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The radical changes that the world is experiencing due to advances in technology are shaping our learners in ways that we could never have imagined a few years ago. Our learners, especially the littlest ones, are wired differently. They are growing up in a world where access to an array of technologies has been available since birth. As technology has evolved so has their use of it over time. The result in many cases has been the evolution of more self-directed, authentic learning experiences that are taking place well outside the school day. Through many interactive games such as Minecraft our young learners are collaborating, communicating, solving problems, thinking critically, and exhibiting creativity in an array of informal, fun experiences that are definitely impacting learning. As a result, leaders and educators need to build a bridge to bring this enthusiasm for learning into classrooms while embedding it permanently into school culture.
So back to my story. In my search to find relevant examples of learners today and the amazing things they could do with technology I stumbled upon this eight-year-old boy known as Greatguy7. I shouldn't even use the word stumbled as someone I know told me that I really had to check out this kid's YouTube channel. When I did I discovered that this boy had well over 40 tutorial videos related to Minecraft. Each short video was created to educate others on the specifics of the game. There was one video however that really caught my attention focusing on how to create videos on an iPad/iPhone and upload them to YouTube. Thus I found the perfect example to insert into my keynote. What really interested me about this video was that during filming Greatguy7 experienced a problem and instead of creating a whole new video he quickly solved it and pushed through. To me this is learning at its finest.
Well, for those who don't know Greatguy7 turned out to be my son, Nicholas Sheninger. I found out in June that he had his own YouTube channel with 30 tutorial videos. The real kicker here is that not only did I have no idea about this, but I had never helped him get on YouTube or create videos for that matter. This is why I love games like Minecraft and the resulting outcomes aligned to essential skill sets. I always observed my son not only playing Minecraft, but also watching tutorial videos from world-renowned players (in his eyes at least). These videos obviously helped him acquire the skills he needed to help him and his friends create their worlds in Minecraft. What happened later amazed me as a father and educator as I only came to realize this after discovering his YouTube Channel. As I watched his videos I saw how a simple game combined with people across the world openly sharing their knowledge about it inspired my son to take the initiative himself to teach others. As a self-directed learner he commandeered my wife's iPad and proceeded to create video after video in our bedroom, as he now wanted to share his knowledge with others. He went from gamer/learner to teacher all on his own.
Here is where the story really comes full circle while clearly illustrating the unlimited potential students have today if we create schools that work for them. I was giving a keynote at Tech Forum NY where I showed the video of Greatguy7 and then later informed that crowd that he was my son. At lunch a few hours later a teacher from upstate NY came up to me and said that he had seen that video before and even bragged about this fact with others at his table during my keynote. What he said next totally floored me. He told me how he recently got a new iPhone and had no idea how to use it. One of the things he wanted to do was create and share videos. So he did what any person with common sense would do these days and went to find a tutorial on YouTube. His search turned up Greatguy7's how to make videos tutorial. The end result, in his words, was that my son taught a veteran teacher with over 30 years of experience how to make and share videos. I could not have been more proud.
Last night I was able to share this story with Nicholas and the rest of my family. To see the excitement on his face was priceless. He even proudly proclaimed that he had just received his tenth YouTube channel subscriber and maybe it was this teacher who he impacted. There are so many positive takeaways from this story that connect to deeper learning. For me though the most important lesson here is that my son loves to learn and will push himself to solve problems when the context is relevant and meaningful. Our education system has to realize that schools are now filled with Greatguy7's who just want their learning experiences to connect with the world in which they live. If schools keep doing what they have always done they lose the opportunity to take advantage of an innate desire to learn (and teach) that all of our students possess deep down. It is time to get our heads out of the sand, look at the world outside of our schools, and take action to create a culture that leverages these informal learning experiences happening outside the traditional school day before it is too late.