Friday, July 27, 2012

Choose2Matter: Don’t Underestimate Students

Too many people, including educators and students, feel insignificant. But what happens when you know you matter and you understand that your actions count? What happens when you recognize that you are not only important, but essential? @AngelaMaiers poses these questions in advancing the You Matter (#YouMatter) movement.

As Angela observes, the You Matter movement both lifts us up and challenges us. We are lifted up by the recognition that each of us is a genius. We are challenged by the assumption that our contributions are needed by the world.
The implication for schools, states Angela, is that it is not enough to support student success. We must support students’ significance. We should focus on supporting student significance now, not just on preparing students for significance at some point in their future.
We are underestimating our students, emphasizes Angela. Our students need us to believe they are capable of doing world changing work. To illustrate this, Angela shares a video in which students ask teachers to “believe in me . . .trust me . . . hear me . . . inspire me . . . help me . . .empower me . . . honor me.”

Last week, four teachers from the York County School Division in Virginia joined Angela Maiers in spreading the You Matter message at the #BLC12 (Building Learning Communities 2012) Conference. They described examples of their students doing work that matters, meaningful work that makes a difference.

Charitable Investment Strategists
Third grade students at two separate elementary schools made decisions regarding how to invest actual donations in OxFam in a way that would provide the most benefit. The students researched the effectiveness of fertilizing soil with manure compared to fertilizing soil with worms. Each class focused on and advocated one fertilizing option. They wrote persuasive essays and performed persuasive skits via Skype to classes in other schools to convince the students in eight classes how to invest the donation. [presented by Elizabeth Hoffman and Melissa Overton (@2teachlearngrow); implemented with Eric Postman (@epostmanetf), Krystal Kosanovich (@MrsKosan), Regina Riddick, Regina Zimmerman, Brandi Bolling, and Jen Litts) 

Student Skypes to promote his class' charitable investment strategy.

Online Book Reviewers
Middle school students created and published online videotaped reviews of books available at the school library. Next year their reviews will be accessible via the school YouTube site and via QR codes affixed to books in the school library. When choosing a book at the school library, schools will be able to consider their peers’ recommendations by watching the book reviews. Because students are encouraged to bring their own digital devices to school, they will be able to go to the library and scan the QR code on a book with their smart phone, tablet, etc. ( or use a school-owned device) to see the book review. Alternatively, students will be able to access YouTube from home or school to see book reviews. (presented by  Jan Myers; implemented with Abby Paddua)

Producers of Video Tutorials
High school students created video tutorials that explained important biological concepts by relating the content to topics that are familiar to most people. For example, one pair of students posted a video tutorial that explained the biological concept of competitive exclusion by connecting it to the fiercely competitive academic climate among many contemporary high school students. (presented by Amy Holtschneider; @aholtschneider)
What happens when you know your actions count?
Knowing that their work had meaning beyond a grade, and knowing that the world needed their unique gifts, these students committed themselves fully to the work. Jan Myers observed that the middle school students who typically were reluctant readers were particularly engaged in creating the online book reviews. Elizabeth Hoffmann shared that the elementary students were so committed to advocating their charitable investment strategy that they clamored to skip recess and stay after school to work on the projects. After the investment decision was made, the students wanted to continue the work on their cause. They wanted to know how else they could raise money for OxFam. Clearly, the students were committed to their work. They were not just working for academic success: they were working to be significant. Each student knew, in the words of Angela Maiers, “I am a genius and the world needs my contribution.”
What can we each do?
The You Matter movement both lifts us up and challenges us. We need to let others know that they matter and that the world needs their gifts. As teachers, Principals, Superintendents, and other educators, we need to let our colleagues know that their work matters.

We also need to let students know that their work matters. We need to give them opportunities to do transformative work that makes a difference locally, nationally, and/or globally. We need to encourage them to #choose2matter.

Encouraging students to make their mark
Angela Maiers shared how participants can encourage students to make their mark by participating in International Dot Day on September 15-ish. Every year, on or about September 15th, tens of thousands of educators and students participate in International Dot Day, which is designed to encourage students to “make their mark.” The day is inspired by Peter Reynolds’ award-winning book The Dot. The Dot tells the story of Vashti, a girl who begins a journey of self-discovery after she is challenged by her teacher to “make her mark.” Activity ideas and free educator resources are available at Twitter hashtags for conversations relating to International Dot Day include #DotDay and  #makeyourmark.

Connecting the Dots
Doing work that matters, making one’s mark, is not a one day event, emphasized Angela Maiers. The You Matter movement seeks to connect the dots all year long by bringing together educators and students who share a passion for doing work that matters.
As Angela asks, are you ready to help change the world? If so, you need to believe that your students can make a difference. On September 15, ask your kids to make a dot, to make a difference. And then give them opportunities to make a difference during the year. Help us connect the dots by joining the #youmatter movement to collaborate with others on supporting students as they make a difference locally, nationally, and globally.

Learn more about our teachers' efforts to encourage students to Choose2Matter:
The Digital Learning Farm: A Call to Action
Students and Transformative Work
Using Technology to Transform Teaching and Learning

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Digital Learning Farm: A Call to Action

 In the recently released Who Owns the Learning, Alan November uses the metaphor of the Digital Learning Farm to articulate a compelling vision of learning and teaching.

He writes,
Not too many generations ago young people were expected to engage in work with purpose—caring for farm animals, repairing equipment, selling food at local markets, and helping to care for younger children in the family. . . Today we rarely expect young people to be contributors.
Alan issues a four-part call to action with the Digital Learning Farm model:
·         Engage students in work that has meaning to themselves and others;
·         Shift more control and responsibility to students by redefining the role of the learner as a contributor, collaborator, and leader; and
·         Leverage the powerful motivators of student ownership and purposeful contribution; and
·         Enlist inexpensive and easy-to-use technology to support students’ active participation and contribution to community.
Purpose-Driven Work
Who Owns the Learning is full of rich examples of students doing work that they and others value.
·         Students contribute as tutorial designers. Students create and post math tutorials for a global audience via their class’ Math Train web site.
·         Students who contribute as scribes: they collaborate to create a detailed set of notes for use by the entire class as well as by others around the world.
·         Students who contribute as researchers and authors of an online digital textbook.
Shift of Control
Alan observes, “we have inherited an organizational structure in which the teacher owns and manages the learning.” He further explains, “the questions (1) Who owns the learning? and (2) Who works harder in the classroom?” drive the thinking of the Digital Learning Farm model. Teachers still play a key role: “One of the most important tasks for educators . . . is finding the right beginning. Often that means identifying a single project the teacher can work through with the class, one that spawns new ideas for learning experiences.”

Leveraging Motivation of Student Ownership
This shift of control can be incredibly engaging. As Alan states, “students will work harder to achieve a purpose . . . than they will for a grade.” In his book, Alan quotes me in elaborating: These tutorial designers “were determined to get it right because they knew their video tutorials would be viewed by peers, both in their school and outside it. . . So you talk about who owns the learning. Those kids owned that.”
Enlisting Technology
Technology both connects students with resources to do meaningful work and a global audience. The Digital Learning Farm model taps into students’ interest in digital tools. As Alan puts it, “What if we could use the allure of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other similar tools to empower students to be autonomous, masterful, and purposeful in their academic work?”
As Alan November welcomes educators from around the globe for the Building Learning Communities 2012 conference, his latest book constitutes a call to action. He explains,
When students are given the opportunity to have purpose and ownership in their work, we see amazing things happen with the quality of their learning experiences and outcomes. We need more educational leaders and frontline teachers who are willing to empower students to co-create curriculum, own their learning, and make contributions to the collaborative process of learning.

Let us heed his call to action!

Two related blog posts by other authors via @jcoreyatzeck: