Sunday, October 24, 2010

Moving from Compliance to Engagement...

Note: This is the second in a series which, over the next few weeks, will hopefully help everyone understand the reasons behind the 1:1 learning initiative in the Okoboji School District.  Today we will talk about the power of student engagement...

Our oldest daughter entered kindergarten this year.  She loves school.  She loves her teacher and all of her classmates.  She loves sharing with us what she is doing each day in school.  She is very compliant by nature.  If the teacher says we are doing "X" today, she will do it with a smile on her face and she will enjoy doing it.  If for no other reason than that's what the teacher said we're doing.  I believe a lot of students are this way.  Even in high school I see a lot of students who will slug their way through hours of homework and have a smile on their faces when they turn it in.  Compliance is often a good thing in education.  It is the idea that the "teacher knows best" that keeps kids going even when they don't necessarily find the assignment intrinsically motivating or relevant.  I am glad we have compliant students. 

I have however, long believed there is something much more powerful than compliance.  The level of student-buy-in that is several steps beyond compliance is engagement.  A compliant student will work hard to please the teacher, an engaged student will work hard because they are intrinsically motivated to do so.  Student engagement can be an ambiguous concept until you see it.  I had a great chance to see it this week. 

Earlier this week my daughter mentioned that she had been learning about surveys and graphs in class.  I asked her if she would like to make a survey on the computer.  She was excited about the idea and wanted to start right away.  We used Google Apps (which many Okoboji teachers are already using and we are offering training on for all staff members) to make her survey.  It took about 3 minutes with her creating the questions and me typing.  The longest part was her picking the picture to go on the survey.  She thought that was great, then I asked her if she wanted some people to answer her survey.  She was very excited about that idea so I shared her survey on Twitter, included the link, and asked people to take a minute to fill it out.  As soon as I sent it out I filled out her survey.  By the time I hit "submit" and returned to the spreadsheet that is automatically created when you make a Google Survey, 4 other people had already responded.  That was the light bulb moment (or moment of engagement) for Grace.  Throughout the evening she watched as more and more people responded to her survey.  As the responses poured in we analyzed the bar and pie graphs that Google was creating for us out of the data.  She took pride in telling us which season most people were saying was their favorite and how many brothers and sisters her respondents had. 

One of the questions she had asked was where everyone was from.  One of the early responses was from Utah to which she asked "where is that?"  We opened a Google map, named it "Graces Survey" and began marking the locations of her responses.  Grace spent the rest of the evening eagerly checking her spreadsheet (the reading of which was another new skill she was eager to learn) to see if any new responses had come in.  We had to force her to finish her dinner and her dessert because all she wanted to do was check on her survey.  This young lady was engaged.  A fire had been lit.  In the glow of that fire she had eagerly discovered and learned about subjects ranging from surveys to spreadsheets to graphs to geography.  It was truly an amazing thing to watch.  She took pride in telling her teacher all about what she had done and that real people from all over the place and answered her questions.  At last count she is up to 94 responses from 18 states and 4 countries including England and Sweden.  At 6 years old she has interacted in a very real way with a global audience.  That is real world engagement. 

Please understand, I am not claiming we must use technology in order to engage students.  We have a high level of student engagement going on in our classrooms every day.  We have teachers engaging students in real world, authentic, relevant learning both with an without technology.  The amazing thing about technology is its power to connect.  We could have used made up data on a just for practice survey to analyze canned data and make charts and graphs.  Had we done that, Grace would have listened politely and worked hard to follow my instructions because she is compliant.  The magic of our activity was the fact that it was real.  We used the power of technology to connect in real time with a real world audience.  The fire that was lit in that little girl's mind last Wednesday night was real and intense and it has led to a much deeper understanding of surveys, graphs, and geography than I had at her age.

One of the goals of the Okoboji 1:1 computing initiative is to put these kinds of tools in the hands of every teacher and every student.  We want to empower teachers to engage every student.  Not all students are compliant, but all students can be engaged.  If we are to accomplish our school's mission, student engagement is key.  Using real world technology to enable students to make real world connections allows us to build on the strong tradition of teaching and learning in the Okoboji School District.

By the way, if you would like to take a minute to view and fill out Grace's survey, she would love to get your input.  You can access the survey here: 

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