Monday, November 24, 2014


If I'm going to be completely honest with you, you need to know how this entire crazy system that we've been working within came to be. 

Last year was horrible. It was horrible mostly because I wanted kids to step up and be great and do amazing things that would blow the minds of any and all adults who came into contact with their work, and that didn't happen. At first I thought it was the kids, but after spending a solid chunk of this summer thinking and reflecting about what went wrong, I realized that it was less the kids and  more the format. You can't do amazing work inside the traditional box that has been known as "school" since as far back as I can remember. How could I expect kids to overcome the limitations of the lecture/note take/memorize/spit back format if I was still doing that - especially with chromebooks? I knew at some point this summer that I needed to fundamentally change how I approached my classroom. I came to realize that if I wanted kids to step up and do amazing things, I'd need to give them the freedom to do so. I'd need to put more power in their hands and less in mine. I'd have to stop being the expert in control of everything and let go. I'd need to take the training wheels off and let you struggle and fall. This was a scary realization to have.

And so it began. I knew that in order to make this format work, I'd need to do some serious planning ahead of time. I spent the final weeks of summer at my desk instead of at the beach. I was planning. And planning. And also planning. By the time school started I was still unsure how this was going to go down.

The Planning Process

As we began to do actual work with the themes I was hit with this strange overwhelming feeling of euphoria. You were (for the most part) doing what I was hoping you'd do. Most of you were approaching this with an open mind and a healthy dose of enthusiasm. As I circulated the room, I was overhearing great conversations and deep insights. You were proving to me that if I gave up control, you'd thrive. What I loved about that was the fact that the realizations and understanding you were arriving at were truly yours. You were not simply remembering what I told you in a lecture - instead you were in complete control of your learning. You created your new knowledge and therefore you owned it. You are far more likely to truly know something if it is your brains that makes it happen.

...and then things started to change. As the personal responsibility grew, some of you began to fall off. Some were less focused as the novelty of the format wore off. Once the realization sunk in that, even though this was different, it might be harder - things began to unravel. The traditional game of school is easy once you know how to play it. You sit, you get told what to know, you exercise your short term memory by cramming things into your mind. You take a test. You are graded on how much you remember and how strong your memory is, not what you truly know. That is how is has been for pretty much all of school - and to be honest - that is how it will be in other classes for quite a while. That isn't how it works in life, however. 

The Game of School

I don't measure my success as a teacher by how much content you remember from my class. I measure myself by how much you are able to take control of your own learning. You have access to the total sum of human knowledge at your fingertips, the only thing that gets in your way of learning anything you want is your motivation and desire. I can't teach those things. I can only model them and push you to take control of your own learning in the hopes you see how liberating is to forge your own path. If we're being truly honest here, I don't remember a single thing from my middle school experience other than how to game the system. The system is broken. I hope that, over anything else, you come away from this class knowing how to think, and find, and learn independently - because those are skills that are far more important than memorizing facts. 


  1. The short version: We've both entered this mutual downward spiral over the past few weeks. Many of you have been slacking and caring less and less, which causes me to do the same thing. I made a point of stressing that you get what you give at the start of the year. If you strive to be awesome, I will be forced to do the same thing. If you stop caring, so do I. Frustrations rise on both sides when this happens. I do not want this to happen. I want you to be able to bounce back and pick up the personal responsibility and do great things. Let's both break this downward spiral and reclaim the awesome!

  2. What made sense to me was the part about how we get graded on what we memorize not what we know this made sense because when I do take a test in other classes I just try to remember what I studied the night before.

  3. It makes sense that you changed the format so we can better understand it and I like the format that we are using now. It also makes sense that you spent the rest of the summer planning.

  4. Very interesting. You put a lot of heart and soul into this, and you did a very good job. I liked the part where you described your last weeks of summer working hard on this and putting your true feelings and opinions into this. Very good job.