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Education May Be Changing, But So Are The Students (Inspired by a letter from a 7th Grader)

     For years, teachers and educators have pined for students to be more involved, engaged and interested in their learning and education. Well, that time has come and we better be ready.

     Recently, I received an e-mail from a 7th grader detailing to me why he’s ready to not only start high school today, but what his expectations are for the learning experience once there. I will return to the words and inspiration from the 7th grader in a minute.

     Education writer Marc Prensky identified this shift years ago when he wrote the now classic Engage Me or Enrage Me where he identified the changing tide in students as learners.
     We are seeing the end of a student generation that operated in or even excelled at the world of compliance. Essentially, their expectations from school and learning were much different than now and arguably lower than what see represented in the shift. This is the last of the generation that grew up on the worksheet. Although not always engaged, it’s what they knew and even mastered.
     However, the younger generation of students coming through elementary school now is very different. They have grown up entirely with technology at their fingertips and have watched as young people around the world create, collaborate, communicate, contribute and more. They are very aware of what is possible and how school could fall short of addressing that.
     Because of technology and the changing dynamic in the world, students are more interested in ever in being involved in owning their learning experience. They want to be active vs. passive. They want to be engaged in things that are relevant to both themselves and the real world.

     It’s really two fold: They have already had different experiences outside of school that represent real learning and they will want that in school. And two, it’s as if they are all subconsciously aware that the world is demanding – both economically and socially – different types of skills and ultimately people.
     So, what is this shift really about? What do the new students expect and want from school and learning? Well, let’s get back to the 7th grader and his e-mail to me.

    Here is a summary of his key points in his own words:

· It’s not just the work that is boring, but also the outcome of my efforts. Good grades are not enough for me.

· Although I get good grades, I want something more. I want recognition and rewards beyond grades. I want grades to symbolize the fun I had learning.

· Getting an “A” on a paper is not the same as learning Java Script with a group of friends. The experience is the reward.

· It’s creativity, hands-on experience, real world and life affecting subjects that interest me.

· In Language Arts, I want to understand the art of the language and be able to write professionally for jobs, college and the world.

· I want science to be interesting. Apparently, marine-themed cereal boxes are supposed to spice it up. I want real labs beyond gum and bubbles.

· In addition to learning about the past in history, I want to learn about the impact on the future. Where are we going and heading?
     Naturally, I could fancy all this up more in edspeak. But really, don’t we already know this? Can’t we see it all around us? What would we expect from school now if we were students based on what’s available and how the world is changing? One can find thousands of articles on the changing nature of both education and students. The change is now and they will simply tell you what they need. We just need to listen to our students and shift.

(photos courtesy of Minarets HS and Marc Prensky)


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