Tag Archives: Martha Payne

How To Make Schools Matter To Students

4 Jul

“Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” John Dewey

Schools are supposed to be about learning. They are supposed to be about inspiring students and supporting them so they can develop the skills and knowledge they need to live their best life.

But the world has changed, quickly, and schools and teachers are struggling to keep up. Learning, like many aspects of our lives, is becoming democratized and decentralized. Students are increasingly finding schools irrelevant when it comes to learning and are using cheap and easy technology to take matters into their own hands.

Here’s three stories to illustrate:

  1. marthaPayne858_2249344bMartha Payne: On April 30th, 2012, Martha Payne was a nine-year old school girl in Lochgilphead, Scotland. She thought the food provided to students at her school wasn’t very good so she decided to blog about it. Her first entry on May 8th, 2012 included a picture of her pizza lunch with the comment “The good thing about this blog is Dad understands why I am hungry when I get home”.  The blog quickly got local and national headlines, a comment from food advocate Jamie Oliver, and by June 15th Martha had three million hits. The story developed a few twists and turns along the way (the school board tried to shut her down) but as a result of Martha’s blog the quality and quantity of food at her school (and others) has improved, and along the way she’s raised over $150,000 to improve the quality of food at schools in Africa.
  2. o-ANN-MAKOSINSKIAnn Makosinski: Since grade 6 Ann Makosinski, of Victoria, British Columbia, has had an interest in harvesting surplus energy. She started exploring this interest in independent science projects in grade 7 and continued to refine her ideas. In 2013 (she’s now in grade 10) Makosinski produced a flashlight that can be powered by the heat from the user’s hand. Her $26 prototype uses Peltier tiles (which she bought on Ebay) to turn heat into electricity. Makosinski is one of fifteen students in the world, and the only Canadian, presenting at the 2013 Google Science Fair in California. Makinowski did this, not in class, but independently, on her own time, between her part-time job and rehearsing for the school play.
  3. Ebony Oshunrinde (aka WondaGurl): When Ebony Oshunrinde was nine years old she saw a video of rap artist Jay-Z wondagurl_2and producer Timbaland working in the studio together. She decided it looked cool and she wanted to learn how to do it, so she downloaded music software and taught herself how to use it by watching YouTube videos. Oshunrinde is now a grade 11 student in Brampton, Ontario and made a piece of music she liked. She sent it off to a producer she’d recently met for some feedback. Her ‘beat’ was so good he shared it with Jay-Z and they decided to use it on the song “Crown” which is on Jay-Z’s just released album Magna Carta Holy Grail. Oshunrinde worked on the beat after she finished her homework.

These are just three of thousands of stories of students that are increasingly taking learning into their own hands. They’re not getting what they need in school and so are using technology to ‘go around’ school.

Schools need to facilitate and support more of this kind of independent learning, to provide a space for students to follow their passions. If we don’t, formal schooling will become increasingly irrelevant to students. Instead of a place of learning and inspiration ‘school learning’ will be another chore that students HAVE to do. Another thing on the to-do list before they live their real life.

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Student Input into Education

9 Sep

I sat down this morning to write something for The Globe and Mail’s School Council and when I finished I realized I’d written a blog post, so I decided to post it here.

The idea that student input and control of education is limited, is somewhat misleading. Students have the ultimate level of control and input when it comes to education. Each day they decide whether to attend or not. Students enter classrooms of their own free will (no one is shackled to their desks) and decide this is how they will spend their day. They control their learning. There are students who refuse to attend school, demand a change or attend but go through the motions without engaging. That’s the ultimate level of control and the only one that really matters.

In terms of involving students in the decision making processes of public education, I don’t agree that this is universally good. I’m sure there are useful and active student trustees, but I haven’t seen them. From my admittedly limited exposure, student trustees seem to be along for the ride and are rarely given a meaningful voice in critical decisions. It seems like a nice resume padder for some students and PR exercise for the school board.

I’d much rather see student input be given the same weight and value of any other partner in the education system. Teachers and parents have channels they can use to express their opinions. They communicate with trustees, write to the media, etc. It’s patronizing to say that students need special treatment.

Through technology, passionate and intelligent students have a much louder voice than ever. A student who has something to say about an issue in education can send out e-mails, blog, posts videos to YouTube and so on.

One of the best examples of this is the story of Martha Payne’s dinner blog. The 9 year old student in Scotland thought the school cafeteria food sucked, so she started a blog and posted pictures. She was right, other’s agreed and her blog has changed things. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-19471972

Not every person wants or needs a say in education decisions and students are no different. Let’s empower students to raise their voices and let the good ones rise to the top. It’s much better than creating some token positions where students get to sit at the ‘big table’ so long as they remember their place.