Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Kids We Have

“Our task is to provide an education for the kind of kids we have… Not the kind of kids we used to have… Or want to have… Or the kids that exist in our dreams.” Mary Kay Utech

In his Keynote address to the K-12 Online Conference, David Warlick
alluded to teaching "the kids we have rather than the kids we'd like to have".

To do this, I've had to take a step backwards.

Fresh from a summer of self-directed professional development, I offered the students in my Current Events class an enticing (I thought) array of options for required projects. Don't know how to produce a podcast? No problem, we'll master it together. Visual learner? Let's experiment with movies and slide shows, prior experience not necessary. I let them view student-generated content from all over the world so that they were aware of the possibilities.

To a man, they chose PowerPoint.

I've learned quite a bit about our student population through questioning and observing. Many carry cellphones ("banned" during school hours), and own MP3 players, video game systems, etc. Because of the rural location, most families only have dial-up internet service. PowerPoint is something that students routinely use in other classes. It is definitely within their comfort zone.

These are the kids we have.

So I'm working with it. We've watched examples of "old style" bulleted presentations and dynamic SlideShare shows. We've discussed the importance of photos, charts and maps that complement the commentary. There is a PowerPoint checklist and a performance rubric.

Once the class is successful within these parameters, I'll loosen the restrictions and give them more creative freedom. I want them to realize that comfort zones can be cells and being uncomfortable might be very empowering.

"Of course we all have our limits, but how can you find your boundaries unless you explore as far and as wide as you possibly can? I would rather fail in an attempt at something new and uncharted than safely succeed in a repeat of something I have done." -A. E. Hotchner


Sue Waters said...

Yes there is this assumption that our students are comfortable with these technologies which is often not the case. What I have done with my group is we are using a wiki but I let students know about jobs that we need to do for the wiki and let them choose who helps out. For example - many of them spent time taking photos, several students created a movie, another student wrote up the information for the main page of the wiki.

None of the additional tasks are a requirement of the course but I have found it good for students that struggle with their written tasks and it gives them an opportunity to shine in another medium. I promote the tasks as the fact that wiki is to promote them to the industry so we need these additional features to make it work.

Sue Waters said...

Oops sorry Diane I accidently pasted the wrong blog URL when I wrote my comment.... mmm Brain Dump is not my blog but is worth reading :)

Lets hope I get it right this time :)

diane said...


Strange things happen on All Hallows Eve!

I like your suggestions. Clay Burell voiced a similar characterization of his students: we can't assume prior knowledge. The kids have just as wide a range of interests and abilities as their teachers.

Even though we're starting out with PowerPoint, my students are getting comfortable with watching new technologies, and from there it's not too big a hop to experimenting with, and incorporating them into, assignments (and life?).