Are we chained to learning that isn’t necessary? Image – Shackles and Chains by Mervin Geronimo

When was the last time you learned about something because you were inspired to do so? It wasn’t required or mandated, thrust upon you by professional or cultural expectations..
It wasn’t something that had a set outcome or definite goal.
It wasn’t something even slightly tangible until you got stuck into it.

This week I was lucky enough to see ten students gather together before school to join a live seminar with a group of students in Pennsylvania, USA. They weren’t being given course credit. It wasn’t an assignment task. They were not on detention. They had already given up dozens of hours of lunchtimes and holidays and weekends to make sure their presentations worked. They’d liaised with students from another country to see how their research matched – or didn’t – and learned to work with whatever situation that was presented to them.

The combined teams of American and Australian students presented on different personalities of the 20th century on various themes including crime and politics. Harold Holt got a run (who knew his girlfriend dumped him to marry his dad?) and so did Al Capone. I definitely learned about issues and people from a unique perspective.

The seminar itself went extremely well. We even had two dads turn up (of two of my students, or that would have been weird) who just wanted to see their girls do their talk. I was thrilled. The girls were mortified. How embarrassing. And how awesome (from my perspective). I certainly don’t get parents eagerly turning up to my classroom door to sit in on lessons.

The teacher in Pennsylvania and I had spend many an evening or weekend discussing the project’s progress, both realising quite quickly that the fuel for this particular fire was purely driven by the passion and eagerness of the students involved. Again, this sadly doesn’t always occur in our classrooms. Much of the time is being fuelled by curriculum requirements, teacher interests/passions and other expectations beyond the student themselves. I’m not saying these are innately negative or useless drivers for learning but we need to make sure that students aren’t feeling completely – and ironically – left out of the learning process for the sake of someone else’s agenda. Learning simply won’t happen if the learner isn’t listening.

There are some moments when we can allow learning to happen without clamping expectation around the neck of creativity. When we can move beyond the demands of today and explore the potential of tomorrow. This week I experienced one of those moments.

So this is really just a public shoutout to my American colleague and his wonderful students, and to those who participated here in Sydney. You gave up your time and your creativity for this project and the end result is that our minds have been broadened, our understanding of history has developed (as have our research, analysis and presentation skills) and you did it all because you loved it. Not because you were told to.

I’d like to see teachers learn this way more often too. But that’s for another post.

Have a great week.

P.S. Have you noticed how I didn’t mention technology once in this post? Yes we used Skype, yes we used wikis and Google slides. But for the kids, that’s no real difference. We need to get past “using tech” in education and accept that it just IS the way to do things sometimes.