Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Key to Differentiated Learning - Develop Student Experts

When you enter Dr. Lou Lahana's Tech Cafe at PS/MS 188, you aren't entering a classroom with a teacher preparing students for the future. Instead, you enter a space where social activists are working hard doing the real work of making the world a better place today addressing causes about which they are passionate. Lahana is a self-described passionate educator in search of technology to support talent development and social action in teens. 

Here is how he does that.

If students aren't sure about which cause they want to address, that's okay. Dr. Lahana has collected research and resources on numerous causes such as those below. The resources are always being updated by Lahana and the students.

Once they select their cause, they determine a course of action to address the issue using tools they chose.  Here are some tools in the toolbox.
Once the issue and tool are selected, students use them to select their own project and tools to make real-world change.  But how does Lahana manage to conduct a class where students own and lead the learning? Where every student may be working on a different project, with a different tool? 

The Key to Differentiation

Dr. Lahana's key to differentiation is the students. In Lahana's class it is students who rise up as the resident experts. Lahana's job is that of a conductor and environment creator. He points the students to the right resources and experts in coding, jewelry making, clamation, music and movie making and more.  Then he ensures students have the environment conducive to learning. This means there is a sound studio to make music, a wood working area, sewing machines to create wearables, a place to bake clay for claymation, 3D printers and more.

In short the students are empowered to own the learning and help one another to make the world a better place.

Here are some of the projects students have addressed.

Gun Control

Gun Control March
Students organized to march in support of those affected by the Parkland shooting and against the NRA. These 5th-8th grade students created compelling signs, marched, and listened to speeches. This movie which captured the event features a song performance by one of Lahana's students, Kayleen who used Soundtrap to create her song. Her track is available for free download at:

The Island School's Gun Control March from Lou Lahana on Vimeo.

Building A Greenhouse

This student wanted to address animal cruelty in the food industry by creating a greenhouse that produces fruits and vegetables students at the school can eat rather than meat. He used a 3D printer to prototype the greenhouse.  He used the woodworking tools to make planters for the greenhouse that currently stand in the school's schoolyard with plants.

Tolerance for Wearers of the Hijab

This student knew that other students didn't understand her and possibly misjudged her because she wore a hijab. She decided to make a movie inviting others to wear a hijab, explain how they felt, and she explained what it meant to her.

The Hijab Experience from Lou Lahana on Vimeo.

Deter Cigarette Use with a Smoke Detecting Shirt

This student wanted to address the dangers of smoking. He coded an Arduino to create a shirt that can detect smoke. When it does, it lights up with sayings to embarrass the smoker such as "stinky breath," "yellow teeth," or "lung cancer."

Your Turn

What do you think? Are there ideas here you could consider using with your students? Are you already doing this type of work? What excites you about it? What challenges do you see?

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