Sometimes I’m searching for something obscure. I go to Google. I put in the first letter– something nobody thinks about, like aardvarks.

Google knows as soon as I type “a.”

I check to see if the webcam turned on–if someone’s spying on me and UStreaming me all over the world. Nope. It’s just Google. It knows.

I want Google to sponsor my classroom. Every time a student thinks a thought, I want it on the smartboard helping me with student engagement. Students are a little strung out and bored with life lately. It’s “the Junes.”

Screen Shot 2013-05-24 at 6.19.22 AMOne day, I was talking to my seniors. A great group with keen insight. You can’t really bullshit these guys. One can write a several-page analysis on any topic–but never does, because he says, “This is stupid.” If pressed, he’ll tell you why. And if you can’t validate his concerns and make it real for him, he’ll be right. Another can do a Rubic’s cube in 15 seconds but is entirely disengaged with school; it’s “boring.”  The others are just as deep, in their own quiet way.

One day, we were talking. Paper Writing Kid rejected my assignment. We were discussing the effect of advertising on psychology and the economy.

“It’s stupid. It’s all consumer-based mind control. Have you seen this video?” He provided a V-sauce video on the flow of money throughout the economy. Fascinating.

“School is stupid,” he vented. “That’s why I never do anything. All we do is testing and packets. And my class always seems to be the experiment for all the new stuff–testing counting for graduation, projects, teacher goals–it’s always my class.”

“I never give you packets.” I was getting a bit defensive. I want my students to love each of my classes.

“No. But look at THIS…” He whipped out packets. And packets. A grove of trees somewhere in the universe is no more.

“What would you do if you were me, given that I am required to teach this?” I explained the standardized curriculum for one course I am teaching. I used to be able to teach what I wanted, provided it was on topic, but curriculum’s getting more standardized because “every student should have the same experience.” I don’t think each student should, because they all have different gifts and interests, but nevertheless…

“So, I’m required to teach this, but I want to accomplish this as well.” I pointed to the sign on my board, “WHAT’S YOUR BIG IDEA?” I talk about “money skills.” Entrepreneurial skills. Advanced skills–the things that really helped me in life–interpretation, communication, writing, presentation, pitching, debating, researching and speaking skills. When students leave, I want them to think “I have these skills. I can be great. I can write my book, start my business, be determined, think outside the box, have an impact.” I want my students to be better than me.


“Well,” he said, “First, get rid of all these ridiculous tests. Everyone’s always testing.” True. I’d just finished up a megavolley of tests collecting data on goals I had to write for the new teacher evaluation system. It took me six days total just at the end of the year with two groups. That’s not counting pretests, correcting, and check tests–all told, I’ve spent well over a week per student on tests. In that time, I could have taught a unit. Or more. All this to prove I’m competent. Teachers must do this in every class.

“These tests are pointless, and they make me not want to come to school.” I’m not going argue. I agree. I find myself apologizing to students.  “Sorry, I have to give this test.”  I can assess students fairly easily through other–fun–means, yet testing has become this mammoth process of data collection I really don’t understand all too well myself–I accidentally designed goals that are mathematically impossible for me to meet. Maybe that’s appropriate karma for overtesting. I fail, too. High five!

“So,” I asked, “What would you do?”

“Well,” he said, “I think the problem with education today is that teachers design things, students design things, but nobody sits at the table and designs it together. You write a lot of curriculum, but do you ever write it with students? Students should be at that table.”

Ding, ding, ding… we have a winner. I am such a moron. That IS the answer.

“What would you write?” I asked.  He told me. Good stuff.

Students should be at that table. Indeed.

I’ve spent the greater part of this year working with people connecting educators and entrepreneurs to provide classroom solutions. I’ve learned from some of the best and brightest people in the nation. Solutions only occur when the parties sit down at the table together. This must happen everywhere. Student engagement requires student input.

Why aren’t students at the table for policy, design, reform, and curriculum? They’re my customers. They’re the people I serve. I ask for their thoughts and opinions every day in class–why aren’t they part of the instructional design process? It’s simple. We ask: What do you want to learn? How can you show what you’ve learned, and that you can do great things?

Doing it together–that is the answer–I may not need Google at all.