My son is a third grader, and my daughter a first grader. They are opposites in many ways, but they are both curious kids, they love to play and they love to learn. My son will spend an hour roaming around outside looking for insects, frogs and toads. He will go online and read books to learn more about local fish species and to learn about the best bait to use. Josh will also round up his friends and start a game of baseball in the backyard or make up some game that he and his buddies can play. My daughter, Cassie, loves school and you can often find her playing the role of teacher to her stuffed animal students. She loves to read, to draw, to sing and to dance. Regardless of the activities they choose, learning is always happening.
The other night Josh came home and it was a "light" homework night. He finished, rather begrudgingly, the ELA worksheet he was assigned. I encouraged him to put forth his best effort, and to write legibly. I don't recall specifically what the worksheet was about and I'm pretty sure Josh won't be able to either, but ask him what he did after that, and you'll get a detailed explanation of how he created his own adventure book. Yup, my son who "hates writing" decided to author and illustrate his own story, and was encouraging his friend and sister to do the same. Insisting that they could write the next great adventure series. He apparently is also looking into personal finance, as he intends to charge 50 cents for each of his books. Anyhow, as I watched the scene unfold, I couldn't help but smile and marvel at what was happening. It also caused me to wonder about the deeper meaning, both for me as a teacher and as a learner, trying to improve my craft.
Yesterday, the kids came home with Pony Beads and plastic lace, which were staples in my programming days at a camping resort in Maine. Even though I had a number of other things that needed to get done, we sat down and created geckos with the Pony Beads. We talked about my life as an assistant program director, we talked about geckos, and what they look like and where they're found. We ran into some difficulty part way through, because my memory isn't as sharp, and I had a hard time remembering the pattern, so we took to Google. We followed part of the pattern and improvised. Having completed the gecko, they were eager to find other designs. I on the other hand had to tackle more mundane activities like laundry and ironing, but I had a great vantage point for listening in on their conversations. They poured over the designs, and discussed which ones they should attempt, which ones they might modify, they watched video tutorials by other kids. Beads and lace were strewn across the living room floor, and two kids were hard at work. It was authentic, it was meaningful, and it was learning.
Those stories while cute or endearing, actually point to something a little bit bigger I think. They point to ways in which we need to think about our roles as educators, our instructional practices, the ways in which we engage our students and the opportunities that we provide. Which leads me to what is game-changing in education. There is no shortage of discussion around game changers in education. In fact, Saturday morning there was a lively chat on Twitter (see the storify of the #SATCHAT courtesy of moderator Billy Krakower), where educators across the country discussed the idea and described what they felt were the current game changers. The funny thing is the more tweets I read discussing things like the newest piece of technology or latest tool, project based learning, flipped classroom, coding, growth mindset, etc. the more I shook my head, and thought about my two kids and what I have witnessed with them at home, and then with 24 students in my classroom these past couple of weeks. It suddenly struck me that it is the kids. Kids like mine, like yours, the ones in our classrooms, and the ones down the hall - they are the real game changers.