What our classrooms need

Summertime is one of my favorite times of the year.  I’m able to spend more time with my family, play with my kids more, and have the freedom to do some of the things that there just isn’t time for during the school year.  With all of that fun, I also make it a point to spend some time learning too.  During the school year I don’t always have the time to read the books that have been piling up on my desk, or delve deeply into new ideas and ways of thinking.  Luckily, the summertime allows just that.

HSE21 Best Practice Model
HSE21 Best Practice Model

This summer, in addition to the learning that I did on my own, I was able to participate in a couple of different conferences, and the learning opportunities that were provided to me there continued to reaffirm that we are on the right path.  Throughout the posts that I have made to this blog in the past year, I have constantly referenced the Best Practice Model.  When we look at the HSE21 homepage, we see the following statement to describe learning in HSE:

We must ensure that our students develop a strong academic edge through experiences with rigorous academic content and effective information, communication, and technology skills. Our students’ future education and career choices require critical thinking, creative problem solving, and the ability to work together with others to successfully compete in today’s world. In HSE classrooms, students think deeply and critically about content knowledge and complex issues. Students regularly collaborate and actively investigate real-world problems. Hamilton Southeastern Schools is dedicated to implementing curriculum and learning opportunities that build the skills and abilities necessary for our connected society. When students graduate from HSE Schools, they will be ready for their future and equipped for excellence. (from http://www.hse.k12.in.us/ADM/academics/hse21/)

So…  What does that mean for our classrooms?  Here are some things that I think we all should expect to see in a classroom:

  • Voice – In the summer before my senior year at IU, I took a class, and the mantra of my professor was “Learning is social!” This is just as true today as it ever was.  Our students need the time to co-construct their knowledge.  They need time to share their learning, and to learn from one another.  Empower your students to speak up in your classroom so that they are able to use their voice when they move beyond the classroom.
  • Choice – Students need as much choice as possible. Allow your students times to choose what they learn, how they learn, what they produce as a result of their learning, etc.  How many of you struggled early in your undergrad years, only to do much better as you moved along in college?  Why does this happen to so many?  It’s because as a freshman or sophomore in college, so many of your courses are prerequisite, not something you chose, rather something you are required to take.  What happened as you got into classes that were more directly related to your degree?  If you’re anything like me, you did much better.  These are the things you were interested in and the learning was more relevant for you.  The choices we give students helps make their learning more relevant!
  • Time for Reflection – John Dewey is quoted as having said “We do not learn from experience; we learn from reflecting on experience.” That time for reflection is so important!  We need to be intentional in building that time in for students, and we also need to build it into our own practice!  I know classrooms are busy places, and we are busy people, but a few minutes of reflection allows us to really think about and understand what we have learned.
  • Opportunities for Innovation – When our students are passionate about something, the learning never stops. If our students are playing a video game and get stuck, they aren’t going to give up – they’ll find a way to beat it (maybe a YouTube video, help from a friend, a cheat code, etc.).  How can we create that attitude for learning?  Help students to find the curiosities in your subject matter, or give the students the time to explore their curiosity, and then let them innovate in that space!
  • Critical Thinkers – One of the hallmarks of the educations system has been the idea of compliance – this came about as part of the factory model of education. This factory model and expectation of compliance does not allow our students to be critical thinkers.  Our students need to be taught how to respectfully ask questions and challenge ideas of others for the sake of helping us all move forward. Hemingway once said that “Every man should have a built in automatic crap detector operating inside him.”  Our students need this skill in these days of social media and internet hoaxes.
  • Problem Solvers/Finders – While at a Pure Genius workshop this summer I heard a story of a high school student who saw that families who were part of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) who were often unable to use their benefits to purchase healthy food for their family. The student began working with the Noblesville Farmers Market to find a way to allow families to use their SNAP benefits at the farmers market.  As part of her project, the student created wooden coins that she designed and printed using technology available to her at Noblesville High School.  Now families can take their SNAP card to the farmers market, swipe the card for the amount of benefits that they wish to use, and receive market currency in that amount to be spent on items at the farmers market.  One thing I know about most kids – they recognize things that they feel are not just.  Allow them to identify those problems, and create learning opportunities in the classroom that allow students to find solutions to the problems they see in our world!  Then, help them take that learning outside of the classroom.
  • Self-Assessment – Earlier I talked about the importance of reflection – on the day to day level, that reflection allows us to better understand new information, but on a long term level, that reflection allows us to see our own growth. A portfolio is just one way that students can look back and see their own growth.  Students can see where they were and how far they have come.  It is a valuable skill for all of us to be able to identify our own strengths and weaknesses.  We need to provide students with opportunities to assess themselves.  What might a digital learning portfolio look like for your class?  If you’re struggling to visualize it, let me know and we can try to come up with a plan that would work for your classroom!
  • Connected Learning – When we encourage students to be problem finders, we might run into some issues. What if the problem that students want to solve is something you know nothing about?  You might feel there is no way you can guide them to a solution.  That may be true, but in today’s connected world we can use technology to connect to experts who are able to support your student’s learning.  Though Twitter, Skype, FaceTime, Google Hangouts, and others, our students can create connections that allow them to learn.  Imagine if your students were connected with students at other levels with more background knowledge, or maybe even with people who have gone much further.  Who would you rather learn about space from?  A teacher or an astronaut?  With social media like Twitter, that astronaut is only 140 characters away!  With technology we can teach students how to facilitate their own learning.

In addition to all these factors, there is at least one other factor to success for our students in the future.  Our students need to be good people.  I don’t care how smart you may be, if you are unkind and disrespectful you will never find the same level of success.  In most schools we talk to students about their actions as a choice.  Remind them that it is always important to choose kind (if you follow me on Twitter, you will see the hashtag #choosekind a lot this year!).

What have I missed?  What can you expand upon?  Keep the discussion going in the comments below!  Enjoy your remaining weeks of summer, and be thinking about what you can do to make your classroom the best environment possible for your students!

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