by Randy Fairfield, 2/1/18
Kids like to make things. When I leave my kids to their own devices, my son goes off and builds stuff with Lincoln Logs and Legos, and my daughters go off and draw pictures. It’s just what they do. And of course whenever they are done making whatever it is they’ve made, the first thing they do is run up and say, “Mom! Dad! Look what I made!” Being a growth mindset conscious parent, I make sure to let them know how proud I am of all the hard work they put into their creation and then ask them reflective questions about what they thought they did well and what they thought they could make even better and so forth. Creating things and then sharing them with other people that care is a very human thing to do.
And then they get to school. And they get asked to show their learning on worksheet after worksheet and on test after standardized test. Or write papers that only their teacher will ever see. And while some kids like mine are resilient enough to put up with all of these stale demonstrations of rote learning, there are a lot of kids that aren’t. And the one question that just about all kids ask their teachers is this: What does this really have to do with anything? And too often the answers they get to those questions really suck. Since our assignments and tests are inauthentic and irrelevant, we have to say things like, “Stick it out and do your work to get your points so you can get good grades so that you can go to college.” Why do we do this to kids?
There are a lot of things we can blame—like laws passed by politicians far-removed from the classroom and administrators handing down stale curricula and expecting it to be taught with fidelity. But for as much as teachers can control, every opportunity ought to be taken to quit “doing school” and start engaging students in meaningful learning. During my time in the classroom, the biggest challenges I faced were threefold when it came to facilitating a student-centered classroom that allowed my students to be creators of authentic content: (1) I had a hard time coming up with great ideas for projects that were tied to standards; (2) Coming up with a budget and the time to get materials was daunting; and (3) Finding an authentic audience for students to share their creations with was challenging. Nowadays, I don’t think any of those challenges really present much of an obstacle.
We live in an exciting age where we don’t have to recreate the wheel all the time because, guess what, there are a lot of educators out there that like to create and share stuff too. Do a Google search. Search the #pbl hashtag and follow other educators on Twitter. Check out Pinterest. There are tons of ideas and resources on Edmodo Spotlight. If your school is using Hapara, there are public Workspaces out there that teachers have spent tons of time working on that are being given away. Check out the amazing HyperDocs on “Teachers Give Teachers.” Check out Project-Based Awesome. Access to high-quality vetted content and ideas is quite literally a few searches and clicks away!
Attending a three-day Buck Institute training this past summer was also useful in helping me help teachers generate ideas for projects. There are so many different ways for students to demonstrate their learning besides worksheets and tests!!!
The best part is that students are increasingly getting regular access to technology in the classroom, which gives them the ability to create stuff without the teacher having to scramble for resources. The web also gives students access to a global audience for their work! It’s far more exciting to share with the world than it is to share with just your teacher and classmates. Students can use the Google Suite almost exclusively to produce and share most of the projects listed above, and there are free web-based applications for video, photo, and audio editing that just a few years ago cost hundreds of dollars! Yet far too often, Chromebooks are used for little more than testing and Google Classroom is used for little more than digitally reproducing and distributing of the same old worksheets. Google Classroom is great and can be used for more of course, but I think the robust features offered by Hapara’s Workspace and Edmodo are a lot more conducive to the deeper learning I’m interested helping educators facilitate, which is why I’m always championing their platforms. As educators, we have a duty to prepare our students for the world they are in and are going into, and this is what that world is asking today’s students be capable of:
I like to create and share stuff with people too, which is why I just wrote this blog post, why there will be plenty more posts laden with ideas, and why there’s already a bunch of stuff I’ve already shared here on my website. Take a gander if you’re so inclined! I also really like leading professional development to help teachers help students become creators rather than consumers of content. Reach out if you’re ever interested in having me come out to your site! Have passport, will travel. 🙂