Internet filtering is a reality wherever I work. I’m sure it will remain so for some time to come, and in most cases, for good reason. I’m fortunate to work in places where many of the tools that I prefer to use are open, including Google tools and YouTube and even Facebook. When things are blocked, all of the administrators that I work with are happy to open sites up in order to facilitate great learning experiences. This takes a bit of pre-planning though, and so once in a while, teachers will run into a situation where someone wants to demo or use something in class spontaneously, and access is denied. Once in a while, I will suggest the use of a tool that is blocked as well. Initially, teachers tend to respond in one of two different ways:
They either dismiss the potential learning opportunity altogether, allowing the filters to stand in the way, or they delay the learning opportunity until they are able to visit with an administrator and get the filters removed.
So much learning and creating is happening outside of school though, and many of the people that I work with are beginning to realize that there are other pathways around the filters. Yesterday alone, I listened to no less than six different people share stories with me about how their kids were using a variety of web tools to design something interesting or do something fun over spring break. Because they wanted to, not because they had an assignment to complete. Examples:
- Joe’s son and his friends created a new interpretation of Romeo and Juliet, incorporating a air-soft gun battle that they subsequently filmed with a Flip video camera.
- Monica, a high school fellow in the WNY Young Writers’ Studio finally worked up the courage to share a very powerful piece of her writing in Miiba over break. She explained that asking for feedback there first was less overwhelming than asking her friends to provide it.
- Middle school writer and tech geek Andrew cobbled together his own version of a surface table.
- His little brother Luke, who is in second grade, worked on several revisions of his own poetry and emailed them back and forth to others get feedback on them. His mom widened his audience by posting on Facebook.
- Abby, a sixth grade student, started a collaborative Google docs story and is managing to keep a group of very busy middle and high school students sustaining their work together, even though they attend different schools in different towns.
- Laura posted a story in our Studio ning, in order to receive help brainstorming titles.
- Tay shared a slice of a novel there as well, eager to know if it would be coherent enough to publish in our anthology this spring.
- And I’ve been shown so many new apps from so many young people, I can’t even count them at this point. My head is spinning.
Filters are definitely a constraint in a thousand different ways, but these stories reinforced something I’ve felt strongly about for some time: kids are already using tools they value because they are aligned to purposes they care about. If we invited them to do the same as teachers, they would often be able and more than willing to learn and create on their own time. After all, they are already developing a deep fluency around a slew of resources from home. We don’t necessarily have to know how to use them ourselves or wait until they are accessible in our classroom to make room for their use. We simply have to invite kids to learn and create to their full potential, using whatever they do have access to. And yes, I know that this will vary, but isn’t that a good thing?
One of the most important reminders that I was given over spring break and in the day after our return was that our students and our own children have much to teach us. I’m really grateful to work with so many teachers and administrators and parents who are willing to let them do just that.