Saturday, May 2, 2015

5 Things We Need to Stop Pretending: #makeschooldifferent

I really wasn't sure that I had anything to say to the #make school different challenge.  After ruminating over the question for about a week, I have changed my mind.  I guess I need to stop pretending that I don't have anything to offer, and rather, add my piece to the learning.

1. We need to stop pretending that by blocking websites we can keep students "safe".
After the students leave our building at the end of the day, they usually enter a completely unfiltered virtual world.  As a parent and a teacher, I would rather my children have the understanding of the dangers out there, rather than pretending they don't exist.  An occasional glimpse of something not completely appropriate, such as youtube ads, can be a learning opportunity when guided by a mindful educator or parent. Meanwhile, so much learning is lost when students can't access what they need. Just this week, I had a great math learning activity planned using Scratch coding. It was blocked by the filters. Opportunity lost.

2. We need to stop pretending that Maker education is just an "extra".
I got to see the joy in students' faces as they made windmills using wood, nails and imagination. For some students in my class, I feel that it was the first time they were "truly" engaged this year. We need to build in daily opportunities for students to make, build and create. They can't learn everything in a virtual way. Rather, they need to get their hands dirty and try.

3. We need to stop pretending that tests are the answer.
Very few students excel at tests. None that I have ever met enjoy writing them. I would rather have a student teach someone what they have learned. Or create. Or evaluate. Or anything other than a test on knowledge-based learning.

4. We need to stop pretending that teachers impart the knowledge.
My class is in the process of completing Genius Hour projects. Many of them have chosen projects that I actually know quite a lot about: building, sewing, jewellery making, using a compass, History of WWII...  Did I actually give any of them that knowledge?  No. They learned it on their own. And their learning went so much deeper and their pride was so much greater than if I had simply imparted that knowledge to them.

History inquiry projects? Same thing. Sometimes their inquiries take them outside  and beyond the constraints of the curriculum document, and as a teacher I have had to be able to let go a little. They are learning more deeply, and they are engaged. As educators, isn't that what we are truly striving for?

5. We need to stop pretending that our classrooms meet the needs of our students.
Next time you are at a PD session, evaluate how you feel sitting in your chair at your table for hours on end. And don't talk to your colleagues.  And force yourself to sit next to someone that you really don't like connect with very well. Sit there all day long. Take notes and have your eyes facing the front.  After about the first hour, I know that I want to run screaming from the room. After 2 hours I am usually so far off task and so is everyone around me, that there is very little learning happening.

Now think about how your students feel.

As teachers, we are always moving around our classrooms: perching, walking, standing, and talking. That is what the students need too. Get rid of the desks. Have areas for standing. Have areas for sprawling on the floor. Allow your students to move. And talk. And have choice.

And finally, I needed to have a #6.  I saw a few others with more than 5 items, so I am going to give myself permission to break the rules too.

#6. We need to stop pretending that we can't change any of the above on our own. We can. Not in a day, a week, or maybe even a year, but we can begin to affect these things.  And share our ideas with others.

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