Who needs teachers when you have students?

Last week, myself and four of my students attended New Zealand’s Google Education Group ‘s NZ Student Summit. An event by students for students. My 9th graders were running a workshop on coding with MIT’s Scratch programme and they did a great job but what fascinated me more on the day was the workshops being organised and run by students from grades 1 to 4! 

IMG_1365

It wasn’t that these children from ages 6 to 10 could code, collaborate inthe cloud, animate, blog and create radio advertisements, or that they were already running online reflection learning logs and explaining levels of thinking through the SOLO taxonomy!! What struck me was that even at the age of 6, tens of students had volunteered to attend a strange place to confidently run workshops for hundreds of strangers. 

When I was at elementary school, everything was devised, organised and delivered by the teachers and the idea that children might have something to suggest in what took place at school was not up for consideration. I, as an average student, therefore had to wait until I was 25 before I had the confidence to take charge of any situation!

The rules have changed

IMG_1366It is so exciting to see that so many elementary schools work on the principle that the children are there to take charge of their own learning (in fact that was the theme of a session). For these 350 students, the understanding is that one takes any opportunity one is given and sharing the experience is the norm. In this context, putting your hand up to run a workshop at a large event seems like common behaviour and so much less threatening than it would have been for my generation.

One session I saw was on collaborative development of animations in Google Slides. They were presenting from a TV with examples and demonstrating the tool, whilst the 30 attendees used their own devices to give it a go. They presented and assisted people so positively and confidently that if I’d closed my eyes it would only have been the chipmunk style voices that would not have me assuming they were already qualified teachers!

But it wasn’t just tech. There were children running workshops on writing, thinking and publishing. In these sessions, the audience engagement was visibly higher than I’ve seen in a number of classrooms possibly because they related more directly to learning from their own generation. One thing that struck me was how prepared most attendees were to ask questions and for assistance. I know this would not have been the case if learning from adults.

A challenge to High schools

One reflection that wasn’t so positive, was that high schools did not feature at the summit. My 4 students were the only ones of high school age. Now I’m not going to suppose a definite reason for this but here are some possible questions that need asking:

  1. Google Summit Students04Was it because it was hosted at a newly built elementary school and this was enough for the average high school teacher to assume it wouldn’t be appropriate?
  2. Is it that the culture in elementary schools is “let’s see what you can do” where as in high school it’s generally “you are here to receive my wisdom.” Does this leave high school students perceived as having less to offer in the process of learning?
  3. Have High schools been slower to make the shift to empowering the individual to take charge of learning? Would this summit not make sense to many high school teachers?
  4. Connected with the above, is it professional connections? The event promotion on social media would NOT have been seen by most high school teachers who also have been slower to connect with the profession through these networks. (Last years biggest NZ education conference (ULearn) attendance was 85% elementary teachers and less than 15% high school teachers)

Just a thought

The big question is what will high schools do in the near future with students who have already run conference workshops at the age of six and have higher expectations of themselves than to expect to slow down and accept the predetermined wisdom of self-important high school experts? 

Dear high school teacher, is your teaching closing doors on the potential of your students?

P.S. The keynote speaker was a 16 year old from west Auckland who, from the classroom, both passes his school courses and runs 2 companies collectively worth NZ$1.5 million !

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