Monthly Archives: September 2013

Giving Kids the Keys

“Every teacher spends an hour lecturing us about rules and netbooks and textbooks and such, and we’re all so used to it, we usually just sit there either with drool hanging out of our mouths and our brains somewhere else, or doodling on a sheet of notebook paper.  We’ve heard it all before, so none of us really pay attention.  We listen to whoever we have first period, and then for the rest of the day, we sort of sit there, as I said, with drool hanging out of our mouths, half asleep, wouldn’t even notice if the teacher’s hair was on fire.”  – 8th graderbored student

The above reflection is an alarm bell.  It should signal to teachers and administrators that things need to change in classrooms.  This 8th grader may have been the only one brave enough to write and turn in such an honest opinion, but it is very unlikely that she is alone in her assessment.  Many students, whether they actually have drool hanging out of their mouths or not, are being systematically disengaged by schools and by teachers who struggle to relinquish control to their students.  Great strides have been made to move from the “sage on the stage” mentality of past generations and “student-centered” has become the norm in school literature, but many schools have yet to find a way to eliminate the scene described in the above student commentary.  We need to find a way to move from student-centered to student-driven, and all it takes is trusting kids enough to give them the keys.

Project based learning, experiential learning, inquiry, and student-written class rules are all examples of useful ways to give students a voice in their schools and in their work.  Many times, however, the limitations still exist and it is because of our attitudes, not our pedagogical strategies.  Too often adults don’t believe kids can handle the responsibility of leading and designing their own learning.  In some cases, this may be true, but it is likely because they have been trained not to.  For most of their young lives, they have been relieved of all responsibilities by their parents and teachers.  From cleaning up after them to packing their backpacks every morning for school to helping them with homework, adults continuously teach our kids to not be responsible.  When they arrive in class, most students expect to be told what to do, how to do it, and be helped if they have trouble.  The only way to help students develop a sense of responsibility for their own learning is to give them control of it.  There will likely be frustrating challenges and failures along the way for students, but it takes challenge and failure to rise to new heightened expectations.   There will also likely be terrifying moments for teachers.  They must find a way to put their organized, prepared, often linear-thinking selves in the passenger seat and realize that school needs to be about what students find compelling, not teachers.

Educators should embrace the position of navigator.  Give our student drivers the keys, ask them where they want to go, and help them get there by pointing out the various routes and possible detours.  We must resist the temptation to grab the wheel or slam on the brakes because it is the creative, optimistic, anything is possible attitude of children that pushes forward the bold ideas of innovation.  We must simply buckle up and hang on while our students lead us on adventures we couldn’t possibly have planned.

This TED talk by 12 year old Adora Svitak shows there is much adults can learn from children.

Learning between grown ups and kids should be reciprocal. – Adora Svitak


Where High Tech and Low Tech Join Forces

Credit: MakezineMany of us in education have spent much time and energy recently pushing the agenda of so-called “21st Century Learning”.  The problem with that phrase is that it can be misconstrued to mean that we are focused solely on creating a generation of students skilled in the use of digital technologies and, thus, prepared to become useful members of a future workforce.  While we know there is so much more to 21st century education than mastery of new technologies (i.e. developing creativity, critical thinking skills, perseverance, adaptability), we do sometimes fall into the trap of looking for the next cool gadget for our students to play with, thereby losing sight of the big picture.  Many teachers are cautious not to use technology just for the sake of using it, but rather as a tool to accomplish something otherwise impossible, but shouldn’t we still be asking ourselves just what type of users of technology we are creating?  Do we run the risk of merely feeding the pool of desensitized screen zombies whose connection to the world around them grows more tenuous?  Surely, helping students master a varied toolbox of hardware, software, and apps is important, but we need to work to be certain that we are not just creating a generation of consumers when what we really want is a generation of makers.

The Maker Movement, which is best explained in the below video, is not new, but it is beginning to find its way into the world of education in more meaningful ways.  Educators are beginning to see the value of giving time for student invention and creation. (see:  Even universities have opened their application process to include student projects. (see:  The beauty of the Maker Movement is that it holds high tech and low tech in equal stead.  Maker spaces at the most well-known facilities are supplied with buttons, pipe cleaners, glue, and hand drills, right alongside the 3D printers and laser cutters.  The idea is to give makers whatever they need and the results and processes are often a blend of handmade and machine-made.  Most importantly, a Maker Movement in schools encourages problem finding, question asking, solution trying, failing forward, and the use of a wide range of technologies, some cutting edge now and perhaps some cutting edge 100 years ago, for the purpose of making our world a little better for everyone.  If we are finding ways of helping students master technologies for this purpose, than we can be proud of the work we are doing.

It’s not really about the one piece of equipment or the latest and greatest tool.  It’s really about creating the environment for them to feel free to experiment, to feel free to fail, but always have the ability to continue to progress.  – Leif Krinkle, Director of Visible Futures Lab, School of Visual Arts, NYC

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