Random Thoughts

Looking into the eyes of our students

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Friday was a half day at school. A little extended weekend for the Thanksgiving Holiday. Our High School took part in a couple different sessions. One of those sessions was by me giving a talk on “The Flat World”. I would have titled it “Your World” but the title doesn’t really matter.

I had 20 minutes with every 9-12th grader at our school I started by saying, “You are very fortunate. You get to grow up in an amazing time in history.”

I then played Karl Fisch’s Did You Know presentation with the follow slides added.

  • There are 57 Million Blogs
  • 100,000 new blogs created daily
  • 1.3 million blog articles created daily
  • That’s 54,000 articles being published every hour.
  • Who’s verifying this information?
  • Who’s telling the truth?
  • Last year more students in China took the SAT in English than did so in the United States.

The information comes from the latest report of the blogosphere from Technorati and from this update from Karl Fisch.

After the PowerPoint was over we had a discussion about what all this information means. One student shouted “Shift Happens” the rest of the students laughed and I said “Exactly!”

Another student spoke up and said “Everything we’re learning now doesn’t matter.”

To which I said, “I know all your teachers standing around here are going to hate me, but you are absolutely right.” I then talked to them about the skills they need to learn while in high school starting with learning how to learn. We then talked about their generation. I asked the students “What’s the name of your generation?” a student spoke up and said “Millennials.” I then talked about the book Millennials Rising, and how in 1997 abcnews.com ran a poll on their website where this generation got to choose what to be called. They were proud of it, laughed, and thought it was cool. I asked them how many of them had a myspace.com account. To which over half raised their hands. I asked how many of them had a cell phone and a mp3 player. Every single student raised their hand. I asked how many had their own computer. All but a handful raised their hand, but when I asked who had access to the Internet in their house? Again it was 100%.

I asked these questions for one reason and one reason only. I wanted the 20+ teachers that were standing around to see the response, to understand where these students are, and what they want/can do.

It was a great 20 minutes. The most fascinating part was the students just looked at me like “We get it Mr. U, we think this is awesome, this is our world, this is where we spend our time and where we want to be.”

The teachers (many coming up to me personally after the presentation) had the opposite look. “This is scary, where do we begin and what do we do?”

It was fascinating to see the disconnect between the teachers and the students. Students understanding the 21st Century and teachers scared of it.

I had the head of our IB department stop by my office later that day. The first thing he said was, “Wow, if that doesn’t show that we need to be teaching skills and not content nothing does.”

Maybe, just maybe I’ve sparked something…now I just need the opportunity to turn that spark into a flame. If I can get some time from the administration to talk with teachers, I can start taking this to the next level. My fear is that this will be a one time thing. That I will not have an opportunity to follow up with the staff and that all those WOWs by Monday will be forgotten and we’ll go back to learning page 56 in the textbook.

I have to tell you, I was pumped after the presentation. We talk about there being something bigger, something needing to change in education. For 20 minutes while looking directly into the eyes of every high schooler, I saw it. I’ve said it before, this past year in the blogosphere has changed me, that 20 minutes in front of the students took it to the next level. It was verification that what I’ve been trying to do, trying to change is right. I could see it in their eyes. The wanting to be in a school, a world, where they could be connected. The students get it….we don’t. That needs to change, or education as we know it, is not long for this generation. We’ll loose them, and once we do…I don’t think we’ll ever get them back. Not when you can learn more from Mr. Google than you can from Mr (teachers name).

[tags]21st Century Learning, Karl Fisch, Did You Know, High School, Connections, Millennials, myspace, google[/tags]

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I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


  1. I am a computer science teacher in OK. I am also 27, everday I walk into class seeing an older generation of teachers who complain about kids becoming disconected from school, and a generation of students who complain about school being disconected from reality. The primary obstacle is more than changing educational practices, it is much more daunting than that, we have a culture that thinks being smart means knowing facts. Parents, students, board members, the community at large believes that kids are at school for purpose of pedantic pursuits. Making a school that is all about problem solving, analytical thinking, and an integration of disciplines that capitalizes on the ubiquitos processes of inquiry requires a paradigm shift throughout the ranks of society.

  2. Yes, there’s definitely something to be said for seeing it in the kids’ eyes. I think it’s what keeps me going when I feel like I’m not making any progress.

    We’re struggling, too, with the disconnect between teachers and students. The interesting thing is that some students are also disconnected. We’re a middle to upper-middle class community where about 90% of our students go on to 2 or 4 year colleges and I think some of the students themselves would rather not see these changes take place. Many of them were pretty much assured of a good education and a good job before, but in the flat world (new world?) everything changes.

    Keep going after it. Keep trying to get those 20 minutes to talk to your teachers every chance you can – and keep the conversation alive.

  3. Another student spoke up and said “Everything we’re learning now doesn’t matter.”
    To which I said, “I know all your teachers standing around here are going to hate me, but you are absolutely right.”

    Sorry Jeff, but I couldn’t let this one slide…
    Come on, you don’t honestly believe this do you? I’ve seen the PowerPoint you showed the students and I totally agree that students need to learn skills that will allow them to continue learning on their own for a world we can’t even imagine but if you’re willing to say that everything students are learning in school doesn’t matter, that says to me that nothing we do in school holds any value (unless it directly involves teaching students learning how to learn on their own).

    Will students need to remember names or dates from history class to be successful? I don’t think any history teacher worth their salt thinks memorizing names and dates is why we teach history, or civics, or economics. I do think what they learn teaches them to think for themselves, ask questions and develop an awareness and appreciation of the world and history on more levels than I have time to mention. Are fundamental math skills like multiplication, estimation or measurement obsolete skills because cell phones with built in calculators can do much of the work for us? I would say that if you don’t understand the concept of estimation, no calculator in the world is going to help you budget your bank accounts.

    And if all content being taught in schools is a waste of time, why bother with integrating IT into mainstream classes? If what students are doing in their mainstream classes is a waste of their time, what does it matter if they post what they’ve learned online for others to see, if it’s digital verses paper or if instruction is differentiated?

    Is “social education” even factored into this statement? Aren’t students learning how to interact with each other by being at a school in classrooms that they wouldn’t otherwise get from homeschooling via a computer and internet connection? Isn’t this why we so often talk about safe and supportive learning environments?

    As an IT teacher who considers himself a history teacher by nature, I am shocked that you agreed with what your student had to say. I’m sure it was light hearted and a little tongue-in-cheek at the time but without clarification on what you meant, what message do you think you were sending to the rest of the school community? We as IT teachers want to win over the other professionals in the building by showing them that what we do is equally as important as what they do so long as it is meaningful, which is best achieved when we work together. Telling their students that what’s going on in mainstream classes is a waste of time isn’t going win anyone over.

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