As a follow-up to my “real-real” learning post (here), last week I had the chance to spend some time with four Sentinel Secondary students, Adam Mitha, Justin Wong, Jun Jeagal and Sailesh Suri, to hear a story, firsthand, of what this kind of learning looks and feels like.
Supported by their teacher, Joel Gibson, the four young men, former classmates in Joel’s Information Technology class, were inspired to develop an “App” for the school that could easily match any created by experts in the field. They didn’t get paid, they didn’t get school credit, but it was some of the best learning they had ever experienced. In my conversation with them, they expounded about the 300 hours of coding, developing and designing that went into the finished product that has just been loaded to iTunes here (it is a free download).
So, just why did they do it? They wanted to leave a legacy for the school. They described it as a mostly an out-of-school project, but they loved it because they were doing stuff they wanted to do and were interested in learning about. They emphasized the role of their teacher, Joel Gibson, “saying, I believe in you, is the best thing a teacher can do.” When Joel saw the group needed to obtain more technical expertise for some parts of the project, he connected the students to experts from within and outside the system. Along the way, he connected them to the school PAC and others who could help.
Of course, as I stated at the beginning of this post, we didn’t make it easy for them. We (the system), limited some of their access to computers, were slow to support them technically, and made it challenging to move forward. They said that it was a good thing they had Mr. Gibson to mentor and guide them, but also, that they were part of the hacker culture. The hacker culture, as they described it, is “doing things over and over again. At school, the culture is that you do it right the first time.” One student remarked, “I had 30 failed projects before this one.”
I have been inspired by their inventiveness, determination and passion. How can we help students balance this kind of work with school, or better yet, how do we make this type of work systemic to the work of the school? These four students were pursuing their passion, creating real work of value, and they were learning — for the benefit and reward of learning.
Often, this type of informal learning can be incredibly powerful. While our current structure does limit this “real world” opportunities, students like Adam, Justin, Jun and Sailesh, describe these as often the most exhilarating school experiences.
Be sure to download the fabulous Sentinel App: HERE