore, a community like this one is likely to hold exemplars of teaching and learning that other teachers might learn from as well. The network is informal, as it is not moderated or mandated by administrators or other guidelines, and still it is a valuable tool for peers to learn from each other.
3 play: Students rise to the challenge.
environment: Harvard Graduate School Education, Askwith Lecture Hall
activities: students were challenged to build the tallest structure possible, with a limited supply of spaghetti noodles, tape, some string, and a marshmellow (which they had to put on top of the structure they built).
interactions: students worked in groups, with no predesignated roles, to complete the challenge. The activity resembeled much more of a game and much less of a traditional, curriculum-centered learning experience.
objects: spaghetti noodles, marshmellow, string, tape, measuring tape, smartphones to document the experience.
users: students, teaching fellows, professor.
People learn by working in teams to build something. The process of building or constructing an artifact helps people immerse themselves in the challenge. As a result, the participants of the learning experience feel invested in their learning. The limited number of resources helps bring out people’s creativity.