Creating Your Significant Learning Environment

Intelligence is not something fixed, but rather a process of learning from the world. Smart is not infinite. Growing is infinite.

Veronica Tugalevia

The Culture of Learning 

This remark concerning my teaching methodology was made by one of my students a long time ago. “Mr. Lindsey, you can utilize anime to teach any lesson,”. The title character in the popular Japanese animated (anime) love story InuYasha inherited his father’s sword to use in safeguarding the the woman he loved. At a point in the series, InuYasha’s sword was damaged and required repair. The sword was repaired, however InuYasha could no longer wield the sword in the previous way he once did. It was discovered that he was using the sword without fully understanding that it took his own strength to repair the blade not his fathers. In this popular Shonen anime, InuYasha’s sword evolved overtime through him mastering his own unique sword technique and not the his fathers. He had to learn how to wield the weapon in accordance with his own fighting style. Just what can our students learn from anime? Honestly, just about anything. 

The new world of today is a vast library of information. Seemingly all of which is at our fingertips. The students of today no longer learn through conventional means such as the classroom or the library. They learn from a combination of personal information gathering and experience. The 21st century student is a technological being who has access to almost infinite resources. You can almost argue the one crucial component is that most of them don’t understand how to access the information available to them. Websites such as Google, YouTube and Wikipedia are the go-to for students working on essays, research papers, math homework, science homework, and even project development.  

In a strange twist of irony, gaming is perhaps the most powerful tool that my students use to learn. Some of my computer science students who have graduated have even cited that gaming is what led them to my class. For example, some of them tinker in the realm of Minecraft. To effectively manipulate the world of Minecraft, one must have a working knowledge of JavaScript. JavaScript is used in such a way that it allows the player to directly influence the game. In both my senior level game programming and design class and my fundamentals of computer science class, gaming is a crucial element of programming in both courses. In the fundamentals class, students learn through programming on the popular website developed by in my tea, scratch. They can take older games and modify them to their liking. Most of the time, my students are working together to build the ideal game of their choosing. My students in game programming and design, also work together to produce a game that reflects their learning throughout the past four years of high school.  

Does all this sound very familiar? This was discussed recently in the book A New Culture of Learning by Douglas Thomas and John Seely brown (2011). in three paragraphs, we have discussed learning through Japanese animation (Anime), popular internet research, and gaming. The unanimous factor about all of these is that most of this was done outside of the classroom rather than inside. Thomas and Brown argue that as children experience new places, people, things, and ideas, they employ play and imagination to cope with the huge rush of information they absorb. 

Using the ideology of A New Culture of Learning, and the engine of programming in app development, can we invite new ways of learning, critical thinking and design in today’s students? Students will always reveal their passion in some type of way or form to their teacher. The concept offered in A New Culture of Learning, revolves around three ideas. The first concept is play, which is defined as the tension between the game’s rules and the freedom to act within them. The second concept is that learning must be nurtured in a structured setting. Finally, the authors propose that there be a large information network (the internet) that provides unrestricted access to information and resources. Our job as educators is to take that passion and use it to ignite a spark in them to learn what we need them to learn. App development is capable of lighting that spark of knowledge within themselves. 

Power of Inquiry  

“We believe that, instead of posing questions to find answers, it is essential to use answers to find increasingly better questions period”  

Thomas and Brown, 2011, 117

The term play is no longer synonymous with fun and games. In today’s world you can think of play as action or movement within the world around you. The act of playing is how we understand things around us. Nearly everyone had to learn how to use a smart phone before getting the hang of it. Grandparents did not start off texting their grandkids when they first got their smartphones, they had to go through a period of discovery and understanding first before they became masters of the art of texting. It is the thirst for knowledge and understanding that motivates people to play in the world that they live in. It’s essentially asking the unanswered question. What do I do? 

“The trick is to figure out how to harness these new resources, which make play, questioning,  and imagination the bedrocks of our new culture of learning. The question is: In the twenty-first  century, how do we cultivate the imagination?” 

Thomas and Brown, 2011, 20

App development is the open-ended answer to the never-ending question of “Is there an app for that?” With thousands upon millions of different mobile applications for different things in the world, why are we still making mobile apps? The answer to that is simple, there is not an app for what goes on in the human mind. What I mean by that is the idea that appears in our head can never be calculated or quantified by the application of another person. When an idea is so large that it needs to be developed find app developer, that is when that person’s idea goes from their brain to the computer and of course until the world. There are infinite possibilities in the realm of app development because the human mind is infinite and its ability to retain and express knowledge is endless. 

“What if questions were more important than answers? What if the key to learning were not the  application of techniques but their invention?” 

Thomas and Brown, 2011, 81

App development opens the path to inquiry-based learning. Where students can answer the question that lies deep within them. Usually, this question takes on the form of what business idea can I produce? How does this make me money? In what ways am I able to express myself? These questions, as their teacher, I opening the pathway to answering this question opens countless doors that normally remain closed in a traditional learning environment. The reason app development isn’t even offered in most high school settings is because it’s mostly considered an extracurricular course. 

Inquiry based learning can give students the accountability and access to the drive needed to push them beyond established limits within the traditional education system. Answering the question deep within them gives them greater room to grow an learn about themselves. Within the classroom, students can delve deeper into this mystery of understanding while at the same time learning an invaluable skill back and help them as they advance in their future. 

Playing (Programming) The Game 

Gaming has evolved way beyond the established conventional norms of shooting and fighting your opponent. Virtual gaming is an entire collective, a community of people and gamers creating, collaborating, developing, and building entire worlds; And all under one roof. Admittedly, students would annoy me with gaming in the middle of my class. “Still, some educators continue to dismiss games as frivolous or time-wasting entertainment, while others ignore the distinctions among them and consider all games to be antisocial and violent, such as Grand Theft Auto or “first person shooter” games.”  (Thomas and Brown, 2011, 107) As I matured as an educator, I realized that this is how they were learning. They were learning through the competitive spirit of each other, forging relationships that I didn’t foresee in my initial experiences with them. 

Gaming is a medium that allows people to connect across a multitude of geographical locations in a variety of virtual land spaces. These virtual worlds allow students, adults, family members, and anyone you can imagine to build upon world unlike the one that we currently live in. 

“We are seeing more and more intergenerational gaming, which picks up on the deeply social  nature of online games while simultaneously providing a context in which even young children  can play the role of “expert” in an increasingly acceptable fashion.” 

Thomas and Brown, 2011,  27

Through playing a game, a vast network of people and opportunity is made accessible, and most people don’t realize this. As discussed by Thomas and Brown, when playing games such as World of Warcraft, Minecraft, Roblox, and any MMO RPG’s, people gain immediate access into a world of different resources and information. This network is meant to help the gamer through various levels of the game. Through this network of information people are evolving as gamers and pushing themselves to become better gamers. They are also learning various social norms in addition to playing the game. Through gaming there learning valuable skills and tapping into networks of resources that most people wouldn’t even come close to understand.  

 “On one hand, games like World of Warcraft produce massive information economies,  composed of thousands of message forums, wikis, databases, player guilds, and communities. In  that sense, they are paragons of an almost unlimited information network. On the other hand,  they constituent a bonded environment within which players have a near absolute agency,  enjoying virtually unlimited experimentation and exploration…” 

Thomas and Brown, 2011,  107

Through my Innovation plan, students will start within the gaming arena as they master the Swift programming language. Swift Playgrounds is an Apple Inc.-developed educational tool and development environment for the Swift programming language. Through this initial step of gaming through app development, students are able to visualize their programming early on. Similar to the students in my fundamentals course, there are learning through a visual representation of complex code that they will soon be programming in. Seeing what they’re working on in real time helps them visualize so much. Additionally, the network of gamers and programmers within the apple education system will also assist them as they continue to develop their ideas. Giving them access early on through swift playgrounds gives the students a chance to form that collaborative environment within the new world in which they are learning programming. In this case, the world is within apple incorporated. And the medium is the swift playgrounds gaming system. 

Using Swift Playgrounds as an introductory medium for learning has already allowed us to accomplish two of the three ideologies within A New Culture of Learning. Swift Playgrounds allows students to learn through play while also providing them with access to a nearly unlimited network of resources. 

Geeking Out Over App Design 

 The unignorable fact is that students don’t really care too much about what they learn in the classroom. To most of them, the rhetorical and almost methodical way of teaching is boring to them. They would rather be outside, in the gym, or anywhere else that isn’t a traditional classroom. In simple terms, traditional education is boring. Yet, is it possible to ignite a passion for learning in students in the traditional classroom setting? The answer to that question is yes! But how? 

 Students want to be heard. They have values and passions within them that have yet to be fully actualized and realized. To the eyes of a student’s passion, we can learn how to best serve them. Most teachers lean towards the student LED classroom initiative. While this is only effective in some scenarios depending on the subject area, the idea of it is correct. By combining a student’s passion with their motivation and the knowledge needed to be learned from their subject, you can develop within a student a constant desire to learn. All through fueling what he/she is most passionate about.  

Thomas and brown provide us with a definition of Geeking out in their book. “Geeking out involves learning to navigate esoteric domains of knowledge a practice and participating in communities that traffic in these forms of expertise.” (Thomas and Brown, 2011, 104) I have a much more simpler definition for you. Ask yourself, have you ever spent hours just researching a random idea that comes into your brain? If the answer to that question is yes, then you are geeking out on whatever subject that appeared in your brain. Geeking out is simply the pursuit of knowledge motivated by a unfulfilled desire or passion within you. It’s an intrinsic desire to answer a question within you. Even if the research was something simple like how to cook scrambled eggs. Most people, find themselves having watched three to 10 YouTube videos on how to make the perfect scrambled eggs. This in its purest form is what geeking out means. 

Our students find themselves geeking out over various subjects all the time. It’s usually just not over the work that their teachers give them. As mentioned before, by combining their passion with the subject area you can fuel a desire to learn more. Through their passions, students are willing 2 show and give more in the classroom because they know that what they’re doing is relevant to them. At the end of the chapter, Thomas Brown posed this statement, “Geeking out asked the question: how can I utilize the available resources, both social and technological, for deep exploration?” (Thomas and Brown, 2011, 104) 

 Finding a student’s passion, and combining the with the framework presented in a new culture of learning and the medium of app development, you can invite an entirely new method of thinking into a student’s life. Can my mobile application solve the problem in my brain? This is the question they will ask themselves. Even if it will be worded differently, this thought process will guide them as they learn more and more. Project based learning is a tool that opens up the path of inquiry within the students’ minds. Mobile applications are the critical thinking tool that will expand their thinking. A student’s passion, is the intrinsic desire within them needing to be fulfilled. Once their passion has been awakened, there is no stopping their potential. 


To conclude, why should we invest time and effort into creating meaningful learning environments for our students? Our learners require an environment that will enable them to reach the depths of their potential that they have yet to achieve. Brown and Thomas’ ideas provided in “A New Culture of Learning” are something I will absolutely examine when I construct my own major learning environment for students and coworkers because they are wide enough to become a foundational viewpoint. At the end of the day, I want to do what is best for my students, both now and in the future. To be successful, we all require a new learning culture and a new framework in this broad new world. 

Harapnuik, D. (2015, May 8). Creating Significant Learning Environments (CSLE). Retrieved from Creating Significant Learning Environments (CSLE) 

TEDxTalks. (2012, September 12). A New Culture of Learning, Douglas Thomas at TEDxUFM. Retrieved from 

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