I think that if curiosity, an intrinsic need to communicate, and future orientation are sources of energy that we can depend on to power flat classroom learning engines, then to some degree, the fuel that powers that energy is heritage. I mean this in the broadest terms possible, not merely the historical and cultural foundations of our lives, but also our environmental, economic, and media experiences.
It’s possible that a better term for this is context, and I often use the term context to structure learning objectives. However, context is a container, and I’m looking for fuel, a spring board, and heritage makes more sense. Simply said, the fuel comes from the time in which we live, in relation to past times; our geographic location and how it influences us; who we live with locally and globally and how we live with them; and a lot of “why!”
Millennials have something of a disadvantage, compared to my generation. The baby boomers were perhaps the most heritage grounded generation ever, because we grew up with Television. This is especially true of folks who are at least in their 50s. Our culture suddenly had a rich new way to broadcast information, and a sudden desperate need for information to express. We also had centuries of stories, both fact and fiction, documentary and literary, to be converted into sound and motion, to be shared with the developed world. I suspect that I saw more true pictures of my world, my time, my culture, my heritage, than any previous generation in history, and I also believe that this heritage provided me with enormous fuel to power my sometimes overactive imagination.
I could be wrong, but I believe that my children have not seen so much of their world. Their experience has revolved more around the fantasies of their video games or the local and narrow concerns of their IM communities. There’s only so much that you can say about The Battle of Gettysburg, The Third Reich, The invention of the Steam Engine, Napoleon, etc. and there are only so many ways that we can portray The Taming of the Shrew (Ten Things I Hate about You).
The stories are not dead. They remain valuable and even entertaining. But to drill into this fuel, we need to think more about the perpetual engine of learning, and engine that generates fuel through the energy of its own action. Use students curiosity and intrinsic need to communicate to inspire interest in history, science, literature, and health. Rather than playing a movie for the class about the age of exploration, ask teams of students to find, select, and mix a variety of digital content together into their own stories. Ask students to present their stories, and respond and discuss their work and their insights. In other words, use curiosity and communication to turn learning into a conversation. Conversations are powerhouses of energy that can drive learning in a flat classroom.