By John Pederson
I recently had the pleasure of experiencing the culminating celebration of our TriState PLP group. It was truly awesome to be present at the end and get a feel for the people and stories behind some awesome projects that developed over this past year.
One that caught my eye is called Project Copernicus from a crew at Weaver Lake Elementary School. This group went about trying to figure out how the use of student personal devices in school impacts the classroom. On the surface, this project reads like hundreds of others that involve 1:1 computing in the classroom. I’m seeing a glimmer of hope, however, that this PLP experience will be something that makes Project Copernicus successful down the road.
First a slight bit of context. I’m fixated on a recent quote lifted from a TED Talk by Sir Ken Robinson.
It’s about customizing them [conditions in which learning will flourish] to your circumstances, and personalizing education to the people you are actually teaching. It’s not about scaling a new solution, it’s about creating a movement in education in which people develop their own solutions, but with external support, based on a personalized curriculum.ï»¿
Introducing the “scale” argument is a tactic naysayers, especially in educational technology, will use as excuses for why your project will inevitably fail. “This project will not work because of _________”, where “_________ï»¿” is money, policy, inequity, time, resources, you name it.
Why do I hold hope for the folks at Weaver Lake Elementary and their Project Copernicus? Three observations.
1. The students are worried that they will move into middle school next year and not be able to apply what they have experienced because of policy. (More on that later.) The elementary students have begun planning two approaches. One group of students plan to talk to the principal and make their case. Another group plans the less formal approach of simply going for it, using the devices appropriately, and asking forgiveness on the other end. Should be interesting.
2. Relating to policy, students have an interesting “rallying” point. The middle school has what they call a “Bag It or Tag It” policy on personal devices. Not since “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top” has administration given policy reform advocates as cool a catch phrase to rally against. There’s huge opportunity here.
3. Finally, never underestimate the role of leadership in a movement. Too often we make the generalization that our school’s IT folks are there to prevent this stuff from happening. Weaver Lake Elementary School is backed by Tim Wilson, someone I consider to be among the best in educational technology. Tim knows that what he’s doing is creating a movement not by doing, but being that necessary external support to this group of teachers that are doing the work of teaching and learning. He understands Project Copernicus as a movement, not something that he needs to worry about scaling.
The entire Powerful Learning Practice community experience is not about a formula and how it scales. There exists only a group of passionate people willing to help create conditions in which 21st century learning can flourish. PLP is a movement that stems from many years of frustration involved in trying to scale something unscaleable. I’ll leave you with Sir Ken Robinson’s words on the personal learning revolution.
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Thanks for the mention. The team of teachers and their principal at Weaver Lake are a bunch of rock stars!
I’m really interested to see how Project Copernicus grows and how these 6th grade students advocate for themselves in Jr. High. We’ve got a bunch more 6th graders at Woodland Elementary that will be making the same transition from a Project Copernicus classroom next year.
It’s been really exciting to observe the transformation in the Project Copernicus classrooms this year. We had about a dozen teachers start in the fall and have added a few more this spring. I expect to grow again for next year and look forward to the day when all of our students are empowered to bring their own tech to school.
The “bag and tag” policy is prevalent, that’s true, but I’m going to start working with our secondary principals on modifying that approach. We all know that keeping the kids from using the devices is futile. (Smartphones connected to a third party’s cellular data network even calls the utility of our Internet filtering into question.)
I’ll leave you with a quote from one of our Project Copernicus teachers.
“My students have their laptops with them at all times and decide when to use them. They might have different ideas, more open ideas than I do. I’m not yet sure how to use the laptops, and I welcome the student input.”
I consider that a revolutionary way to think about the use of technology in classrooms. Incidentally, I named our Project after the astronomer Galileo because his was the theory that put the sun at the center of the solar system. My hope is that Project Copernicus puts students at the center of our tech integration efforts.