Friday, June 28, 2013

This is What School Should be Like!

I'm teaching a couple of courses for a summer camp this week. Every summer, the college where I teach hosts a camp for middle schoolers. Great experience for the campers: they get a sort-of feeling for college life (staying in the dorms, eating in the dining hall, etc.) and it's a great social opportunity as well. And, hopefully, they learn something too.

I teach a course called "Geek Squad." The kids sign up for the courses they are most interested in before coming to camp, so the dozen or so I had in this course are self-identifying as "geeks," which is interesting in and of itself. Yes, we played with computers. Yes, we did some science and engineering. Yes...we talked about comic books and sci-fi movies and argued whether Star Trek is actually superior to Star Wars. (C'mon...that's not even an argument! Wait...showing my geeky hand here...) In it's essence, though, the course is about exploring, and trying stuff, and collaborating, and celebrating successes. We built all sorts of contraptions: paper gliders, tiny straw rockets, marshmallow shooters, desktop catapults, junk robots with tiny motors to make the buzz across the floor, marble runs, and we captured video of the whole thing to edit and share online.

To get some ideas of the kind of work the kids were doing, it's worth your time to check out some of their videos. They are only 30-seconds each, and you can view them here, here, and here. (By the way, the we used Animoto to create these videos; I highly recommend it for middleschoolers!)

Yep, that's me in the Angry Birds t-shirt, launching a straw rocket.

Four days into the camp, with my geeks up to their elbows with hot glue guns and soldering irons and scraps of junk all over the room, an amazing thing happened. One geek turned to his table partner--with whom he had been trying to get a junkbot's wiring working--and made this profound observation: 

"This is what school should be like."

His friend's reply:



I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little proud that the kids were enjoying all the geeky contraption-building. But what an insight that was!

It got me thinking about how school is for middle schoolers. Much of the day they are herded around from one room to the next in a series of lectures, perhaps punctuated by some hands-on work in some classes. How very different this experience would be for them then! I gave them a few indications of a goal, and turned them loose to explore, attempt, reflect, refine, and explore some more. And it was amazing what they came up with: all sorts of novel ways of meeting the challenge I had set.

This makes me wonder about the way school works for kids. Granted, this was summer camp...but when I think about the kind of authentic learning the kids were doing...well, to be frank...I agree with my self-professed geek: this is what school should be like!


  1. Love it! :) thanks for posting the great animotos too! animoto IS very user friendly! :)

  2. This IS what school should be like! Students should have ownership of their learning and be able to create throughout their day. Thanks so much for posting this, a some inspiration to make school days a little bit more like camp!

  3. This is a great post. I've done genius hour this year and I've heard similar comments. Imagine what would happen if school were really like this. Imagine how many more engaged students would be on a daily basis.

  4. Dave, I love this idea. I think education needs to move this way from the old model. Students need to have choices and be inspired to learn not just attend mandatory classes.