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Authentic Learning

Ghandi once said that education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world.  Often, we as educators, lose sight of the power of the minds with which we are charged to educate.  We think we are supposed to fill the bucket (brain) with knowledge (content) but the reality is quite different.  We live in a society, as described by Diana Laufenberg, that is experiencing an information surplus. (this is an awesome TedXTalk by @dlaufenberg, don’t miss it)

As Laufenberg points out, teaching and learning are so vastly different (or at least should be) for this current generation of students.  Gone are the days where kids had to come to the school house to get knowledge – that is as simple as opening an app on your smart phone now.  Today, we must give students the opportunity to use their voice to impact the world, make a change, and determine how they will use the vast amounts of knowledge available at their fingertips.  Teachers today have to teach skills, not content, in order for our kids to be successful in society.  What does that look like though?

Today, I witnessed just that – student voice driving education in a 9th grade US History class.  The topic, originally, we focused on immigration.  So, just give the old Ellis Island talk, throw out some stats, maybe have kids research one person or something like that, give a test…right?  WRONG – not in Angela Stephens classroom!!  The discussion about immigration and refugees spawned an interesting twist…how can you connect the immigration to the US to the current refugee crisis in Syria?

Mrs. Stephens class has taken this question and run with it.  Rather than being lectured to, the class has self-selected into four groups doing research specific to the Syrian refugee crisis happening right now.  The students were so motivated that they asked for me, as principal, to attend class today along with a couple older students and sponsors of clubs in our school.  Their learning was demonstrated today by presenting to us what the current status is with Syrian refugees – why are they all fleeing the area, how many, where are they going, and what has happened to them to force them out.  Another group chose the stories of 5 refugees and acted them out, telling the personal stories of 5 people driven from their homes, beaten, starved, and taken against their will.  A third group gave us a very clear understanding of the geography of the area. Mind you, Mrs. Stephens didn’t spoon feed or ‘teach’ this information only to have it regurgitated in a presentation.  She simply lit the fire and got out of the way.  The kids did the rest – STUDENT VOICE!!

Mrs. Stephens asked the group which country they felt would be most impacted, or in greater crisis, as a result of mass influxes of refugees.  HERE is where I really saw evidence of learning.  9th grade students having an open dialogue, acknowledging points made by others, agreeing and disagreeing but doing so in a manner that showed both the knowledge they had gained by doing research they were not asked to do, and showing respect for the political and ideological thoughts of their peers. The final step in today’s class was the 4th group presenting what they would like to do, as a class, to impact the current refugee crisis.  As a group, our kids will work to raise money, a current goal of $5,000, to support the refugees.  They have researched foundations that accept donations and assist refugees. (they have even researched their Better Business ratings to ensure they are raising money and sending it to a reputable foundation)  As they take their ‘next steps’, we will see presentations to our student body, other instructional staff, and so forth.  I am excited to see where this group takes this fabulous idea and how big of a project it may become.

Not all 9th grade classes look like this, for that matter few like this at other grade levels – and it is a perfect example of what we are looking for when we ask our teachers to focus on teaching skills not content.  I know that many struggle with this massive shift in the paradigm. How do I do this and what is my role as the teacher?  What skills do we mean?  What do they look like?  How do I assess them?  In this example, the students have clearly learned content, but more importantly they demonstrated their learning of public speaking, presenting and defending an argument, reasoning, empathy, writing, and global awareness.

Kudos to Angela Stephens and congratulations to her 4th hour 9th grade US History class.  They make me #ProudToBeATiger



Keep rolling down the #RoadToAwesome,



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One Comment

  1. Tanya Hanson

    Way to go Ms. Stephens and students, you guys are changing the world! All it takes is one movement by one person or group. I love our freshman, they truly are an amazing group of kids to get to have the honor of teaching!!!

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