Sunday, October 01, 2006

Tom March Leading the way

I admire the work that Tom March does. I have been privileged to hear him a number of times and he is a gifted and entertaining speaker but that's not what really matters. What matters is the message that he sends to us as educators. Above all I think, in my humble opinion, his heart is in the right place.

He asks us

How do educators help our students make truly satisfying choices? We can start by taking our cues from Seligman, James, and Harvey. We can "hand students over to themselves." We can engage them in the joys of learning, of making meaning, of being part of something larger than themselves, of testing themselves against authentic challenges. We can shift them from passivity and consumption to action and creativity. And believe it or not, the New WWW can help us.

Just as the Web has empowered students to undermine pointless, rote "research assignments" through copy-and-paste masterpieces, the New WWW shifts learning power to the students themselves. When the world of information explodes beyond what one head can hold, who decides what gets into that head? When students can demonstrate their learning in a persuasive essay, a sardonic blog, a moving short film, a robust wiki entry, or a humorous podcast, why would we demand deadening conformity? The New WWW may do us all a favor and put assembly-line education out of its misery.

Tom March (2005)

So I think what Tom is saying is that if we can challenge our students to think for themselves, to feel responsible for their own lives and the lives of others we are some of the way there. We want our kids to WANT to learn because something has meaning to them. If we do this then we will be well on the way to providing the education and preparation for life that we all are entitled to.
Today I used started a conversation with my Year 7 students about learning. I showed them a short video that Chris Betcher had added on his Crowded Wisdom blog The video challenges us to think about the schools of yesterday and today and asks basically What is different?
What is different about kids as learners and is that reflected in the way schools are run?
We had an interesting conversation about what learning actually is. What is hard about it? Why do we think? Some of the kids said we don't want to think, school is boring, they don't know why they have to learn. Some even said the video was saying that we don't need to learn traditional subjects like maths and english.
But to me it wasn't what they were saying that was important it was that they were actually forming an opinion, they were actually thinking about their own thinking.
My challenge as a teacher is to find ways and means to make them want to learn, to find things that have real meaning to them.
But also to teach in a way that relates to the world they live in and that recognises that this world is different, is rapidly changing.
They then did a short online quiz that Tom created that asked a big question "What do you think is the most important thing about the internet? " It lead them to understand that learning not just about accumulating knowledge, it's about understanding and using that knowledge .
It was a really valuable exercise and one that I want to work more with over the next few months. Hopefully we will end up with some persuasive and creative ideas that really get our kids to THINK.


Michael C said...

Hi Anne,

I have just started following your blog after listening to you and Chris Betcher on the first episode of the Virtual Staffroom podcast - great stuff by the way!

I am interested to know how you went about doing Tom March's quiz with your students - do you do this type of activity in a lab, where each 1-2 students is at a computer? I ask because that isn't possible at my school (no lab) and we only have 3 computers in the classroom.

I suppose I could do it as a group activity if I could get my hands on the (one) school laptop and projector?!

Anyway, great blog ... you are giving me some great ideas to take with me into the last term of my first year as an educator! Thanks! :)

AnnieB said...

Hey Mr C
I did do it in a computer lab with kids working individually but I don't see anything wrong with making it part of a rotating group of activities that you might do over a few days. To me the key understanding is their response to the Big Question and perhaps that would become the culimination after all the students have been through the task. It was interesting because I really wanted the kids to come to their own conclusion rather than me leading them to it so the conversation at the end was the most important bit.
I do feel for you with the limited equipment you have though. What about doing it as a whole class activity where you read each website together,sort of like a shared reading task then do some pair and share and then talk as a whole group about their conclusions. Then you would only need the one laptop and data projector.
Thanks for your kind words and you have inspired me to continue to blog. I actually find it a very valuable thing for me to do personally and hopefully makes me a better educator in the long run.
Goodluck and keep in touch.

Michael C said...

Hi Anne ... 'Mr C' here again to let you know that I am actually Michael Cridland (a fellow member of OzTeachers listserv). Sorry about signing my last post as 'Mr C', but when I registered to write the comment with my old blogger acount it automatically came up at the top of the post. No worries, but I thought I'd clear that up.

Also, I think I will do the activity as a whole class (with some pair/sharing), but your idea of a rotating activity would also work - thanks, I now have options! ;)

Cheers and keep up the blogging (I have just registered for the Knowledge Bank online conference, by the way),

AnnieB said...

Great, now I have a name to attach to Mr C. I will look out for you on ozteachers. I hope it's alright with you but I would like to forward our conversation to Tom (March) as I hope he would get a kick out of knowing that you are working with his ideas. I'll also be interested to know what conclusions your kids reach so let me know when you have done the quiz.

Michael C said...

No worries Anne! I just made contact with Tom to thank him for the activity ideas. I will let you know how it goes. Cheers, Michael