As research and projects are moving forward in my 8th grade tech classes, I am finding students have a hard time asking for help from a content expert. I think, in part, it is being shy, but I also think this has to do with not thinking in this kind of way before and doing asking. I’ll be honest, I have a hard time with this too because I am not used to reaching out to ask another person for help with the Web as the resource. Somehow it is taboo. As I am helping my students get comfortable reaching out to others who can help them, I am getting used to the idea too.

The Web is filled with all kinds of folks who are good and bad – no secret there. I cannot be afraid of all of the bad otherwise I negate the good that can come from using people resources there. This is what I am trying to teach my students. The good that can be found outweighs the bad.

Something else I noticed today was how ill practiced students are at real world – professional if you will – working. One of the girls was going to write an email to Dr. Joel Haber who started the respectu website for anti-bullying. She had a really difficult time remembering and using normal letter format. As we went step by step through the process of writing this email, it dawned on me that students know full well how to write a letter in class having practiced it but have difficulty applying it in a real world context.

This is the crux of what I am trying to teach – real world learning and working.

Content before cool stuff

I began class yesterday by asking the kids what they felt was really cool to do in technology class. This question was prompted by an email from one of my students. In the email the student asked if he could create a video game using software received from a camp he attended this summer. So, to begin class yesterday, I asked this student if he wouldn’t mind sharing his idea with the class about creating a video game. Post student explanation, the entire class wanted to make a game and I was totally cool with it! Before they can make the game, I had to explain how I view learning.

I view learning as having two essential tools and the two are dependent upon one another. The first tool is content. Content cannot be ignored or pushed to the side. Without content, or what is being taught, getting to the product can’t happen. Teaching content doesn’t have to be boring. Boring is standing in front of the class with the teacher talking, students listening and taking notes. One method of contextual learning that I am a big fan of is Project Based Learning (PBL). The Buck Institute for Education says this:

In Project Based Learning (PBL), students go through an extended process of inquiry in response to a complex question, problem, or challenge. Rigorous projects help students learn key academic content and practice 21st Century Skills (such as collaboration, communication & critical thinking).

Before I move on, another good resource for PBL is edutopia. You will find resources to help plan for and implement project based learning. The other tool a student needs are the products to demonstrate learning. The products are the cool part of what I do because kids can get online and create some really cool stuff, but they can’t create the product without the content, so the two are married.