How do you learn best? Are you an audio, visual or hands on learner?

Obviously, there is more than one way to learn. While many schools focus on telling rather than showing, Michael Neden, Director of Technology Education at Pittsburgh University, believes in the latter. Neden, who has taught technology and engineering, is an advocate for learning by doing and here at Rokenbok, we are too!

"As a practicing educator for over 35 years, I have developed a strong interest in how students learn and how we try to teach them effectively," Neden said. "I see young children entering kindergarten eager to learn new things and trying to absorb all they can.  I have also seen how we, as teachers, have taken that natural childhood enthusiasm and made it boring and uninspiring."

Neden experienced this first-hand as a child when he switched schools in the 4th grade. His new teacher presented math in a way that he didn't understand and he began to struggle.

"This quickly led me to believe that I was not 'smart' enough to do math, and so I spent the rest of my years in school believing that I was not good in math and avoided it as much as possible," Neden explained. "I regret that notion and even today wish that I had a better understanding of math as I apply it to complex problems and applications."

These learning differences affect kids in all subjects and can quickly make them fall behind in their studies and make them feel like they aren't good enough.

Neden incorporates hands-on learning into his technology and engineering classes. He specifically develops curriculum, labratories and assessments that consist of buidling, testing and creating. Over the years, he's observed how kids learn and why “experiencial” learning is effective.

Listed below are some of his thoughts on what he considers to be essential literacies in children:

#1 - Prescribed Learning Versus Creative Learning

Much of traditional teaching methodology uses prescribed curriculum models that work on the notion that learning takes place in a very narrow format and that all students pretty much learn in the same way. It is easy to assign chapters to read, prepare lectures to deliver, and write tests to evaluate, but very little opportunities are given to “apply” what you have learned to practical life experiences. It is harder to provide “hands-on” learning experiences and with time restrictions in the daily schedule make it seem to some that it is just not worth the effort. I reject this premise.

Great learning takes place when the emphasis is on the student and building life “experiences” rather than just on “knowledge.”  A young doctor who may “know” about a new procedure, but until he/she has actually “performed” the procedure is not likely to be the doctor I would want working on me.

The Rokenbok Building system provides teachers and students with the resources and tools needed to support creative and innovative learning experiences that are relevant and meaningful.

#2 - Lead the Way, But Let Them Go

Step by step instructions are one way to introduce procedures, but this method is only a pathway to “one” desired result. This approach is beneficial to “introduce” new information and processes to children, but once they have completed the “prescribed” solution, they need to have an opportunity to apply that new knowledge to something of their own choosing.

This is why the Rokenbok building components are so inherently educational. The design and flexibility of the system allows for well-defined pictorial plans be used to construct a product or project, while still supporting creative and innovative learning opportunities for children of all ages. Curriculum models that present relevant scenarios that challenge students to apply their past “experences” to new and creative solutions is at the heart of effective curriculum development.

#3 - Let Kids Fail and Fix

The notion that failing is a bad thing, fails to match reality. Difficult learning challenges may not always be “fun,” but they often provide some of the most lasting and rewarding learning ever experienced. We learn much from our failures and ultimately it make us stronger and more successful in the future. This doesn’t mean that we allow students to flounder, we help them transform their failures into positive learning for the future.

When using Rokenbok Building components in my classes to solve a problem or create a new design, it is the accepted norm, from all my students that they will try an idea, reject it, rebuild it and test it again, over and over until they get it right.  If they weren’t allowed to “fail” and then “fix” things, they would miss out on a great learning experience and would lack the confidence to try something new.

#4 - One Size Doesn’t Fit All

I am a big fan of Howard Gardner and his concept of multiple intelligences.  The idea that all kids learn the same way is absurd. Dr. Gardner’s premise is that all students learn in different ways and that legitimate learning should promote the opportunities for students to learn in their “own” way.  A great teacher will recognize the “individual” strengths and weaknesses in his/her students and will provide unique learning opportunities for success and understanding.

The Rokenbok Building system allows for students with various abilities to be successful in many different ways and provides teachers with a powerful tool to create the type of learning environment that promotes the uniqueness of each student.  Even the low achievers are drawn to designing and building things when traditional teaching methods fail to motivate or inspire.

While the video won't let us embed it, you can click the link to check out Dr. Gardner’s philosophy of education on YouTube:

#5 - Talking Teamwork    

The idea of sitting silently in your desk chair while the teacher drones on about things you have no interest in is counter-intuitive to basic leaning concepts.  Adults in the “real” world and seldom alone and required to sit passively throughout the day.  It is just the opposite.  We are encouraged to communicate with our fellow workers, to collaborate, to negotiate, to participate, and contribute to the overall goals of the team.  This should be the model that is presented in the schools of today, where these team-building skills are reinforced, not discouraged.

Using “Design Briefs” to present students with opportunities to work with a team or partner are at the
essence of the Rokenbok Building system.  The flexibility of the system allows for teams of students to work together to solve problems and reinforces the neccessary elements involved in positive teamwork.






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