Monday, April 18, 2011

See what happens when students are allowed to embrace free range learning

If we allowed digital devices in school,
it would be chaos!
New Cannan High School is unique in that it provides a free range learning environment, meaning, what is contraband in places like New York City is embraced at this school. Students are free to bring their own personal learning devices (i.e. cell phones, iPads, laptops, etc.) and they are not blocked from gaining access to any website. In fact sites like Facebook and YouTube are embraced as powerful learning tools. 

Unfortunately, it seems teachers where the devices have been treated as the enemy, have bought into this idea, but where students are given the freedom to learn and create using the tools they want about subjects in which they're passionate, the school environment can move from celebrating success over scores on a bubble sheet, to celebrating success on the creation of a YouTube video viewed and commented on from folks around the world.

That was the case this week, when Michelle Luhtala's students created this video as part of American Library Association teen video contest, Why I NEED My Library! Contest winners can receive thousands of dollars for their library.  Not only do these students create a great video, but they also make a great case for school libraries everywhere.  The video was the result of what happens when teachers support (rather than control) their students passion-driven learning and allow them to use the tools they embrace in the real world inside schools.

Here's the video. Please watch and if you enjoy it, please "like" the video.

To read more about this project visit their librarians blog post, "What kids can do when they love what they do."


  1. I do like this idea, the freedom of learning about what they want to learn, how they want to learn it. I would just be nervous about how to regulate it's use/to trust that students would stay on task and not spend time texting/Facebooking/Tweeting when they are supposed to be using these tools for learning. What is being done to monitor its use?

  2. You are not alone in being nervous about students using tools of social media. For whatever reason, adults have decided that these things are taboo inside of school. I believe that when students are using social media they are becoming empowered with the literacy to succeed in the 21st century. I also believe that we need to let kids socialize. This is one of the very things schools are supposed to be good at. I facebook, text, and tweet all day everyday for learning. Why should kids be any different.

    When we empower students to use the tools they love, do the things they love doing, and own their learning, concerns like yours will fade away.

  3. There will be a period of students embracing The new freedom in ways that are not directl productive educationally - it's to be expected. Maybe even embraced. Testing limits is what kids do. But, depending how the teacher acts/reacts, students can definitely come around. Example - the school in which I do most of my consulting is a typical inner city school. One of the English teachers went totally paperless this year, having a laptop cart totally at her disposal. She also freely allowed students to use their own devices. Result - yes, kids check Facebook etc, but they primarily stay on task. Why? I think first of all she is an interesting teacher; kids like her class. Secondly, she trusts them, has faith in them, treats them with respect. (actually, maybe my 'secondly' should be first)

  4. The Sudbury Valley School model, ( lets kids learn what they want, when they want, and how they want. The students and teachers govern the school together. [A student's vote has the same weight as a teacher's vote.]

    From the first school in MA in the late 1960s, the idea has grown to approx. 36 schools.
    (See for a current list of schools.)

    For an introduction to the philosophy, the Circle School's website gives a good overview: