Awesome Empowerment

First, a great story to share about an email I got from a couple of kindergarten teachers this morning. They had emailed me to share exciting news. But first some back story. I have partnered with these teachers many times over the last few years to help them with various instructional technology topics. Last year, they had found a video on YouTube that was produced by another kindergarten class (not in our district) on the life cycle of a butterfly. They decided they’d like to re-create this project for teaching this important science topic. I helped with the “talent” (kindergartners), camera work, and worked with them as they learned the editing and finalizing of the video. I was also lucky to get to attend the video’s premiere at a parent night. The teachers and their students did a fantastic job with their production of “The Butterfly Life Cycle – Kindergarten Style”.

Now back to their email they sent me earlier this week. The subject of their email was “Look what we did!”. When they say “we” I knew they meant that in reference to their students, not them. They had attached the video of this year’s version of “The Butterfly Life Cycle – Kindergarten Style”. I watched the video while smiling ear to ear the entire time. The students did a fantastic job acting out all the different stages of the butterfly life cycle (how can you not smile at them?!?) and the teachers did all the planning, preparation, and video production work on their own this year. I am really proud of them and told them how lucky their students are!

Being an Instructional Technologist, I always strive to empower teachers, not enable them. What I mean by that is, it doesn’t matter if it’s one teacher or a group of teachers; no matter if it’s the first time they’re learning about a topic or it’s part of the continual support I offer, I will not “do it for you”. By enabling, or making it easy, doesn’t empower someone to step out of their comfort zone and learn something new.  I will teach, re-teach, and always be there for support for any teacher that wants it; without fail. I always make sure teachers know this. Teachers need to know this. Our students need to know this. My goal is to equip with the necessary tools, resources, and knowledge base to increase comfort-level and success rate.  Doesn’t project-based, authentic learning lend itself nicely to empowerment? Shouldn’t we want this for all learners, regardless of age?

“If you can imagine it, you can achieve it; if you can dream it, you can become it.”–William Arthur Ward

Wired for Sound

This video has certainly made the rounds in the last couple years with over 3 million views to date. It’s posted over at TED, however, it is from the  2009 World Science Festival. Take 3 minutes and give it a watch. The video features Bobby McFerrin. You might remember him from this video (but don’t watch that one right now, watch the one below…unless you really want to).

Interesting and entertaining at the same time isn’t it? Over at TED the title of the video is, “Bobby McFerrin hacks your brain with music”. He shows that by creating a “common chorus”, or finding something we’re all commonly connected by (in this case music), we can tap into the ways we’re naturally wired to produce something great.

What if we took more time to learn how to do this for our students? That is, finding commonalities that give deeper connections to learning for everyone, that tap into those ways we’re naturally wired; rather than trying to re-wire (back to a previous time period many times).  Is this just another way to say “differentiated instruction”? Or is it more than that? Will Richardson calls this “Beyond Differentiation” in his latest piece over at ASCD called Preparing Students to Learn Without Us, where he states:

For schools and teachers, it means connecting our expectations to students’ passions and interests as learners. That is both a challenge and an opportunity for educators working with 20 or 30 students in a classroom. The reality is that despite having talked about personalized learning for more than a decade, most schools and teachers have been slow to discover its potential through the use of the social web, interactive games, and mobile devices.

Would you agree that our students are coming to us being naturally wired this way? All of this technology (social networking, devices, etc.) is not just part of, or an add-on in our students’ world. It IS our students’ world. A world we as educators need to catch up to.

I had the pleasure of being invited to keynote TeachMeet Georgia a couple of weeks ago in Atlanta, where I talked about a new responsibility we (teachers) have to our students: the ability to Connect, Collect, Curate, and Create. Most of the time I was working on that presentation, in my head I kept referring to these as “skills”. I was then reminded of Howard Rheingold’s “Crap Detection 101″ , where Dr. Rheingold conveys the importance of this not just being a skill, but a literacy. We should want all our students to have these new literacies to truly empower them with the tech and devices that is their world, the “wiring” that they come to school with if you will. It must be more than consumption of information. It needs to be creating, investigating, criticizing (constructively), and sharing.

However, these literacies start with us. Teachers, Administrators, Librarians, and Parents.  We must model them and refine them. Regularly.

Which is harder: to change how we’re wired or how they’re wired?

Create, Create, Create!

I have had many a conversation about students’ ability to consume digital content vs. creating digital content.  Which do you think students are better at? I’ve always leaned toward consumption over creation. They use Google, social media, and other online places to intake great amounts of information, but how often are students actually contributing something back for others to benefit from? How many times do we ask students to go grab this or that bit of information from the web or go to YouTube and watch this video or that video? Is it possible that we’re proverbially “stuck” in our education system because we don’t give our students enough opportunities to create and in turn share their creation? I’m not saying that students creating “stuff” is going to be the magic that fixes everything, but what if it could be? Should there be more of a conscious effort to give plenty of choices for our students to be creative with that information they find for this project (homework, assignment, etc.) or that project?

There’s certainly no shortage of information that’s produced for you and I and our students to learn from. We teach our children, students, and each other to “pay it forward” in face to face spaces, but should we do the same in online spaces too?

These are just some thoughts I had bouncing around after coming across this video: 29 Ways to Stay Creative. It’s certainly not exclusive to the digital world, it even reminds us to step away from all things digital from time to time. It just reminded me that we need to have our students see the value in creating something not only as a way to express ourselves, but possibly to the benefit of others as well.

Thank you for reading.

29 WAYS TO STAY CREATIVE from TO-FU on Vimeo.