Let Students Help Drive Change

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about our efforts to consult with students to plan a large event as part of our board’s commitment to the New Pedagogies for Deep Learning global partnership. A group of 40 students from 13 different schools ranging from grade 4 to grade 12 gathered in a sunny library to discuss the meaning of deep learning and work on some guided inquiry projects while their parents, teachers, and administrators met elsewhere in the building.

As facilitators we did not know what to expect from these students. We did not know the majority of them personally and did not know what skills they were bringing to the table. We were not sure how much guidance they would need to use the computers and iPads, perform research, or create presentations to share their learning. We were not sure whether they would come to the event with inquiry mindsets, collaboration skills, or curiosity. Faced with so many unknowns our planning was uncomfortably open-ended; there were more question marks on the agenda than any of us would have liked.

We were very lucky to be joined by some special guests, whose presence at the event inspired students, staff and parents. Our guests were brothers; one a grade 12 student in our board, the other in university. They shared their personal story of how they loved to build and create as kids, and that in their desire to create they saw a need for a 3D printer. This technology was too expensive for them to purchase, so they solved this problem by building their own 3D printer. Their description of their desire to create something, their ability to become part of a global online open-source 3D printing community, their perseverance through difficulties, and their honest expression of pride in their work was truly inspiring for our students at the start of the day. A fan club quickly grew around the 3D printer with students drifting to and from the station throughout the day. Our guests' enthusiasm and willingness to answer questions never waned.

With the 3D-printer running in the background, our student cohort dove into their inquiry projects with as much confidence as we had hoped they would. Some student chose from a selection of open-ended inquiry questions while others created their own. Several groups tackled questions about designing better classrooms, libraries, and playgrounds. Other students set out to overhaul school in its entirety. One young lady came up with the recipe for success, using her cellphone to create a video to explain it to the world. A secondary student boldly explained in a recorded soliloquy why he thinks students fail in school (hint: it has something to do with suppressing students’ choices and interests). As facilitators we spent our time troubleshooting technology, documenting student work, and simply listening to students’ ideas and discoveries. It was hectic but blissful. It made me miss my classroom.

If I had my way I would have loved to keep these students together for a week or more, sharing their opinions and experiences with each other and trying to create a deeper understanding of the possibilities for our NPDL initiatives.

I would also love to extend this invitation beyond the realm of our designated NPDL schools and see student voice continue to play a larger role in shaping growth and learning in all of our school communities.


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