Do We Need To Rethink Children “Not Even Knowing That They’re Learning?”

Back in January, our principal, John, arranged for Brian Aspinall to come and visit our school for three days to support teachers and students with coding and computational thinking ideas. In addition to Brian visiting our school, we also each got a copy of his book, Code BreakerI’ve been eager to read the book since I’ve received it, and finally found some time over March Break to do so. Brian’s conversational style made this book so easy to read that I actually finished it in one sitting. Considering my love of “social reading,” it’s no big surprise that Code Breaker inspired a few different Twitter and Instagram posts.

When I first finished the book, I was tempted to embed all of my thoughts and questions in one blog post, but I decided to minimize the purple text (check out Doug Peterson’s comment about this one to understand the back story here), and focus this post on a single point.

A Screenshot Of The “Purple Comment” In Doug Peterson’s This Week In Ontario Edublogs Post

I was especially intrigued by the “pooping baby” story at the beginning of Brian’s book. My principal, John, actually summarized this story for me back in January when I told him my “pooping unicorn story.” Strangely enough the unicorn story happened when Brian was visiting our school, and I think that John made a connection. 🙂

On page 3 of Code Breaker, towards the end of the “pooping baby story,” Brian made this comment, which had me pausing, thinking, and folding down the page to come back later.

“The best part was that Jaime was having so much fun, he probably didn’t realize he was mastering geometry skills and meeting his school’s curriculum expectations.”

I’ll admit that I’ve made similar types of comments in the past. Maybe I said something such as, “The children were having so much fun that they didn’t realize they were learning,” or “As they’re playing this game, they’re actually learning math, but they don’t even know it.” Lately though, I’ve had a change in thinking around students learning, but not realizing that they are doing so. I wonder if the Kindergarten Program Document has changed me. Noticing and naming learning is a key component of this Document, and it’s why my teaching partner, Paula, and I spend so much time using the terminology that we do with kids. We want students to see the connection between their actions and the expectations, so that we don’t get comments such as, “When do we learn math?”

Now Brian’s book is a short one, and maybe he did make these geometry links for Jaime and just didn’t indicate this in Code Breaker. That said, I think this topic is worth discussing anyway. If we want kids to see the links between their applications and the expectations, then we need to talk about them. Lisa Thompson, the Minister of Education, recently discussed a new math curriculum, which is supposed to include a renewed focus on STEM. I think to see the success of this kind of approach, students can’t just be engaged in STEM activities, but also need to understand and discuss the thinking and learning behind them. Then math becomes meaningful and expectations make sense. What do you think? Do we need to reconsider the belief that it’s great when children are learning and they don’t even know itKnowing matters. It’s what adds a whole new dimension to play and experimentation.


2 thoughts on “Do We Need To Rethink Children “Not Even Knowing That They’re Learning?”

  1. Interesting read, Aviva. And, you know that I was just yanking your chain about the purple. I know why you do it and it works with your style of writing. Don’t ever change it!

    I don’t subscribe to the “learning without knowing it” theory. I think it’s one of those cutesy things that are used to engage an audience when you mention it and get a chuckle or two. Anyone who has ever been in the classroom knows that those moments happen regularly. I think it’s human nature and a natural fallout from trying to get 22, er, 28 people on the same page. Not everyone learns at the same time and pace. But when learning happens, it needs to be recognized.

    If you’re prepared to accept success with drive by learning, I would suggest that you’re missing the point of teaching and learning. Learning breeds more learning and you aim for consolidation along the way. To accept that you’re going to learn something without knowing it and not going anywhere with it seems to be missing the point. It may be spelled out at the beginning of a lesson or it may appear as a result of taking on a project that requires new learning. I believe that only when it’s recognized and celebrated that you can build on it.

    In education, if it’s not replicable and that requires intent, did learning really happen?

    • Thanks for the comment, Doug! I did realize that you were just “yanking my chain” about the purple print, but I also knew that I had many different questions/wonders related to Brian’s book, and maybe chunking my thinking would be a good idea. If not, the whole post might be purple. 🙂

      While I understand what you’re saying here, I think in an elementary classroom situation — especially in the early years — this learning really can happen without kids knowing it. Or, at least, they can be on the cusp of this learning, but it’s through the conversation — and the noticing and naming — that the application really starts to happen. For example, a child might be sorting the blocks into different areas as he/she puts them away. By naming this as sorting and questioning why we do it, does it help the child see the value of sorting in other situations? Does it make the child realize that math is a part of play and life? Thinking about the pedagogy in the Kindergarten Program Document, if an educator is supposed to observe the play and make the links to the learning (instead of starting with the expectations and creating the experiences that align with them), it would be easy for a child to experience new learning, but not make connections to bigger ideas. This is why, the question of, “When are we learning math?,” is actually more common than you might think.

      Your comment though makes me wonder if this really is more of an early years/early elementary concern. Is the nature and structure of older grades such that this wouldn’t really happen? Thanks for pushing me to think more here, Doug!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *