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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Jailbreaking Education



"Should jailbreaking cell phones be part of my research project, 'Miss' Vicki?" said the eager Digiteen student as if a light bulb had just gone on. 
"Tons of people are starting to jailbreak phones and I'm not sure if they understand if they should or what the impact is. I think it should be part of our recommendations." 
"Is jailbreaking a phone part of legal, copyright, and fair use?" he said, quoting his subtopic on the project.

In just a few short sentences I was whirled away on a new inquiry and cutting edge issue of students today. I remember several years a go when some students came to me concerned that too many teens were sleeping with their cell phone in hand or under their pillow. They said it at least six months before news media outlets picked it up. Cyberbullying was on their radar at least five years  ago when the project first started including text bombing.

This is why students should be at the forefront of digital citizenship research and recommendations. They can aggregate research and have personal perspectives that adults simply cannot have. That is precisely where we put them in the Digiteen project, too.

Every student has a slightly different research topic. Designed in such a way to make them think, it is challenging to coach each of them to understand their topic. Last Friday as we were continuing our authentic research phase of the Flat Classroom project, I had a student take my breath away,

"'Miss' Vicki, can't you just give us a worksheet? I don't feel like thinking today."

What? Did she just say what I think she said? Did she just confirm my whole teaching strategy in one sentence? My response was,

"Your brain is a required school supply for this class. You have it and you must use it. I don't give homework so I need your brain for at least 50 minutes today. I'll help you if you get lost."

Then, another comment,

"Well, who has the same topic I do. I can just look on their screen."

The answer was that no one has the same topic. Not on these projects. If two kids have the same topic at a school they are supposed to be in different classes, separated by time and space, so that each student will learn how to research.

I talked about this with one of my classes yesterday. I always want my students to know WHY we do things in my class. "Cause I said so," isn't good enough. I want them to know why we learn the way we do and why I do these odd, really hard things to get them thinking. I asked the simple question,

"Why don't we all do the same research project so we can learn together?"

One student blurted out,

"Because everybody knows that a few kids do the research and everybody just asks them and says the same thing those two or three people say, that's how it always is when we research the same topic." 

Everyone nodded their heads - some sheepishly.

I want you to hear what these students are saying because these students are at an excellent school with great results and great teachers. Worksheets are not the norm. But these kids without an ounce of educational theory know which one requires thinking and which one does not.

Jailbreaking Education
Currently, we have a mass production model of education. But until we personalize things and require each student to learn. Until we do things in creative ways that make sure kids each learn and have to think and process, we will continue to have the select few do the thinking. It is human nature.

Education shouldn't be one size fits all. I don't think that getting outside the standardized work we do in education should be considered jailbreaking. But for now, in most schools it is.

Typically, the number one complaint of schools and why they can't embark on global collaborative projects is that there is no time in the curriculum. The other issue I've seen is that a teacher who only has kids twice a week and is tasked with 150-200 kids is asked to do such a project. I have 85 kids on 2 projects right now and I'm totally worn out at the end of the day.The schools that have done such scalable contributions to global collaborative projects (like the the amazing teachers at the Berea School district in Ohio) have good student to teacher ratios that allow for coaching. (Don't let Berea's website fool you, they are as sharp as they come.)


Higher order thinking and deep, wide technology integration where students build PLN's, use social bookmarking, use educational networks, collaborate on wikis, and produce profound multimedia cannot be relegated to a one-lesson "now you know a tool" approach. It requires immersive, experiential learning and that takes time.

Teaching right now for me is completely exhausting but completely fulfilling. In fact, right now we're talking on my facebook page about how to "work a room" in a way that doesn't completely wear out the teacher. My biggest struggle is energy level. It is exhilarating but it is also exhausting.

But to get here requires giving each student an individual research topic with a team of collaborators from other schools and a powerful network of teachers committed to help and support each other across country borders and district guidelines.

This kind of teaching is tough but it is real. I just find it so interesting that I and the other teachers feel that so much of what we do is frowned upon as some sort of "jailbreaking" that "most" schools can't do. This is what every school should do in a globally connected world. To say that you don't have time because you have to prep for a standardized test is sad.

Remember your noble calling teacher.

Sorry, I didn't have time to add photos this morning, I may come back and add them later.
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