Thursday, January 16, 2014

Inquiring Minds Want to Know...and a Challenge to Act Upon

This morning my 3rd grade neighbor was in a meeting that was running late so she was not in her room when her students arrived. I invited her kiddos to join us, as is typical for either of us to do when the other needs coverage for a bit. We went through our morning meeting routine as usual and sang a couple extra songs together while we waited for her to arrive. (If you've never had 60 children packed together on the carpet smiling, singing, and giggling then you are missing out - it's a special kind of joy that can't help but fill your heart). To wrap up I asked the kids to think of 3 things they were looking forward to throughout the day and to share with someone nearby. Echoed around the room were exuberant voices: "Recess." "I'm looking forward to lunch because yay food!" "I'm excited for dance."

As I looked down I saw one of the 3rd graders sitting quietly and staring in the opposite direction of the other children. I can't help but smile whenever I see him, he is just one of those kiddos who I gravitate towards because even though we are not alike in many ways I also completely "get" him. "He is my people" as I often say about these quirky kiddos. He's the kind of student who I just want to follow throughout his years, partly to take under my wing and make sure he finds his place and his "people" and partly because I just can't wait to see what his future holds. I'm completely confident that this brilliant little red-headed boy is going to cure cancer or create some kind of ridiculous life-changing invention that I couldn't imagine if I wanted to.

Since he was surrounded by what probably felt like a thousand bodies and voices I decide to sit next to him and ask what he was looking forward to in his day. Instantly the cutest smirk came across his face. "I'm looking forward to Chromebooks." Now this wasn't surprising to me, or out of the ordinary. After all, just yesterday my kids and I were walking the 3rd graders through the whole process to reset their passwords and get logged in to the Chromebooks they'll share with 3 other classes. They are at the very beginning of what I call the "shiny new toy" stage, so many of the kids are dying to get their hands on the computers again. The true beauty came in the conversation that followed:

"Why are you looking forward to using your Chromebook today?"
"Because I have a computer at home and I like using the computer a LOT."
"So why do you think it is going to be so great to have a computer at school now?"
"Because the computer can help me learn things. Like I can look things up and I can find out new information."
"Well what kinds of things do you think you'll want to look up on your computer?"

"Does a Promethean Board screen freeze?"
"Does Pepsi have carbon dioxide?"
"Do Chromebook screens freeze?"
"What are the parts inside a Chromebook that make it work?"

These are some of the question that immediately poured out of this 3rd grader's mind. I could see his eyes darting around the room, fixing for just a moment on various objects before blurting out the thing he wondered and then immediately moving on to the next topic of his wonderings. I could practically see the gears spinning a mile a minute as he gathered 100 "How" and "Why" questions.

In that moment, as with so many moments in my classroom this year, my mind was passionately screaming. "YES! THIS is why we need technology in classrooms. THIS is the beauty and brilliance of putting knowledge at the fingertips of young, curious minds and letting them go crazy exploring and creating and finding 1 answer and 50 more questions." In those moments I am reminded that a student's voice is the absolute best data to show the positive impact of an initiative. You can send out surveys or look at scores and scores of academic data in all forms, but until you sit next to a student who can show and tell you about their journey you can never truly feel the impact it is having on their learning and their life. It's easy to forget the exact numbers or lose track of the correlation between this data set and that, but you'd be hard pressed to forget the look on a child's face when they discover something new or explain to you how they've taken charge of their learning. Technology is a tool, and it is no substitute for the guidance of a great teacher, but when you give classroom technology to a great teacher who has the right philosophy and mindset the possibilities are endless.

So today, and for many days to come, I pose a challenge to myself and to anyone else who is involved in an aspect of education: No matter how busy you may be or how many other "priorities" you may have, go sit next to a student. Ask them a question and talk to them about their experience as a learner. Every now and then make the time to hang out in a classroom and enjoy the quiet hum or chaotic buzz of learning. If you let go of everything else and allow yourself to be completely present I guarantee you will learn and feel something that can't be found behind the screen of your computer or within the confines of an office - and when needing to return to that aforementioned place you just may find some inspiration and motivation for the work you do each day. Even better, you may find the students help open your eyes to some new questions to ponder...