In November of 2007, I found myself in the audience at TechForum, wondering what I’d gotten myself into as I had just recently taken the position of technology coordinator in the district I was working in at the time. There were lots of things I did not know (I still hate you Adobe CS series) and I never felt like I knew the answers to the questions I was being asked. Alan November was giving the keynote that day, and I’d not really heard of him much at all, only that people either loved him or hated him. Needless to say, his message that day became a pivotal moment for me in that I really haven’t looked at education or learning the same way ever since.
Alan talked about ownership and outsourcing that day in regards to the work we do as teachers. Essentially, teachers do too much of the work of learning, and students can and should do more of the work. That work, however, had to be owned by them.
Yesterday, I revisited that moment with a group of teachers during the second of our spring TED Series when we showed Alan November’s “Who Owns the Learning?” talk from this year’s TEDxNYED. Alan shared a few anecdotal stories from his past with the audience, none that I haven’t heard versions of, but it was clear to me that although his message hadn’t changed much, it was still holding its value now.
About five minutes into the opening activity, the room turned its eyes to the locked door, indicating to me that we had a late arriving participant, and upon first glance I was taken back.
It was a student.
I had opened all of my Spring workshops up to students this year, and I’ll be completely honest, I didn’t fully expect to be taken up on it. She came in and introduced herself to those in the room that did not know who she was and from that point on became as much as contributor to the discussion as any of us. In fact, there were several junctures where we all fully leaned on her as the expert on certain matters. At one point, after we had watched the talk, she said what to me, has become some an obsession lately:
“I mean, I agree with everything he (November) is saying. If you’d given me the choice in my last two years to work on something that I could select, that was my interest and passion, I’d work on that non-stop.”
Dumbstruck, I was. Why hadn’t we done this sooner? Why did I wait so long to invite these voices into the room? Shame on me.
To that end, my thinking since yesterday has been on fire, with ideas and hopes and dreams pinned on this new vision of creating opportunities for meaningful work to take place in my schools. During my run this morning, I was full of ideas to try out and to push out into this space for vetting and hashing out, all predicated on these things:
- Tangible artifacts of learning: the things our students create should be usable by others, and should serve not only their passions but their communities as well.
- Globally available: accessible by anyone, anywhere.
- Lasting: we feel different when we know that the work we create will live on after we are gone.
- run a political campaign for a student to be in town office.
- Feature magazine to include all aspects of creative culture within a school.
- Architecture: designing your own schools.
- Forms of communication: how did societies communicate with one another in the past and how did it evolve over time?
- Special Ed students to leave a legacy behind to other special ed students.
- Collect the oral histories of the residents of our town and feature them on the web.
I don’t know how many of these will come to fruition, but I know it’s important for us to have these ideas and let them breathe for a while. I do know this, my goal is to help them grow legs within our current structures, and hope they help us morph our schools into what we think they should be.