NSBA TLN Executive Briefing

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This is my favorite picture from Friday’s event held at the Sheraton Towers.

A few months ago, our friends at GenerationYES passed on our school’s name when Ann Flynn of NSBA sought participants for a student panel. So, on Friday, I took 7 kids from my after school program down to the Sheraton Towers to listen to several speakers and to respond to participants’ question on kids and technology. We put together a last minute PowerPoint presentation and off we went!

We were treated to a fabulous presentation entitled Redefining Literacy for the 21st Century from David Warlick, and his message was especially intriguing to my students. We haven’t completely debriefed yet, but I think they liked the myriad of examples and videos he showed throughout his engaging presentation. Warlick redefines traditional content areas, “There are four elements to contemporary literacy that correspond loosely with the three-Rs. Reading expands into Exposing Truth. Arithmetic expands into Employing Information, and writing expands into Expressing Ideas Compellingly. ” His arthimetic example showed a great way to use Excel. He took earthquake data from December 2004, put it into a spreadsheet, and made a line graph. The resulting graph clearly showed familiar geographic delineations, and a huge amount of activity in the Indian Ocean… the earthquakes that called the catastrophic tsunamis of a year or so ago. It was a simple, compelling way to have students interpret real data. Davd also gave the famous example of a web site that deceives people into thinking it’s a legitimate site dedicated to information about a civil rights leader. I’ve seen this example a zillion times before, but my students hadn’t and I think they were aghast.

David spoke for nearly two hours and I thought my students would not have been able to handle sitting through a day of lectures, but they completely amazed me. They were doing what many kids do in this day and age: multitasking. They were busy writing notes to each other, composing one minute mysteries, and designing suduko puzzles while listening to about four hours of adult oriented presentations. They also devoured the complimentary candy placed at our table. Simultaneously, they were truly listening to the speakers and they had very distinct opinions on the subject matter. Which leads me to another point….

Lab school kids are encouraged to speak their minds and this is one of the first things I noticed when I began working there. It’s a mixed blessing. Of course, we want young people to be articulate and to stand up for what they believe in… however, it’s important to keep in mind that kids don’t always have the clear judgement that is important when exercising one’s right to free speech! During our panel for instance, an audience member asked the kids if other kids they knew outside of Lab would do well in such an environment. And just about every kid on the panel said no…. and they added that it was not a brain thing, but a behavioral thing. Looking back at the 21st Century skills as defined by the second speaker, Ken Kay, Lab school students have self-direction. I’m not sure exactly where this ability comes from, but it is essential to success in our school environment. I think my students were trying to say was that a certain mindset is necessary at our school and it’s not necessarily for everyone. I do believe that many of underpinings of our philosophy would work with most other schools… focusing on the emotional and social aspects of a kid’s life as well as academics….developing kids’ interests in books and literature….hands-on learning experiences…a dedication to exposing kids to many cultures…tuning curriculum to suit students’ interests…smaller class size….more support staff. I could go on and on.

At any rate, I just wanted to clarify where I think my kids are coming from in case people thought they were a little over the top. In general, I was floored by their ability to take a microphone and answer questions. Some of the questions involved what their ideal computer of the future would look like and where they began the process for finding information for reports (libraries or online). The session ended and kids fanned out to participants’ tables where they engaged in additional discussion. Tim Wilson milled about the room recording some of the comments for a future podcast, and I’m very curious to see how this went.

I’ll write more later when I have a chance to really discuss the event with my students! I am so glad to know these kids…. it’s been a joy to work with them.

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