Students are too Smart for False Authentic Learning Tasks: I Need Your Help

As the school year comes to an end it is to take stock of the successes, failures, shining moments and heart breaking letdowns. One thing I can honestly say about education is that it is NEVER boring. While students may sometimes feel bored with what they must learn (i.e. polyhedrons) and teachers question what they are forced to teach (making polyhedrons meaningful to a 12 year old???), we do however get to experience authentic learning with our students. 

After spending the past 3 days in Toronto, Ontario with 50 grade 7/8 students I again see what education could be. Interacting with real people outside of our (falsely) insulated classroom walls is critically important. What is a teacher to do? The ridiculous size of the Ontario Curriculum Documents precludes most teachers from taking the time to provide their students with real life learning. Unfortunately we have tricked ourselves into thinking that authentic learning tasks are ones which mirror real life situations. 

The reality is that students are too smart to be tricked into fully engaging in tasks that are simply fake. Yes they may mirror real world situations but they are NOT REAL. Do we as adults give our best effort when engaged in meetings and situations that are not real? It takes more time, effort, creativity, money, and technology to provide REAL AUTHENTIC LEARNING TASKS for students. It also takes less curriculum being forced upon educators from above, less bureaucracy (hoops) for educators to jump through, and less time spent justifying that I am doing my job and more time spent on actually doing my job.

Next year…I want my students too feel that what they spent their time, energy and effort on was real, and not something I as an educator have developed to resemble the real world. 

This may only be a dream, but it is mine.

It may end up being yet another false authentic learning task, but I don’t want it to be.

If you have any real authentic learning tasks that you have completed with your students I would love to hear about them. I am looking for creative, interesting ideas I can try and share with others.

Happy teaching

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Technology in Education: The Sexual Education of the 1980’s

No, this blog is not what you think it is about!

As a teacher who is working to responsibly integrate new technologies into my classroom as a means of engaging my students and affording them the opportunity learn real world skills, I am frustrated with those who continue to live in fear of it. I am not a social networker. I still do not have a Facebook account, I do not Snapchat and I do not spend hours a week sharing my life story with people from my past whom I was not friends with in high school. After an inspiring workshop given by @kevinhoneycutt, he helped me re-evaluate my opposition to social media. His message of learning to use it for practical (even educational) purposes helped me overcome my general angst toward the often ridiculous nature of social media (this is just my opinion of course).

It has been inspiring these past few months to share ideas, read posts, gather ideas to improve my practice. I would like to take a moment to thank all of those people who openly share their ideas and experiences. This past week at my school (I am a grade 6/7/8 teacher in a rural school in Ontario, Canada), I was discussing my plan to create a classroom twitter account next year so that my students can share their ideas and work with the world. In the process I will model for and with them how to use this technology to better your life and the life of others around you. My colleague expressed how this was a bad idea and that I should not do this.

This stance was thinly veiled in a cloak personal concern. It was explained to me that parents may not be happy with this and I should make sure I am protected. While I agree the safety of my students and self are of paramount importance, that is not a good enough reason to not do it. If one were to read between the lines it was quite obvious that the warning was about not taking a chance of causing difficulty for the school, not for me personally. My response to my colleagues reply was that if we are worried about using Twitter as a teaching tool as it may cause problems…that is the greatest argument in favour of using it! Too many of my students have Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat accounts which they use with reckless abandonment and little or no reflective thought. I have taught my students about internet safety. We have even had a local police officer in the cyber crimes division in to speak with the students, yet based on what I have seen and been told it has clearly not sunk in.

I equate this mentality of fear regarding technology in schools to the introduction of sexual health education in elementary schools several decades ago. Many felt sexual health should be taught at home. These students are too young to learn about this! Learning about sex will make them have sex younger! Well guess what, learning about sexual health has not resulted in kids have sex at younger ages, rather it has resulted in kids having safer sex. Which has also directly related to a drop in teen pregnancy rates. 

Anyone who is reading this is most likely one of the converted. You are probably introducing your students to new technologies all the time, and most importantly working with them to learn to use it safely and responsibly. I ask all of you…do not let those who wish to live in a culture of fear regarding technology in our classrooms win. Rather take the lead yourself and show them what your students can do, when working together with a responsible adult.

Introducing Twitter in the classroom will not give our students viruses…rather it will help them practice safe technology usage and limit dangerous behaviours on-line. 

 

In Praise of Middle Schools

Currently I am a grade 6/7/8 teacher in a K-8 elementary school. Our entire school has less than 100 students (we are a small rural school). While this affords us many benefits: such as a family atmosphere, whole staff collaboration and an ability to build a relationship with every student, it does also have several significant drawbacks. Classes are most often prescribed in advance offering little chance for students who may need a break from one another to get it. It also provides no opportunity for grade level collaboration between colleagues and students within our building as there is only one classroom with each grade (although technology such as Google Drive and Adobe Connect have allowed us to collaborate with students from other schools which has been great!!).

But perhaps the single greatest flaw in this K-8 system is the administration and expectations placed on students and staff in a school which has students ranging from 5 years of age to 14. With increasing work hours, broken families, increased curricular expectations and social responsibilities, schools have been left to pick up the slack as the modern family breaks down. It has become extremely difficulty for parents to keep their jobs, raise their kids, keep up with technology, provide extracurricular opportunities and learning opportunities on a consistent basis. 

While school (some with vigor and some begrudgingly) take on these extra responsibilities we are left with teachers and admin who are stretched to limit. Nowhere is this more apparent than the 25 committees and 5 new board initiatives each school must adhere to on a yearly basis, to ensure that every aspect of the child’s life is addresses (or at least covered) by the school. Safe and Caring, health and nutrition, QDPA, and on and on and on…

The challenge continues that in a K-8 schools the needs of the students at each end of the spectrum are drastically different. Schools are built on a hierarchy of antiquated rules which often defy logic and common sense. How can we move into the 21st Century by creating rules that are applied in the same way to kids who are 14 years old and 5 years old? This makes no sense! I have taught gr. 7/8 for nearly 10 years now and nothing frustrates me more than how grade 7/8 students are treated like little kids. They are not! They are at an extremely difficult point in their development…trying to figure our who they are and who they want to be. 

Too often they are treated little kids, and then adults and admin are perplexed when their actions emulate those younger students. If we treat them little kids they will act that way! Often I run into difficulty when I fundamentally disagree with a ridiculous rule and openly choose not to enforce it. When I show trust and confidence in them, they most often reward that trust. Unfortunately many administrators and teacher only focus on the negative or silly actions…Hey folks (read about brain development 101…this is what they are programmed to do!).

My hope is that boards of education will change this out dated model.Create middle schools where students in grade 6-8 can cast of the shackles of our past education system and micromanaging administrators, and allow them to live, learn, create, search and yes make mistakes with a little more freedom. Until we are willing to trust them, work with them, and give up our need for control, I fear our grade 6/7/8 students will continue to rebel against the insanity that is K-8 schools. 

We need to give them a place where they feel like they are welcome.

We need to build an environment where they are valued and surround them with their peers. 

They need us to build them a home.

Middle School.