Giving students ‘skin in the game,’ another anti-distraction tool [sidebar]

Chris Lehmann, founding principal at Philadelphia’s Science Leadership Academy, really sums it up: giving students “skin in the game,” as he put it to Education Week. That means, as the educators I mention in the main article show, using education technology not as another platform or delivery tool for traditional tutorial-style teaching but for the kind of “inquiry-driven, project-based” learning students do at Lehmann’s school, as well as in the schools I mention above. This is in a story about SLA’s switch from Mac laptops to Dell Chromebooks with a grant from Dell to that “will cover Chromebook 11’s for each of the 250 students in [the Academy’s] two freshman classes, as well as support staff and some desktop hardware,'” allowing SLA students to do 90% of what they could do on laptops for a quarter of the price, Lehmann said in a video interview embedded in the Ed Week article.

Another example of “skin in the game” for students is the 6th grade language arts class at Suffern Middle School in New York, where, “in addition to traditional, paper-and-pencil work, students assume the role of a [World of Warcraft online game] character to complete quest-based assignments online while investigating Myths: Not Just Long Ago and Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief. Self-reflection, in conjunction with [those books] and tracking of characters’ hero paths in WoW, rounds out a robust humanities curriculum that addresses the [Common Core Learning Standards] while meeting the kids ‘where they live’,” their teacher, Peggy Sheehy told RamapoCentral.org. Her students told the writer that, among other things, they’re learning problem-solving, reading comprehension, communication skills and “how to other treat people” while having fun in the process.

I’ve seen no better description of the kind of learning today’s students need and why than in the first 8 paragraphs of this article in Wired by Joshua Davis. He calls it “the inexorable logic of the digital age”: “Access to a world of infinite information has changed how we communicate, process information, and think. Decentralized systems have proven to be more productive and agile than rigid, top-down ones. Innovation, creativity, and independent thinking are increasingly crucial to the global economy.” He leads his article about it with a dirt-poor Mexican school just across the border from Brownsville, Texas. Read about its transformation and that of its teacher and students. Anyway, if you’re interested in what students need not only to be engaged in classrooms but successful in a networked economy and world, it’s a must-read.

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