Friday, November 22, 2013

Opportunity Matters

I was having a conversation with my friend Ken Royal today. Ken Royal and Alfred Thompson selfieI was sharing with him some of the experiences I was able to have over the last couple of years meeting and visiting with computer science teachers around the country. Students in some of these classes are doing great (surprising to many) things. I told Ken that it was easy to think that the kids were amazing but that in many cases what they had was an amazing opportunity.
I think most students are capable of doing things that are a lot more impressive than we give them credit for. Our expectations are too low. I am guilty of this myself more then I’d like to admit. What great teachers do is provide students with the opportunity to do great things. They don’t limit students to what they (the teacher) knows and they don’t limit students to cubbyhole cookie cutter projects.
This takes some courage. It takes a willingness to let students fail. To let students come up with their own projects and to drive their own learning. This can be hard for teachers. We’re used to being in control. We’re used to knowing what everyone is doing and when and how they will finish. Extraordinary projects don’t often fit into neat cubbyholes.
Traditional projects fit into clear metrics. Extraordinary projects do not. Oh sure if the project succeeds it is easy to shout “A+ project” but what about projects that are not a success in the traditional sense? A student or group of students can learn a tremendous amount that is far beyond normal expectations but for one reason or another the project just doesn’t work when time runs out. How do you grade that? Some subjectivity may be required and the system hates subjectivity.
In the long run though the teachers who provide more opportunity and fewer limits are the ones whose students impress. Those are the ones who learn a lot, create a lot, and enjoy what they are doing a lot. It is tempting to credit the students. It is tempting to credit the teachers. Both deserve some of the credit but it is really the teamwork between teacher and students that is what makes it all work. Teachers to lower boundaries and students who jump at the chance to escape the box and soar. It’s a beautiful thing.

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