On many levels, I’m lucky. My children go to a good school where by and large the educators care about their well-being and want the best for them. There are computers in every classroom, the student body doesn’t get itself into too much trouble, and there’s talk of starting a compost bin in the courtyard for lunch scraps. It’s a safe place, situated right in the middle of corn fields and barns. The air is clean and crisp on these fall mornings, and I know as I watch Tess and Tucker get on the bus each day that they will be getting much more than the vast majority of kids in this world are getting in terms of an education.
My curse, of course, is that it doesn’t feel like quite enough. There’s not enough connecting going on, I think, and the number of worksheets and handouts that come home in the “Friday Folder” frustrates me no end. While there is some technology, it’s not used very well, from what I’ve seen. It’s more for automating (as Alan November calls it) than for constructing and creating and publishing and starting conversations. As I’ve said numerous times, it feels like my children are being fairly well prepared for a world that is already past, not the much more “hyperconnected, hypertransparent” world that is their future.
The good news is that there are some signs of change. Last summer at NECC, our superintendent dropped in unannounced on my open source blogging workshop. And, while I wonder about the wisdom of doing so, I’ve been invited to present to the school’s staff in a couple of weeks. (I’m already nervous.) It feels like there is an opportunity to start some conversations about how to really think systemically about change in the context of curriculum and pedagogy. And while I wonder what effect, if any, those conversations may have on my own third and fifth graders experience, it’s a start, at least.
For my kids, it’s up to me and my wife to add to the experience they are currently getting. And, more thanks to Wendy than to me, we’re starting to do that. Much of it is informal, such as narrating through our clicks when the kids are looking over our shoulders as we work and surf, or having constant conversations about their use of the computer when we let them online to play or work. They both have e-mail accounts which they check (because they get mail from us). I think we do a decent job of trying to model effective use (as much as we know it) and from that my kids are getting something they can apply to their own practice as well.
But this year, Wendy and a friend of ours who is home-schooling her kids have started supplementing their public school education in some more “formal” ways. Every Tuesday afternoon for about an hour, my wife’s office turns into a classroom where my kids are making wikis, learning about searching, and creating stories around whatever their interest is. And they’re being shown some ways in which technology can be used to connect, as in the picture above. (Click on it to see a more viewable size.) A couple of weeks ago, Steve Hargadon made a guest appearance using Skype to help them identify what they might want to work on in terms of projects. And there are plans to invite other people in to speak to them and help guide their work. (Let me know if you want to volunteer!) Real people, real work, real audiences.
Now I know that, again, I’m very, very lucky that I can offer this to my kids. There are literally billions of people who can’t. And I have an incredible partner who despite my frequent absences is able to make this happen (with ample help from our friend.) And I don’t know what type of an effect this will have on their “education,” but I do think it will help them see the potentials, and perhaps push their teachers even more. (The other day Tess noted that she had told her teacher to try to Skype the author of a book they are reading instead of send him e-mails…you go girl!) My biggest fear, however, is that it will only serve to make their school experience less relevant and more mundane. It’s a delicate balance.
And, of course, I wonder where this leads. I look at that picture and see a pretty compelling classroom, (as well as another pretty compelling classroom right outside the window) with a whole range of opportunities that most schools simply can’t offer. The more I think about it…