When students are given the freedom, they flourish and most of the time, challenge themselves. I truly believe that much of student performance is based on our expectations and the tone that is set for our classrooms and schools.
If we are encouraging, open and allow students to explore anything is possible.
I’ve had so much fun this year teaching Media Design classes. I’d never had the opportunity to teach technology classes before so I jumped at the chance. I might not have nailed the curriculum part of it, but I feel like it has gone really well. Here’s why.
You see, I didn’t have time to learn all of the software that students were going to be using in the class, so I pretty much gave them some guidelines and told them to figure it out. And they did. Consistently, over and over again. They were working together, they were investigating, sharing, asking each other questions.
I became an observer in my own classroom. The easiest class I’ve ever taught. I became a resource when they got stuck. Not the kind that showed them what to do, but the kind that helped them think through the process to discover a solution.
Given the freedom to work and time to explore, the students did just that. They’ve made public service announcements for the school, advertisements for school events, designed business cards, redesigned landscapes, designed new kits for their favorite football clubs, built skateparks and bridges in SketchUp just to name a few. Each assignment had a basic requirement, but most of them were open to whatever programs and subject matter they wished to incorporate.
I’ve also introduced Google A Day and GeoGuesser to my advisory class. This group of fourteen students that meet with me twenty minutes a day now begs to play these games. The two compliment each other nicely as they use their developing search skills to improve their chances on dropping the pin in the right place on earth. It is really cool to watch. The twenty minutes that often dragged by as I tried to pull conversation out of them turned into a flurry of activity and collaboration.
In my Humanities class I’ve given them free rein to decide how they want to present research in each project we’ve undertaken. At the first of the year they struggled. It was too much freedom. They mostly turned in incredibly boring Power Point presentations. But slowly, they’ve figured it out. I’ve gotten Draw My Life style presentations, a rap video made by app smashing Smule and iMovie, an Epic Rap Battle between key playas in the French Revolution, mocumentaries that featured a student’s dog as the lead character and all kinds of other super creative projects. It took some time for them to see that I was serious and they really could do whatever they wanted as long as they included the material asked of them, but once they did, sharing presentations became a whole lot more fun.
So maybe none of these students are creating the next great novel or restructuring the Scottish school lunch program, but they are building the tools and gaining the confidence to do so when they decide they can. I see the potential in our students all the time. The Middle Years Program is great for promoting student activism as well. With a 5th grade exhibition and a 10th grade personal project students are encouraged to seek out problems and offer solutions.
It can be an inspiring event to see students working on passion projects, even within the confines of the regular school structure of grading and deadlines. In almost every instance, these projects found students using their skills to improve the world around them. If we develop a positive atmosphere around students, give them the space and the confidence, they will do good things.