Unplugged

How do keep students from turning us off as they arrive in school? If you have walked through an American high school recently, you have seen the clandestine use of mobile devices and you have probably seen your share of disaffected students. If you spoken in front of a group of them, chances are, unless you were 100% compelling, you saw at least one set of eyes roll in the ubiquitous sign of adolescent lassitude: “whatever.”

I should rephrase that–that scene could have been any time within in the last twenty years, but after reading Roy Wenzl’s article “Are We Losing our Boys?” from the Wichita Eagle, a confluence of recent ideas began to identify itself as a pattern within my head.

Thanks to Scott McLeod at Dangerously Irrelevant for pointing me towards this article in the first place, and his final thoughts on the post set off this chain for me:

As educators, we are in a battle for eyes, ears, and brainwaves. So far many of us are losing (and, as a result, so are our students).

This has been the trend for several years, and I can easily recall scores of conversations from either graduate school or in new-teacher meetings in districts I have worked in, where the complaint was that we were expected to “perform” in order to compete with everything grabbing the students attention. I may even have been guilty of uttering those words as well. The idea was that we had to sing and dance to keep the attention of the student. George Siemens points out that the idea of sitting through a lecture is not an evil one, and I think that in the whole scheme of a curriculum, it will always have a place. But if that is all you are offering, you have the wrong mindset, and I think that is obvious. That competition is long since over.

If it’s a battleground we’re looking for, Ron Matson, chairman of the department of sociology at Wichita State University, when speaking about reasons for the “checking out” of adolescent men, had this to offer:

“They are playing video games,” he said. “Or withdrawing from society, and with computers and television, you can do a lot of withdrawing.”I look at my kids and grandkids and think, holy smoke, what kind of world will they inherit?”

That’s entirely up to us, isn’t it? If we choose to persist with the lecture, the “drill and kill” so many of the students in Wenzl’s article talked about as par for the course (and as so many students across the U.S. can attest to), and fail to use the same “distractive” technologies that Matson earmarks as contributors to student malaise, then, yes, our future is bleak. But what about flipping the script and using the mentality of the group over at Epistemic Games? The very same technologies that are forcing kids to power down when they enter school will be our avenue to power them up and keep them charged long enough to become the lifelong learners they will have to be.

Passion is the key to all of this. Will Richardson is noted for telling educators to jump into the read/write web by finding something they are passionate about and immersing yourself in the resources available through Web 2.0. Identifying those within students has long provided educators with portals into tough to reach students, and now is no different. Our passions will direct our learning, both teacher and student, in School 2.0 (and life, for that matter); rarely is a student, male or female, passionate about worksheets, lectures, or passive learning. Students today and tomorrow need to interact with, remix, and create content.

Trent Watta, one of the students profiled in the article, states:

“When you find something you’re passionate about, it no longer becomes work. You don’t even realize you’re working.”

And that’s one to grow on.

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