I would like to start a discussion here centered around two quotes from Dr. Tim Tyson of Mabry Middle School. These quotes came from the closing keynote he presented at NECC 2007.

The effective educator in this age of hyper connectivity is the educator that collapses the distance between children and meaningful contribution.

Meaningfulness is the product of connectedness and sharing.

These quotes seem so simple. One might say "duh" after hearing them; however, why do educators as a breed (myself included) find it so difficult to provide opportunities for students to be able to make meaningful contributions?
What can we do on a practical level to provide students with opportunities to make meaningful contributions?
After all, that is what we all want in life. We all are striving to make meaning of our lives and find ways to make meaningful contributions.

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Tags: Dr. Tim Tyson, Necc2007, meaningfulness, pedagogy

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What I took away from what Tim Tyson said was that families used to rely on their teens for survival--they , helped support the family, did chores, and made meaningful contributions.

Now we "hold them" in childhood much longer. So his question was--when do we think they can start making meaningful contributions? In high school? college? after they have a family? I think he was challenging our thinking in terms of at what age can we ask students to create a message or communicate something that contributes.

The connectedness piece of it is--if the message the students create can be shared, however that happens, then it allows them to contribute to the larger community.
I now see that I am not alone in pondering the quotes above. I don't have any answers, only questions. Oh wait, maybe that's the point.

Sylvia, you said, "It's a nice quote - but really, it's not anything that's dependent on technology or connectivity. Montessori, Dewey, Reggio Emilia folks, and lots of others say the same thing." I'm wondering if your statement brings to light the fact that it's all about the learning and not about the tools. We can put all of the most up to date tools in a teacher's classroom and the learning still not be impacted. It's what the teacher does with those tools that makes the difference.

Kevin, you said, "I would like to think that students can become contributors not only on the small scale of the classroom community but the larger community of the world and if Web 2.0 doesn't make that more possible than ever, than I don't know what will." I, too, am hopeful that these new tools will help provide students with voice, something that has been lacking in the educational system to this point.
"...it's all about the learning and not about the tools."
absolute truth there. And the truth is also that it IS about the tools, because we've launched into a new age for learning.
It requires a fundamental shift in paradigms. Now world knowledge is accessible and the schools are no longer the leaders in "dispensing" the knowledge. The schools are dragging behind the kids in ability to access information and use it. Our best practice might be to work with today's students as "citizens of the world," refining their navigational (information hunting) skills, their ability to assess the reliability of the information they find, and watching over the learning itself.
the learning itself
the learning itself
It is all about the learning.
One more thing we could bring into the discussion: What are the ethics involved, the ethics of the style we take on as "guides" into this new world. Should we teach "caring," for instance, and "activism for a good future"? What are our jobs in the ethical sphere?
Thank you so much, Julia, for getting us going in thinking about this. It's a central issue to discuss.
I understand where you are coming from here. I may be going out on a limb but I believe that over time, with societal changes, students have changed, tools have changed, but the nature of learning has not changed. How else would ideas from people like Dewey still be applicable today?

Ethics, you raise a very important point. Ethics is extremely important ~ maybe more important to be explicit about ethics now than ever due to the nature of our world. I sat in on a session with David Warlick at NECC where he made this point. He said (paraphrasing here) that ethical use of information needs to include the following:

Seek truth and express it
To minimize harm
To be accountable
To respect and protect information infrastructure - ideas and information

His talk was on Contemporary Literacy where the 3R's become the 4E's -- employing, exposing, expressing and ethics.

Before we can determine "our jobs in the ethical sphere," I think we need to agree upon a definition of citizenship - global and digital citizenship. Here's a phrase I found on Dell's website, "social and environmental stewardship." So, what is global digital citizenship or digital citizenship in a global society?
I'd say instead -- it's what students are encouraged to do with these tools that makes the difference.
hi Julia, this is something that has been a huge concern of mine in teaching - since the courses I teach are "General Education" courses at my university, almost all the students are there because they need the course to graduate, not because they expect to do anything meaningful for its own sake.

But I've made the main focus of the class a "Storybook" project that each student does on a topic of their choice. It is clearly the center of attention in the class, and everybody works on their Storybook for all 15 weeks of the semester, brainstorming, writing, revising.

What has made this become a really meaningful contribution is that there is an archive of past student work which the new students every semester turn to - when they see that they have the option to include their work in an Internet archive, it completely changes their approach to the project. Instead of just doing it for a grade, they do it for their audience, both present (current students in the class) and future. At first, they are terrified (how often are you publicly accountable for your work in school? most of our school culture is built on private shame and fear), but when they realize this is the REAL THING, that people will actually read and care about what they are doing, they get so excited! My opinion becomes just one opinion among many, and they are also pondering what opinions future semesters of students will have of their work.

So, as a result, the projects get better and better every semester - the current students build on the achievements of students in past semesters, and aspire to do as good or better. As they graduate, their projects fall out of the archive (because their university webspace gets deleted), but I still have hundreds and hundreds of projects in the archives from teaching this way over the past five years.

In the classroom, where I was inevitably the center of attention, learning always felt superficial, a show the students were putting on to get a grade from me. Now, with the Internet, they are putting on their own show, and I am just a coach to help them in their webpublishing skills and in their writing. I was ambivalent about teaching in the classroom but I am passionate about teaching online - it allows me to give the students the chance to do work that is meaningful to them, and that, in turn, makes the class fascinating for me to watch, as each and every semester brings a totally new experience to the class from the current semester's students.

Here are the projects for my classes (MythFolklore is the big one):

Ramayana and Mahabharata
World Literature: Frametales
Laura, you wrote, "Now, with the Internet, they are putting on their own show, and I am just a coach." That statement really resonates with me. Only don't say "just"---what a coach you are!!! Your students are very lucky to have you.
Wow! What a great story! You've got one special daughter there!
I'll say. Talk about authentic assessment. She got the job done. And she did it with love.
I now have a story to share with you. This past year I worked with two groups of fourth and fifth graders on a website project that was then entered into the ThinkQuest competition. One group had a little girl in it who happens to have Juvenile Diabetes. Unbeknownst to me or her group, she had written an essay to enter a contest to win a trip to Washington DC and address Congress about her disease. In that essay, she mentioned wanting to participate in this website group in order to raise awareness with other students her age about her disease.

The website group met and decided to work on the topic of diabetes for their website. On the team's about us page they mention wanting to work with this topic as a way to honor their group member. **Don't forget - these are fourth and fifth graders!**

Meanwhile, the little girl with diabetes finds out that she has won the essay contest and will be going to Washington D.C. during the summer. The group worked very hard on their site. Was it perfect? No. Were they motivated? Yes.

Just before NECC 2007, we found out that the group won the Honorable Mention Award and each of the members will be receiving a laptop as a result. I called all of the group members to tell them and reached the little girl with diabetes the morning before she was to fly out to Washington D.C. She was able to tell members of Congress that not only did she make the website but they had won an award. As a result, her story is set to be in this Monday's Atlanta-Journal Constitution which I am told will mention the website as well. Wow!

Did these kids receive a grade for their website? No. It was an "extra" they wanted to do. Did these kids receive some kind of assessment for their work? Yes, and that assessment continues today. Will these kids remember this the rest of their lives? Yes.

I could not have woven a better story. As my husband says, "I can't make that up!"

Now how to bottle this type of learning for all kids ~ still working on that one.

Let's start the bottling company now!. What'll we call it?



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