Learning with Middle Schoolers

posted Jul 31, 2014, 10:59 AM by Greg Laudeman   [ updated Jul 31, 2014, 11:21 AM ]

I had the privilege to learn with some of the students at the East Lake Academy for Fine Arts this week. They demonstrated how ordinary folks can generate extraordinary results when they learn together. 

It started as a discussion about using technology for project-based learning with Lakesha Carson, the East Lake Academy principal. They had purchased Chromebooks for all their sixth graders, and were planning to purchase more. But what to do with them? There had already been some discussion about creating a garden as a way to learn about health and economics as well as horticulture. Along with my colleague Dr. Valerie Radu, I suggested putting it in the broader context of the community, and using asset and capability mapping to develop ideas about how to improve prosperity and wellness for the community.

Where does the technology come in? The idea was to use Mozilla Webmaker tools to develop, document, and share their ideas.

So how did it work out? Great! The kids came up with some awesome ideas. The ideas had to be based on data, practical, and impactful. All of the ideas fit the bill: 

That's not to say we didn't have any issues! For one thing we didn't get to use Webmaker tools. The students registration verification emails got caught in the school system's spam filter. They used Prezi instead, which they already knew well. Also, the students learned a lot about socioeconomic analysis without realizing it. These are very useful skills but we didn't explicitly tell them how and why asset and capability mapping are useful until the end.

The funny thing is that I learned a lot that I already knew. There's an important difference between having information and knowing in practice:

  1. Tell them what they're going to learn and why it's useful before you start, then remind them what they learned after it's done
  2. Start with the challenge and the tools: What you want to accomplish, why it's important, and how to get it done
  3. Provide a flexibly structured process for accomplishing the challenge and exploring the tools in small chunks
  4. Make it meaningful... And, fun too!
  5. Engage community stakeholders to ask questions, discover answers, and provide feedback & guidance rather than just provide information
  6. Appreciate ordinary knowledge in order to make your expertise relevant and useful
Regular folks (middle school students, for example) have great ideas and meaningful knowledge for solving problems, which you'll discover if you're willing to learn with them. It's all about learning together.