I was teaching a Grade 9 computer class this past semester.
We did the typical things you should in such a class. We looked at the components of hardware that were part of a computer. We looked at the physical structure of a network and the physical structure and lack of regulatory opportunity of the internet.
We then went to the utilization of software for word processing, databases, spreadsheets, desktop publishing, audio and video editing and graphic design.
We also talked about a host of legal issues related to copyright matters, intellectual property theft, personal privacy and censorship.
And as a final project, I asked students to design the perfect school that would utilize technology and motivate the majority of students to succeed.
I must confess that it took a bit of prodding to get students to think creatively. Learning comes from experience, and while these students have been in school for almost 10 years, they’ve attended a structure well established and understood by them and their parents. They’ve never really thought about what goes on behind the scenes to create a school or education system.
When I opened the project instructions with the line, “I think the current school system is irrelevant,” I got their attention pretty quickly.
I asked them to consider the fact that a good education is very important, not just to the individual, but to the entire society. We spoke about the fact that everyone learns differently and how the current school system was often viewed by many students as a place that holds them back from doing what they want to do rather than motivating them to try new things. I asked how many of them, given the choice, would not want to come to school on a daily basis if there was an option.
Aside from a hit to my ego, since I was teaching this group two of its four courses this semester, I was not particularly surprised to find that the majority of students would not attend. I asked them what they would do, instead, knowing that they needed a decent education. Their response was not as easily determined as was the vote of whether to attend, but was insightful to me and a good stimulant to thought for the beginning of the project.
The majority of the students said that they would spend their time on-line, learning what they wanted to learn. A few said they would focus on their skateboarding or snowboarding or some other physical endeavour and a few said they would spend more time painting or playing a musical instrument. In other words, there was virtually no student who said he or she would lie around and do nothing all day, although there were a few glassy-eyed gazes from those who I suspect might.
As I invited them to open a blank page on the delivery of education to students and redesign it from the ground up, I was pleasantly surprised with their commitment to the task and they were unpleasantly surprised with the complexity of coming up with something that they felt would work.
Although I insisted that there be no judgement of ideas until time had been spent really analyzing them, there was much heated discussion about the practicality of many. Once again, to my surprise, I often found their views even more conservative than mine, and that’s saying something. It turns out, there’s a big difference between complaining about the current system and coming up with something better.
Over the next couple of weeks, I am going to offer up some of their best ideas, and maybe a few crazy ones, to add a little insight to the thinking of adolescents when it comes to schooling.
Graham Hookey is an educator and writer. Email him at email@example.com.