Serendipity, Second Life, and the importance of being nine

Serendipity – the act of finding something fortunate while looking for something else.

My Second Life guide, Kevin Jarrett, sent a link to his Second Life blog and I wound up on his real life home page. Kevin is the K-4 Computer Teacher/Technology Facilitator at Northfield Community School in New Jersey, and like me, a happy immigrant to education from the corporate world.

His site included this fascinating page: The Northfield Community School Grade 4 Computer Repair & Service Club

The Northfield Community School Grade 4 Computer Repair and Service Club is dedicated to refurbishing discarded computers and donating them to local families who don’t presently own one. This is our third year and it’s going to be our best! Our club is made possible by generous support from the Northfield Education Foundation. Teams of students attend meetings over two months and then present the refurbished computers to new owners on “Delivery Night.” It’s fun for everyone and a great service to the community too!

Refurbished computersDid everyone get this? GRADE 4 – yes, nine and ten year-olds. Did someone forget to tell these kids that fixing computers is hard? Did someone forget to tell Kevin that nine-year-olds actually need extensive computer literacy lessons so they can answer multiple choice questions about what CPU stands for? Opps! Too late – they are  doing real work, finding out for themselves that broken things can be fixed, and making a lasting contribution to their community. Hey, is that on the test?

There is no doubt that this experience will change lives, either by these students having a powerful experience of mastery, or by providing families with computers that connect them to 21st century opportunities.

We hear all the time that even high school students aren’t capable of fixing computers, that students can’t create projects that show technology literacy, that they are not responsible enough or trustworthy enough, or that they will “cause more trouble than it’s worth”–and it’s simply not true. A caring adult with a purposeful vision who lets kids shine beats “can’t do it” every time.

Go for it, kids!


PS If you are an educator interested in Second Life, Kevin has just announced SLolar Central (SLolar = Second Life Scholar), a facility providing free temporary office space (and other resources) for K-20 educators and school administrators exploring Second Life. It’s a great opportunity to learn the virtual SL ropes in a community with other like-minded educators and some terrific guides! For more details and signups, see Kevin’s blog.

Treasure trove for constructivist classroom projects

Dr. Alice Christie from Arizona State University has a wonderful site packed with great resources and reading for constructivist educators looking for project-based learning resources. We know Dr. Christie well from her research on student collaboration and GenY, student voice, and many other student-centered papers, presentations, and resources.

The educational technology resource page lists subjects like geocaching, webquests, podcasting, multimedia, and more. Not only are there great examples and ideas, but links to many school websites showing these ideas in action.

For example, one subject that many of our TechYES teachers ask about is spreadsheets, and how to find interesting data for students to use. Dr. Christie’s site has data sources, example spreadsheets, lessons, ideas, articles, and more.

Finally, teachers and grant-writers looking for research to support student-centered, project-based programs like GenYES should definitely look at Dr. Christie’s research and publication page.

E6 Learning Model - Maximizing Constructivist Learning

Speak Up 2006 – listening to student (and parent and teacher) voice

Speak Up Day logoThe Speak Up 2006 survey gave 232,781 students, 21,272 teachers and 15,317 parents the opportunity to speak out about their views on technology, education, and the impact on their lives. All the survey data is online at the Speak Up site, including useful podcasts and slideshows you can share with others.

One of the most interesting sections of this year’s survey reveled student interest in math and science.

  • Students want to learn science and math through real world problem solving, visiting places where science is in action, talking to professionals in those fields and using technology in many ways.
  • While 86% of students in K-2 are interested in specific careers in science and/or math, starting in grade 3 that interest starts to decrease. In grades 3-12 over 1/3 of students say that they are not interested in any careers in science, math, technology or engineering.

It’s not surprising that students are not connecting real-world problem solving and authentic science with the test-focused curriculum in their schools.

Students ARE interested in doing hard work–but interesting, engaging work, just like real scientists, engineers and mathematicians do. We are doing students a disservice by not listening to their voices, and not giving them a glimpse at the jobs that matter in this century. – Student Voice, Student Action

Some of you Generation YES teachers will remember Adam Fletcher, who was lead customer support last year (before Megan came on board.)

Adam has been hard at work on his non-profit organization, SoundOut. SoundOut provides tools, training, and resources to promote student voice in school to realize the powerful and purposeful possibilities of meaningful student involvement.

Adam’s latest article, Making Student Involvement Meaningful, can be found on the SoundOut website. In it, he writes:

Lots of people have thought about why students have changed so much. Media infiltration, commercialism and technology usage have all been cited as sources that have changed the experience of learning in today’s schools. However, as educators search for answers, the drivers who fuel these changes have largely been ignored: students themselves. Rather than working with students to help understand and negotiate why, how, when, where and what they learn, educators, administrators and school leaders have largely changed schools for students, and done change to students, without their ideas, concerns or actions in mind.

Adam goes on to explain how educators can create the necessary conditions for student voice to flourish, how to evaluate it, and make it meaningful.

If you are interested in student voice, be sure to explore the rest of the SoundOut site. It’s packed with ideas, free resources, and useful research.

Including Students in Your Technology Plan

Does your district or site technology plan contain a vision statement like:

Our goal is to include all stakeholders in technology planning and implementation including administrators, faculty, staff, parents, business leaders, and community members.

Notice anything missing? The one stakeholder group that is not only the largest in size, but the one that is most affected by these decisions?


They are just too easy to leave out. It takes time and energy to engage them and include them. But ignoring your largest stakeholder group undermines all other efforts to gain consensus and build a collaborative community that can focus on shared goals and work to make your vision a reality.

School shouldn’t be something we “do” to students, it should be an exercise in community, citizenship, and practical action to achieve a shared vision.

How does this happen? Where do you start? How do you convince others to add their voices to yours? We have a new resource to help.

From Vision to Action: Adding Student Leadership to Your Technology Plan is an 8 page document that can help a district technology or site planning committee add students to the process. It offers research, models of student involvement, planning worksheets, and practical suggestions to get started. Download this PDF for free, share it, and let us know how you use it!