Ask the kids


As part of my graduate internship for St. Joseph’s University, I will periodically be blogging and reflecting on my progress.  One of my goals is to attempt to streamline the number of apps that are recommended and supported for the educators in our district.  It occurred to me that the stakeholders who might know which apps are best in the classroom are those that are using them the most – our students.  What follows is my reflection on creating a survey for students to be given out this fall.


My youngest son recently started using “big boy” utensils at the dinner table.  Witnessing his blossoming independence is an incredible experience and one that, if you are a parent, I’m sure you remember fondly (for the most part).  Maybe you can identify with the following scenario as well.  You want to help this tiny little cherub eat more efficiently and they throw, sometimes quite literally, a temper tantrum.  I have watched my son try countless times to use his spoon and fork, drop the food to the dog and stare at me to get him more.  It can be really funny and frustrating at the same time.  

The thing is, he has a sense of control.  Sure I cook him dinner and I bring him to the table, but when it comes time for the important stuff, he gets to be the boss.  Imagine how you eat a sandwich, with the bread essentially parallel to your teeth.  He likes to eat it so the sandwich is perpendicular. Oh and apples – he starts from the very bottom… and eats the entire thing! Crazy right? But it works for him and he does not want to be told otherwise.  Learning is happening almost every minute of his life right now.  While guided by his mother and me, he is making countless choices of his own.  Since becoming a parent, I have had a great reminder of what growing up looks like and the power of giving children a choice.

We, as educators, say that we have our students best interests at heart.  I have no doubt that this is true in most cases.  However, given the ability to differentiate instruction afforded by advances in educational technology, we have an obligation to meet students where they are and consider their opinions.  Think about the apps and tools that you have used in your classroom.  Have you ever asked for the students opinion of them? Have you ever asked what kinds or even how much technology they like to use when learning? It is a fact of life that everybody has to learn to compromise at some point.  I am not suggesting that every student be catered to 100% of the time.  Rather, give them a voice in their own learning.  Specifically, before we dive into any kind of edtech initiative, see how students respond to it.  Do your students learn better from watching videos? If so, then that may be worth your time.  Do your students ever check their email? Don’t force using it in a world that is moving towards more messaging apps like Slack and Remind.  Do your students tire of using their device all day in school? Ask them! You might be surprised by the answer.

We can’t continue to speak for our kids and hold to the belief that we have earned the right to control everything.  When choosing your tech tools, start with the student in mind.  It is easy to get caught up in the coolest, flashiest and newest tools.  While it is important to stay current and relevant, a constant chase for the newest thing in edtech can prove exhausting at best and costly to student learning at its worst.  Start your school year with a survey to your kids.  Get to know them as best you can and give them a voice in the decisions of your class.  Just as I provide the apple to my son but let him eat it in whatever way he sees fit, you still maintain control of your classroom.  And at the end of the year, ask your kids if giving them a choice made a difference.  I’m betting they’ll say yes.  


Improve Your Mind

As part of my graduate internship for St. Joseph’s University, I will periodically be blogging and reflecting on my progress.  During the closing weeks of the school year, I decided I needed to tighten up my Google Apps knowledge.  I had put off becoming “google certified” because I honestly wasn’t sure how valuable it would be.  After some reflection on the year and the needs of the staff at my school, I thought it would be a good idea to “beef up” my Google knowledge and the certification process seemed like the obvious avenue.  Despite the school year winding down and all the chaos that comes with that, I really enjoyed the process and the certification exam.  What follows is a reflection on my thirst for knowledge.  

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Pretend like it matters for a second: Is learning cool?

If you’re honest, most people probably don’t think so.  That’s why there is a nerd stereotype at all.  Its why when we are suddenly and passionately talking about our work we say that we are “nerding out” as if talking about our learning is reserved for so-called geeks.  Its why people act a little surprised when the star athlete and cool kid is also an excellent student.  Learning is so often associated with pouring over a textbook, writing a research paper, taking a test and going to a stereotypical-traditional-sit-in-rows-and-serve-your-time institute of education.  Learning frequently is equated with school. And school, for the great majority of people, does not equal cool.

In the modern world, learning does not have to follow this pattern.  School does not, and should not, either.  Let’s put a pin in that thought for now.  

Embrace learning, for yourself, right now.

A friend recently shared an incredible video of Isaac Asimov being interviewed and “predicting” the internet as we know it today.  When you have 10 minutes, I highly recommend you give it a watch.  At the 7:00 mark, Mr. Asimov states, “there’s no reason then, if you enjoy learning, why you should stop at a given age.”  While I write this in a coffee shop, there is a small group of elderly folks discussing a book and apparently learning Italian together.  How awesome is that?!

As we move forward as a society, there is more and more information available to us.  None of us can be an expert at everything but all of us can be experts at something.  Pick something you have a passion for: music, gardening, photography, whatever you like – and start learning more.  Just whip out that smartphone and start searching.  Soon you will start connecting with people.  Share your successes and failures.  Find an enjoyable route towards learning and then try to create that passion for knowledge within your students.  Model the learning process.  Learning does not have to lead to a degree, a certificate or a job.  Some of the best learning occurs without any of those incentives.  Become the lead learner in your classroom and ignite a fire in your students to want more.  

Ultimately, most of us don’t care if learning is perceived as cool.  Or we realize that the nerds actually are the cool ones.  But for kids – it can matter, and the whole concept can be upda.

We need to collectively move away from the old style notions of learning.  Learning is what sets us apart from other animals.  It is merely exercise for the brain and it should be done daily.  We have the tools and technology to allow for anybody to learn anything at anytime.

How is that not the coolest thing EVER?

In the Asimov video, he recounts a story about Oliver Wendell Holmes, who, at the age of 92, was asked by president Theodore Roosevelt why he was reading Plato.  “To improve my mind” he replied. Now go nerd out over something.