Random Thoughts

Power to the students

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If you really want to see students squirm in their seats…give them choices.

Yesterday I was approached by two teachers who wanted help coming up with ways to incorporate technology into some upcoming lessons. Both of them wanted to “do something different”. Which is a good sign, and shows that our Tech Fest has sparked some interest.

After listening to both teachers explain their projects and what they were looking for I simply said:

“Let the students choose!”

To often I think we try to put things neatly into containers. A lesson (as we were taught in educator school) must have a clearly defined beginning, middle and end, when really all a lesson needs is a clear focus. As Brian Crosby would say Learning is Messy and you gotta allow students to get messy with it if you want to see something new and different.

Both teachers are planning big projects where they want students to produce something at the end of the unit. Both wanted to know what I would suggest students produce. A PowerPoint? A movie? A digital story? Both wanted to know what was out there that they were missing.

Why not allow the students to choose, allow them to find for themselves the best avenue to represent their learning. Allow students to get messy with the project. Some might decide to create a moive, others might decide a PowerPoint is the best approach, and yet others might create a podcast that is a radio show. Allowing students to choose gives them power over the content and the method of conveying their learning. As the teacher becomes the guide, you create the rubric that demonstrates what you want students to learn based off of district standards, but allow the students to decide what that learning looks like to them.
I will tell you most students do not like this, they do not like having the choice to decide what to do. We have conditioned them to do what we tell them. I used this exact approach last semester and got more whining out of my students then on any project. “Just tell us what to do Mr. U!” was what they kept saying. We have truly educated the creative side right out of our students. They don’t want to have to think about it, they just want to fulfill the requirement that is being asked of them and move on.

We must reengage students in the learning process invite them back into the learning process and make them the center of learning, not the receivers of information. If we are going to teach students to ‘Learn how to Learn’ then we must at times push them to do so and get out of their way so they can.
One of my students in our teentek.com class came up to me yesterday and said:

“What do you do here MR. U? I mean you never teach us anything.”

Exactly! 😉

[tags]21st Century Learning, School2.0[/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. Right on with choice. Too many times do I walk into the classrooms at my school where I am seeing students have no choice in the direction of their education. Sit down…Be quiet…walk this way…walk back that way. I remember it being the coolest thing when I was younger and Burger King started with their slogan “Have it your way.” WHOA! I get to choose EXACTLY how I want my food ordered. I thought I was in a youthful heaven at that time. Prior to me leaving the classroom last month to become a tech. specialist at another school I ended my class tenure with a project on “Using the Three R’s to help conserve our Natural Resources.” Students were given the choice of their topic to choose from as well as their method of presentation. (Digital Story using photostory or moviemaker, podcast, or powerpoint). Strangely enough, they all chose to do a digital story. During one class session my administrator walked in and saw everyone working so intently and was impressed with how one of the school’s lowest achieving student’s was working diligently with a partner to complete the project. Now to convince other teachers how great these tools are to help manage their classrooms!

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  3. I couldn’t agree more. We must allow students to become responsible for their own learning. We need to provide parameters such as classic literature and then allow them the ability i.e. freedom to select what it is they would like to read. Why can’t 24 students in a class be reading 24 different books? Why do they all have to read the same thing. The “learning” and discussion regarding style, genre, etc could be exchanged amongst the students. That discussion would provide each student with 24 different examples rather than 24 students discussing one piece of literature. Love your post!

  4. I think this is a great way to get students more active in their own learning! By giving them choices, we give them the chance to take ownership of their work. When this happends, they tend to exceed in the learning process.

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