Friday, November 30, 2012

District Tech Planning - Student Goal 1d - Instilling Purpose

(This is the fourth post in a series on developing student goals for the next revision of our district technology plan. Though at this date and time it does seems a little silly to have a separate plan for the use of technology in schools when technology is so ubiquitous.  The student goals described below are less about technology and more about what we wish students leave our schools with in terms of skills, knowledge, and potential for continued growth.

Technology Plan Student Goals

  1. Strong Foundation in the basics (Not much to say here, have been doing this for decades.)
  2. Ability to Solve Real Problems
  3. To Be Independent Thinkers
  4. Make Healthy Choices

Student Goal 1d - Instill A Sense of Purpose

  • To feel that they matter and are positive contributions to our community. (Purpose)
    • Community Awareness
      • Cultures
      • Ages
      • Economic status
      • Geography
      • “Neighbors”
    • Identify Needs (huge and very broad, no limits)
    • Contribute to Solutions

If there is one thing I don’t think we do well across all curricular areas in our students is foster their sense of purpose and worth. I don’t mean giving out ‘that-a-boys’ or more certificates at the monthly awards assembly. There is more to this goal than building self esteem. What I’m referring to is students knowing their community, where they fit in context to their community, and how they can be contributors in their community. You may be thinking, how the heck do you foster a student’s feeling of purpose or worth in a algebra class, or a remedial language arts class? This is a very good question, and the answer is going to take some work. If we expect to educate our children better than we have, we have to start doing things different from the ways we have always done them. Instilling a sense of purpose in our students is one of those “different things” that I think can become a catalyst for learning in our schools across all subject areas.

There are and have been many organizations that have instilled this sense of purpose and worth in their members. The result of the work in this area by these organization has resulted in improved communities, communication, and standards of living. For many of these organizations, this goal has been a staple in their “curriculum plans” for decades. It seems in public education, kindergarten is the only place in the K12 curriculum, maybe first grade too, where there is any emphasis focused on the community. Without students at all ages understanding the community they live in how are they ever going to be able to realistically place themselves in a mindset where they feel they can contribute? Why haven’t we implemented this goal in our schools more effectively? As I eluded to above the models and their results have been available to us for hundreds of years.

So as this is a goal in our (draft) district technology plan, how does technology fit within this goal?

To begin with, I have identified three large components to this goal. They are Community Awareness, Identifying Needs, and Contributing to Solutions.  Community awareness has a series of sub-topics within it: Cultures, Ages, Economic Status, Geography, and Neighbors are a few. In my opinion the concept of community awareness holds content that addresses every curriculum area in our schools and across all grade levels. For example, the ability to bring up photographs and maps/satellite images covering our local community contributes to the early elementary school age learner’s understanding of their community while at the same time addressing standards such as, describe familiar people, places, things, and events and, with
prompting and support, provide additional detail. Primary students that have the ability to explore media about their community by interacting with content in multiple formats on a regular bases will begin to develop an understanding that will in the later grades provide them with the foundation for understanding their place within the community and the contributions they can make to the community. (Originally, I accidentally wrote “Primary language students...” in the last sentence, but edited it out. However, that brings up an important point regarding our second language learners, and the makeup of our changing communities. All the more reason for an emphasis on community.)  Older students can dive more deeply into the context of their community by investigating charts a graphs related to populations and other census data as found directly through the US Census Bureau, Using this content teachers and students can address standards such as measurement and data, and statistics and probability while at the same time developing a clearer understanding of their community. The clearer the understanding a student has about their community, the better it is for them to see where they can contribute.

The final two large themes, Identifying needs and contributing solutions can be thought of as independent level
sub-goals, ideally, one follows the other. The concept of student contributions  can be thought of on one level, say in the primary grades, as simply an investigation of organizations in the community that already seek to solve community issues, all of which are easily available on the Internet.  Then having them share or publish their knowledge back out to the community through a blog or an editorial. On a higher level, older students may identify needs within the community and addressing them through videos or podcasts and shared back out to the community. Ultimately students get to the point that they begin to brainstorm and seek solutions for issues and problems within their community that they have identified and identifying those organizations that are providing solutions.

My idea is by providing students a better picture of their community, where they fit within the community, and what they can or have the potential to contribute (purpose) to the community, will result in a stronger engagement at their skill level
acquirement (Standards), while also improving their higher order thinking skills and communication skills. As I mentioned in the beginning, this will take some serious work to accomplish in the classroom, professional development and otherwise. There are not very many ebooks available for teachers to push out to say kindergarten students, that address our local community. However, at the early primary grades, there are a number of traditional books and ebooks that address components of communities that are common across all communities, and as most teachers do, they relate those concepts back to the student by sharing similarities within their own community. Technology has afforded us a wonderful opportunity to explore our local communities much more in depth than ever was possible in the past. We need to begin using technology to foster the sense of purpose in our students through the in depth investigation of our community.

CC licensed image courtesy of Patrick Feller

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