Students Demand Change in Their Own Education

| May 23, 2011 | 5 Comments
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In January, a group of gifted middle school students in North Texas hatched a plan. They decided to send a message as far and wide as it could go on the Internet about an issue that affects them personally: their education.

“We need a new school system, one that mixes collaboration with achievement, excellence with technology,” writes Orooj on the class blog in the midst of creating the project.

“The information is out there, easily grasped. It’s our job to present it to the students in a way that makes them want to learn themselves.”

Coached by their teacher, J. Fletcher, the students took on the task of creating the inspirational video above. Their final aim is to make a dramatic impact and influence public opinion. In the process, they’ve learned how to negotiate with adults, create websites, research and learn about fair use laws, as well as the many details of producing a video.

Though it’s obviously a learning experience for the students, Fletcher himself has been moved by it.

“I’ve learned a lot about teaching in the last three months,” he writes. “Educational needs aren’t the same as when I was in middle school twenty years ago. The modern educator is a facilitator, an organizer, and a guide – the modern educator is NOT a teacher. We are no longer (or should no longer be) in the business of giving information. The information is out there, easily grasped. It’s our job to present it to the students in a way that makes them want to learn themselves.”

As for the students, they’ve been riled up in the process of creating the video.

“We’re four years from the ‘real world’ and the ability to be treated like our voice is worth listening to,” they write. “We live in the problem – the best ideas for change are going to come from us. We don’t blame the teachers or the schools themselves for this outdated method – we blame the system. As a group of students stuck in public school long due for an upgrade, we demand change.”

Read the whole blog, Education Innovation, to follow their trajectory.

I, for one, am happy to help them spread their message.

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  • Rillig

    As a third grade teacher in a San Francisco public school, I strongly support educational reform.  I practice project based education in my classroom.  Students have a say in what they will learn and how they will learn it.  They collaborate with each other the same way that I collaborate with my colleagues.  However, I feel lacking when it comes to new technologies.  I agree that computers can increase learning and efficiency in the classroom.  As an older teacher I have made the commitment to become more savvy about new technologies.  The Open Inquiry/Flip camera class that my colleague and I are taking is a start…The students’ video was powerful and succinct. Yes collaboration is powerful. Cooperation creates exponentially more learning. Teachers need to step back and provide a rich, modern environment to facilitate and promote learning.

    • guest

      Flip cameras are already outdated.  They don’t even make them anymore. 
      Students can direct their own learning to a point, but we need to guide them also to make sure they learn what they need to survive in the world, and what about the students who simply won’t participate?  How will those issues be addressed those in your “students lead learning” environment?

  • Mark

    This video coupled with Blooms Taxonomy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bloom%27s_Taxonomy) & the ideals of Sir Ken Robinson (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U) indicate a sea change is starting.  Much like any change it starts slowly but spreads persistently.

    Tools and technology for the classroom are starting to proliferate the educational system.  There is still a ways to go but the journey is picking up steam.  Sal Khan of the Khan Academy is a great example http://www.khanacademy.org/ as is KQED, PBS and Collaborize Classroom.

  • http://profiles.google.com/seejayjames seejay james

    Kudos to an interesting and thoughtful video. I agree with most of what they have said, especially about the negatives of a “one-size-fits-all” classroom without group work. This style is totally outdated, and even more so, is totally unaligned with learning research. Their collaborative space is much more on target, when implemented well.
    But not everything in this video I agree with. Not all “improvements” in technology (as shown by their 1911-2011 comparisons) are necessarily beneficial. Restrictions, whether in complexity or availability, can promote adaptation and problem-solving, while having unlimited access to the latest tools can “leapfrog” you over the fundamentals, producing a technically facile student who can’t explain much about what’s going on. It can also make one totally reliant on the device and helpless without it. This is getting painfully obvious today with the internet and phones—collaborative and complex in some ways, isolating and superficial in others.
    Technology in the classroom can be great: in moderation and with no internet except one “portal” station that can be used to look things up when truly needed. Restrict access to the web for collaboratively-decided “big questions”, not every little thing that doesn’t really matter—these detract from the real-time activity. If you have limited access to something, you will think more critically about when to use it and value it more. Pretty basic psychology, but fundamental for elements of motivation, self-reliance, and affect and not just concerning technology…
    When devices start to get too much in the way of verbal and eye-contact communication, put them away. Large portions of the school day should be technology-free by design. As a society we are becoming immersed in technology much more rapidly than our psyches can adapt, so anytime we can back off and focus upon the innate parts of our psyche (you know, everything that’s been around for 4 billion years rather than 20, like socialization with each other), I think this is a good thing.
    “We learn creatively” and “we are group learners” have always been true, not just for today’s students. But their point about the education system taking these opportunities away is right on the mark.
    Overall, it’s a fantastic video and message, we just need to be aware of how best to make this change. There are pros and cons to any situation or method, and these can change constantly. Meta-cognition about learning, with support from a facilitator, is the best bet for students to take charge of their learning—and be able to explain why they came up with the solutions they did.
     

  • Camilo

    Wow!  Great article, video and even better discussion!  I agree with Rillig (and I’m in the same Inquiry/Technology class with him) in that we should support students’ higher level thinking skills such as critical thinking and problem solving through collaboration and cooperation.  I feel we (in this country) are focusing too much on the superficial facts that don’t help us “learn”.  I challenge educators, as I try to do in my Pre-K class, to not ask students questions that we already know the answers to.  No more what color is this and what is 2+2? But rather what color do you want (and eventually why) and focus more on child-centered curriculum where we take the lead from the students as to where they want to go and what they want to learn.

    I have also seen the RSA video on “Changing Education Paradigms” by Sir Ken Robinson that Mark posted and agree that schooling is too much about conformity and kills creativity.

    Lastly, I most appreciated the comment posted by seejay james in that not all technology is appropriate in the class and definitely not all the time. James is right on when saying we should look at our development beyond just the last 100 years and think about how our brains developed for thousands of years and hunter/gatherer societies.

    Schools are currently overly testing and needs to be looked at through a true scientific/inquiry process, not the current business model the current administration is pushing.  Only then will we have a more just society.

    Additional resources:  Dr. Bruce Perry, Alfie Kohn, Jane Healy, and to paraphrase Paulo Freire, “Education is not neutral, it either serves to maintain the status quo or is a tool for Liberation!”

    –Camilo.