Sunday, April 1, 2012

Students as Contributors or Consumers?

“Content travels when it is passion driven.” – Angela Maiers

Earlier this week, my twelve-year-old son asked me an interesting question: “Mom, are the polar ice caps really melting?” At the time he asked the question, I was actually working on something for school and just gave him a quick, “I have no idea son…” and dismissed his curiosity.

After a few minutes, I called him back to where I was still sitting at my laptop. Drew is a kid who is generally compliant, yet often disinterested with what’s happening at school. Because of that, I decided I couldn’t pass the opportunity for a teachable moment. We started by doing a google search together. We read excerpts from online news articles. We talked about global warming and what people could do to prevent it and how some people don’t believe it is real. We even talked about the Biblical explanation for rainbows.

The conversation ended after about ten minutes, but I have thought about it several times since. I wonder how different this moment for learning, and even social responsibility, might have been if it had happened at school. Would the opportunity to have the discussion been possible or would Drew have been re-directed to the required lesson of the day? How many of these types of learning opportunities do we miss in schools? If the topic wasn’t attached to the almighty grade or a curriculum pacing guide, would he pursue it further and deeper than any text book would allow? Would the teacher encourage and inspire his curiosity? Would his teachers feel they had the freedom to “go outside the lines” to facilitate individual research projects?

As fate would have it, I came across a TED talk from Shawn Cornally (@ThinkThankThunk) called “The Future of Education without Coercion.” 

Shawn’s TED talk affirms my belief in standards-based grading as the means for evaluation and grading students. But, bigger than that, how important it is for kids to be inspired to learn and pursue the answers to their own unique and relevant questions.  He challenges us to think differently about how we structure time and teaching so that students can navigate their own learning. I encourage anyone reading this blog post to spend some time on Shawn’s site at

I recently heard Angela Maiers (@AngelaMaiers) at the Missouri Principal’s Conference. One of the most powerful things she said in her presentation was: “the world will define you by what you contribute, not what you consume.”  What if Drew could discover something to dramatically impact our earth in a positive way? What if it was his teachers who cultivated and supported his passion? What a contribution that would be for all of us!

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