“Our students are better at computers than we are!” I’ll bet you have either said or heard this before. The truth is that when we make statements like this we are usually referring to out students’ ability to use content that is designed to be consumed in mass. Being able to accomplish this doesn’t position them as meaningful 21st century participants; it just continues their ability to be consumers.
In order to truly prepare our students for productive digital lives, we need to teach them to be producers of digital tools and content. They have to become creators.
1) Believe that this is more valuable learning
None of these items are as critical as a teacher having a deep-rooted belief that students will learn more through the power of application than they will in any other learning model. Going through the motions will only frustrate you and your students. Your students have consumed digital content from a very early age. They need you to show them that consumption pales in relative value to production. If you struggle with this concept, then I beg you to continue researching the demonstrated efficacy of project/problem based learning.
2) Give them time to create
You spend your time on what you value. If there isn’t creative space in your schedule that is protected, then I wonder if creation is a priority for your school. I would suggest that students be given as much time as you can afford to allow them to create. If you need to be the change agent that moves your school from a traditional environment emblematic of classrooms a decade or two ago, then you need to prepare a strong argument to affect change. If you are interested in ways to get creative with your schedule, check out this ASCD article.
3) Give them space to create
If you don’t have a space for students to experiment with their ideas, then go find one. This can be a classroom with art supplies, a computer lab, or a maker space. It doesn’t even have to be a classroom. In fact, if you can manage it, it shouldn’t be a classroom. These ideas should be public when they can be. We didn’t have any space available for students to work in the collaborative way we wanted them to, so we created group work space in our main hallway. Why not? I want everyone to see the experimentation in which our students are engaged.
4) Help them identify problems to solve
I have problems, you have problems, and your students have problems. These problems are opportunities to find creative solutions. I can tell you that I am more likely to work hard on a problem that affects me than one that doesn’t, and your students are the same way. Let them solve their own problems; this creates agency. When your students have agency over their learning, then learning is richer and your life gets easier.
5) Do not allow them to accept limiting factors as the end
Limiting factors are things that appear to be barriers to accomplishing a desired outcome. They are really opportunities to innovate in unanticipated ways. We can train our students to see barriers as obstacles that can be overcome. We need them to drill past the obvious solution and move to solutions that are doable with the resources available. Worse than limiting factors are limiting beliefs. Here is a great resource from Michael Hyatt addressing how we fall into these beliefs from time to time.
6) Prompt them to say, “We can if…?”
I can give you an infinite number of ways to fail, so don’t get hung on limiting factors. We only care about the ways to make it work. You need to teach your students to work on thinking about how to enable solutions. Using the prompt, “we can if…,” allows students to move beyond the limiting mindset that plagues and paralyzes people in learning and in the work force.
7) Let them earn your trust
When your students know that demonstration of trustworthiness will earn real trust, then they will perform in a trustworthy manner. That means that you need to let off of the reins when you have seen that they are capable of making good decisions. We have to provide progress assessments as we move through learning opportunities, but we have to steer clear of micromanagement.
8) Give them the real tools used by real professionals
There is an app for that is not good enough; that is unless the app is the industry standard. I don’t believe that our students should be limited by the tools that we provide them. I’m not saying that we give students a crane when they try to build a bridge. I’m saying that we give them AutoCad to build that bridge. What we shouldn’t do is give them some app on the iPad that has no real world application.
9) Bring in or take them to the pros
Have real people who are working in the digital production industry come to your classrooms and show your students what they can do. Have them explain how they became content producers. Digital content is exceptional in that most of the production work is created by people we know. These are not difficult people to access, and they are excited to come to your students. It is also a great experience for your students to go see their businesses in action. Let them see a developer space, a graphic studio, or a server farm. Nepris.com is a service that provides you with connections to get this happening in your classrooms.