The Role of the Discovery Phase

As we discussed in the previous post, the Discovery process is the beginning of the personal learning environment process, regardless of whether you’re creating your overarching learning environment or just taking on a new project. At its core, the Discovery process sets the goal for your project. It might be learning a new skill or creating something. There may be a single driving question, or you may find that you want to address a few smaller questions as you build up to answer the driving question.

When you start the Discovery phase, you’re looking to answer three question:

  1. What has sparked my interest?
  2. How do I find information related to this topic?
  3. How do I learn new information or skills related to this topic?

We’ll ignore the last two questions for now, but the answer to the first question is the glue that holds the entire PLE together. It’s the reason why you’re even bothering with starting a new PLE to begin with.

This is what makes the Discovery process so important to the PLE: It sets up the topic, question, or problem that will serve as the focus for the rest of the PLE activities. So your first quest is to take your answer to that first question and look at it more closely by asking more questions:

  • What is my intent in working on this project?
  • What question am I looking to resolve?
  • What smaller, related questions will come up as I explore, and how do I want to address them or use them?

Let’s look at an example of how this works. Several years ago, a fair number of my math students were struggling. Only part of the problem could be blamed on overpacked classrooms and teachers who were certified in other areas being assigned to teach math classes. The real problem was that the curricula in use at that point made no sense. Students were expected to know skills they wouldn’t be taught for another two years. It was frustrating to them and to me.

But I saw these students for no more than a couple of hours a week. There was only so much I could do. After they got into their head they needed to clone and miniaturize me so my mini-clone could take their tests for them, I decided maybe I needed to create a simple reference that might help them when I couldn’t.

I had a topic: independent math help. I launched a blog, intending to cover the skills my students were struggling with, as well as the skills that led up to those skills. I put each skill on an index card, along with its prerequisite skills, and laid them out in the order of a traditional textbook. And that’s when everything fell apart – There were too many cards that came before at least one of their prerequisite skills. So now I not only had a topic, but I had the question that needed to guide my project: What is the best order to teach the skills in this math class? (You can still see the influence of this driving question in how I built the Dead Bunny Guides YouTube channel last year.)

Once you have some idea where you’re headed, it’s time to identify potentially useful resources. Depending on how you came across your topic, problem, or question, you might already be looking right at good starting resources. But we’ll look more at that another time.

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One thought on “The Role of the Discovery Phase

  1. Pingback: The Process of Discovery | Genius in Transition

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