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The Endless Potential of Real World Experience and Technology

The Endless Potential of Real World Experience and Technology

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I host a small radio program every Friday night on WOW FM. You can listen to it here:

Originally, when I and the other teacher involved set it up, we envisaged the it as a bit of an educational show, talking about current trends in education, sharing tips for teachers and discussing educational news. So far, so good, but hardly the most exhilarating project one could imagine.

That changed suddenly when we invited a group of students from our school on the show. I don't know why we took so long to do it - perhaps we were too caught up in the excitement of having a captive audience. The children brought a whole new dimension to the show - they brought enthusiasm and fun, but most of all, they brought realism!

That seems like a small thing, but it made a big difference. The student's perspective on things was fresher and so much more real. I was struck by their honesty - the way they spoke fearlessly about their learning and their experiences, their hopes and dreams.

Needless to say, students quickly became the central focus of the show. In fact, they now run the whole show, deciding on their own segments, the music and much more. All of this is well and good, but it's not the reason that I am starting this discussion. The reason is because of the answer I got when I talked to the students about the show. One of them said to me, "Mr H, I'm so enthusiastic about the show because it's real."

That got me thinking. There are so many things that we do in school that aren't "real" - essays and book reports and all kinds of things that are left behind as soon as students walk out of the gates. Where are the opportunities for "real" activities? Building things that people will actually use. Designing items that have relevance and a place in society? Communicating with each other in ways that we use today, as opposed to thirty years ago.

That's one of the places that I think effective use of technology comes in. Through tools that aid communication, like Skype, for example, or Twitter, we can let students communicate with the real world. Through tools that allow creativity, like iMovie or Garage Band, we can help students to make professional, authentic products that have relevance to their own lives.

P.S. If you want to hear recorded shows of the McCarthy Radio Show, you can hear them here:

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Dan Callahan's picture
Dan Callahan
Professional Learning Specialist, Edcamper, Graduate Professor

Real is useful, but don't always try to chase the dragon of creating something that's real-world when something that's decidedly not real might work better for students' learning. Creation can firmly stick in the fantasy world and still provide a lot of meaningful instructional use.

Keith Heggart's picture
Keith Heggart
High School Teacher from Sydney, Australia

Hi Dan,
Your post was really thought provoking. What do you think about the value of a real-world audience for student learning?

Kevin Jarrett's picture
Kevin Jarrett
Teaching Middle School 'Technology, Engineering & Design' in Northfield, NJ

Hi Keith, I think you and Dan both have valid points. As a K-4 teacher, a great deal of what I do lesson-wise involves, let's just say, wonder and imagination. It's one of the best parts of my job! Bearing witness to a room full of elementary students engaged in the process of creating original work drawn solely from their own imaginations is, to me, ridiculously rewarding.

That said, there is plenty of room for "real" activities. Here's one example: our first grade students are currently involved in a conversation about managing "screen time". Yes, first graders. Their thoughtful comments and honest insights have blown me away. We're completing a survey (using Google Forms) of the entire grade (~100 kids) which we are going to launch nationally next week to gather even more data which we will analyze and interpret together. The final product, at this point, I think (it may change) will be an "activity pledge" the kids will propose to their parents to help them better manage and balance screen time in their lives.

"Real" activities are terrific. So are "imaginary" ones. The key in my view is to make the learning all about them!

Thanks for this great conversation!


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