I don’t know if my students really understand what MIT is, or how big of a deal it is. I don’t even know if my students really understand how awesome they have the potential to be, when they want to be (or subconsciously want to be but try to be cool about it). I do know, however, that last week my students were pushed, and they excelled beyond my hopes.
A few months ago, I got a text from an old classmate, Kyle Webb. It read,
Happy Saturday. How interested are you in taking science class to the next level?
Little did I know that those 14 words would have such a profound impact on making school awesome for 45 fourteen-year-olds.
After I responded excitedly (that might be the understatement of the year), Kyle hooked me up with Mark, an Engineering post grad student at MIT who is working in/on environmental policy. Aside from my shear excitement to be working with someone who is as cool, if not cooler, than Howard from The Big Bang Theory, I was more excited to get to have an awesome teacher moment.
I hyped it up with my students. They were unimpressed. They were wondering what this whole MIT thing was, as apparently MIT doesn’t sound like a real university to a 14-year-old. I left it at that, but I maintained my excitement for a few weeks.
I had a few family things come up in the days leading up to when I planned on having Mark Google Hangout with our class. This turned out to be a good thing. We were working on designing the most ecofriendly house we could conjure up. The students grouped themselves up, and they worked somewhat diligently for a week, but they were frustrated. Their presentations, while alright, were nothing like I had expected or hoped for. They were kind of limp to be honest. Enough to meet what I sort of wanted, but not what I knew they could do.
The started on the extension of the project, designing the most ecofriendly community (after all if one house is good, couldn’t an entire town be better?). I grouped them this time, and they had a few days to work on this. Then Mark hungout with us.
Originally, I planned on him hanging out for about 35-40 minutes, then giving my students the rest of class to apply his ideas. I asked them all to come to class with a few questions, and they were all supposed to ask one question, but many students thought it might be “lame” or something.
What really happened was far more incredible. After some fun internet-related issues and about 3 power outages the morning of, we connected and Mark introduced himself. I quickly summoned a few students who had questions ready, and they began asking questions.
I have to admit, I was terrified. I didn’t proof any of the questions. I wouldn’t have been surprised if something inappropriate came up. But it didn’t. Even better, the students ask REALLY GOOD QUESTIONS. All of them asked really good questions. Even the students who had been struggling with this project. Even the students who had been disinterested with the project. Even the students who don’t like science. It was awesome.
Mark hungout with both of my science classes. Same setup, same Mark, but two completely different sets of questions. I have a total of 45 students. There was not ONE duplicate question. To be honest, I thought some of the questions were a bit outrageous when I first heard them, but Mark handled them with ease and proved that some of the most outrageous questions were some of the best questions.
As class was ending, a student stopped to pack up his binder. After his classmates were gone, he looked up and calmly said, “Miss Thibeault, that was really cool.” Then he wandered off to his next class, as content as could be. I don’t want to get to Hollywood on you or anything, but it was definitely a moment that was Oscar-worthy. I couldn’t have paid a student to have a better reaction.
Oh, did I mention that their ecocommunity presentations were awesome? They incorporated ideas from their discussions with Mark, adapted some ideas, and canned others. They poured their hearts and souls into them. And it was awesome.
Would I do this again? In a heartbeat.
What can I make from all this? It was a lot to digest, and it has taken a few days. What I’ve taken from this is that the greater audience is important, but his greater audience has to be visible, it has to have importance, and it has to resonate with my students. Mark did just that — he was cool, he was young, he was on the SmartBoard talking to them (woo!), and he conversed at their level.
Another important piece I pulled from this: the internet is great for having a huge pool of knowledge, which isn’t easy to navigate. There is still significant value in connecting with experts and asking questions. I didn’t give any students any questions. They thought of them themselves. One question sparked another from a different student. This kind of collaborating and feeding off of one-another just can’t happen in the huge google pool. They wanted to know and they wanted to learn.
The last thing I’ll speak to is me. I have no formal science education training. I was almost terrified (but up for the challenge) when I saw Science 9 on my timetable last June. I do, however, have the ability to help facilitate my students’ learning. I need to draw on resources, like Mark, that enrich my classes in ways that I will never be able to. This isn’t solely in science, but in math, career education, or any other subject I end up teaching. It could mean face-to-face, it could mean via Google Hangouts, it could be over twitter, or it could be something else. I owe it to my students to let them learn. After all, they proved that they really wanted to learn (even if a few of them kept it a secret so they could look cool).