Fifty Ways

I had the pleasure of presenting at the Student Tech Team Conference at UMaine last week. I had the additional pleasure of the description of my presentation being written for me…something I could get used to! Jim Moulton did a great job of identifying what I could contribute and topped it off with the apt title, “There Must Be 50 Ways to Show You Get It!” You know…

“…just post to your blog, Rob; add to the wiki, Nicki; create a media file, Lyle; read the digital text, Rex; choreograph a dance, Nance…”

I obviously caught right on to where Jim was going and ran with it! I began the presentation by providing students with an overview of a variety of accomplished people who have made important and lasting contributions to their fields…and also happen to have disabilities. A short list of names includes Jack Horner, Stephan Jenkins, Ann Bancroft, Muhammad Ali, and many scientists and inventors, past and present. Although some of these folks may have had less than stellar K-12 experiences (Ali speculated that he was granted a “D-” rather than “F” upon graduating in 1960 because it was the same year he won the Olympics), they used their passions and strengths to their (and our) benefit.

While my immediate objective with this particular discussion was to arouse student’s perceptions of ability, the primary goal of my presentation was to guide students toward an appreciation for their own ability to advocate for themselves. How might they approach their teachers – respectfully and intelligently – with new ways of “showing that they get it.” How might a student-teacher partnership improve teaching and learning with technology?

How synergistic! Teachers have what students need – expertise in content and pedagogy – and students have what many teachers need – intuitiveness when it comes to figuring out new technologies. Put such minds together and you get progress in advancing classroom learning. Now, I have no illusions about students becoming pedagogical masterminds, but I do think that education needs to embed opportunities for students to understand how they learn…that metacognition that research has proven to be oh so critical across the continuum of lifelong learning.

Many schools are currently using the “tech team” or “iTeam” model for making students available to teachers who, for example, need a hand with setting up a projector or problem-solving technical issues with a software program. This is highly useful and can be very effective when it comes to deploying the “just-in-time” support that teachers need.

But how about taking this to the next level? What would it look like if we had students and teachers collaborating on getting technology “really going” in teaching and learning? How about convincing students that they have something to market to their teachers and coach them on how to sell it…and get something intangible in return? How might we find time for purposeful and meaningful conversations among educators and students – conversations that are galvanized when students do what comes naturally to them (demonstrate the ins and outs of the most contemporary technologies) and teachers respond naturally (discuss and evaluate how same technologies might advance or even transform their curriculum)?

I get really excited about this prospect – envisioning the lively exchanges between and among students and educators in the same room at a time when we can stop all of the action of our classrooms and think forward. Perhaps at times set aside during staff meetings or inservice PD days. Or transcend time and space and take it online.

Among many rewarding outcomes for all, students gain an understanding and appreciation of how learning happens by witnessing how teachers take and dissect a tool to determine if it is an appropriate and effective means by which kids can show they get “it” (whether a first or a growing number of 50).

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