I had an amazing experience Thursday which has really helped me to focus my thoughts about what I want to get out of Educon this year. I have been on a year-long adventure with a great group of teachers in my district. We started a 21st Century Learning cadre with the primary mission of finding ways to make learning more engaging and relevant for students, while making sure students had opportunities to develop 21st century skills. We explored this through topics such as motivation, creating a culture of inqury daily in the classroom, embracing the concept of democratic classrooms (inspired by an Educon session I attended last year), infusing game-based learning into the curriculum, and creating an environment where creativity, invention and innovation can flourish.
I realized as I was preparing for the final workshop with these teachers that one thing was missing. That was the student voice. So I arranged for a student panel to attend the first hour of our workshop, which had been billed as a time to reflect on our learning and plan next steps as the year of learning came to a close. The students were outstanding. We got the conversation going with a few simple questions:
What is it that makes a classroom come alive for you as students?
If there is one thing you wished your teachers understood about you and how you learn, what would that be?
If you could change your school experience to make it more relevant and engaginng, what changes would you make?
Do you feel the education you have recieved so far is preparing you to be competitive in a global world?
The questions helped get the conversation started, but the conversation traveled where it needed to go. The students were very honest and quite frank about how they feel. Here are some of the big ideas they shared, along with my translation and how this has created a “look-for” for me at Educon.
1. Class size matters. Large classes make it impossible to form a relationship with the teacher. Also, there seems to be a lack of focus when students are in large groups.
Message: Relationships with teachers are extremely important to our kids.
Educon Look-For: Class size is something teachers have very little control over. I will be looking for ideas how others can create an environment within the classroom that allows students to “feel” as if they are in a smaller class. I will be looking for teachers who have great relationships with kids and find out how they accomplish this.
2. Students crave real world connections. They are sick and tired of homework that is busywork, teachers who lecture, and hyper-focused on what they need to do for the grade. They could not concieve of a school experience that would focus on a passion to learn rather than just doing what they need to do to get the good grade so they can move up the system and on to the next hoop in their life – college.
Message: Following a passion for learning is a foreign concept even for the cream-of-the-crop students like those on our panel.
Educon Look-For: I will be looking for teachers who are successful at igniting a passion for learning in their students.
3. All students are motivated in different ways. In our group of 9 students, we heard about praise, competiton, choice, and grades as motivators, and several others. No two students were motivated in the same way.
Message: We have got to know our students! Relationships are key to understanding what motivates each child, and motivation is the first step to igniting a passion to learn.
Educon Look-For: See 1 & 2 above!
4. Students learn in different ways. Some like technology, and clearly, some do not. Some want and need more structure to their school day, and some prefer more freedom to follow a learning path that meets their area of interest. Clearly, one size does not fit all.
Message: We must provide choice. Choice in the learning process, and choice in the end product. But keep nudgiing along the way – giving students the opportunity to learn new things and get past fear and prejudices that might exist
Educon Look-For: I hope to find examples of teachers who are successfullly striking a balance between choice and scaffolding for success.
Personalized learning is where we need to go to meet the needs of all students. We have the technology. We just need to really think outside the box, or as they said at the Model School Conference, build a new box. The students on our panel had a hard time envisioning school beyond the traditional classrooms, though they hinted at hoping for something better. More meaningful. More relevant. I hope the amazing educators at Educon will be sharing lots of ideas and strategies that I can bring back to share with our teachers.