Students co-author the learning experience

It’s so great to have a string of stories about the positive impact of student technology teams in schools.

It’s tech time at Capital High – Generation Tech lets students become ‘co-authors of learning experience’

The Olympia School District was where Generation YES founder Dr. Dennis Harper settled in about 1990 after working around the world to bring computers to schools in countries from Africa to Afghanistan. He became the technology director and found a school district that wanted to be first class in technology, but had little to start with. He dug in and got started by involving students in every aspect of the district technology – from planning, to getting out the vote for a technology bond, to putting up a district website when no one even knew what that was.

One of the teachers he immediately started to work with was Scott LeDuc at Capital High School. Today Scott is still at Capital, still working with students to make “student-centered learning” a reality. This article profiles Scott and his students who work every day to make education better.

Today’s young people have grown up in a society that revolves around technology.

Want to talk? Send them a text message on their cell phone.

Want to see who their friends are? Visit Facebook.

Want to remove photos from your digital camera and fix that annoying printer error on your computer? Give them about five minutes, and they’ll probably be able to figure out and explain everything to you.

Their teen years are so much different from those of their parents and grandparents, and that’s why students in Capital High School’s Generation Tech class are exploring ways to change their learning experiences, too.

For example, several of the students have begun serving as “technology mentors” at the school, helping teachers and other staff members become more tech-savvy, according to Career and Technical Education instructor Scott Le Duc.

“Education is not going to change fast enough for anyone,” he said. “The only way it’s going to change is if students become the co-authors of the learning experience.”

Read this article – it’s not about technology, it’s about life-long learning…

Although students have access to some of the newest high-tech bells and whistles in their classroom laboratory, much of their growth is taking place outside the class, where students are serving as information resources for others, helping to locate computer support and projects for their teachers and peers, Le Duc said.

“They blow my mind; this group of young people is just awesome,” he said. “They want to see school change, and they’re making it happen.”

Scott authored the GenYES curriculum units on student tech support based on his experiences at Capital High School and years of teaching students how to “learn how to learn” by fixing real problems. Students don’t learn by being talked at – they learn by tackling challenging problems and issues that are meaningful and DOING something about them. And of course, teachers amplify the learning when they guide students through these types of experiences with expertise.

As one of the commenters on the article said – WAY TO GO, COUGARS!


Edutopia – Students Teach Technology to Teachers

“When middle school students Alison and Nat confer with their teachers, it’s to talk about the lessons the students are preparing for student teachers as part of a new Generation www.Y program. The young people are part of a growing group in schools across the country who are sharing their own expertise to help make prospective teachers more aware of how students learn and the best ways technology can be used to support their learning.”

Edutopia, the website of the George Lucas Educational Foundation published this story and video on the GenYES program in Olympia, WA. The video is from a while back when the model was called Generation www.Y. That was a bit difficult to pronounce, so we changed the name to GenYES.

This video was created during an interesting time period – the GenYES students not only worked with teachers at their school, but formed teams with their teacher and a pre-service teacher. These 3 member teams learned and taught each other technology, and prepared lessons using new technology. Just another way students can be involved in improving education for all!


Back to School – What do students want from teachers

Educational Leadership:Giving Students Ownership of Learning:What Students Want from Teachers

Back to school time is here – and I’m going through the files to find inspiring, practical ideas for nurturing student leadership, creativity, and lifelong learning.

This is a great article from Ed Leadership (ASCD) for back to school. What do students want from teachers? What makes them feel in charge of their learning? Students said:

  • Take me seriously
  • Challenge me to think
  • Nurture my self-respect
  • Show me I can make a difference
  • Let me do it my way
  • Point me toward my goals
  • Make me feel important
  • Build on my interests
  • Tap my creativity
  • Bring out my best self

There are more details in the article, but aren’t these some great reflection starters for the school year?


Unpacking John Hughes – Lessons for Educators

Views: John Hughes’s Lessons – Inside Higher Ed.

This is a great little article by Maureen O’Connell in Inside Higher Ed magazine for educators to ponder. John Hughes left a legacy of films about adolescent relationships – with each other, with parents, but also with their own schools and teachers.

But for all of the examples of generational disconnect in the movies of the late director John Hughes (who died this month) also offers cues for avoiding the Bueller Triangle where meaningful interaction among adults and youth simply vanishes. In this light, Hughes’s films are revelatory for educators.

She goes on to plumb numerous John Hughes films for the key interactions between teachers, administrators, and students. You know, we’ve all seen them, identified with the kids, and perhaps squirmed uncomfortably as we recognize adults we know (or are.)

They don’t just want to study the historical, economic, political, psycho-sexual, and post-colonial contours of the red Ferrari. They want to drive it.

And adults like Andy Walsh’s broken-hearted father, Jack, or her eclectic boss, Iona, in “Pretty in Pink,” who teach young people by demonstrating what learning looks like — neither relating to them as peers nor hovering to try to protect them from life’s inevitable failures — provide the materials students need to make their own prom gowns, a now classic metaphor for navigating the drama of adolescence.

Sure, prom gowns and cars aren’t going to be on the test, but these kinds of connections to real life and the real motivations of kids are the priceless threads that connect, motivate, and teach.

John Hughes knew it. Some might think he was denigrating education because he often showed adults in an unflattering light. But he did also showed educators in moments of clarity when the walls came down and they saw students as real people on the ageless quest for identity, connection, and meaning in life.

RIP John Hughes, a great educator.


The disconnect in science education

Every year, Project Tomorrow administers the annual SpeakUp survey of students, parents, teachers, and administrators. Every year, we hear from U.S. students that they are fascinated by technology, love learning, and want more. Results from the over 300,000 participants in the 2008 survey should be available soon.

While we wait, let’s look at some interesting data from the science questions from 2007.

In the U.S., STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) is a hot topic these days. Pundits bemoan the lack of basic science literacy, blame American students for apathy, and predict we will be crushed by global competition. But who ever asks students what they are interested in or how best they learn?

In looking at the report, Inspiring the Next Generation of Innovators: Students, Parents and Educators Speak Up about Science Education, you immediately see the glaring inconsistencies in how students learn, what fascinates and excites them, how teachers want to teach, and what’s actually happening in classrooms. What does it mean for the future when less than 40 percent of these students see learning science as important for making informed decisions in the future? How does that square with the same students reporting that they “…are open to learning science and pursuing STEM careers—intrigued by opportunities to participate in hands-on, group-oriented, “fun” experiences, as well as by opportunities to meet with professionals and use professional-level tools.”

It’s obvious that students are experiencing a disconnect. They are interested and intrigued by science — but not in school.

  • Students report that their especially fun or interesting learning experiences using science and math have been hands-on and group-oriented.
  • Students are interested in pursuing careers in STEM fields — when they know about them.
  • When asked about the essential features of their imagined ultimate science classroom, the leading answer for students in grades K-2 and in grades 9-12 was “teachers excited about science”. Students in grades 3-5 were more interested in “fun experiments” (69 percent). Other highly essential features for students in grades 3-12 were “real tools” (standard lab and technology-based tools) and being able to do “real research,” including online research on computers.

Imagine that — students want teachers who are inspired and inspiring, who bring the classroom to life with real world tools and examples. These teachers are out there, students want and need them, but apparently are getting them too rarely.

This disconnect is reflected in the teacher responses as well.

  • Just 25% of teachers say they’re using inquiry-based methods with their students; methods that both educators and researchers argue are essential for the development of scientific literacy.
  • Only 16 percent of teachers reported they are assigning projects that help students develop problem-solving skills.
  • Teachers report that 21st century tools and projects would help — but lack the time and funding to implement them, and feel constrained by mandated curriculum.

But the biggest disconnect is that most K-12 school administrators don’t see this problem. Here’s the percentage of each category that gave a passing grade to their school for preparing students for jobs of the future.

K-12 Administrators: 57%
Teachers: 47%
Parents: 47%
Students: 23%

This perception gap is a crucial indicator that we are not only failing our students in providing the relevant, inquiry-based, hands-on science education they hunger for, but that we are fooling ourselves about it. What’s worse?

Full report (PDF)


The art of being an unreasonable educator

Many educators I speak to daily are very reasonable people. They have dreams about how education should be, but still show up for work every day in a system that is slow, if not hostile to change. They compromise with people to gain small victories, play by the rules and work miracles in sub-standard conditions. They bide their time hoping that someday their work will pay off, if not in systemic change, at least in the lives of future citizens of the world.

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” – George Bernard Shaw

Reasonableness as a roadblock to change
Who hasn’t heard something like this — “I totally believe in technology and project-based learning. But my board is really conservative, test scores are down, and my principal doesn’t like that kind of airy-fairy nonsense. Besides, five years ago we tried it and half the teachers used “project time” as a smoke break. So I was thinking that after testing is over I would have the kids do a project where the kids use vocabulary words and write a letter to the troops overseas. Maybe I could have them make a PowerPoint or do something with technology. I can probably squeeze the whole thing into 3 days. That way I can say it’s got language arts skills, 21st century skills, it won’t take too much time, and the board will love the troops angle. ”

Reasonable compromise or watered-down status quo with technology tacked on?

The problem is that by being reasonable, educators pre-compromise themselves out of strong, defendable positions. Project-based learning is a strong position to come from. There is research on how to do it, why to do it, and lots of examples of success. But by compromising even before you get to the negotiation, you lose out. You have lost your ability to create conditions of success, and you have lost your negotiating power.

Most likely when you get to the actual planning, the people you thought would be impressed by your reasonableness stun you by not appreciating it at all. They want MORE compromise. In your eyes, they are unreasonable. You’ve already compromised (in your head) and now there’s no more to give. How come they get to be unreasonable when you’ve worked so hard before the meeting even started? It’s not fair!

You must practice the art of being unreasonable.

The art of being unreasonable

  • Dream big.
  • Come to the negotiation with a plan that meets all your needs and only your needs, with justification for them. You can compromise later from a place of power.
  • Don’t play fair. Kids lives are at stake. For example, take kids into a meeting and have them present. It’s hard to say no to cute 8 year olds. (This is not about doing illegal or unethical things!)
  • Acknowledge other people’s fears but label them as fears, not roadblocks or reasons to change the plan. Invite them to participate as your plan unfolds, so they can see that their fears are unfounded.
  • Just because you understand other people’s arguments doesn’t mean you have to accept or act on them. That’s what reasonable people do. The other side isn’t accepting your arguments; you don’t have to accept theirs. Remember, you are unreasonable!
  • Find others who believe in the same things you do and create a personal support system.
  • Don’t be a martyr. If your plan is getting crushed and it’s just not going to happen, walk away. Come back with a bigger and better one.

Be unreasonable, not a pain
I know. You are saying, “I work with unreasonable people all the time! It’s not pleasant! They think they know everything, everyone resents it and figures out sneaky little ways to sabotage the plan. I want to be seen as fair, so that everyone will want to work with me, not against me.”

Everyone wants to be liked. Educators are probably the nicest people of all. Would it be so bad if people thought of you as a rebel, a dreamer, or a force of nature instead of just “nice”? Add a few new adjectives to your personal profile. You might be surprised that not only will people still like you, they will respect you more. Allow your unreasonableness to come from a place of righteous power and promoting student welfare, not anger or self-promotion. Anyway, nobody likes a pushover.

“You see things; and you say Why? But I dream things that never were; and I say Why not?” — George Bernard Shaw

Go ahead, you have my permission, be unreasonable.