Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A new age of personal empowerment

Gary Stager and Sylvia Martinez were visitors to ASB on a number of occasions last year, running Maker sessions with parents and students.  I was interested to read his recent article about the Maker Movement in the May edition of Learning and Leading with Technology.  Gary and Sylvia write about how the rise of civilization was defined by the progress of technology, and claim that the availability of affordable constructive technology and the ability to share online has led to what they describe as a new age of personal empowerment.  New tools such as 3D printers and wearable technology are giving students the power to become inventors - and it's easy to find and share instructions and ideas online.

Makers construct knowledge, and in the classroom making encourages children to learn by doing.  Being able to overcome the problems they encounter on the way helps them develop the confidence to become competent problem solvers.  When I first started teaching back in the 1980s, all the students in my high schools were exposed to subjects such as woodwork, metalwork, cooking and needlework, as well as subjects such as art, music and drama.  At that time in the UK schools were known as "comprehensive" schools, the days of sorting students out into academic or vocational tracks had ended with the abolition of the 11+.  The woodwork and metalwork rooms contained power tools, which students became quite competent in using.  Gary and Sylvia argue that these skills need to come back into schools - but this time into the classrooms as opposed to specialist "fablabs".  They point to the failure of computer labs that students traditionally visited once a week, and instead advocate for every classroom to be a maker-space with materials that encourage students to learn by doing and so produce "adults who are capable of understanding and mastering their increasingly technological world",

From working first hand with Gary, it's clear that he believes that children are competent, even though he claims many schools do not.  He argues that a student who has the ability to Google anything has a different sense of himself or herself as a learner:  one where learning is an active and personal process.  I tend to agree with Gary, that this could be a new age of personal empowerment, but of course working against that possibility is the experience that many students have these days, in standardized and standards-based schools, which work against individuality, creativity and innovation.

This brings me back again to personalized learning:  the recognition that students learn differently and have diverse needs.  Last year I did an online course about personalized learning with Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey where the focus was on students being responsible for their own learning.  Other consultants I've worked with over the past year such as Suzie Boss and Bernajean Porter have constantly stressed the need for student voice and choice.  Personalized learning, therefore, gives students a voice in what they learn, how they learn and how they show their understanding.   Technology can play an important part in this:  delivering instruction, giving immediate feedback and allowing students to show their learning using numerous forms of media.

One of the things we talked about in an R&D meeting last year was what if education was not EC-12 but EC-Life?  Empowering students through personalized learning can be one way of giving students the skills they will need for lifelong learning.  Other things we talked about was rethinking physical schools and school groupings based on age.  If we truly empower students then students could be "done with school" (though obviously not with learning) at any age not just at 18, and for those who are wanting this, we could provide other opportunities such as internships, for those students who feel they need a different experience.  

Do you think we are in a new age of personal empowerment?  How are you empowering your students?  Drop me a comment, I'd love to hear.

Photo Credit: via Compfight cc

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