April 28, 2011

The answer is in the room.

In the past month, I’ve had two completely different experiences in two completely different settings that centered around a common theme: How can we (educators) improve education?

One experience happened in March inside a turnaround-school seminar at the annual ASCD conference in San Francisco.I had specifically chosen to attend this turnaround session due to the nature of our work at Bronx Green Middle School: turn our school’s progress-report (given annually, city-wide) D rating into something much better, much higher. Something our kids, parents, staff, community can be proud of. The facilitator shared a simple, but inspiring quote on the very first slide of his presentation:

“The answer is in the room.”

He went on to further explain that too often, teachers, administrators, board members look to other schools, other districts, other states, even other countries to find “what works” in education. What these educators do not do, however, is look inside the very walls that constitute their school building. A school’s own teachers and students know what works. We just have to ask. And more importantly, we just have to listen.

And then came the second experience…

Let’s take it back to the East coast now, inside room 200 at Bronx Green. We started our monthly iPad meeting in April with Ken Robinson's clip on divergent learning. My first thought? Wow, now this makes sense. I was particularly inspired by the following quote:

"We are educating our children by anaesthetizing them. We should be waking them up to what is inside themselves."

We teach in a school where so many of our students have attention-deficit issues. And yes, doctors "anaesthetize" our children through medication. More sadly, teachers "anaesthetize" our children through boring, disengaging lessons. Something must change...

And I firmly believe technology, especially the iPad, could lead us to our answer. To back up my hypothesis, all I have is my own experience in my own classroom with my own students. When I hand students a regular paperback book, many lose focus less than 20 minutes into our reading block. When I hand students the iPad to read on Kindle or iBooks, where they can highlight, make notes, etc., digitally, I have seen students sit and READ for 90 minutes STRAIGHT. What's the difference... Content? No. Setting? No. The teacher? No. The student? No. Technology? Yes.

When we sit in our monthly iPad meetings, I am blown away by what our teachers are doing with our students using the iPad. Whether it's learning about Ancient Egypt through the incredible images in the National Geographic app or doing a Lorax read aloud with language learners on the iPad or listening to FDR's speeches or having a book-club "dicussion" through Popplet...our students are learning in new ways that I didn't see possible before. I also love when I hear another teacher share out how ALL students were engaged, more students than EVER submitted their digital projects, students who hadn't gotten through one class without a behavior disruption ALL year were not only engaged, but helping OTHER students with their project. Amazing. After those meetings, I can't help but think...

Divergent learning most definitely could be the answer we are looking for...and yes, the answer is in room 200 and several classrooms at Bronx Green. Every month. Every day.

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