Significant Learning Environments

How to Build Safe Learning Environments for Students



I recently bought my dog a new “squeaky” toy. I would laugh as I watched him sling it around but when he bit down on it where it would squeak he would immediately run away. I eventually noticed him “investigating” different parts of the toy till he figured out which part of the toy made the “squeaky” sound and surprisingly that is the part he avoided if he could. I said to myself my crazy dog but in reality meaningful learning had taken place while he was having fun. As educators we need to make changes that would allow students to engage in their learning. The word “play” has become a bad word in the school system. Students now are not expected to have fun and learning is not supposed to be easy or engaging. I think with blended learning, as a teacher I would relinquish some control in the classroom by becoming a facilitator and this would allow students to bring in their own passions, creativity, and imagination into learning

In his book, A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change, authors Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown discuss what true and meaningful learning is and how it looks in different situations. Thomas and Brown argue that natural learning is much more powerful than the traditional style of learning that happens in our schools. I immediately thought of my dog, which is why I included him in my blog.  I watched him explore that “squeaky” toy, and he was completely engrossed in the task. Through his own exploration, he discovered where the squeak came from.  Natural learning is so potent that it is something we should all try to tap into when teaching.


In the video above, Douglas Thomas discusses some of the keys to tapping into natural learning. Passion is fundamental to pure and natural learning.  Thomas also credits imagination as being a key piece in pure and natural learning.  The last but equally important key in authentic learning surprised me. Thomas argues that constraint is needed to unleash the potential of natural learning. After reflecting on this for a while, it began to make more sense. I strongly agree that pure and natural learning is powerful and significant. The challenge is now how to build natural learning into the foundation of my learning environment. I have not planned everything out so I can accomplish this, but I do have the first steps in place to make this a reality.  I will transition myself from the sole information source in the classroom. I will several sources of information on hand in the classroom such as peers, and hey the internet. I plan to become that facilitator and taking a step back and letting the students work at their own “natural” pace.  I also plan to think of creative constraints to use when assessing my students.  This will help spark imagination and creativity with my students.

In my final step I plan to learn what my students’ passions are.  This can come in more ways than one such as observing them individually and see what grasp their attention in school or by simply asking them their hobbies. Once I do that I will cultivate that passion to spark natural learning.  This plan adds to my innovation plan that will enhance the blended learning experience because I will be creating a natural learning environment as a foundation. This will increase learning potential and student achievement within the blended learning station rotation model.

I think my greatest challenge is the shift to creating a significant learning environment.  . It is no simple task and I don’t believe it can be made without ensuring the proper foundations are in place. Another challenge is still being held accountable for teaching distinct objectives. To meet this challenge I will build peer tutoring and online learning as a platform to learn required content. I also plan to match student passions to the objectives. This will allow me to build natural learning into my class environment upsetting the administration. Adopting this plan into my school can have a great impact over time. I’m sure other teachers will notice how much fun my students are having while they learn, and they will wonder what’s going on in there. Their curiosity will lead to asking me questions and in turn I will show and help them set up their own plan to creating a significant learning environment in their classroom as well. The domino that will take place will be rewarding and remarkable.

Getting peers to think more holistically about students and learning environments is a challenge within itself. Educators have been drilled and trained for so long to shove information at our students that we tend to have a very tapered view about learning. Our focus needs to be on the students and how they are learning. Most teachers want to have happy and creative students, and this can happen when students are learning naturally.

My view of learning is much broader now than ever. Everyone is different, and we learn best when we learn naturally. Yes I can admit that I struggle to see the whole picture of learning, but my view is broadening every day and it is defining who I am as a teacher.


Thomas, D., Brown, J. S. (2011, January 4) A new culture of learning: Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change

Thomas, D. (2012, September 12) A new culture of learning, Douglas Thomas at TEDxUFM. Retrieved from

Image retrieved from




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s