The power of studentdriven learning Shelley Wright at TEDxWestVancouverED

I've been teaching for about 14 years and for the majority of my career I would consider myself probably a very traditional educator this is what my classroom looked like for the majority of that time my students tended to sit in straight rows facing the front because I was the one who was usually talking um I directed the show I decided what we were learning when we were learning it how are we gonna learn it what the assignments would be what books we would be reading when the exam would be and of course there would be an exam essentially I was the master of the universe in a very small domain and to be honest I taught like that because that's what I knew that's the way I was taught when I think of it my elementary and my high school career that's how I learned my university even though I was training to be a teacher it was largely that as well and to be honest it didn't occur to me that there could be another way to do it and so I replicated what I saw in the classrooms of the teachers that I worked with when I was learning to be a teacher and it wasn't until my master's degree and I was I was working on a master's in EdTech and design and I took a class with dr. Alec Karros and that class changed my life to be honest when I was taking UI that it almost killed me but it changed my life it wasn't about technology although at the same time it was it about pedagogy and I started learning about things like student-centered learning and constructivism and inquiry and PBL and for the first time I began to realize that maybe my students could construct their learning but learning is constructed in community and that maybe they could be the center of it maybe they would have something to say about it and so one day as I'm walking to class I decided that I was going to ditch my lesson plan and that was not something I did I am NOT a fly by the seat of my pants teacher I always knew exactly where we were going and I'm thinking as I'm walking up to you know I had this kind of little podium because I was a science teacher so you know it was a master of the universe with a podium how much better doesn't yet so I'm walking if I'm thinking I have to do this I have less I just teach that I don't have to do this nobody will know any better and so as I stood at the front of my room looking at my students I said if you could design school to be anything you wanted it to be what would it look like what would have found like what would I hear what would it what would I see what would it feel like what would you be doing and when they realized I was serious maybe answer right and they wrote and they wrote and they wrote and they giggled when they laughed and they chattered and they wrote with such passion and then we began to talk and really although they did not say that that was the bottom line here they said things by kind of like don't mind that you lecture but maybe not quite so much and you can we sit on the floor and hear what each other has to say and so we actually reconfigured our classroom so that we had this huge space probably this size in the middle and they all have these learning paws that we created on the outside and we always sat in a circle in our classroom so that we could discuss and I found out during this process that my students wanted to make a difference and it turns out at the time that they had been learning about the wars that had been happening in Uganda and how children had been enslaved as soldiers and the schools had been destroyed and my kids really wanted to do something and so I said okay well you know what we need to we need to do some research we need to know who did what we're dealing with we need to know what would really make an impact and so the next day we went down to the computer lab and at we were researching and about halfway through the class one of my students comes bounding down the stairs and says to me okay I know this research thing is like really important but can we actually do something and I said sure what do you want to do and so she starts telling me about this thing that she had found is schools for schools competition and she's rattling off all this information and as she's telling me I bring up the webpage and I plug in our information and then basically at the same time that she finishes telling me all about this I hit submit and I said okay we're signed up and she looks at me she says really absolutely and so she turns around and she started shouting to the clouds that were part of this competition yeah and awesome and they're all exciting they're texting and telling people and I'm thinking this is going to be awesome you will raise a couple thousand dollars my kids will feel like they're important this will be great and so the next day we come back to school and it as a Friday and my students come back because class and they say to me mrs. Wright we have decided on a goal I said awesome what is it we have decided that we want to raise ten thousand dollars and inside my set my head I'm thinking oh my gosh do you have any idea how much money $10,000 is and my outside voice said that's awesome how do you propose we do that and they're like oh there's this thing called change for change and basically yeah make Alize you know change ours and you put them around the city and people can put change in them and you can raise money and you have to realize I'm from Moose Jaw Saskatchewan that has a grand total with you know probably if you included all of our cats 35,000 people so you're going to need a lot of change jars to raise ten thousand dollars I'm like okay that sounds like a terrific start so they start planning and it was great and then we left for the weekend and the thing about learning when it's something that your students have decided to do if it doesn't stay in the walls of your classroom it takes on a life of its own and you don't necessarily control it anymore and it just so happened that weekend at a drop-in center in Moose Jaw that there were kids from Uganda who had gone to the schools that had been rebuilt by this organization and my kids heard them and heard how their lives had been chained and they met them and they talked to them and my kids were deeply impacted and so unbeknownst to me all of this happened on the weekend and they came back Monday and they said to me mrs. right and they told me the whole story and they said we've decided to change our goal I don't think I'm very going lower are we and they said we have decided we are going to raise $20,000 in my head I'm thinking oh my gosh where I come from that's a down payment on a house like you have no idea how much money that is and I think that was the brilliance behind it to be honest I think if it was adults we would have struck a committee and we'd still be there figuring out how to make this happen and we wouldn't have raised a cent but kids aren't like that and I said okay well 20,000 dollars how do you propose we do that and that began the roller coaster of the next 45 days because that's how long we had to raise this money so we had the change for change ours and then you know we decided well you know how about we have a roast beef dinner in an auction and so they began planning all that we call the caterer they started you know doing all the details for that it turns out that the kid who went around the city to get every auction item was a kid who never spoke in class and to me that was shocking this was so far out of his comfort zone but it was something he deeply believed in that he decided to do it and so there are these high moments like you know the roast beef dinner where we raised seven thousand dollars in one evening and there were times where it's like okay we can do this we can do this we can do this and then we planned a benefit concert and we were going to you know we had all these musicians lined up and it was on a Sunday at the end of November on the same day and year that the writers made it into the great cup no benefit concert prison Saskatchewan that's a really big deal and so it's like okay well how do we compensate for that okay well how about we hold a barbeque and we did at the beginning a beginning of December on a day when it was 40 below and it turns out that the barbecues are stored outside and that if you do that the propane tanks will freeze and so we had half a barbecue to barbecue 300 hamburgers and hot dogs and it was a nightmare from beginning to end and partly through one of my students looked at me she's like I'm straight this is so terrible everything's falling apart you know we have to figure out how to fix this and I looked at her and I said have you ever planned a wedding I said trust me you're gonna need these skills and so at the end of 45 days was a Friday our total was $15,000 and change and I thought it's not bad I mean we had about 25 kids it was more than their first goal I didn't quite reach a second goal and to be honest I was somewhat disappointed but I left class thinking we did a good thing but the truth is the story wasn't over because during that time my kids had actually split up into teams they just created them themselves we had a finance team we had a PR team we had you know fundraising teams and I would literally walk into class and say so what are we doing today and they would tell me some of the kids who had done the PR had been interviewed by the radio station numerous times and the DJ there knew what my kids were trying to do in their goal and so he went on to their webpage that day that showed our total and he knew their goal was $20,000 and so that afternoon he got on the radio and began asking people to donate to help my kids reach their goal and the crazy thing is people did by 6 o'clock we were sitting at $19,000 and there was a livestream wrap-up party that was being held in San Diego by the organization that was doing this and you know they saw this little city of Moose Jaw shoot out of nowhere to Henry I have $19,000 and through social media they were actually able to get ahold of two of my students and my kids told them what our goal is $20,000 and so the people at the live stream I got on the livestream and asked people to donate to help my kids reach their goal and the crazy thing is people did and so by the end of it my student had raised twenty-two thousand eight hundred and twenty-four dollars American at a time when we were not on par we lost almost ten cents for every dollar we raised that day I learned to believe in my students to believe in what really deeply matters to them and to remove whatever obstacles I can to try to make that happen more importantly my students learned to believe in themselves they learned that they can make a difference they had a saying the entire forty five days we are not the future we are right now and my students learned that there is a world out there so much bigger than them that cares about the things that they care about and the kindness of strangers to help them meet a goal that they deeply deeply wanted our schools need to be places that set our kids hearts on fire that they can figure out what they are passionate about where we give them opportunities to pursue it and that we can give them a place to make a difference now one of the things that I've learned over and over from doing this kind of stuff with my students is that our students will often exceed our expectations of them if we only give them the opportunity thank you you