Society May Be Willing To Invest In Children If They Are Seen As An Immediate Value To Society

We of the edbloggosphere have bemoaned the snail’s pace progress in educational change. One of the issues I believe is that kids are perceived by society as only having the potential to contribute to society sometime in the future. If kids were appreciated for what they can contribute now, and that “contribution” was valued by society, perhaps society would be more willing to “invest” more substantially in them at an earlier age. One of the transformative aspects of technology is that it allows students to produce finished products that others have access to and can use: Other students, other members of the local community and members of the global community.

Too often I’m afraid, kids are seen as sponges sucking up resources while at the same time being responsible for being noisy, tagging, rude, shoplifting, littering … you get the idea. Let’s get kids on the news because they are doing uplifting, valuable things.

I try to have my students participate in at least one project a year that is tied to standards, but also provides a service or function for the community at large. We have made a web page for a non-profit animal park (if you want to pull at peoples’ heartstrings what could be better? A project involving little kids and defenseless animals, many of which are cute), made curriculum based videos downloadable on the internet, made a public service announcement about diversity and a video about bullying and getting along, and more.

Each of these projects has been huge curriculum and learning wise – research, writing, learning about technology by using it, talking to experts in emails and in person as guest speakers … you can fill in the rest.

But one easily overlooked aspect of these projects is that they live and breathe. All of our video projects are still downloadable on the web, and they are downloaded on average 30 times per month. Our “Don’t Laugh At Me” video is downloaded hundreds of times per month off our web site and it is also available on Apple Computer’s web site.

Past students come back to visit me from time to time and they always mention how they still watch the video they were part of (I had a former student who is 19 now come see me this week, he is the first person in his family EVER to graduate 6th grade, he has now graduated high school and has been accepted at a culinary school which will be paid for by the restaurant where he works. The first thing he mentioned was the Animal Ark web page he worked on, which unfortunately was recently taken down, mostly because after 7 years Animal Ark has their own professionally made site).

So the educational value for students is obvious, but what if student work filled some of the many needs of society. What if the taxes we pay that go to education had a payback (besides a well educated public, like that isn’t enough, right?) for society? If kids were seen as contributors to society NOW, perhaps taxpayers would be more willing to invest in them NOW.

To me it makes sense anyhow. Learning by doing real work, not work that gets tossed or put in a drawer, but work that is utilized by its producers and the world at large just seems totally appropriate. Hard work is used instead of tossed. Needs are met. Kids are given productive things to do that use what they’ve learned and contribute to their learning. Think of it as “The Peace Corp for kids.” Imagine kids being able to show up for their college interview or a job interview with a portfolio of the projects they’ve worked on over the years.

What better way to showcase our students and the power of project-based, problem-based learning, supported by technology and Web 2.0 applications than community service projects?

So teachers and students, look around locally and globally and find inspiration for projects (using tech or not, but I bet they usually will) that fit what you are supposed to be learning in science and social studies and whatever, and make the world a better place while bettering yourself and your students at the same time.

That is the best “Messy Learning” I can imagine.

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5 thoughts on “Society May Be Willing To Invest In Children If They Are Seen As An Immediate Value To Society

  1. I’m with you! The best way to teach is make it real to the students. I have a 9th grader that I taught in 4th grade who e-mails me on a weekly basis just to say Hi and ‘remember when….’ about all the stuff we did in class. I start each year of teaching by looking at my students and telling them, “I promise I will not teach you anything that you don’t need out there.” as I point out the window of the school. Learning has to be real, has to be meaningful and students need to see that and know that. Web 2.0 applications allow us to interact in ways we never could before with people we never had access to. If we’re not taking advantage of these opportunities in the classroom then someone else will…dare I say myspace.

  2. The thing I find odd about this post is that community service projects are very much part of the mainstream of American public education, at least at the high school level. They’re frequently required for graduation, for example, and whether or not that is reasonable was a frequently discussed topic a few years ago.

  3. Tom – Community Service isn’t new – I’m not sure it is “mainstream” – certainly not in “At-Risk” schools. The main message of my post is that community service done with technology and Web 2.0 applications gives it a new twist that many haven’t considered and might lead to a greater valuing of tech and project-based learning. I know in my own experience when my students participate in projects like these I hear from teachers on my own staff and elsewhere that now see tech and project-based learning as something worthwhile for them to consider more seriously. Also what I describe are not formal programs like Service Learning, or as the service projects required for graduation – instead these projects are driven as much as possible by student interest about doing something to make a difference instead of fulfilling a requirement, while doing the writing, reading, analyzing data, communicatiing, editing, and more that we all want them doing.