Stuvoice.org- The Student Voice

Today, the website and blog project stuvoice.org launched. Stuvoice.org is a place for students to join their voices as one and let their thoughts be heard, because our time is now. Now is the time for our voice- the Student Voice- to be heard.

Below is my piece from the website. Be sure to visit the site to see others’ posts and ideas.

Unleash the power- Listen to the heart:
People always say to “Listen to your heart” and “Let your conscience be your guide.” What if we were to apply those ideas to the real world and “literally translate” these words of wisdom? To me, these words mean to trust those who have the most inside knowledge and the best point of view on the question at hand. One’s heart is the core of the body and contains all the vital pieces- listening to one’s heart is like checking with your body to make sure you’re treating it well. I think that we ought to apply this philosophy to education. I have seen how the adminstration may not listen to the heart of its establishment, the students. In a blunt nutshell, students are the reason schools exist, a concept that is often forgotten. The administration can say all they want but by going to school everyday, the students know what it’s really like and have no reason to say otherwise. If schools don’t listen to what their students have to say, it’s like a smoker disregarding cancer as not being a sign of maltreatment of their body.

Students have voices, they just need to be heard. When students speak up and let the body know what the heart thinks, things happen.

A year ago, I took a class called Synergy whose purpose was to give students a outlet to use their power and voice as students to make a difference. Through this course, I saw the impact that speaking up can make and learned that of you talk to the right kind of people, you can find plenty of ears to listen to the voice of a student. As a part of Synergy, I used my voice to tweet about TEDxAtlanta, promote twitter in education and classrooms, and help clean up my school cafeteria. With our voices united as one, or a harmony of various thoughts, there is no limit to the change we can bring if we unleash our student voices!

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Book Spine Poetry 2: America

A belated salute to the U.S.A in book spine poetry style.

“America- The story of US:
Outcasts United
Under the Same Sky”

The unknowing poets:
– “America The Story of Us” by Kevin Baker
– “Outcasts United” by Warren St. John
– “Under the Same Sky” by Cynthia deFelice

I’m newly returned from Beijing and as much fun as I had, I’m glad to be back in America.

Bright Spot light on China

As I type this, I’m currently in Beijing, China where I’m learning mandarin. This particular summer program is not through school but an elective immersion experience. I attend 4-5 Chinese classes a day but my day is so much more than just my classes. The program is structured such that we also gain a flavor of the place and culture- we go sight seeing as a group and participate in Chinese extra curricular activities (such as Tai Chi and calligraphy). Additionally, we stay with Chinese host families and adapt to their schedule.

As I went about my first week, I was struck by how positive from an education standpoint the program is. For instance, we are graded on our participation, homework and quizzes but the grades have no real significance. As a result, students disregard the grade, showing its minimal actual value, and instead focus on what truly matters- learning (actually understanding, utilizing and recognizing new characters or grammar structures instead of cramming and just memorizing the strokes for a dictatoon) the grammar and vocab such that one’s grasp on the language improved.

I thought it was telling that in the subway the other day, a classmate of mine exclaimed “Our first homework assignment is coming in handy now!” The program specifically presents real life situations and which we can practice and use as we make our way around the city. Additonally, staying with a host family means that we must speak Chinese if we are to eat, shower and live as normally as possible. I found that the lessons and vocab we learned in class were useful as I tried to communicate with my host family. As another way of applying the concepts we learn to Chinese daily life, each week we embark on an ILP, integrated learning project, where we go out into the city with a mission (tied to some part of the city’s history or Beijing culture) and put into practice our speaking skills as we are “forced” (for want of a better word) to interview locals in Chinese and report back to our classes in Chinese. This exercise not only helps with our practical language skills but again gives us a flavor of how the Chinese think and how they go about their daily lives.

To me this is a great example of how to do school right. Minimal focus on the grades and a greater focus on the learning behind the grade as well as learning outside of the grade. All of us students here knew coming in that the courses would be graded, but also that these grades have no import. Yet we still continued learning. Doesn’t that say something about the innate desire students have to learn about something they’re interested in? Or that school doesn’t have to be all about the grade in order to have students learn and care about a subject? If the classes are real world and practical enough, students can see the value in the course and then it becomes more than just a grade. This experience so far in China has shown me that practical teaching which influences and enriches a person is more powerful than numbers on a paper which serve only to simplify a complexity and categorize what can’t be contained.

This is (not) real life

A few weeks ago at dinner, my family and I engaged in a delightful discussion around the practicality of education. Stereotypically, academia is regarded as devoid from reality, with the professor dreamily creating scenarios up in the “ivory tower.” Isn’t that sad, that we take it as a standard that education is theoretical and unrealistic? How can we change that? Wouldn’t you say that’s detrimental to the learning of us children?

According to author Malcolm Gladwell, the three things needed to make work satisfying are autonomy, complexity and a relationship between effort and reward. If students are to enjoy school and embrace learning, our schools need to contain these three principles. This work is meaningful. Theoretical, unrealistic academia is not meaningful. Take a step back and think- does it make any sense to do pointless work, work that’s meaningless? Most adults wouldn’t waste their time on that. However, that sort of meaningless work is what students go through everyday. Says Gladwell in Outliers, “Hard work is a prison sentence only if it does not have meaning.” basically, if lessons in school were given a practical application, a tie to the real world, students wouldn’t find learning to be a drag.

I feel like Bob Rhyske from the Center of Teaching in Atlanta summed up the current state of education well, “School is real life, but the process of learning in traditional schooling does not reflect process of learning in real life. In real life, I don’t do worksheets, daily quizzes, & multiple choice tests. My learning is organic, spontaneous, & adaptive.”

I think that the Internet and our current state of high technology have the power to help give schools the meaning and real life connection needed to engage and thoroughly educate their students. Technology allows us to find resources and make connections that expand our learning database. Now, a student in Sweden can learn math from Americans online. Sample problems, extra examples, even more complex concepts for the eager students, all can be found at the click of a button. Teachers can also grow thanks to the many professional learning networks that are springing up via social media, Skype and more. This expanded network means that questions no longer go unanswered, boundaries can be pushed even if your teacher has to help others catch up. The Interwebs allow students to take their learning into their own hands and give it life, meaning and apply their passion to what ever they choose. Now, work doesn’t have to be meaningless. The world of theoretical academia should not be real life, and with technology it’s becoming more and more a thing of the past. But the question is, are the schools teaching for yesterday or tomorrow?