On Saturday, I got a wikimail from one of my students with his homework attached. (His was one of 4 students out of 5 assigned that I received over the weekend.) Here’s what he said about going to present (as a 9 year old) to our School Board.
“My experience at the school board meeting was phenomenal. We got to use technology that I have never even heard of, like Dell Minis. My presentation was cut short because of tech problems, but I still felt like it was the experience of a lifetime. Because of that meeting, my math class got five ipod touches to use! I would like to be able to go to the next school board meeting if I can. Thanks for letting me go and I hope that the third graders that came were able to show you that we use a lot of technology in school.”
Why does he want to go back? Because he learned, because he was honored, and because he got to show some of his work to people who matter. He had an authentic audience and he also knew he had something to offer that audience–our elected School Board members.
On Thursday, March 26, 2009, as part of a technology innovator group, I took three third graders to our school board work session to share how they have been using wikis in our math class.(You can see specifically what my students shared here.)
Several years ago, our board members realized that while they were making decisions that affected the future of education in our schools, they often did not feel they knew enough about those issues to make truly informed decisions. Thus, our School Board work sessions were created.
In these sessions, our School Board becomes a Learning Board. That means that for an hour, our leadership team sets up break out sessions that teach the board about a particular topic, in this case, technology. On Thursday, we had 3 break out sessions for 7 school board members, and they chose which session to attend. After the hour, the board typically comes back together and shares out from each session so that they learn from the group’s collective experiences.
The brilliance of our leadership team shone through that night, as they had arranged the 3 sessions to also highlight other important facets of learning as well-the “three R’s” of Rigor, Relevance and Relationships. My students and I were in the “Relationships” strand.
Before that night, the people involved in my section of the session had pre-planned on this wiki:http://tech-relationships.wikispaces.com/ where you can see the kinds of things we were sharing. The idea was to begin with the youngest elementary sample (my 3rd grade wiki) and work up through the grades.
Our session had 2 SB members in it–Mr. Ronnie Price, who currently has children in our schools, and Mr. Steve Kolezar, who does not. Both asked great questions, listened intently and made connections to their own experiences in the context of our sharing. Mr. Price spoke to the fact that he has begun a wiki at his work at UVA and the adults there don’t participate on it as well as my students. He also spoke to the fact that his own middle school student goes to school and unplugs from the technology he uses outside of school. Mr. Kolezar, later, in the sharing, spoke not only to the engagement of the students, their knowledge and their expertise but also the importance they felt in the connections with both other students and the teacher through the wiki work.
My co-presenting teachers are astounding educators and the collective sharing of our group was simply riveting. As teachers listening to our colleagues, we all learned much as well! The passion for learning, using technology as a tool and especially for helping our students succeed showed openly in each person who spoke. We clearly develop those relationships through our teaching (both with and without technology), and that was noticeably recognized.
Social networking was one of our topics, as we talked not only about wikis, but also Twitter, texting, nings, blogs, social bookmarking and Google Docs. That led Mr. Price to ask questions about students bringing personal devices into our system, and gave us an opportunity to speak to both the potential advantages and disadvantages of that practice. He then later brought that up to the entire board as something to consider, so the groundwork was laid for future discussions and possibilities.
The sharing out from the board members was absolutely amazing to hear. Mr. Price spoke eloquently about the fact that we can provide all the rigor and relevance we want, but if the students do not feel involved in worthwhile relationships, the rigor and relevance probably won’t engage them. The social networking piece was basically addressed in each break out group, so while each member heard about it from a slightly different perspective, the socialness of learning was clearly a theme underlying all the presentations, and the board recognized that.
The members took turns sharing what they had learned, fielding questions from one another and clarifying their understandings with one another. They actually complained a bit because, in listening to one another, they wished they could attend EACH session for themselves! (We should think about recording each session in the future, I know!)
About 2/3rds of the way into the sharing, my Superintendent, who I follow and who follows me on Twitter, said to the board that the meeting was being Twittered as they spoke, and she turned to me. (I had been tweeting the comments from the board and my astonishment and pride at the whole experience.) Dr. Moran, our Sup’t, asked the board if they’d like to see the tweets, and they said yes, so I literally got up from the audience, hooked a computer back up to the LCD projector and shared some of my tweets as well as responses from all over the world live to the board. Talk about demonstrating the power of Twitter! (Feel free to follow me. I’m @paulawhite.)
The words of another student, in his homework, (also turned in over the weekend) says what I feel in the last sentence!
“My experience at the School Board meeting was fun. I loved seeing all kinds of cool technology (iPod touchs, Dell minis and Dell laditudes.) I It was fun skyping with Dr. Brown. It was cool knowing that you are talking to the people who decide what the schools do.”
It IS cool knowing you are talking to a LEARNING BOARD, and that they use that learning to help make decisions!