This semester I'm teaching several sections of an Introduction to Computers course, which is an interesting class to teach for many reasons. One of the most interesting things to me is the range of students that take the class. Even though the course is an introductory one, the ability level and background content knowledge level of students is all over the place. This can make for an interesting classroom culture. One of my teaching philosophies, if you will, is that students have to "do" in order to learn. I think this is particularly true in the case of technology courses. I can lecture and "book talk" all day long, but if students don't take ownership of their learning, it doesn't really stick with them.
For this reason, I incorporate quite a few collaborative and self-guided individual and group projects in the course. In my previous job as an Instructional Technology Facilitator, I spent my days working with teachers and trying to convince them to do the same thing in their classes. Being back in the classroom (and for this, I don't think there's much difference in being in a K-12 classroom or in higher ed as I am now) has given me an opportunity to practice what I was previously preaching, and to reflect on whether or not it really works.
Yesterday, in the fourth week of the semester, I gave one of my seated classes their 2nd project assignment. Their 1st project was a group effort and they created a Google Presentation. It was more directed from me. For this assignment, I gave them the option to work alone or form small groups. I also gave them a choice of topic (we were focusing on Digital Communications, and they had 5 topics in that area to choose from). I also gave them a choice of tools to use to create their presentation. I spent about 2-3 minutes quickly demonstrating about 6 different web tools, which included Prezi, Glogster, Mixbook, Voicethread, Slide Rocket, and a few others. I made sure to point out that my goal wasn't to teach them how to use the tools, but just to show them a few different options. I also made sure they realized that part of the project was to spend time playing and learning the web tool they chose to use. They had the rest of class to get started, and they'll have part of tomorrow's class as well. Once they finish creating their project, they will post it to their blog and then spend time reading and commenting on each other's posts.
So yesterday, after I gave the assignment and made sure each knew how to get started, I gave students the option to either stay and work or put in their lab time elsewhere. And you know what happened? They all stayed. Even knowing the project wasn't due until after next class, in which they have more time, and even though they had the option to go home, they stayed and worked. And not all, but most went ahead and finished the project so they can come in Thursday and write their blog post. They asked questions when they couldn't figure something out or just to make sure they were doing something such as saving or submitting a link correctly. But they figured out how to create.
And you know what the best part is? I saw some really awesome projects. So these students who had never used these web tools before taught themselves to create some really great things. And was the objective of the assignment that they learn how to use Prezi, or Glogster, or Mixbook, or whatever? Absolutely not. But what they accomplished that I am most happy with is that those students who walked into class afraid to try anything new or touch a key that I didn't ask them to touch learned that they don't have to be afraid of computers.
I think that's one of the most important life and school lessons- not to be afraid to try. And I guess that's what makes me sad about what I'm hearing from some of my K-12 teacher friends. Common Core or old SCS, there isn't time to let students try. And fail. And do. Which is how we learn.