Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Education May Be Changing, But So Are The Students (Inspired by a letter from a 7th Grader)

     For years, teachers and educators have pined for students to be more involved, engaged and interested in their learning and education.  Well, that time has come and we better be ready.
     Recently, I received an e-mail from a 7th grader detailing to me why he’s ready to not only start high school today, but what his expectations are for the learning experience once there.  I will return to the words and inspiration from the 7th grader in a minute.
   Education writer Marc Prensky identified this shift years ago when he wrote the now classic “Engage Me or Enrage Me” ( where he identified the changing tide in students as learners.

    We are seeing the end of a student generation that operated in or even excelled at the world of compliance.  Essentially, their expectations from school and learning were much different than now and arguably lower than what see represented in the shift. This is the last of the generation that grew up on the worksheet.  Although not always engaged, it’s what they knew and even mastered.

     However, the younger generation of students coming through elementary school now is very different.  They have grown up entirely with technology at their fingertips and have watched as young people around the world create, collaborate, communicate, contribute and more.  They are very aware of what is possible and how school could fall short of addressing that. 

    Because of technology and the changing dynamic in the world, students are more interested in ever in being involved in owning their learning experience.  They want to be active vs. passive.  They want to be engaged in things that are relevant to both themselves and the real world. 
      It’s really two fold:  They have already had different experiences outside of school that represent real learning and they will want that in school. And two, it’s as if they are all subconsciously aware that the world is demanding – both economically and socially – different types of skills and ultimately people.

      So, what is this shift really about?  What do the new students expect and want from school and learning?  Well, let’s get back to the 7th grader and his e-mail to me.
Here is a summary of his key points in his own words:
·       It’s not just the work that is boring, but also the outcome of my efforts.  Good grades are not enough for me. 
·       Although I get good grades, I want something more.  I want recognition and rewards beyond grades.  I want grades to symbolize the fun I had learning.
·       Getting an “A” on a paper is not the same as learning Java Script with a group of friends.  The experience is the reward.
·       It’s creativity, hands-on experience, real world and life affecting subjects that interest me.
·       In Language Arts, I want to understand the art of the language and be able to write professionally for jobs, college and the world.
·       I want science to be interesting.  Apparently, marine-themed cereal boxes are supposed to spice it up.  I want real labs beyond gum and bubbles.
·       In addition to learning about the past in history, I want to learn about the impact on the future.  Where are we going and heading?

     Naturally, I could fancy all this up more in edspeak.  But really, don’t we already know this?  Can’t we see it all around us?  What would we expect from school now if we were students based on what’s available and how the world is changing?  One can find thousands of articles on the changing nature of both education and students.  The change is now and they will simply tell you what they need.  We just need to listen to our students and shift.
(photos courtesy of Minarets HS and Marc Prensky)

Saturday, March 1, 2014


       DATA – one might be hard-pressed to find a more overused word in education during the last 15 or so years.  Right?

     Traditionally over the last 15 years, this buzzword has been hotly associated with the high stakes-testing environment and was primarily referring to how students did on a variety of standardized tests. 

      Sometimes, we also collected and evaluated data related to grades, GPA’s, graduation rates, dropouts, attendance and more.

      But as education works to become more relevant, I think the time has come to collect and analyze data that could be much more meaningful and applicable to all stakeholders including students.

    Here are a few examples of the type of data that we begin gathering in this new paradigm:

·       Student Survey Data on everything from teacher support, course satisfaction and engagement, course ideas, project ideas, instructional practices, school safety, technology and more.  We need better and more feedback from students about their learning experiences.  This should lead to more student buy-in and better student experiences.  Educators need to use student input to adapt and adjust their programs.

·       New Performance-Based Goals - To what level students are meeting or mastering a performance-based rubric related to their personal and professional goals (how often presenting publicly, publishing, etc.) should be a big part of the new data directive.

·       Students’ Digital Footprint – this will include, but not be limited to social media profiles and activity (both positive and negative), professional web presence (each student will have their own website and have to meet a grade level standard of published work, projects, etc.) and more.

·       Participation in co-curricular and extra-curricular events – to some degree this is not brand new.  However, we need to document more than just sports, clubs and school activities.  We need to now include things like off campus service, part-time work, involvement in professional organizations, entrepreneurial activities and more.

·       Mentoring – In addition to every student having a staff or faculty mentor, every student needs to have at least one professional or off campus mentor.  This should be related to their interest and career areas and could be e-mentors as well.  I know, I know, I know – there will be lots of concerns about legalities and policies.  Well, let’s not allow that to stop us from providing what all students need and deserve.  All should have a variety of mentors and we should document data related to the meetings, opportunities, and collaborative interactions between students and mentors.  We need to connect students to people who are doing what they are interested in and can support their Personal Learning Network.

·       Contests and Competitive Events – again, this has traditionally been limited to sports, performing arts, FFA, etc.  These are great, but we should expect and require all students to compete professionally in the real world.  These can be on-line contests, local and regional competitions or more.  All students should be sharing their best work in their areas of interest and getting feedback through competition.  And again, this would be data that would be gathered and analyzed.

·       Technology, Tools and Resources – many students become very adept and talented at a variety of tech tools and applications, as well as even traditional tools.  Not only is this important, but necessary.  We should encourage master of tools and applications and then document these professional proficiencies like we do with adults. 

       As usual, this is not the end, but only the beginning.   I’m sure all of you could add to this new Data Dashboard.  So, data should be collected, analyzed and used to inform education, but not in the limited ways we have traditionally done.

(photos courtesy of Foter, FFA, Tulare County Office of Education, Minarets High School)