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In what Anne describes as a long-term advanced role-play, the students are in charge of shaping every aspect of the nursing home.
Even though the nursing home doesn't exist in real life, it comes to life virtually in itslearning. The use of itslearning makes work-related teaching more realistic, because students are introduced to new roles in itslearning.
Anne was one of three winners in the category Creative use of a learning platform in the Share & Use Conference in 2011. Anne and her students combine digital tools with a range of learning methods – both oral and written – such as mathematics, drawing and role-play. The students experience a sense of value when their work proves useful for their "colleagues" at the nursing home. Let me explain: the conference was (full disclosure) funded by our education program in collaboration with the Raikes Foundation, and it was organized by one of our grantees, a public charter school in San Diego called High Tech High.
The session, which lasted seven hours (yes, you read that right), took place in a classroom at High Tech High.
After a certain amount of negotiating, once we agreed on our standards, we recorded our measurements and added them to a large sheet of paper at the front of the class. Then we were given pencils, paper, markers, and watercolors and asked to do what Ron called a “scientific” drawing of our lobster. After that, we read a very dry scientific journal article about—amazingly—the relationship between a lobsters’ differently sized claws.
Finally, we presented our poster projects, first to the other members of the class, then in a poster session for participants from the rest of the conference, who cycled through the various rooms to learn about what others had learned that day.


By the end of the day, I realized that this was the single most interesting and useful conference I have ever attended.
Can you imagine if you were tested on the material presented at two hundred crappy conferences and your test results determined if you got a raise or a promotion?
As I think back on this really illuminating day, I realize that I have known the technical definition of deeper learning, but I had never actually felt it.
Anne Brunborg is a nurse by profession and works as a health education teacher at Royken Upper Secondary School in Norway. Her students literally start from scratch as they have to "build" the virtual nursing home with the help of students from the construction course. Their teachers provide the framework for the role-play and act as advisors – for example by helping diagnose patients and giving advice on the nursing home’s finances – with the overall goal of creating an engaging learning experience.
Anne has created a course that serves as an intranet portal for the nursing home – similar to the information channels her students will use in real-life nursing institutions.
This gives them more responsibility and increases their awareness about the activities in itslearning. A realistic teaching situation motivates the students and inspires a feeling of relevance that generates engagement," Anne explains. Common core subject teachers are invited into the vocational training via itslearning – and Anne says experience with itslearning may help the students in the future.
A survey conducted in itslearning shows that the students appreciate the opportunity to learn from each other. There were thirty or so participants in the session, called A Deep Dive into the World of Lobsters. We were invited over to a tank of lobsters, and asked to get with our partners and select a live lobster, which we placed in a small plastic container filled with cold water on our desk. We had to measure the length and width of the lobster’s crusher and cutter claws, measure the length of the carapace, and then weigh the creature. With the data from all seven lobsters collected and shared, we were then asked to analyze one pair of data. We also found out that lobsters can be lefties or righties—some lobsters’ crushers are on the left, but most are on the right.
After having spent so much time looking at, thinking about, and working together with our classmates and our lobster, we were able to unpack the jargon and make sense of complex material. Most schoolchildren today sit in classes that are the equivalent of truly lousy conference sessions.
Deeper learning gives children the opportunity to collaborate, solve problems, communicate what they’ve learned, master rigorous academic content, and it challenges them to stick with it even if the work is difficult. To make her nurse training course more practical, she uses itslearning to create a fictional nursing home and uses storyline – a pedagogical method for active learning – to bring life to the teaching.
In itslearning, the aspiring nurses communicate with each other and the teachers, read news, and hand in work requirements – all as part of the role-play.
They also like the variety of assignments, responsibility and realistic teaching that can be directly transferred to a real nursing home.
During the process, I learned not just about lobsters and conferences, but about how we can and must do a better job of teaching our children.


After spending more time erasing than drawing, I finally produced something that was at least recognizably a lobster.
Somebody stands at the front of the room and presents a boring recitation of facts and figures.
It’s not the fault of anybody in particular, but it’s our collective responsibility to fix this. Schools are already doing it across the country, but they are succeeding in spite of an education system that designs poor curricula, fails to give teachers the tools they need, and administers tests that reveal little about what our kids can do. I also realized what we all can agree on—that we’ve got to stop sending our schoolchildren to twelve years of terrible conferences. Bates of the Chevron Corporation as the keynote speaker, and Kevin Kline, local morning radio host on The New 93Q, as the wrap-up session speaker.
Rather than list the various characteristics of deeper learning, let me explain how I spent my day at this deeper learning conference, in a session devoted almost entirely to learning about lobsters, and why that was a great thing. Our session was led by Ron Berger and Steven Levy of Expeditionary Learning, an organizationthat partners with public district and charter schools  across the country. Ron pointed out how often students working together in the classroom come up with questions that even the experts miss. This exercise required me to examine our lobster very carefully and I learned a lot about lobsters just by looking closely. How much of the time were you learning something useful (who knew this would be so useful?) and how often were you sneaking a peak at your smartphone or just plain blowing off a session so you could catch up with friends or colleagues? I know that many, many more teachers and school districts can draw this metaphorical lobster a lot better than they think they can. Then you’ll know what deeper learning is and why it’s so important that every child receives this kind of education. Even better, these classes are occasionally even tasked with conducting some of the research!
In fact, I have been in many one-hour conference sessions that felt like seven, but this session flew by. This is part of what educators call an “academic mindset,” which also includes a student’s sense that they belong in an academic community, can succeed at a given task, and that the work has value for them. How much do we miss out on when we just give up because we don’t consider ourselves good at drawing—or math or science?
With a vegetarian in our group, this set off a very lively discussion, as you might imagine. Some of the answers were found in the set of materials we received; others required agreement among the entire class.
Then we administer mind-numbing tests on material that was too boring to remember, and those tests become the basis for whether their schools get more money, the teachers get raises, and what kind of colleges the kids attend. Agreement was necessary, though, if we were going to be able to compare our data with other groups.



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