Friday, November 27, 2015

Or a Teacher...

This is in response to "Keep the Light Shining Brightly"

Dear Stacy Abramson,

Your vision for Bright is exciting, and I am very confident you will continue the great work started by Sarika Bansal. Bright is a consistent source of innovative writing and perspective about education. It has been my pleasure watching it grow while getting the opportunity to contribute a few stories. I enjoy the often broad approach to education. Education doesn’t occur solely in schools, learning happens across infinite contexts and spaces, and Bright understands this by including a variety of voices. This makes for a wonderful conversation of diverse opinions and ideas.

I have a simple request. When running stories or features about the education within schools, or school systems, don’t forget those who live within them. Don’t forget the teachers, the students, the staff, and the administrators who work on the ground each day. They are the experts, the professionals, and the leaders. They get it.

Everyone has an opinion about school because almost everyone attended school. Everyone has their education solution. Everyone is an education expert. While it is enticing, and sometimes illuminating, to hear from in vogue tech founders, politicians, and celebrities, the best spokespeople are the one’s intimately tied to schools. Too often so-called experts create laws, technology, foundations, and ideas that impose a false expertise on the everyday actors in schools — teachers and students. Their voice is elevated above those with the real expertise. The consequences of this aren’t usually great.

We often forget that teachers are extremely qualified individuals with a wealth of education and experience. We neglect to acknowledge that teachers often have multiple degrees paired with years in the classroom. We ignore the voices who sit in our nation’s classrooms. We scoff at the idea the students have a voice. We can’t imagine hearing from those whose work is invisible, custodians, maintenance, nurses, or counselors.

Your past experience makes me excited about the future of Bright. The idea of hearing from students about their lived experience in schools is phenomenal. I look forward to your experiments in storytelling, and your vision to run stories with meaning. Cheers to the next step for Bright. Just don’t forget about those everyday heroes that change the world one lesson, one step at a time.

P.S. — Shawn White and The Synapse are a wonderful example of teacher and student voice.

Friday, November 20, 2015

The “Maker Movement” Shouldn’t Just Be About STEM

 Image Source: User WikiImages,

“People are fulfilled to the extent that they create their world (which is a human world)…” (Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed)

Let’s take a quick tour of some articles about education and the “Maker Movement” shall we? Check out these titles: The Powerful Combination of Making & STEM, The Maker Movement: Inspiring Creativity in the STEM Classroom, White House Adviser Talks STEM and Maker Movement, Maker Movement: Bridging the Gap Between Girls and STEM, and Expanding the Maker Movement with STEM.

I might have cherry-picked a few titles there, but do you see a connection? We know STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) is a big deal. We are told STEM education is essential to the future health of the United States’ economy. Perhaps you’ve also heard that the United States is in big trouble. U.S. schools are failing to create an innovative work force, due in part to an inability to get kids interested in STEM. You know because international tests show U.S. students falling behind in the key subject areas of science and math. Watch out! Singapore is coming for us! What are we to do?

Enter the Maker Movement. For those of you who don’t get Make Magazine or have never been to a Maker Faire, the Maker Movement is “a subculture spurred by independent designers, creators and tinkerers focused on a DIY approach towards technology” ( To overgeneralize, and to put it simply, “makers” are people who like 3D printing, circuits, cardboard, code, Rasberry Pi, LEDS, alligator clips and the like. At the heart of the Maker Movement is the joy of tinkering and building. It’s cool stuff and it makes STEM come alive for students. I’ve seen it. “Making” is experiential, hands-on, and creative. Check, check, and check for eduspeak buzz words. The Maker Movement fits nicely into our current STEM craze. After all, who doesn’t want to turn a banana into a keyboard?

So what’s my specific problem with STEM and the Maker Movement? I really don’t have one. I love the Makey-Makey. My students build websites. In the past, students have designed marble run courses. I am fascinated by, and believe in, a constructionist pedagogy.

I believe “making” should not be confined to the hallowed halls of STEM.

“Making” is more than programming apps or playing with cool technology. “Making” is an attitude of empowerment that can extend to all parts of the curriculum. Students need to learn how to “make” ideas, “make” art, “make” poetry, “make” arguments, “make” change. In short, STEM shouldn’t be the only place where students are encouraged to actually create. Yes, there is life beyond STEM, and the Maker Movement should venture outside.

Currently, we live in an era where all education must be of clear monetary value. Education must prove its worth, it must serve the market. If education is seen as a pure economic investment we must get a quantifiable return. So we set up a hierarchy of subjects. Why would you ever get a literature degree? You’ll never make any money. Best to play it safe and produce innovative workers who will get nice jobs in STEM fields. But innovation comes from many sources. Inspiration comes from great books, beautiful music, amazing historical discoveries, humbling cultural exchanges, breath-taking art, and researched critiques.

“Making” is more than technology. It is more than economics. It is more than innovation. It is more than global competition. It is more than STEM. “Making” is about creating the world. Would would happen if we actually let all people have a say in creating their world? That would be disruptive. All of us should have the opportunity to “make”, not just those who get access to a high quality STEM education. When all have the power to “make”, all have the power to be truly human.

Friday, November 6, 2015

My Students Respond to Some Questions

Image Credit: User HebiFot,

About a month ago Sarry Zheng contacted me about running a story about a project she is involved in. She asked students from a rural school in China a simple question:

What questions would you ask if you could ask anything?

Sarry’s goal is to work with teachers in village schools to answer some of the most pressing and curious questions asked by rural Chinese students. Sarry’s goal is to collect answers from around the world to share with the students. The answers will be shared in the format of a book with students living in rural areas. You can read more about it here.

Sarry’s story came at a perfect time for my students and I. We had just started a unit on Ancient China. The questions from rural students in China gave us much to think about, and my students responded to them. Here are some answers to children in China from my sixth graders near Columbia, SC.

I. Learning
Does schooling guarantee our success?

  • Well it doesn’t. You could get all A’s in school, but the rest of your life, you might be all great. You might not be able to find a job or a different issue that is similar. (Rachel) 

异国语言难学吗? 怎么学好?
Is it difficult to learn another language? How can we master a language?

  • It is difficult. But there is a way, you can master it by studying, by asking questions, it is never impossible to not master it. (Rachel) 

如果现在不好好学习, 不听任何人的话, 以后能找到一份适合自己的职业吗?还是不可能找到适合⾃己的工作?
If I do not enjoy school, nor listen to anyone, can I still find a suitable career in the future?

  • It will be hard to get a good job with out liking to listen to anyone but you could always be a person who makes their own business. (Jackson) 
  • I think if you don’t listen in class you will not get a good career. If you listen in class you will have success in life. For example if I want to be a doctor I would have to listen in class. (Hampton) 
  • Schooling does guarantee your success by what type of job you get. If you study relentlessly and do not like it try to turn it into something that you do like. (Maddie) 
  • It depends. Schooling will guarantee our success if you listen and try hard. If you don’t pay attention in school and care nothing about it and don’t try hard then you won’t be very successful. (Peyton) 
  • No, but schooling does help a lot. If you don’t go to school you could still end out with a good job and life, but that is not very likely. School is not the only reason you could end out with a good life. In order to have a good life you have to put forward the effort. Only then will you have a good life. Now that does not mean you can just quit school. You are very lucky to have the privilege to go to school. Don’t waste it! (Will) 
  • If you don’t enjoy school thats fine but you still have to learn. But if you don’t listen to anyone thats different it will make it a lot harder to find jobs and to have a successful life. (Ethan) 

My students studied Taoism, Confucianism, and Legalism for a unit on Ancient China. They also responded to questions from students in rural China.    

II. Life 
Is it true that kindness will be reciprocated?

  • Yes. When you are kind to others, people will want to be kind to you. (Logan) 
  • Kindness isn’t always returned but you should be kind to everyone no matter who they are. (Jackson) 

III. Family 
How can I possess filial piety / How do I respect my parents?

  • To give respect to your family you need to listen to what your parents say and do what your parents say. For example, do chores around the house. Do your part! Do not talk to them like they’re your friend on the playground. Talk to them like they’re your rulers. (They kinda are!) Never threaten them with weapons or even words. You need to respect them and even though you might not always agree, never yell at them and tell them they are wrong. You can do that when your older! Just Kidding! (Will) 
  • In my house if you are good and you do your house work and respect your parents and elderly, they will respect you to. Children respect there parents and there parents will respect the children…(Katie) 
  • Here are some of the things that I do in my house hold to me respectful. Having a bad attitude in my house is a bad thing so as long as you have one just stay in your own space like in your room because no one wants to be around someone with a bad attitude. When they tell you to do something say yes ma’am/ sir and don’t talk back to them or be disrespectful. (Anayah) 
  • There are many ways to respect your parents these are some ways we use in America. One way to respect your parents is to use your manners for example; yes ma’am(sir), thank you & your welcome. Another way is to do chores for your parents like on the farm harvest the plants for your parents. The third way is to try to do your best in school like try to get good grades or work your hardest in a project. The last way is if your mom or dad feel upset just do something nice to cheer them up. In America there are many ways to respect your parents but these are just a few. (Ann) 
  • You can respect your parents in many ways. Sometimes respect can be as simple as listening and doing what they say. You can also occasionally do kind deeds such as helping with dinner or helping with the farm. You should also be kind. Don’t use harsh words or say negative things. (Brianne) 
  • It is important to respect your parents and elders because if you respect them, you can earn thanks and praise and you can show your children in the future how to respect you and your parents. (Colton) 
  • Here in South Carolina we show respect to our parents and we don’t whine about things. My parents think it is very good to show eye contact with each other to know they are respected. They also tell us to have good manners at the dinner table and not to chew with our mouth open. Always say yes mam and yes sir. (Renea) 
  • Say yes mama and yes sir and be kind and understanding. Don’t get mad and say something that you don’t mean. You should always be polite and don’t say bad things. Here in south Carolina this is what we do. In my house we have to say yes mama and yes sir or I will get in trouble. If someone asked you a question you don’t say what you say yes or say yes mama or sir. That is how we have to be respectful in my House. (Skylar) 
  • You listen and do everything they tell you like if they say “you need to clean your room” you should do it. You should also also don’t be ungrateful for example, on Christmas if they get you something and you say “I don’t like this. I didn’t ask for this” would be considered rude in South Carolina. Another thing would be to work hard in school and try to help your parents out in the house and not be lazy. (Erin) 
  • In my family we say no ma’am, yes ma’am, no sir, and yes sir. You can also respect them by following their rules. You also have to work hard in school and anything you do. (Logan) 
  • Here in the USA we respect our parents in many different ways. First we say please and thank you for anything they do for us. We also need to get good grades in school and need to be kind to each other. Lastly in my house you need to do your homework. (Jack) 
  • Don’t whine about something or say you want something and when your mom or dad or whoever says no you say yes and keep asking. For one example, when my mom says clean your room and you are playing and don’t want to, you still get up and do It. I also like to care for other people and help people for respect. My mom said if she don’t give respect then I don’t get respect, And if someone is talking you should not talk over them. (Ahnika) 
  • You can respect them by saying I love you. You can respect them by working hard. You can respect them by getting a good schedule. (Thomas) 
  • You can respect your family members by being nice and if they need help then help them. You can come together and celebrate. You can also be there with them when they need it and when they don’t need it. You can respect your elderly by not getting an attitude, helping them, say yes ma’am or yes sir, no ma’am and no sir, don’t whine and don’t talk back. You can respect your parents by having manners, cleaning your room, don’t talk back, communicate so they can help you and you can help them, get good grade but that will also help you to because you can get a prize and a good education. Be nice and help them clean up the house or your house or the area you are in. Do what they ask because it’s most likely helping them. (Amara) 
  • We say, yes sir and ,yes mam ,no mam,no sir,thank you,no thank you. We also say good bye and hello to show more respect. Also people say sorry if you hurt someone. (Dawson) 
  • In America, we respect our elders by saying yes,sir or yes,mam. And by doing well in school and helping your parent’s job of caring for you. Good grades. (Kerry) 

IV. Friendship 
Which one is more important? Personal interests or friendship?

  • I think both are important cause they are both gonna be used in life maybe at the same time because you have to share your personal interest to your friend and see if they can keep it a secret if you want them too and if they do keep it a secret than you know that they are true friends. (Peyton) 

VI. Personal 
Can we travel back in time?

  • No! we can not travel back in space because we do not have any time machines and nobody knows how to make one so no we can not travel back in time. (Tristan) 

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