Day 3 in Redmond: Authenticity

With so much going at E2, I found it nearly impossible to share full stories in real time. Sure, I posted updates, but these updates felt somewhat, well, fractured; they lacked a cohesive narrative, a story with a real theme.

Looking back, however, themes were everywhere. Of course, the theme of the entire conference was courage, bravery, and leadership; it was the essence of so many key moments, from Ziauddin Yousafzai’s inspiring talk to the willingness of students from Kent and teachers around the world to share their work with complete strangers. Still, it was another theme-authenticity-that defines my feelings about day 3.

It has been over 150 years since Henry David Thoreau argued that students should not “play” at the game of school. To paraphrase Thoreau, education is simply too expensive and too essential to be disconnected from the real world; students should be constantly engaged in addressing real problems that are worth solving. An education must be authentic. Well, how about these examples of authenticity?

All learners—students, yes, but also teachers—must be global citizens. The educators at E2 were challenged to meet this standard by collaborating with peers from around the world on a project that matters. The projects provided frameworks that allow students to address real-world problems, such as water shortages, inequities in education, and the devaluing of human life. Importantly, these projects were designed by teachers who collaborated despite differences in language, culture, and nationality. Thus, regardless of the quality of the projects (which, by the way, was remarkable), the collaboration was an authentic learning experience; we needed to find ways to turn our differences into strengths.

It is one thing for teachers to create authentic learning opportunities for their students; it is another thing entirely when student create the opportunities themselves. At the Kent Expo, students from various schools amazed us with projects that were creative, powerful, and authentic. We saw fully-functioning water filtration systems built for specific regions around the world, media productions that investigated science and geography, and a host of other projects. My favourite, however, was I Read Banned Books. Students involved in this project read books that have been banned around the United States; as they did so, however, they were constantly evaluating and redefining of their understanding of the First Amendment and free speech.

Part Literature Studies. Part Civics. All authenticity.

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