Did you know your students were secret internet superstars?

Changing the world doesn’t have to be done by the very clever or the very wise. I know this because I know teachers who, despite not achieving what would be thought of as ‘well’ on examinations, or gone to the best universities, provide world class education to students who go on to become outstanding citizens. Similarly I know graduates of ‘World top 5 Universities’ that are not the best teachers. The emphasis the government places on getting high class degree certificates however is driving potentially outstanding and inspirational teachers out of teaching. That isn’t to say people who do well at university and are masters in their field cant teach, it just doesn’t make them automatically the best teachers.

But the internet is starting to give those without much of a voice the opportunity to shout. After a few weeks of reading stories about how employers will take your job for posting compromising photos, and how the NSA is stealing all your data, its amazing to see how the internet has already begun shaping the lives of young entrepreneurs for the better.

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TEDx Talks. (n.d.). Extracurricular empowerment: Scott McLeod at TEDxDesMoines. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GyIl4y_MRbU

Take Martha as an example. Martha used her twitter feed to show the school lunches she was eating every day to the world. It all started a as a journalism project set up by the school to give student choice in how they learn, and with a little support from her parents she quickly became a Twitter superstar. The school had given her the freedom to use the internet for learning, but as soon as the school saw the impact it was having… their attitudes changed. The attention on the school was very negative, and instead of considering why so many felt like Marthas lunch time meals should be better, they tried to silence the source. The blog was banned. However a small Scottish primary school cant escape the Twitterati for long, and soon, after much pressure, the ban was removed. What followed was better meals in the school and donations to Martha’s favourite charity to provide meals to schools in Malawai. A primary school English project turned into hundreds of thousands of pounds keeping schoolchildren in some of the worlds most deprived areas fed.

A smaller but no less significant exam of an entrepreneurial is Kevin Curwick, who in 2012 set up a Twitter feed to fight cyberbullying through only saying nice things about people. This quickly spread around the state as other schools started doing the same thing. One students idea had a statewide impact on other students well being.

Richards Rwanda is an organisation based in Seattle who aim to help support girls’ education in Rwanda, and try to reduce the gender gap that exists there. This organisation which started with a bake sale and car wash, by an 11 year old continues to serve the world today.

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Jessica Marcowitz, founder of Richards Rwanda, speaking as an Alumi Honoree at the 2015 World of Children event.– Jessica Markowitz – Richard’s Rwanda | 2009 World of Children Honoree. (n.d.). Retrieved September 13, 2017, from https://worldofchildren.org/honoree/jessica-markowitz/

English Pigs has given over 3000 notebooks to charity so far, and is run by a student at my school. Image courtesy of English Pigs, drawn by Phong Nguyen.

And this isn’t just happening elsewhere, its happening right here in our literal own schools. Whilst researching this post I asked some staff members in my school if they knew of any students doing exceptionally good things online. It turns out that one of my students runs a website called ‘English pigs‘. This site is designed to help Vietnamese children learn English online for free. Upon offering to give me a English mission statement I told her it wasn’t necessary (as I didn’t want to take up her time when as a Senior she is so busy). She told me “NO, its great. Its my passion!”. So here it is:

English Pigs is devoted to providing Vietnamese students a fun and interactive way to learn English, while also raising money to donate books through the website’s point system. I created the website because I wanted to provide Vietnamese people with a fun and interactive way to learn English (there are some that were already available, but they were not free!) Through sponsors, I was able to integrate a point system inside the website where 1,000 points=1 notebook donated to charity.
To date English Pigs has given over 3000 notebooks to charity. This students story should be inspiring others, but as there is no mechanism for showcasing this talent it largely goes un-noticed by the majority of the school.

Another example is ‘The Raspberry Pi Guy‘, who is an ex-student of of mine. He is 18 years old now, and I am proud to say he was in my tutor group, meaning every day I saw him first thing in the morning. In 2012, Matt (The Raspberry Pi Guy) bought a Raspberry Pi. This is a credit card sized, affordable computer that can be used to control all manner of other things or perform simple computational tasks for minimal power. Matt has since used the Raspberry Pi to build numerous different things and make many tutorial videos on his Youtube channel (ranging from a simple ‘How to control motors‘ tutorial to ‘How to build a remote controlled, powered skateboard‘ tutorial). I knew and was impressed by what he was doing at the time, but this brings us to the problem with nurturing this talent. I am, by all accounts, a tech savvy teacher. Did I recognize what he could do? Sure. Did I know how to deal with it? Nope. So how can we recognize this achievement and encourage our students to do something that will change either themselves or the world for the better?

The revolution is coming, and I am glad to say international schools are helping students in the goal to become a force for change in the world. With one-to-one laptop schemes in many schools, and maker-spaces becoming more and more common. Design thinking and 20% time is threading its way through the tapestry of international teaching – our students are learning to build, to do, and to change their world themselves. We need to support them in this, and the start of that is recognition of what they are already doing. So why not this week ask your students, “what are you doing to change the world?”, and see what responses you get.

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2 Responses

  1. Alex, This is great! You have so many good examples here that I almost think we could just insert this post into the 2-4 hour course/workshop. You have picked examples that show the real and powerful ways that students are connecting, researching, organizing, and publishing their work while bringing many their communities and the broader digital community along with them.

    I love the English Pigs example! All we need to do is ask and we will find some amazing things happening. So cool! Your point at the end regarding The Raspberry Pi Guy is a poignant one too “Did I recognize what he could do? Sure. Did I know how to deal with it? Nope.” I know I am often surprised by my students and all of the different interests they have.

    It if fairly common that I find out that someone is an expert fencer or horseback rider or drone pilot enthusiast, but how can we highlight all of these skills and expertise in a way that fosters 1. citizenship, 2. learning. Currently, I am intregued by the Pedagogy of Play. It seems like fostering the best and most interesting work is though making time to play, tinker, and make. Check out link to isbillund.com

    • Alex Bunting says:

      Yeah, I had no idea that was going on right under my nose! An advisory member the other day told us she was a black belt in a particular marshall art and was learning to become an instructor!

      We have a session every year called ‘Teachers teaching teachers’. I feel like we need a ‘Students teaching Students’ too! 🙂

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