Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Saying No

"No, I will not tell you the definition of 'austere'."

"No, I will not tell you where Laos is."

"No, I will not translate that for you."

"Do it yourself."

Been thinking about this recent TED talk by Sugata Mitra ever since catching it over at Will Richardson's blog. And over the last week or so, I've really been putting into action many of the ideas inherent in the talk. Most important I think -- and this is on top of a ton of important realizations in the presentation -- is the idea that if we want students to engage with learning, we won't tell them the answers.

Now, I work in a 1:1 environment. Which means that every single student in this school has a machine sitting in front of them that gives them access to the collected knowledge of recorded human history. So why would I treat them as if they do not wield such immense power?

And as an experiment, the way I've chosen to get them to realize the potential of what happens when they combine the power of their brains with the power of that access is to just say "no".

"No, I'm not going to define that for you."

"No, I'm not going to spell that for you."

"No, I'm not going to find that for you."

"No, I'm not going to repeat myself five times slowly for you."

You want to succeed in learning? Then learn to activate your own capacity to learn. Figure it out. Use that thing sitting on your lap and the connection to the world that it represents. And stop leaning on me; because soon enough I won't be here. And it will just be you and the world.

I asked a student yesterday if that made sense to her. And her response was simple, elegant, and telling. She said:



  1. Passed this along to administration with the hope they see the power of empowering students!!! Now if we can just allocate the funds to put smartphones or iPads or SOMETHING in their hands!

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  3. Thank you for posting this. It brings tears to my eyes thinking of how much waste our districts insist upon when forcing us to purchase archaic textbooks. The computers at my school are being used largely to test children, not to encourage learning.

  4. You've done a great job on finding Ted resources for education. This is generally something I've been aware of since I got access to my first computer, at the age of 35, an Apple IIe. An open mind, a healthy curiosity, and you can and will learn whatever you need to, and then some. As an adult with a learning disability, and ADHD, I was pretty much at the end of my rope, and the computer saved my life. I went back to school, and with the assistance of a word processor, became a Special Educator. I've been doing it for 23 years now, and I find it ironic that more people haven't used the technology to free their minds as I did. I've made it a point to always put kids in front of computers, and with great results.
    I use Skype regularly with my students, and we have a penpal class in Singapore (I'm from SoCal). Thanks again for this, as I will probably embed this video on my website, and share it with my parents and admin at back to school night.

  5. Amazing Shelly! The rebellion continues!!!

  6. If we only had an electronic brain, connected to a vast network of other electronic brains, we could find the answer.

  7. From someone who is being dragged, kicking and screaming, into the world of Skype, netbooks, and paperless classrooms, this was eye-opening. My children run circles around me on the computer but I am slowly understanding how the world is opening up to us via the internet. I liked the comment "...when you have interest, then you have education." Even if the computer's only initial contribution to a child's education is an interest in using one, or something they find while surfing, education will follow. Skype is an amazing tool that can connect students all over the world and should be used in all classrooms. Knowledge is power and the more we know about the world and how other people live, the better equipped we will be, our children will be, to face global problems.

  8. Yes, yes, yes to NO. I think the children may melt, but the bottom line is that my quick reply does not give them anything long-lasting.

    I'm trying to be a life-long learner, should I deny any one else that opportunity?

  9. I'm of the opinion that technology is hurting education more than enabling it. Yes, access to the collected knowledge of mankind is a good resource, but students still need a guide and interpretor of that knowledge, a guide, a teacher! I am trying to envision my students asking me about how an fission occurs, and I say go look it up. What I am there for then? Could I be replaced by a sign that says, "Turn on computer and don't bother anyone."?

  10. And I thought I was the only 'mean' person on this planet. My 4th graders are embarking on their first real research project where I provide them with good resources and stand back. Many struggle when I tell them...hmmm...what do you think? I have repeated many of the same phrases you have above.

    It's truly a transformation when at the end of the year a student comes up to me and says, "I really liked your class because you never told us the answer, you made us look for it." Woo hoo!!


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