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  • I have been teaching for a long time,

  • and in doing so

  • have acquired a body of knowledge about kids and learning

  • that I really wish more people would understand

  • about the potential of students.

  • In 1931, my grandmother --

  • bottom left for you guys over here --

  • graduated from the eighth grade.

  • She went to school to get the information

  • because that's where the information lived.

  • It was in the books; it was inside the teacher's head;

  • and she needed to go there to get the information,

  • because that's how you learned.

  • Fast-forward a generation:

  • this is the one-room schoolhouse, Oak Grove,

  • where my father went to a one-room schoolhouse.

  • And he again had to travel to the school

  • to get the information from the teacher,

  • stored it in the only portable memory he has, which is inside his own head,

  • and take it with him,

  • because that is how information was being transported

  • from teacher to student and then used in the world.

  • When I was a kid,

  • we had a set of encyclopedias at my house.

  • It was purchased the year I was born,

  • and it was extraordinary,

  • because I did not have to wait to go to the library to get to the information.

  • The information was inside my house

  • and it was awesome.

  • This was different

  • than either generation had experienced before,

  • and it changed the way I interacted with information

  • even at just a small level.

  • But the information was closer to me.

  • I could get access to it.

  • In the time that passes

  • between when I was a kid in high school

  • and when I started teaching,

  • we really see the advent of the Internet.

  • Right about the time that the Internet gets going

  • as an educational tool,

  • I take off from Wisconsin

  • and move to Kansas, small town Kansas,

  • where I had an opportunity to teach

  • in a lovely, small-town,

  • rural Kansas school district,

  • where I was teaching my favorite subject,

  • American government.

  • My first year -- super gung-ho -- going to teach American government,

  • loved the political system.

  • Kids in the 12th grade:

  • not exactly all that enthusiastic

  • about the American government system.

  • Year two: learned a few things -- had to change my tactic.

  • And I put in front of them an authentic experience

  • that allowed them to learn for themselves.

  • I didn't tell them what to do or how to do it.

  • I posed a problem in front of them,

  • which was to put on an election forum for their own community.

  • They produced flyers. They called offices.

  • They checked schedules. They were meeting with secretaries.

  • They produced an election forum booklet

  • for the entire town to learn more about their candidates.

  • They invited everyone into the school

  • for an evening of conversation

  • about government and politics

  • and whether or not the streets were done well,

  • and really had this robust experiential learning.

  • The older teachers -- more experienced --

  • looked at me and went,

  • "Oh, there she is. That's so cute. She's trying to get that done."

  • (Laughter)

  • "She doesn't know what she's in for."

  • But I knew that the kids would show up,

  • and I believed it,

  • and I told them every week what I expected out of them.

  • And that night, all 90 kids --

  • dressed appropriately, doing their job, owning it.

  • I had to just sit and watch.

  • It was theirs. It was experiential. It was authentic.

  • It meant something to them.

  • And they will step up.

  • From Kansas, I moved on to lovely Arizona,

  • where I taught in Flagstaff for a number of years,

  • this time with middle school students.

  • Luckily, I didn't have to teach them American government.

  • Could teach them the more exciting topic of geography.

  • Again, "thrilled" to learn.

  • But what was interesting

  • about this position I found myself in in Arizona,

  • was I had this really

  • extraordinarily eclectic group of kids to work with

  • in a truly public school,

  • and we got to have these moments where we would get these opportunities.

  • And one opportunity

  • was we got to go and meet Paul Rusesabagina,

  • which is the gentleman

  • that the movie "Hotel Rwanda" is based after.

  • And he was going to speak at the high school next door to us.

  • We could walk there. We didn't even have to pay for the buses.

  • There was no expense cost. Perfect field trip.

  • The problem then becomes

  • how do you take seventh- and eighth-graders to a talk about genocide

  • and deal with the subject in a way

  • that is responsible and respectful,

  • and they know what to do with it.

  • And so we chose to look at Paul Rusesabagina

  • as an example of a gentleman

  • who singularly used his life to do something positive.

  • I then challenged the kids to identify

  • someone in their own life, or in their own story, or in their own world,

  • that they could identify that had done a similar thing.

  • I asked them to produce a little movie about it.

  • It's the first time we'd done this.

  • Nobody really knew how to make these little movies on the computer,

  • but they were into it. And I asked them to put their own voice over it.

  • It was the most awesome moment of revelation

  • that when you ask kids to use their own voice

  • and ask them to speak for themselves,

  • what they're willing to share.

  • The last question of the assignment is:

  • how do you plan to use your life

  • to positively impact other people?

  • The things that kids will say

  • when you ask them and take the time to listen

  • is extraordinary.

  • Fast-forward to Pennsylvania, where I find myself today.

  • I teach at the Science Leadership Academy,

  • which is a partnership school between the Franklin Institute

  • and the school district of Philadelphia.

  • We are a nine through 12 public school,

  • but we do school quite differently.

  • I moved there primarily

  • to be part of a learning environment

  • that validated the way that I knew that kids learned,

  • and that really wanted to investigate

  • what was possible

  • when you are willing to let go

  • of some of the paradigms of the past,

  • of information scarcity when my grandmother was in school

  • and when my father was in school and even when I was in school,

  • and to a moment when we have information surplus.

  • So what do you do when the information is all around you?

  • Why do you have kids come to school

  • if they no longer have to come there to get the information?

  • In Philadelphia we have a one-to-one laptop program,

  • so the kids are bringing in laptops with them everyday,

  • taking them home, getting access to information.

  • And here's the thing that you need to get comfortable with

  • when you've given the tool

  • to acquire information to students,

  • is that you have to be comfortable with this idea

  • of allowing kids to fail

  • as part of the learning process.

  • We deal right now in the educational landscape

  • with an infatuation

  • with the culture of one right answer

  • that can be properly bubbled on the average multiple choice test,

  • and I am here to share with you:

  • it is not learning.

  • That is the absolute wrong thing to ask,

  • to tell kids to never be wrong.

  • To ask them to always have the right answer

  • doesn't allow them to learn.

  • So we did this project,

  • and this is one of the artifacts of the project.

  • I almost never show them off

  • because of the issue of the idea of failure.

  • My students produced these info-graphics

  • as a result of a unit that we decided to do at the end of the year

  • responding to the oil spill.

  • I asked them to take the examples that we were seeing

  • of the info-graphics that existed

  • in a lot of mass media,

  • and take a look at what were the interesting components of it,

  • and produce one for themselves

  • of a different man-made disaster from American history.

  • And they had certain criteria to do it.

  • They were a little uncomfortable with it,

  • because we'd never done this before, and they didn't know exactly how to do it.

  • They can talk -- they're very smooth,

  • and they can write very, very well,

  • but asking them to communicate ideas in a different way

  • was a little uncomfortable for them.

  • But I gave them the room to just do the thing.

  • Go create. Go figure it out.

  • Let's see what we can do.

  • And the student that persistently

  • turns out the best visual product did not disappoint.

  • This was done in like two or three days.

  • And this is the work of the student that consistently did it.

  • And when I sat the students down, I said, "Who's got the best one?"

  • And they immediately went, "There it is."

  • Didn't read anything. "There it is."

  • And I said, "Well what makes it great?"

  • And they're like, "Oh, the design's good, and he's using good color.

  • And there's some ... " And they went through all that we processed out loud.

  • And I said, "Go read it."

  • And they're like, "Oh, that one wasn't so awesome."

  • And then we went to another one --

  • it didn't have great visuals, but it had great information --

  • and spent an hour talking about the learning process,

  • because it wasn't about whether or not it was perfect,

  • or whether or not it was what I could create.

  • It asked them to create for themselves,

  • and it allowed them to fail,

  • process, learn from.

  • And when we do another round of this in my class this year,

  • they will do better this time,

  • because learning

  • has to include an amount of failure,

  • because failure is instructional

  • in the process.

  • There are a million pictures

  • that I could click through here,

  • and had to choose carefully -- this is one of my favorites --

  • of students learning,

  • of what learning can look like

  • in a landscape where we let go of the idea

  • that kids have to come to school to get the information,

  • but instead, ask them what they can do with it.

  • Ask them really interesting questions.

  • They will not disappoint.

  • Ask them to go to places,

  • to see things for themselves,

  • to actually experience the learning,

  • to play, to inquire.

  • This is one of my favorite photos,

  • because this was taken on Tuesday,

  • when I asked the students to go to the polls.

  • This is Robbie, and this was his first day of voting,

  • and he wanted to share that with everybody and do that.

  • But this is learning too,

  • because we asked them to go out into real spaces.

  • The main point

  • is that, if we continue to look at education

  • as if it's about coming to school

  • to get the information

  • and not about experiential learning,

  • empowering student voice and embracing failure,

  • we're missing the mark.

  • And everything that everybody is talking about today

  • isn't possible if we keep having an educational system

  • that does not value these qualities,

  • because we won't get there with a standardized test,

  • and we won't get there with a culture of one right answer.