Saturday, November 08, 2008

My beliefs, our cellphone and the 21st century (of course)

As teachers, we all know how important it is for us to encourage students to try new things, but what happens when it gets turned around on you? Or even worse, you find you too may have to think hard about something? Right now, I am in that territory.

So I got my students involved in the "This I Believe" project through NPR. It's a novel idea and one that was brought to my attention by Anne, who is a teacher in Karl Fisch's school in Colorado. For several years now, she's been assigning the essay to her students, posting them on a class wiki to foster collaboration, and then submitting them to NPR. This year, she's expanded it to other teachers in the world and right now, there's a whole slew of interested educators.

As part of this project, my 21st Century Journalism students are paired with a school in New Jersey. And that means it's time for me to push this thing forward, even if the students resist a little. New things and change are always tough for anyone, adults or children. Of course, pondering the logistics of this latest project, I also find myself grappling with what it is I believe in. That's a hard one.

But we had an interesting discussion in class the other day. It somehow meandered to the ubiquity of the many tiny digital devices and gadgets that make our modern life everything from more convenient and easy to much more busy and complicated. Those same devices popping up in my classroom everyday also help illuminate another width of the divide that exists between education and the world of those we educate. I can see the irony and contradictions that exist in our world and how tend to ignore it, rather than embrace it.

Even before we started carrying cell phones and plugging into ipods, the adult world was full of these type of contradictions. How many times have you heard teachers complain about students not paying attention in their class, only to see those same teachers sitting in a professional development workshop chatting away or grading papers. Today, I'm sure you wouldn't be hard pressed to find a teacher's cell going off in class on one day, and the next day that same teacher confiscating a student's phone. To me, that's just one more instance where the classroom becomes an artificial environment that does little to replicate the real challenges and obstacles we encounter in the real world.

What's the message we send to kids today? What can we do about it?

For me, the best thing I can do right now is write my own "This I Believe" essay along with the students. I'm not exactly sure how it's going to turn out or where it will end up, but I'll soon find out.