Thursday, I had the good fortune of meeting a few students from Westfield High School as they presented to a room full of teachers, board members, superintendents, and other administrators. They were accompanied by their two teachers, their principal and their superintendent. What’s striking, if you’ve been around superintendents and administrators, is that the students dominated the room, and very few people in the room had questions for the teachers or the administrators from Westfield. They wanted to know what the students thought.
Their topic? How a shift in their teachers thinking and approach to teaching radically altered the ecosystem of learning in their classroom.
The two teachers had looked at their two separate subjects, English III (American Literature) and U.S. History II (Reconstruction-Present), and thought that they should team teach the class with a double period, calling it American Studies. Eighty-minutes of instruction with the same group of students, all the while wrestling with the themes in literature and history as they played out across the last one-hundred-fifty-plus years. The class, anchored by themes rather than chronology, was different for one more reason: student access to information.
The two teachers had received a grant to outfit their class with twenty iPads for the first year of the course; couple that with their districts move to bring-your-own-device, and the course shaped up in a much different way. To hear the students describe it, was quite amazing:
This isn’t like OK, here is the worksheet I used to give you and you can use the internet to answer the questions. It was more like, here is the question you have to answer, gather your information and figure out how to apply the research to these bigger, higher-level research.
The students were given the freedom to collaboratively take notes, gather and share sources of information to add to the class resource list, all in the name of finding out how to best make sense of the guiding questions and overarching themes. It was a truly impressive demonstration of students using tools that eliminated the walls of their classroom and brought the world into the room on a daily basis.
Cross-posted at digitalswregional.blogspot.com
If you are interested in knowing more, please feel free to check out the teachers’ site here.