Authentic Learning from 5th and 7th Graders

“Oh, you want to see how to code Dash?  That is easy.  You just have to code directions and create loops based on centimeters. Just Watch.”

-5th grade student at Cantiague Elementary School

“My teacher asked us to use Weebly to create a website for a book we were reading.  I figured I would just code my own site instead.”

-7th grade student at Mineola Middle School

I am obsessed with learning.  I admit it.  In fact, I have found that some of my best learning experiences have occurred when visiting other spaces since they provided a frame of reference to evaluate my own craft.  Last week, I had the invaluable opportunity to collaborate with Dr. Tony Sinanis in visiting Innovation Day at Cantiague Elementary School, a day after meeting with passionate school leaders in Mineola (Dr. Michael Nagler, Matt Gaven, Andrew Casale, and Mark Licht) in my quest to see Math Space.  The conversations with these leaders certainly pushed my thinking.  Yet, my interactions with fifth and seventh grade students inspired my perspective of what is possible when you provide time for students to learn on the platforms that are comfortable for them.

Platforms that were so comfortable that students were willing to take risks, try new ideas, get sucked into their own vision, fail, find ways to rebound, and then start again.  At Cantiague, students in all grade levels were making, tinkering, creating, building, playing, sharing, dancing, laughing, coding, and growing…together.  Near the end of our guided tour, I turned the corner near the library and saw two students working with Dash.  Yes! This was perfect. I needed to learn how to use Dash in order to model it for my library media specialists in planning next year’s makerspaces.  What better way to learn how to use technology than from a student!  I asked a simple question, “Can you show me how to begin coding with Dash?”  See the student’s answer above.  Easy.  Code directions.  Loops.  Centimeters. JUST WATCH.  How awesome.  I was a stranger and these two students were thrilled to model their thinking and share their passion.  I was receiving professional development from fifth graders.  An interesting and powerful idea.  Why not?  Aren’t we on THEIR platform?

Similarly, after seeing the power of Math Space at Mineola, Matt Gaven and Andrew Casale invited me to check in with two students who were coding in the library using KidOYO.  In five minutes, one of the students explained how he used KidOYO, Python, and Bootstrap to code a challenge for students he was mentoring. Students he was MENTORING! Amazing.  He then shared the experience at the top of this blog post where he redefined his own assignment based on what he could do rather than an expectation that was for the mainstream.  Hmm.  Another takeaway and reminder that we need to focus on the learning before we can begin to think about the teaching…or facilitating.

These two visits served as clear reminders that education is changing…fast.  Learning is evolving.  Time for Genius Hour and innovation is growing in demand.  It is now necessary to provide a tabula rasa for students to explore.  Our students are ready.  Hey, they are already there.  Are we?

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