Typically when you walk into a classroom you can make an informed assumption about what the students are doing based on how the classroom looks. If there are books out you could assume they are to be reading, or taking notes. If they are looking forward, with papers, and no one is talking except for the teacher, you might assume they are listening, or in some cases sleeping with their eyes open. If they are put together in clusters, you might think group project.
Yesterday, I realized that my favorite thing about Tamirate Aklog’s after school Tech Club at Digital Harbor High School, and any teacher’s room of a similar form, is that when I walked in I had no idea what the students were doing, what they were supposed to be doing, or if there was any organization to the space at all.
Tech education has come to demand a different approach, a different way of thinking, not only by the teachers who are driving and inspiring the work in the classroom, but from those of us who are not in the classroom everyday. It was easy for us to walk in and doubt the students’ productivity especially when we accidentally leave our tradition blinders on.
As I came to realize quickly, the students in that room knew exactly what they were doing, what they were supposed to be doing, and they had decided where they were going all on their own. This after school club essentially has three separate clubs functioning simultaneously, the DJ/Electronic Music Producers, the Web Developers, and the Gamers.
I took to sitting with K’wann and Austin, two members of the DJ and Audio Production team. What ensued was a great amount of homemade and truly inspired music, a few quick tutorials on digital music and mixing, and a thought provoking bit of wisdom on what teachers can give to students when the teachers let the students give themselves.
K’wann sat with his own laptop and spun it around rapidly to add to his explanations. He was giving me a basic tutorial of FL Studio, what he described as the most advanced but straightforward music creation software on the market. He showed me how to take streams apart, how he makes and combines beats and plays them back. He explained what he listens for in songs to give him inspiration for his own work. He did all of this with an articulation and confidence beyond his years.
Austin sat next to us, a self-identified novice who was intently appreciative of the guidance K’wann has given him over the last few weeks on the mixer. K’wann is a producer and Austin is a DJ. The two got into a small disagreement about why they needed better headphones. Austin said that the ear buds were fine but K’wann launched into a description of the electrical components and materials of different quality and style of headphones so detailed that I was lost just after the distinction between the styles of headphones. After they went back and forth for a moment, each with their own justifications and counter-arguments, they concluded at an agreement. They needed better headphones.
Not only is K’wann knowledgeable about a subject that his teacher does not have any formal background or training in, but it is a subject that his peers are interested in. Not only does he have the knowledge, but he has the confidence and ability to share that knowledge with his peers. Not only does he have the confidence, but his teacher has given him the place to create and to make, so that he can give himself.
Tech education requires the opportunity for the students to give themselves, to share what they know with others. There are so many possible interests out there that a student can have that it is impossible for the teacher alone to possess all of the information necessary to support every student’s dreams. By providing a space and the resources for our students to define their own direction, we give them the support to go a million miles further than ever before.
Here’s to looking forward from the past, taking the blinders off.
#kidwisdom :: “If teachers didn’t call things experiences, they’d just be events. I want my events to be true outliers in my life, things out of the ordinary. Then I would call them experiences. That is what this club is for me.”