Schools that work for kids | Eric Sheninger | TEDxBurnsvilleED


Translator: Yulia Kallistratova
Reviewer: Denise RQ The world has changed fundamentally
since when we were in school. And many of those changes, as we know
unless we live under a rock, have to do with technology. Students and adults today can connect, and engage, and collaborate
like never before. When I think about all of these changes, I think about how our students today
are fundamentally different. They are wired differently. They are digital learners in every sense. And I look to my own son as evidence. My son Nicolas is 9. He goes
to PS3 in Staten Island, New York. His favorite game is Minecraft. He is so addicted to Minecraft
that unbeknownst to me, he created his own YouTube channel
and had over 40 tutorial videos. And when I watch him on the Xbox Kinect,
and I go down, and I observe, I see him collaborating, communicating,
solving problems, thinking critically, and creating his own
new world with his friends. He loves this world.
It is relevant, meaningful, and engaging. The problem for my son and countless
other students across the world is school is at the exact opposite
of the real world. School does everything
to suck out the passion, the creativity. How do I know this? Because both
of my children hate school. And it pains me as an educator.
They hate school. But who can blame our kids? Who can blame our kids? When they are in that real world,
and they come to school, we put them in desks and rows, we use bells to herd them on
from one class to the next, and we block the very same tools that they are using in ways
that does support learning. And we look at our structure:
it’s all about content. We move our kids from algebra
to biology, to chemistry, to Phys-Ed when in the whole world, life is taking all that content
and throwing it up against the wall. Are we preparing our kids for life?
Is school preparing our kids for life? When we look at how our system
has reduced our students that have the capability
to be divergent thinkers, to be creative, innovative,
curious, that want to play, we force them to take one test that determines whether or not
they are learning, or that we are successful. But when the reality is we now can create one assignment
that affords a student a million different ways
to showcase what they’ve learned. And another big disconnect
for our students is the very tools that they are using outside of school
are blocked, banned, and prohibited. When they bring the tools
of their age to school, we punish them. Or we don’t even allow them. And the problem is the adults. Traditionally, school
has worked well for us. Schools are structured
based on conformity, rules because it is easy for us. And the adults that are tasked
with preparing students for the real world are the least knowledgeable
of the real world. And we’ve worked extremely hard
to maintain the status quo. This was me. This was my school. And the result was
a sterilized environment where kids were not able to be creative,
they weren’t innovative, they were not able
to follow their passions. How do we move past this? And it starts with us. If education is good for one thing,
and one thing only, it’s good for making excuses
not to move forward, making excuses not to change, we’ve heard them all: “I can’t do this
because of this, time, because we’re low on resources,
it’s another thing to do.” But the bottom line is: if it’s important to us, we’ll find a way,
if not, we’ll make an excuse. It needs to be important to us to create
schools that work better for our kids if we truly want to prepare them
to be successful in the real world. I’ve learned two things
as an educator and a leader that I and my school
needed to do to move forward. First, was give up control. This is the hardest thing
that we have to do as an educator. It is so hard to give up control
because we’re afraid of what might happen. And the second thing is trust. We need to trust our students.
Schools breed mistrust for our kids. But when you give up control,
and you trust kids, it really becomes about student learning. Because it is about them.
It is not about us. And we need to stop making it about us if we want our kids
to be excited, to want to learn. They hate learning. They hate it, and who could blame them? Here’s five things that we can do
to create schools that work for kids. Number one. Social media is the world. Look at how we use it,
look at how the world uses it. Yet, we do not allow our students to use a tool that is embedded
in every facet of society. Pedagogy first, technology
second, if appropriate. This is an extremely appropriate tool because it fosters
creativity, collaboration. Students can create artifacts of learning to demonstrate conceptual mastery
in so many different ways. And it’s a tool that no matter
what they’ll probably do once they leave school,
they will probably be able to use this. And we fault kids for
being inappropriate online, yet, we as educators are not teaching them how they can use this tool
to demonstrate learning, how they can use it
to engage in conversations, find answers to their questions, drive change and make a difference. Change number two. Students have all of these devices,
they have access at home. But we do everything
in our power in schools to not allow kids
to bring their tools to school. “Bring your own device” allows students to use real world tools
to do real world work. BYOD enhances learning,
increases student productivity, and allows them
to conduct better research. And it also provides us an opportunity
on how to teach students to be digitally responsible
by using tools appropriately. And when you look at students,
we shouldn’t differentiate between a pencil and paper,
archaic forms of technology, and an iPad, a smartphone. It’s a tool, don’t we want
to allow our students to use tools if it can help them
do what they do better? Three. We have done a great job in our country
eradicating wood-shop, metal-shop. We do not have spots, places in schools where kids can go because they want to, to invent, tinker, make,
and create to learn. Maker spaces are incredible way
to bring play back into the picture, to let kids follow their passions,
experience trial and error, all different ability levels
because they want to be there. When we created this it turned
a library that students did not go to into one of the most
trafficked areas in our building. Students are now finding value
in what they are learning. And this has been a catalyst
that has transformed the culture at our school
because there was no pressure, kids weren’t getting a grade,
they weren’t being tested, they were able to go in there
with their friends without supervision and do what they love,
follow their passions. When we look at environments:
how our schools are structured? We can learn many lessons
from other successful organizations. You look at a Starbucks, for example. What do we love in that Starbucks?
Obviously, coffee. We go there for conversation,
we can access Wi-Fi, the sitting is much more
conducive to conversations. Then when we look at Google, Google creates areas
where kids can go and play, they support it, they promote it. So let me ask you this: if it works at Starbucks,
and it works at Google, why should it not be able
to work at a school? We’ve learned it can. We can turn school environments
into places that reflect the real world, that treat students with respect,
that are inviting, that are comfortable. And that’s what we did:
providing Keurig’s for kids where they could get coffee
any time they want, charging stations in common areas, ubiquitous access to Wi-Fi,
that’s the real world, and the ability to play games
in common areas. And you want to know something? Our students were able to go on leather couches in a room
that we cleaned out, and they could take naps
on their free time whenever it worked. That, ladies and gentlemen,
is the real world. But again, if we are not creating
real world spaces and environments for our students to learn,
to collaborate, to interact in, we are setting them up
for failure when they leave. And we think about —
my last big change is: how kids learn? Blend it in virtual
learning opportunities. Give us the opportunity to not only
personalize school for our students but personalize learning for them as well. We look at the resources
that are available. Again, solutions instead of excuses. We take the old independent study concept. And what we did was we saw
an opportunity in OpenCourseWare. Free courses from Harvard,
Yale, MIT; they are out there. We created an independent
OpenCourseWare study leveraging and harnessing a free resource. We gave our students choice
as the courses that they wanted to take, and after they demonstrated what they could do with the new knowledge
that was constructed, these new skills, we gave them honest credit at high school. I gave them the honest credit. Why?
It’s more important about the learning. Learning spaces should no longer
be confined to brick and mortar schools. We now have the means to create any type
of learning experiences for our kids. There are so many possibilities, and I say “possibilities”
because everything that I am talking about was done in a school
with limited resources, an aging infrastructure,
and a diverse population. We saw the inherit opportunities and realized that our school
was not working for our kids. And our call to action was: we have this information,
we have the tools, it’s outside of school, how do we create an experience that is
less about us and more about our kids? The biggest thing we need to do
that we did not do was listen to our students. Student voice is so important
because school is about our kids. It should not be about us. But when we look at how schools
are structured, how they function, it’s always about the adults. We listen to what the kids want,
and we act on their ideas, and it builds greater
support and appreciation for what we are doing for them. We can create a three-range
learning environment that is reflective of the real world, that students are excited to be a part of,
that they want to be a part of, where they are going to apply
what they’ve learned. They are going to collaborate — you don’t need rules anymore
when students are engaged and they see the meaning
of what they are learning. That disconnect has to end. No longer can we have school
and life as separate entities. We need to bring those entities together to give our students the relevance
that they need, and deserve, and expect. Because the world is not
going to stop changing because some of us want it to or because
some adults have their heads in the sand. And the longer we wait
to not change professional practice to create a school that works for kids, we run a risk of becoming more and more
irrelevant to our number one boss. We work for kids. They are our boss,
they are our number one stakeholder. And we look at the endless possibilities
that are at our fingertips, and then we look at all the excuses
that come from everywhere. Well, you want to know something?
I’ve heard all those excuses. I heard them every time we were told:
“We can’t do this. You shouldn’t do this. It is not going to benefit your kids. It’s smoke and mirrors,
bells and whistles.” No, it is not. Because not only did every metric
increase that we had judged on. We sat down and had conversations
with our students, and were able to look them in the eye,
and they were able to tell us: “You are doing a better job for us.” We have seen it, we have heard it. They are creating and showcasing
their learning like never before. Thank you everybody. (Applause)

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