Saturday, February 21, 2015

" A Tale of Two Centuries"

In a few short years every student in our schools will be from the 21st century, and no teacher will be. The entire student body and the entire teacher force will be from different centuries.
 ~Lester Laminack

Since reading this quote on my Twitter feed recently I have taken pause to consider its implications. You see, as a sixth grade teacher , all of my current students were born after the year 2000 and this has been my reality for the past three years.  Moving forward it will continue to be the case until I eventually retire within the next fifteen years. As I continue  to digest the implications of this reality, I am sure that it is not as dire as the quote suggests.

Here are some additional realities:

My colleagues and I are products of the 20th century educational system.  Our passion and commitment as professionals has helped to produce many passionate educators who lead our classrooms today.

 The passion that we have for teaching and for our students today was and continues to be fueled by the influences of many outstanding 20th century educators.

The great teachers have always understood the value of engagement and empowerment, these concepts are not unique to the eras in which students learn or teachers teach.

The 20th century teacher was also the 20th century learner and as time marched forward, the 20th century teacher became the 21st century teacher and learner. 

As educators and as humans, we must continue to learn and adapt, if we are to survive in our careers or in life.

In an effort to gain an additional perspective I wrote the quote on the board and sought the opinions of my students regarding its implications. Their responses were varied.

 Some felt that it made no difference at all because a 20th century background could provide additional perspectives for the 21 century student in terms of approaches and strategies.

 Some believed that it was "no big deal" as long as the educator used 21st century methods and technology to meet their students "where they were".

 A few did in fact believe that teachers should be replaced if they were not willing to teach 21st century students with a 21st century mindset. As always their honest feedback provided valuable insight as I continued to work through the implications of this issue.

This is what I believe moving forward regarding the implications of 20th century teachers teaching, 21st century learners.

 The quality of education is the key to the growth of any individual or the advancement of any society. 

The manner in which we educate our children has always and will always evolve as a result of a multitude of political, technological, cultural and economic influences.

We must continue to understand how our children learn and prepare ourselves to meet them where they are.  This is imperative to their success.

As long as we are willing to evolve and adapt, in order to meet the needs of each individual learner, then ultimately it makes no difference when the educator was born or educated. 

 The educator that continues to develop their instructional practices with their students front and center, will thrive in any century and so will their students.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Celebrating Authenticity and Affirmation

Since creating the "Power of Inspiration" a little over thirteen months ago, I have had the opportunity to submit posts on topics that reveal both my interests and passions.  Each submission has given me the opportunity to reflect on my craft and renew my enthusiasm for writing. While I have enjoyed writing each piece, the posts that I enjoy writing the most, focus on my students and the authentic learning experiences we have collectively shared. The following  post, inspired by the efforts of my students, traces the evolution of our second marking period Technology project.

The Launch

Prior to leaving for an extensive winter break my students concluded an exhaustive unit on the "early humans". Awaiting them upon their return would be a long term project that would give them the opportunity to create a product model relevant to the study of the "early humans". This product model would be constructed with the mindset that it was capable of assisting the "early humans" in their daily lives. Within a few days they would need to develop an idea and present it to me and my co-teachers for our approval. After reviewing the assignment handout and answering questions, the class concluded for the day. Their enthusiasm  for this project as usual did not disappoint. As students got up to leave for the day, a handful were already stopping me and passionately sharing their early ideas.  As the day continued more would stop by and share their ideas as well. Over the course of the week I would have many conversations  about the visions that my students were having for their projects. I couldn't wait until Friday.

The Challenge

The following day I challenged my students to take advantage of this opportunity to do something great. I told them they had full creative control and virtually no limits on what they could accomplish. I then told them that not only was this an opportunity to potentially achieve individual greatness but that each one of them was quite capable of doing something great.  I visually referred to a project from a previous year that they all agreed was outstanding and reminded them that the student responsible for its creation, shared common circumstances with them. I then left them with the challenge to go beyond ordinary and strive for greatness.

New Ideas

Over the course of the week I would have many conversations about the early visions that my students were having for this project. When Friday finally arrived we were able to finalize and approve most of the ideas but there were still students that were working through the process that required guidance and support. This year's ideas included; portable fire pits, baby carriers, first aid kits, poison detectors, security systems and a host full of other authentic and useful ideas. The next three weeks would be exciting for sure as we would all witness these innovative ideas blossom into finished products.


One of my favorite days of the project experience was when I had the opportunity to review their sketches. It was exciting to gain an early glimpse at their designs as they continued to develop their ideas.  I was also afforded the opportunity to ask questions and make suggestions that may help them move forward as they prepared to enter the construction phase of the project.  As this phase came to a conclusion I was confident in the direction that my students were heading and eagerly awaited the arrival of the finished products.

Presentations and Affirmations

The day of the grand unveiling of the projects brought with it a great deal of excitement. Both the  students and teachers eagerly awaited the beginning of the presentations. Collectively this batch of models/inventions was of the best that we have witnessed in years. The craftsmanship reflected ideas that were very well designed and executed. A three week journey which commenced with the project launch was now one step closer to conclusion.  This day and the few days that followed thoughout were special for many reasons. 

All of the students began revealing their products to one another in short oral presentations. We learned of the genesis of their ideas, the purpose and function of their products and essentially the process in which the product was constructed. We learned of research that had been completed, trials that had been endured and ultimately of  the success that had been achieved. Following the presentations the students asked very thoughtful questions of the presenters which required very thoughtful answers.  This was an impressive element of the presentations as the students were showing genuine interest in each others efforts. 

This year we all were treated to an unexpected bonus feature. As some presentations concluded, the students were offering complimentary affirmations to the presenter instead of asking questions. One student commented to another about  their idea being " very creative", or another commented on how the finished product indicated that they spent a "great deal of time" working on it.  These affirmations were unprompted and unsolicited but  indeed provided a special quality as some of the presentations concluded.


After the final oral presentation had concluded our journey was all but complete.  There was one final step that I was looking forward to taking with my students in order to bring closure to this project. As has been tradition following the final presentation students were required to participate in a reflection activity. This activity explored their thoughts on the positive qualities of the project experience, ways that it could be improved and finally what they had learned throughout the entire process. This as always was one of my favorite legs of the journey because it gave the students an opportunity to add an honest voice to the process. Once again as in past years they provided me with valuable feedback and have helped me to reaffirm the enduring value of the project.  Their feedback will also help me to make adjustments and strengthen the assignment for future classes.

 Some of the positive feedback this year included the following; "it was fun and I enjoyed the opportunity to be creative", " we could make our own choices and there were not many rules" and "it gave me a chance to bond with my mother or father".

Some of the improvements that were suggested included "share more models", "model an oral presentation" and "give more specific guidelines regarding the journal." 

The went on to tell me that they learned how to manage their time better, that homework can be fun and that they learned more about the problems and needs of the early humans.  

As the reflection activity came to a close, I was proud to be able to add the voice of my students to this project once again.  They appreciated the opportunity to add constructive and honest feedback as well.

Final Thoughts

When given the opportunity to create and work without constraints my students will embrace it.

My students like challenges and love the feeling that accompanies achievement.

 Authentic learning is the best way to learn because it allows my students to immerse themselves into their learning  environment. 

 When my students demonstrate that they value the hard work of their peers,  it strengthens the culture in our learning community.

  We need to continue to ask our students if the learning experiences that we provide have value. Their feed back will always be honest because they have the most to gain if they are engaged.  This project, like others  authentic in nature, empowered my students to become active learners. The more engaging the activity the more meaningful their learning will become.  The voices of our students need to be the ones that we hear the loudest and we need to pay attention to them. If not, we risk losing their interest and this is not a result that we can afford.  We must continue to celebrate the success of the authentic learner and affirm the value of their commitment and effort whenever possible.