My Dad taught ceramics for 38 years. I was always amazed at what his students produced-and that he could access that hidden capacity in them and bring it forth to create a personal piece of art. He would always tell me that everyone has that talent; it just has to be accessed and developed. He did it with the most difficult kids in school, and usually with multiple sections, all in one class. And he never let it pass that the piece they produced would still be on their mantle 30 years from now when my science tests wand labs were long forgotten…Many of those kids just came to school just for his class and then left.

My new school is a different place than where my Dad taught. We have a commons area, comprised of the cafeterias, a beautiful student activities center with an open-air courtyard, our library, and a wide area of hallway where multiple hallways come together in an area that creates a large open space. Kids have access to travel through all of these areas during their open periods.

It’s not unusual to see a student playing a guitar in this area in an impromptu coffeehouse session. It took me a while to get used to this type of space, and the openness it affords (kids also can use ipods), but kids like it as you might imagine, and it generally works pretty well.

Another observation about my new school: the kids in our school actually like coming to school. Having a few freedoms like the commons area is only a part of that, and those freedoms provide an environment that enable kids to connect with other kids.

Simply stated, successful teachers, and successful schools, find ways to develop and deepen those connections. Those connections typically occur, and are probably expected to occur in formal traditional learning spaces, i.e. classrooms. But what about informal learning opportunities, and the connections they afford? How well do we do in providing opportunities for informal learning to take place? Of course the danger in that is that we probably don’t want to formalize the informal and take away the essence of that experience. But we need these types of spaces, and opportunities for exploration beyond the classroom to be available inside of schools. And we need to support that with dollars and tools, with adults, and perhaps with policies that enable them to use the very tools that we ask them to lock away…

So when I saw this video, I thought of all of that.

Here are kids using their iphones and ipod Touch’s, and a variety of apps, to play music. I can see kids doing this in our open areas, and I can see them doing this in our V-Show (Variety Show), perhaps even part of a club. Couldn’t you see kids downloadiing an a cappella from ccmixter and adding their ipod Touch instrumental to it, and contributing it back?That would obviously be pretty cool. But what would they learn? Certainly it would be an opportunity to teach them about remix culture, something that most do now and not very well, and something that they will interact with for the rest of their lives. For me, that’s huge, and it adds additional authenticity and relevancy.I can also see kids using these tools as part of a music class. Why not? Would we get pushback from music educators? Administrators? Parents?Would experiences like this potentially attract more student to music? Or should we leave them to do all of this on their own? Would we be too intrusive?I don’t think so.

And speaking of the ipod Touch and the iPhone, shouldn’t we be teaching kids how to develop applications form them? Stanford offers a free 10-week online course, with content available at their iTunes site. Should we publicize that, encourage that kind of learning, and provide assistance when necessary? I wonder how many teachers have taken this course, on their own, and brought their own informal learning back to class?

We are still a school. We have a responsibility to teach kids, and we should do so with everything at our disposal. If that means using an ipod Touch in a music class then so be it. If it means saying that you can use your personal ipod Touch to play music in school, then so be it.

We also have a responsibility to extend our expectations of what learning is, and where it can take place. Technology today permits learning to take place without the limitations of time, space, and place. A hallway, a commons area, can be a learning space. It doesn’t have have to be a classroom. And we don’t necessarily have to structure it for them. Providing the opportunity and structuring and controlling the opportunity are different things, aren’t they?

We also have a responsibility to find ways to provide experiences for those that cannot afford these technologies at home. And that means doing so at school.

The more that kids are connect to each other, to adults, and to the school community, the more ways we can find to develop talent, the more environments for learning that we provide and support, both formal and informal, the better off our schools will be.

The better off the kids will be.

UPDATE: be sure to read this interesting perception of informal learning, with a new term I had never heard of to describe mobile devices…

4 Responses to “Un-Common(s) Value”
  1. Amy Balling says:

    I agree with you…but too many teachers expect to be that “Sage on a stage.” They are afraid to break out of their comfort zone. You’ve seen this. They don’t want to let the kids know that they don’t know everything. They can’t show any weakness.
    Teaching and learning in America needs to change. I have to ask myself: if I’m only giving my students the content that they could learn from a book then am I doing my job?
    We are here to inspire, not enough teachers feel that way.

  2. Kristi Shaw says:

    I teach at a private 4K-8th grade school in central WI. While I was at the Tech Forum a couple weeks ago, one of my middle school students got into our wireless network. I still don’t know how but that is besides the point, the student was, at the time, using the Internet and her iPod Touch to do research. Here is my question: At what point do we make our school’s wireless available to all students? What policies would need to be in place to do so? Any thoughts?

  3. DSJ says:

    Kristy: we are making our wireless available to students this coming Monday. We have just finished our policy on this, email me at and I can provide more specifics about how we are implementing wireless for kids.

  4. Carrye DeCrane says:

    During my student teaching experience I was in a classroom where the only technology available was chalk! I was working on an article activity from the NY Times with the class. I kept hitting a wall because there were too many words in the piece which were unfamiliar to the students. Without a dictionary in sight and nothing to gain by stopping to define words myself for the hour, I improvised. Much to my mentor’s horror, I asked for a show of hands of students with internet access on their cell phones. The students took turns looking up words on I’m sure they had never considered the phone as a resource for anything besides looking up show times at the movie theater. Sure, they claimed to need to look up a few extra words, but we found a way to get through the article and used their technology to get there. I don’t think my mentor ever recovered from the shock. I’m not even sure he owned a cell phone himself. I smile just remembering that day, feeling the connection with the class who was so excited to be using a tool they didn’t know they had.

Leave a Reply