Tag Archives: Technology

Words from Students

We have parent-teacher conferences later this week and it often strikes me that the parents and I know very different young people. This could be because I know them as students while their parents know them as children, or because I only see them for 80 structured minutes every other day. It might be because I see them around their friends in a different context than their parents do, or just because school and home are very different places. I enjoy sharing what I know with parents and, at the same time, learning about these young people from people who know them well.

An interesting thread of discussion I’ve heard from several grade 11 students recently, one that I don’t expect their parents are aware of, is that they wish their parents would pay more attention to them. This came up in several contexts, but there are two that stood out:

  1. Frustration from reasonably self-sufficient students with siblings who are not
  2. Frustration from students with siblings away at university

Both groups have said things like, “They’re constantly on top of him because he won’t do any of his work if they aren’t but I’m like, ‘Hello? Anyone interested in what I’m doing?'” and “I thought that once she went to college they’d stop focusing on her as much, but they still FaceTime her all the time and I’m like, ‘I’m here, too!'”

What strikes me here is not that students want attention – I know they do. They often come to class with an entirely unrelated question or something to share or just need a moment to complain. I have a feeling they appreciate a face-to-face encounter with someone who is not also holding a phone and scrolling through emails, messages, or Facebook while nodding and replying, “mhmm” at appropriate times, a phenomenon I often observe on the MRT, in restaurants, and walking down the street.

My students are pretty open about the negative impacts they feel that social media has had on their lives, as well as the pressure they experience to be within reach and involved at all times. They feel anxiety when they can’t be connected because so much rides on constant status updates, posts, and likes.

It worries me that much of the above counts as connection at all.

The teenagers I work with are also eager to talk about the importance of authentic personal connection and relationships over what exists in cyberspace. They readily admit to feeling lonely, isolated, and anxious whether they’re surrounded by people or not. I feel that, too, at times, and I didn’t have a smart phone until I was in my early 20s. I can’t imagine how it has been growing up with no quiet or boredom or permission to just ignore everyone and everything.

In all generations, teenagers often get a bad rap for just about anything they do (an ad recognizing this has been running in movie theatres lately). Instead of brushing them off as kids crying for attention, consider why they want to be noticed. Consider the incredible pressure on them to make something of themselves, do something worthwhile, and understand the world around them.

Young people have a lot to teach and offer the rest of us and just need a chance to do that. Listen to them. They have things to say, questions to ask, stories to share. They’re great people and I’m looking forward to learning a bit more about them through the conversations I’ll have with their parents later this week.

How to Improve the World while Surfing the Internet

Do people even say “surfing the Internet” anymore?

Regardless of what we call it, we certainly do a lot of it! Lucky for us, the folks over at Tab for a Cause have developed a browser extension that donates to a charity of your choice every time you open a new tab. As part of our school’s Valentine’s Day campaign to do something nice for someone else, I started encouraging my students to being using Tab for a Cause. It’s an easy way to do good while simply doing all of the things you already do.

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Interested? Click here to get started. After creating a username, you can sign in on any device and the number of hearts that you earn (one tab = one heart) will sync across devices. I’ve been using Tab for a Cause for a while now and my stats page looks like this:

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Thanks for helping us make the world a better, more peaceful place.

What does learning look like?

Play a game with me. (I love games.)

Picture a teacher. Any teacher. A teacher you’ve had or a teacher you wish you’d had. A teacher you liked or a teacher you didn’t. Picture that teacher in a classroom. What does the classroom look like? Where’s the teacher? What’s the teacher doing? Put some students in that room. Where are the students? What are the students doing?

Try to keep that picture in your mind while reading the description of what my grade ten classroom looks like on a typical day.

Current Classroom
All students have laptops. They’re working, some talking with others but mostly just sitting quietly. Some are listening to music. The desks are in three clusters of four, one cluster of five, and two rows of three. I’m not sure who set them up that way. The students go back and forth from our class blog, which contains links to all resources they’ll need for the day, to whatever it is they’re working on. Some have printed copies of the linked resources and some are using pocket translators to help. There are notes from whatever we’ve recently discussed on the board. As the teacher, I’m either sitting in a spare student desk or on top of the cabinets at the side of the room. I have a laptop, too, and I’m probably on it.

We spend the beginning of each class reading through and then sharing the news. We discuss or review a few things together as a large group. Students complete a task, we discuss, students complete a task, we discuss. Sometimes these tasks are done independently and sometimes they work together. Sometimes students submit responses or assignments on GoogleDrive and sometimes they comment straight onto the blog. Often, they do neither and we periodically discuss for a few minutes after students have talked in their groups.

I’m willing to bet my classroom doesn’t look much like the one in your head.

The classroom in your head probably involves a teacher standing at the front of the room. Depending on how old you are, the students are probably in rows, though maybe groups of four. If you’re picturing a high school class, the students are probably taking notes while the teacher talks. Maybe there’s a PowerPoint presentation that the teacher is using, or maybe there are notes written on a transparency or perhaps on the board, again depending on how old you are. In this classroom, I’m willing to bet that the teacher is “teaching” and the students are “learning” and that the roles and responsibilities of both are clear. Anyone walking in could see that the teacher has the information and the students are supposed to take it in and understand it.

And if that’s not the classroom in your head, I’d love to hear what the classroom in your head looks like!

Even though my classroom might not match what we often think of when we hear “classroom” or “teacher” or “learning”, I have no doubt that my students are indeed learning. I can make this claim based simply on what they say in class, whether we’re having a discussion or they’re asking for clarification while working. I can make this claim based on individual conversation I have with students while checking up on their progress. If necessary, and sometimes it is, I can also provide samples of student work and show you the data I’ve collected and tracked on each student.

Anxiety
And yet.

And yet there’s some anxiety, anxiety for me as the trained educator in the room. What am I actually doing when others walk in or walk by the room? What am I actually doing that requires me to be there? I feel a sense of insecurity because I’m doing what I think is right by my students but looks inactive as compared to what others may do in their classes. The reason my classroom looks the way it does and I organize my classes the way I do is because I know, because I have learned, that with access to curated resources, assistance as needed, and feedback on their progress, my students will be just fine.

I might not be “teaching” in the traditional sense, but the point isn’t that I teach; it’s that students learn.

A few months ago, I read Michael Horn and Heather Stacker’s book Blended, which argues for disruptive innovation in schools. The authors explain that disruptive innovation comes from attempts in the business world to make products and services available to more people at lower cost. It was while reading this book that I began to rethink (yet again) the way that schools run and, more specifically, what I could do within my own classroom to meet students where they are and let them learn in the ways that make the most sense to them.

Future Classroom
Disruptive innovation in schools means making education and educational opportunities available to more people in ways that education may not have been in the past. In order to receive a diploma, everyone used to attend a building called a school. Considering schools in the context of disruptive innovation makes us ask, is that necessary anymore? Horn and Stacker describe models of schools that are a mix of remote and in-person learning experiences, either determined by the students themselves, by a the student in conjunction with a counselor, or by the student’s results on assessments. The very idea of a classroom, then, is called into question.

If I could, I’d design a school that looks like the one described in earlier writing here. I still believe that building peace is the purpose of education and that our students need a toolkit to make the world a better place. As much as I can, I design my grade ten curriculum around the real learning that is necessary for solving world problems and realizing one’s role and responsibilities as a citizen of the world. While my students have due dates, deadlines, and specific assessments, I’m trying to make my classes more flexible by providing students access to a wide range of resources and a choice about which ones to use.

There’s a long way to go. I know. There’s a lot of working, dialoguing, and understanding that has to happen. None of this happens quickly and I’m trying to be patient. I’m trying to be satisfied with one small change at a time. This isn’t the type of change that happens quietly, either, which is why I write about it.


Play a game with me. Design your ideal classroom or school or learning environment. Why do you think it should be this way or look like this? Comment below or send me a message.

Thank you for your thoughts, as always.