How do you empower students? That has to be in the top 5 questions teachers ask themselves daily. However, we now need to ask how can we empower students to use technology to make a positive impact in their world? Our world is growing smaller and smaller, and our students can see this in their daily lives, so our schools must make the connection as well. My fear is that our students see technology divided–school use and home use. With the rise of 1:1 programs and bring your own device this separation is less, but as educators we need to close the gap. After watching the TED video about Martha (and others) and reading about Richard’s Rwanda I was blown away by the ability, drive, and creativity of these kids. I immediately tweeted about it to share it with my PLN. Since then I have been trying to think of ways to empower our students.
So how do we do it? Working in an elementary school my approach differs from upper schools, but not entirely. The first thing I think we need to do is give students choice and voice. Adora Svitak shares it is important to give students decision making power in her article 5 Ways to Empower Students. One way I’ve done this in my role this year is in the Dynamic Learning class. Students have the choice to research a passion of theirs and a voice to share it with their peers. Eventually they will strengthen their voice by sharing with other students at Lincoln in Argentina. I had the students complete a reflection on Google Forms and one student shared that he like having choice because “ I got to do something that I wanted and not to do something I didn’t want.” He went on to say that he learned about hedgehogs but also how to use browser and PowToons. To me the most powerful thing he learned was, “ I learned about being not afraid in front of audience, and I have good enough english.” Then there was a student’s comment that she loved having choice because “I have the power.” Amen to that.
Another way is the Hour of Code coming up next week (this year they have awesome themes–Star Wars, Minecraft, and Frozen!). For the past three years my class has participated in it. This year since I don’t have my own class, I shared the information with our technology teachers. A couple of them are going to participate with their classes and I am going to go in and take pictures and ask students about their experience, then post them on Twitter as well as share them on our Schoology page.
We need to embrace use of technology and devices. While this can be hard to do at some schools because of lack of resources, we can be creative about how to get devices in their hands. Adora Svitak said, “When students use their devices during class time to access learning resources that they can also get at home or on the go, we see that learning doesn’t just happen within the four walls of a classroom.” Bring Your Own Devices is one way around the financial issues. Last year my team proposed this and thankfully our principal was on board, the learning completely changed and evolved because students were constantly and easily finding answers to their questions and moving forward at their own pace.
Another way to empower students is to involve them in real issues. All semester long our elementary students have been working in multi-grade groups to learn about empathy in our social emotional curriculum. Students are now working on a real issue problem at our school. They brainstormed ways we can show/teach others to have more empathy at our school. Their topics range from taking care of our (beautiful) campus to welcoming new students to showing respect to the cleaning staff. Groups are currently shooting footage and editing videos for a school PSA that we will post on Schoology. It has been amazing to see students super engaged, but also to watch the different students stand out because of their strengths. From first grade to fifth grade the students feel their role, whatever it may be, is important to the project. I will be sure to share the videos once they are complete.
Lastly, and at more of school wide level, next semester I would like to have a social media campaign for our school community to connect to the mission and also for students to share a little about their personal lives. After reading the Forbes article What Makes Your School so Special? I was struck by how often we belittle students by not asking for their opinions or input. Students are the heartbeat of any school and we can harness that energy while empowering them. In the article a student from Wittenburg University said, “All my friends were posting. I wanted to post my story. It keeps you connected to your community.” Just like this student, I’m hoping students (and parents for younger students without accounts) will feel drawn to participate because it is the thing to do.
For our social media campaign there is a dual purpose, we have a new mission this year so one outcome will be for our community to become more familiar with our mission and promote our hashtag (#wearegiants). The other reason is to encourage students to share their personal hobbies and ways that they are a GIANT (our mascot) all the time, not just in school, which will hopefully empower them. I had been thinking about this for awhile, but after watching the Martha video and seeing that most of these kids created amazing things outside of school I began to think how our students have loads of talents and things they do at home that we never bring into school. Maybe this campaign will be the connector from school to home. I hope it will allow teachers to see a Tweet or an Instagram post and begin to see that student differently, or their friends will look to them as experts.