At the start of this school year, The Syrian refugee crisis in Europe was reaching its pinnacle in terms of media attention and pleas for support. A parent was involved with “Backpacks for Syria” (similar ideas, with different names have spread all over Canada and the US) and wanted us to ask the children to bring in backpacks/items to donate to refugee children. Rather than simply write a note to parents with this request, I knew it would be much more powerful when the requests were coming from students’ mouths themselves:
After a successful haul as a result of our plea, I’ll be honest and say the day to day demands of the classroom, (not to mention Coetail obligations!) pushed charitable thoughts from my head. Recently, while attending the Learning2 conference in Milan, the idea of students “making a difference” was re-ignited by Warren Apel’s keynote:
Warren’s talk and subsequent blog post ( Keep it Real: Authentic student publishing can raise money to change the world) describe the idea much more eloquently than I will here, but I will summarise: It is about moving from the traditional bake sale method of raising money for a cause to harnessing the power of student’s creativity by publishing and selling their work to an authentic audience.
“Teachers know that students do their best work when they have a real audience. That’s why we have them blog.
“But what if we could publish and sell student work, generate income, and use that money to help people? What if we could use the same real platforms that professionals use to publish and sell their own works?” -Warren asks us to consider a new model:
By publishing and selling student work through a variety of online companies, (Amazon, Google Play, Etsy) students create for a real purpose and audience, and possibly, they can more effectively raise money, and with organisations like Kiva: Loans That Change Lives, they can choose to send their money directly to those in need, and to projects that directly support curriculum, or school initiatives, like environmentalism.
“Instead of collecting dust, we could be collecting momentum.”
Warren suggests that rather than allow children’s art projects to gather dust in an attic, their enthusiasm and creativity gains momentum, in that they see true purpose and value in their work and contributions. Nothing is more powerful than that.
I will focus on the overlapping word, Empower, highlighted in this week’s TedX video resource: “Extracurricular Empowerment” about student empowerment through extra curricular (i.e., self directed) learning projects, like the lead story about a high schooler’s critical, funny and engaging blog about her school’s lunch program. Her blog ultimately garnered enough attention (some good, some bad…although as the saying goes, “any press is good press”) to force the school to make real changes and improvements to the food. How empowering for her and ultimately beneficial for those students!
Engagement, Empowerment and Evolution through Collaboration:
Tom Whitby says in his article, The Connected Educator begins with Collaboration: “The idea of collaboration requires a mindset of believing there is room to learn and grow. It is also a belief that we are smarter collectively than individually.”
I would argue these same qualities that make an educator connected and relevant, are the same qualities that empower both the teacher and his/her students.
He and Steven Anderson wrote the book, The Relevant Educator: How Connectedness Empowers Learning, and list several qualities of the Connected Educator. The 3 that stick out for me:
- Is a relevant educator, willing to explore, question, elaborate, and advance ideas through connections with other educators.
So far my email dialogue with fellow Coetailer Amber Dryer and her Tech Coach Andrew Chiu about course 2’s final project (A collaborative blog/space to start a discussion about environmentalism where we live) has been about just that: exploring, questioning and advancing ideas. So far the connections my students have made beyond our classroom have been very empowering for my students. What we ultimately come up with together, will be greater than what any of us could have come up with alone.
- Views failure as part of the process of learning
I love A.P.J. Abdul Kalam’s (FAiL: First attempt in Learning”), and “NO” “Next Opportunity.” Despite feeling frustrated at the lack of enthusiasm over my proposed Photography Collaboration with colleagues from my other campus, I am trying hard not to see it as failure, or their lack of response as a “no,” just that I need to re-examine my approach, and to keep looking for that meaningful “Next Opportunity” to connect and collaborate.
- May put creation over content, and relevance over doctrine.
Our Early Years programme, (I have to say nicely complements my general philosophy and approach to teaching) has 4 loose, year long inquiry units and a play based/student interest driven approach. It really allows much more emphasis and value on the process of (relevant and timely) learning, creating and formative assessment, rather than on product, prescribed content/curriculum and summative assessment.
And finally, there were so many great descriptions about the web as a collaborative and empowering place from the lovely little gem of a website, Small Pieces Loosely Joined: A unified theory of the web by David Weinberger. (The website actually serves to advertise the book by the same title, and is itself is a bit outdated, but the ideas presented are so, so relevant.)
“The Web gets its value not from the smoothness of its overall operation but from its abundance of small nuggets that point to more small nuggets.And, most important, the Web is binding not just pages but us human beings in new ways. We are the true “small pieces” of the Web, and we are loosely joining ourselves in ways that we’re still inventing.”
The kids version of Small Pieces is great, too, and summarises the kind of web we all should aspire to be a part of:
“So, here we have two worlds. In the real world, people are kept apart by distance. Because of the
vastness of the earth, different cultures have developed. People live in separate countries, divided by boundaries and sometimes by walls with soldiers and guns. On the Web, people come together – they connect – because they care about the same things.
The real world is about distances keeping people apart. The Web is about shared interests bringing people together.
Now, if connecting and caring are what make us into human people, then the Web – built out of hyperlinks and energized by people’s interests and passions – is a place where we can be better at being people.
And that is what the Web is for.”
Empowering? I think so. Now, off to sell Art and save the world, one small piece at a time.