Friday, January 22, 2016

Moving the Bookshelves

My high school has officially completed its first week as a 1:1 Macbook school. No one has done anything crazy with his computer or broken it...yet, although I'm sure some of those things will happen. Every student with whom I've interacted has been generally responsible and definitely excited about having this new device as a tool for learning. I've been so impressed with how easily students have made this transition. Typically, any change is going to be accompanied by grumbling and complaining of some kind, but I haven't seen that here.

I've been particularly impressed with my group of seniors. This week, I assigned them a poetry project in which they would work in small groups to teach an Anglo-Saxon poem to the class. I asked them to provide a recitation of the poem, analyze the poem and teach it to the class, and create some sort of assessment for their peers. I told them that they couldn't just allow their peers to sit and consume this new information; they needed to design a way for them to interact with it or show their new understanding. 

Those are pretty general guidelines. They could have simply stood in front of the class, recited the poem, droned on a bit with the help of a PowerPoint, and asked a few discussion questions. But that's not what they did at all. They got so excited about the opportunity to create something! One group used the green screen to create a filmed recitation of "The Seafarer." They reasoned that a true seafarer would not be standing in a high school hallway. He would be on the ocean. Obviously. So clearly the video also needed to have an authentic setting. One group decided to create an animation of their poem, similar to a mock epic we watched as a class called "The Wifi Hero." A third group, analyzing "The Wife's Lament," wanted to create a true song of mourning by using Final Cut Pro to make a music video of their poem. Several groups are creating Kahoot! reviews for their peers to complete at the end of the presentations.

I didn't ask for any of this. All I did was encourage them, cheer them on, and give them the space to figure it out on their own. What I think is often forgotten in traditional educational settings is that students really are dying to show what they know. The assumption is made that the motivation isn't there, or kids definitely want to do something wrong, or they don't have the energy to solve their own problems, but that's just not true. Yesterday, as I was helping one group with their video, another group moved a bookshelf to get to an outlet, so they could plug in their Macbooks to charge while they worked. A student laughed and commented, "They totally would not move a bookshelf in some of their classes." I asked why, and she said, "You can just tell which teachers mind if you move their bookshelves, and which teachers just want you to figure out on your own how to keep working and learning."

For the love, let's keep them working and learning please. You can move all the bookshelves if it means you're going to create these incredible products and guide your own learning process and discover your own resources. We have to remove the parameters of the factory model of education, with it's nice, neat rows and one-size-fits-all mentality. Learning should be personalized and engaging and enjoyable; sometimes that means things get a little messy, and you have to move the bookshelves. Isn't it worth it if we're teaching kids to be thinkers and creators in the process?

As I sit at home on this snow day and reflect on how fun it was to teach my classes this week, I can't help but get giddy, thinking about where we'll go from here.  We have so many incredible teachers in our building that are already engaging their students in innovative and exciting ways. I love my job all the time, but it's just so darn invigorating to be a part of this change and watch these students truly take ownership of their learning. Let's move the bookshelves and open up opportunities for students. They're ready and waiting for us to do so.