Let The Student's Teach and The Teacher Facilitate

I am going to start off by saying that I know enough about computers to get by, but I am far from an expert.  I have taught for twenty years and I remember getting my first access to the Internet in 2000.  The boundaries between education and technology are becoming blurred and there is one thing that seems to be stuck in the mud:computer education.  Yes, we let students USE computers but there is little to no teaching taking place on what is inside them.  For years, I rested on the crutch of simply saying, “I don’t know how they work, so how could I teach computers.”  That has all changed and this article is about how it happened.


The third grade teacher across the hall from me had a student named “Ted”who was fascinated by copy machines.  He told me that “Ted” would be in my class next year and that Ted loved hanging with the tech guys who came and fixed the machines.  I thought it was cool that the teacher let Ted do that.  He told me again that Ted was going to be in my room next year and that he wanted Ted to have an opportunity to keep working on computers.


The following year, in my fourth grade class, the copier broke.  I asked Ted if he could fix it, even though I didn’t really think he could. Well, he did, and our lives has never been the same since.  Ted has fixed the copiers, whiteboards, coolers for the fish tank, computers, cameras and the list goes on.  I let him try to fix everything.  Yes, he still hangs with the copy guys to brush up on new technologies.  He craves up to date information. The company that sells and fixes the copiers went as far as giving Ted a one hour tour of their company and to end the tour told him they would send him a full size copy machine delivered to his house.  Not the ones that go in your home office, the ones that go in a school.  His mom said it was a dream come true because he used to ask for one for Christmas and that he had drawings of them on his wall.

When Ted was in 5th grade I had a group of adults come to observe my class.  One of them happened to be an advisor to our Governor.  Ted showed him a circuit board that he was working on and the advisor pointed to it and asked what it was. Ted looked at him, but didn’t speak for almost 30 seconds, which seemed like eternity.  Finally, Ted looked at me and said, “Mr. Nichols, this is tough to answer because it is a capacitor and those are not easy to explain to people who don’t know what they are.”  Everyone cracked up but even I really didn’t know how they worked. He looked at the Advisor and said, “It is like a battery but only works when it is needed. They are more complicated than that but that is the simplest way I can explain it.”

Ted is now in 7th grade and I am lucky to have been teaching him for the past four years because I am a STEM teacher.  So let’s circle back to the beginning.  I had never taught a computer class but I really thought it was time.  But I wasn’t going to teach the class, Ted was.  I told Ted and his buddy to make a list on Amazon of everything they would need to make a computer.  Their eyes nearly popped out of their heads as they tried to say “serious?”

My plan was to get them what they wanted so they could build a computer…on the condition they would teach the other students.  I baited them.   One became two and two became four and now ‘Ted’ has 8 which by the end of this school year needs to be 10-16.  That was the deal.

Right now you are probably wondering  how I graded them.  The answer is simple.  CrossBraining.

I told them to write out what they wanted the newbies to learn first, and how they pass in order to go to phase 2, 3 and 4.  I was thinking that question would take a few days to answer but it actually took three seconds.  They said, “Newbies have to take apart a computer and put it back together naming all the parts and what they do.  They must submit a short video to you about each phase and tell the audience what they are doing.  They must capture their plan on video, showing how they are going to take the computer apart and put it back together.  They need to point out mistakes and how they fix them.   That video will become a tutorial for the next newbie.”  They get it.

What makes this story so powerful is that school has not been easy for Ted.  Tests don’t accurately describe his proficiency but now he is running the computer class like an awesome boss and keeps me informed about every move his students make.  I became the facilitator.  Do you want to know who is taking his next class?  Me!

Teachers are facilitators of a student’s journey.  Let the the students go.  Yes, it is uncomfortable at times and yes it can be a little dangerous and messy.  If you have a process in place, can guide them, and have them report back to you what they are doing and how they are learning, both you and the students win.  The CrossBraining Learning Solution gives teachers the tools they need to let their students explore their passions while giving the teacher a template that manages the learning process.
P.S.  The Advisor never forgot “Ted”.  The Advisory Board asked me yesterday if Ted would meet with the Governor.   I said, “Sure, and he can tell the governor how he teaches my computer class :)”