“One of the enduring difficulties about technology and education is that
a lot of people think about the technology first and the education later.”
Dr. Martha Stone Wiske
“The only feature that I am looking for in an #edtech tool is
whether or not it makes it possible for kids to change the world.”
If you look at the most stunning achievements of mankind, a good portion of them occurred because man was confronting heartbreak. From harnessing fire to expand our diet, to perfecting the wheel to enable migration, to creating the polio vaccine to save lives, to courageous responses to natural and man-made disasters, we are at our best when challenged by the worst.
There is genius in everyone one of us. But for most of us, genius needs a reason to show up.
This summer, I attended an event at the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Conference sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education. Representatives from a number of our well-known technology companies took the microphone to pledge support to better wire and equip our nation’s schools to enable students to have high speed access to the vast trove of information and experiences available to them online. When the floor was opened to public comment, I publicly proclaimed that all of this investment would never achieve its potential if students were not challenged to use it to change the world.
Students today are technologically savvy. Yet it is too often the case that students, and teachers, are using technology simply to do old things in new ways. When a student submits a PowerPoint file to a teacher discussing an assigned topic, instead of a set of sheets of construction paper, learning is not advanced, and genius remains with its head in the sand.
More importantly, the student is not any more animated about the assignment. The result is that most students leverage their tech savviness to find quick, shallow answers to research problems or to entertain themselves, and rarely to achieve deeper learning.
High school teacher Sean Crevier explains: "Asking kids to be motivated by technology is a lot like asking them to be motivated by their shoes and socks. It's hard to be motivated by something you use every day without giving it a second thought."
Providing state-of-the-art technology to students will not by itself spur them to great achievements. Replacing the band saw in Shop Class with a 3D printer will not create a generation of Michelangelos. A group project fed by the latest software will fuel cooperating, but not transformative collaboration. We don’t need to “market” anything to students - we just need to challenge them to work together to solve problems that break their heart.
We don’t need to “market” anything to students - we just need to challenge them to work together to solve problems that break their heart.
In my work with Choose2Matter, we challenge students to share their story with their community, and then examine what matters most to them and why, what breaks their heart about it, and what we can collectively do about it. Their zeal to properly learn and effectively use the tools and methods best-suited to accomplish their goals has been awe-inspiring.
When a student selects his or her own topic after an exhaustive examination of what matters most to him or her and why, and uses advanced video editing skills to create a compellingly persuasive video that attracts the attention of a large or influential audience on social media, learning, and the learner, is transformed.
This focus on what matters to students can be uncomfortable for many teachers. Teachers have learning objectives to cover and a well-constructed curriculum aligned to standards, and there is only so much time in the day.
Nonetheless, teaching students how to pursue a task that matters is essential to their finding their place in the world today. Learning to code in Java becomes a minor challenge when addressing a student’s heartbreak—homelessness, the environment, mental health—is her objective for the week. This student desire to self-direct learning is not new, but technology offers an unprecedented opportunity to meet this demand.
This generation of young people worries more about social issues than the generations before them. In their work, they value meaning more than money. As their teachers and mentors, it is not so much our job to tell them to pursue what they care about as much as it is our duty to let them pursue it. Let’s not be the ones standing in the way of a generation of change-makers.
Let’s be the educators who start with what matters.