On May 11, 2014, I will (quietly) celebrate a third anniversary. That day will mark the moment that I have spent exactly three years watching a TED talk every day.
Being an educator, as I watch TED talks, I think about how they might “fit” into school. I sometimes imagine the speaker as a student in a typical high school, and I wonder what courses and subjects his or her talk would align with.
And often that exercise bothers me. It bothers me because I imagine a speaker like David Epstein prepping and preparing his “Are athletes really getting faster, better, stronger?” talk embedded below. I wonder…. Would David be doing this “project” in math class? In science class? In history class? In English class as a persuasive speech assignment? Maybe in some technology course? Would he be so lucky as to have teachers who would allow a single project to “count” for all of his courses? After all, the project integrates a number of disciplines that we subdivide and separate in school.
And that entire imagining bothers me because of the ridiculousness of having to think this way. Why do we continue to remain so wed to the unnatural subdivision of the “school subjects?”
What if at least part of David’s school day allowed for him to pursue the project of his dreams and interests and the subject-area lenses were more like threads in a tapestry that David is weaving?
And what if that deep project identification and discernment had developed partly because of more innovative “homework” that encouraged and made room for David to explore his developing passions and curiosities?
And what if the subject areas in his school behaved a bit more like “subjects on demand” and recitations in which David could schedule time with a relative expert to spend some concentrated time digging into the statistics or biology specificity that he needed for his emerging understanding?
And what if his assessments were more akin to badges and endorsements showcasing the disciplinary, interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, and transdisciplinary knowledge, skills, and understandings that David was building?
And what if David were at the center of his own progress reporting and learning conferences?
Then school would look different. Because form follows function.
To be aware. And from that awareness to choose how we respond. In the nine-minute video below, David Foster Wallace convicted me that such lives at the heart of education. (H/T to my wife for sharing this incredible piece with me.)
As a child, I LOVED school. I still love school. Interestingly, though, I can remember often telling others that my favorite things about school were lunch, recess, and P.E. I still hear students repeat this refrain. My own first-grade son retells events from lunch, recess, and PE far more often than other details. Is it the freedom to move around, choose, and explore? Is it the time to talk more freely and process one’s tales and experiences? What makes lunch, recess, and PE so popular? What if we amplified the bright spots of lunch, recess, and PE? How might we copy success and sprinkle the magic of these moments across a curriculum and schedule?
In my past, I attended Camp Rockmont in Black Mountain, NC, and I served as a counselor and administrator at Camp Sea Gull in Arapahoe, NC. As Ross writes in his post, I remember fondly the enormous space and time to explore and discover. There were generally three “periods” – morning, afternoon, and evening. Campers pursued new opportunities and old loves of deep interest, and we enjoyed “I-can-really-accomplish-something” chunks of time.
Choice and time are powerful cabin mates.
Most importantly, the best of summer camp includes the space—literally and figuratively—for young people to become both more independent and more empathetic. ~ Ross Peters, March 24, 2012 blog post.
From March 25-28, I attended the ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) Annual Conference in San Francisco, CA. The theme was “Bold Actions for Complex Challenges.” On Monday, as I entered the general session arena and prepared for another keynote, I sunk in spirit. I thought, “I just cannot sit-n-get one more time at a conference touting itself as a professional development opportunity for the 21st century.” Because of my bad attitude during this one general session among several general sessions and hundreds of specialized sessions, I missed most of what the speaker had to say. Luckily, I had heard this speaker before…give the EXACT same speech, read from the same set of pages. Later, though, I checked myself. I was wrong. The conference was excellent and it did model the following 21st century attributes:
The 9700-10,000 attendees CHOSE to be there. We were not required to be there. We attended on our own free will and desire. It was our choice to learn at ASCD. I got to choose to attend the conference.
ASCD provided alternate sessions during the general sessions. I did NOT have to be in the general session; I could have attended another session in another room of the conference center. ASCD had provided for the possibility that I would not choose to listen to this general session speaker. I failed to exercise my ability to be elsewhere. I got to choose to attend this general session.
ASCD recommended a common hashtag for Twitter (#ASCD11), so participants could use the backchannel for questioning, exchange of notes and ideas, discussion and commentary. I choose to participate in this backchannel throughout the conference, and I used this backchannel to learn from others during the general session that I missed because of my bad attitude. Thankfully, I had some alternative learning opportunities through the integration of technology.
What if we gave our students the ability to choose more about what they are learning? ASCD allowed me to be a co-pilot in my learning. I chose my sessions. ASCD provided hundreds and hundreds of sessions, and I got to choose. ASCD set a room with 10,000 chairs in traditional, 20th century rows and columns, and I chose to be in that room on Monday rather than in another session. I failed to take advantage of the Monday general session, but I stilled learned from an alternative choice – the backchannel. Do we encourage the use of backchanneling with our students? Do we make it possible for them to tune in using a different method? Do we create the chance for students to engage with others who are asking questions and processing information without audibly disturbing the principal speaker? I mean, the kids can tune us out, pretend to listen and be millions of other places mentally. With a backchannel, those “mind wanderers” might have a better alternative. Lucky for me, I am a natural-born learner and exercised my creative options to backchannel. What if we gave the kids a “conference and backchannel” opportunity on more days?
Imagine students looking in a catalog of choices for a day (or a week) and deciding where to go to learn…from whom to learn. Imagine that we taught them a proper use of handheld technology to tweet and backchannel. Imagine if the learning was even more up to the learners. Can you imagine that?
Some schools already do such stuff. I am not thinking all that creatively. Some call it an “interim.” Others name it “winterim.” I am sure there are myriad names. Some offer “electives.” Some are in the process of trimming electives. Some offer special programs in the summer. The learners get to chose. Choice is a powerful thing, isn’t it? Free will may be the most powerful motivator there is for humans. I could have chosen a different attitude about the Monday general session. In hindsight, thanks to reflection and a free-will motivation to blog in order to think, I may do better next time. As it is, I am thankful that ASCD understands learners enough to know that we make mistakes and errors. So, they gave me a richer set of options than merely choosing my attitude. Thanks, ASCD.
What will you choose next? It’s about learning to choose and providing choices. Get in the game. Make a choice. It’s about learning.