Empowering Our Students
The internet is a powerful medium with vast potential. Students have at their fingertips all they need to share their voice, ideas, projects, and work. It’s a powerful tool because of its capacity to connect with many and varied people in a short period of time. It’s more powerful than other mediums because of its two-way nature. It also gives students a way to make an impact and spread global awareness.
As educators, I believe we have an important job in guiding and empowering students so they can take advantage of this tool. If we want our students to make a positive impact in their world using technology (and without), we should be asking ourselves ‘What skills, attitudes, knowledge and understandings do students need to acquire in order to be able to do that?’ and then work towards providing an environment that supports those critical things needed. This question is no different if we were working towards a different end goal. And the answer could be described by a school’s mission, values, and the curriculum. So essentially what I’m saying is that it is the child’s education (day to day, month to month, year to year) that empowers them to make a positive impact in their world. That being the case, what we do in our classroom and how we spend our time with kids is critical.
Taking action and empowerment is not about technology, but technology certainly gives students a tool to accomplish change, take action and/or take charge. How many of your students felt compelled to help our neighbours in Nepal this week? Did they send emails asking others to support charities?, Ask to do a fundraiser, or Make a poster to create awareness? They have an innate desire to take action on matters that are important to them.
What is essential for this to happen is a learning environment where student can take ownership of what and how they learn, where through modelling and practice they become self directed learners who have multiple experiences of learning through authentic performance task. Through their units of study, students can be exposed to multiple technological tools that can support students in sharing their learning in appropriate and authentic way. When the time comes, they will have a toolbox to reach in to and find which tool best fits their goal.
Stand back and look at the year and list all the tools that students have used and which students could then go on and use for other purposes when the need is there. Are the tools they’ve been using varied, relevant and can be used for a range of purposes? Go ahead and make a list.
I know I have hit the right mark in my class when kids come to school asking if they can share something they’ve made at home after being exposed or taught something at school, or when they start using tools for different purposes. This happened last week after we’d had a couple of sessions using TurtleArt to explore the concept of angles in regular polygons. Through these two sessions students learned how to program the turtle to make a polygon and figure out the relationship between the number of sides of a polygon and the angle needed to turn the turtle. TurtleArt was introduced to me last year by Gary Stager who was visiting our school. He ran this session with the support of our Tech Coach. This year I felt confident to use it in my geometry unit myself. I got an email that night from my student asking if she could share a project she created that night at home. The next day she came to school excited to share.
She had taken the skills and knowledge from class and applied it to a totally new project and created a piece of art. Of course, the ripple effect was the fascinating to watch as others started to think about what they could do with the tool. It’s a mindset or natural curiosity really and we want to promote that in our classrooms. We want students to wonder to themselves ‘I wonder how else I could use these skills I have.’ It’s only a matter of time that they start applying the skills to things that matter to them – friendship, social issues, solving problems.
Also, last month, a couple of my students had been working together on an independent project in their spare time, staying in for recess, using 5 minutes here and there. I didn’t pay it much attention, I just new it was busy and exciting work for them and they always went into a small closed room off our learning space so as not to disturb others (I work in an open learning environment). A few days later, they were ready and asked if they could share during the morning meeting. It was to my surprise and delight that they’d created a musical instrument out of various materials and constructed a piece of music with it. They’d planned and rehearsed their performance and then delivered it in such a way that audience participation was encouraged. So as well as having tools to work with, another essential item is time. Kids need time to explore their new skills, knowledge, understandings and follow their passions.
This week ask your kids this question: ‘What do you want to do with your computer?’ And listen to what they say. Do they say, I want to make a presentation, play a game, write a report, make an infographic. Behind all of these tools or software I bet there is a deeper desire. Kids may be conscious or unconscious of this and you can help uncover their real desire to use their computer. Then ask them, ‘What do you really want to do?’ Probe deeper for the underlying desire they have. Do they want to connect with like minded kids, spread their work to a larger audience, or document their thinking This image created by Bill Ferriter really resonated with me when I came across it. It made me stop and think about some of the conversations I have with my students about the use of technology.
We know there is a lot of things kids can do with technology, but let’s make sure the learning environments that they spend their time in empowers, promotes, supports the potential of technology. Read Svitak Adora’s article for ideas around supporting students: Five Ways to Empower Students.
Svitak, Adora. “Five Ways to Empower Students.” Edutopia, 8 Feb. 2012. Web. 2 May 2015.