“The Times They Aren’t A Changing…”


“Get out your homework and pass it across.” This is how class often starts here in middle school.

Remember middle school? What did you think of?  Something embarrassing?

No matter what you hear I can assure you nothing has really changed – Kids are still awkwardly finding their place, experimenting with fashion and make-up, whispering (or worse) about those who don’t meet some slippery slope standard. But today something different did happen.

It wasn’t that a certain student actually did his homework (a cherished moment for me), but it was how he did his homework.

The assignment: Define “Enlightenment” then write 3-5 sentences on what you think this may mean in history. It was a Friday assignment meant to prompt everyone into thinking about a new unit (The Age of Enlightenment). It was intended to be a no stress/low stress assignment (look up a word, give an opinion) introducing a key idea and to give the kids a chance to formulate a concept.

I got the usual dictionary definitions – some properly cited, most not – and some very short paragraphs (2-3 sentences at most), but I was eager to see the work done by the certain student, to relish in this rare sight.

It was neat, about a half a page with a proper heading – name, grade and period. Good start; now time to read. Some kids treated the assignment as two separate items to complete, first define then opine; others choose a more flowing narrative, incorporating the definition within a minuscule paragraph. This student took the later form. Wow, he is really working at this. I read his answer – not bad, not bad at all. Look – he even included a citation!

Siri – He cited Siri, the digital assistant on his iPhone. I laughed. This is awesome. I witnessed perhaps one of the first uses of a new use of a technology in middle school. I could just picture it – “Siri, tell me about the Enlightenment…” Then busily writing down the answer.

Giggling at his ingenuity I shared this moment with his other teachers at lunch. “You know that certain student who never does his homework? – I got some from him today!”

“Wow, really?”

“Yeah – And it was neat, properly formatted and he included a citation. Wanna know the best part? He cited Siri! How cool is that?”


Silent enough that I think I could actually hear the eyes roll. “That’s another thing we have to add to the list. No Siri.”

-sigh- I want to celebrate my student’s ingenuity and my fellow teachers want to ban it. I’m thrilled that a student with a number of issues and on an IEP has found a way to engage with my class, they want to only accept work that was done on the terms they dictate.  My moment of triumph was somehow their Waterloo.

What is the difference in print, electronic and on-line dictionaries? Whether you read it or it is spoken to you? Is this that important, that they use the “proper” accepted dictionary? (Like none of you use Wikipedia either 😉 ). Isn’t the goal to engage the student so that they can begin to map new knowledge? Shouldn’t we use and embrace the tools that they inevitably will use?

Today nothing new happened in middle school. I take it back. The mean girls never left and I’m embarrassed.


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8 Responses to ““The Times They Aren’t A Changing…””

  1. Janice Harvey Says:

    I agree.some educators treat electronic devices like the camera that steals one’s soul. They’ll go kicking and screaming into the age of enlightenment…they need to face up to the fact that this is the way children are willing to learn, and we have to embrace whatever avenue they take.

  2. m2smith Says:

    What kills me is they (the teachers in question) are on their phones all through lunch and any meetings but as soon as a kiddo breaks into their secret society (and does it better) – Ban it!!

  3. Michelle Loiselle Says:

    As always Michael, very enlightening……. I wish my son had more teachers like you….

  4. Michelle Loiselle Says:

    Thanks! Always a pleasure to read your work!

  5. susie smith Says:

    wow! this made me feel sad! when i taught in Vt. the resources were sparse,but the creativity was not. sometimes people have just been at a job so long they become unable or unwilling to “grow”.it becomes rote….

  6. Norm Says:

    Hope it’s not too late to leave a comment on this issue, but you are definitely on to something. Keep it up!

    The most important part of being an effective teacher is keeping students engaged. In other words, use “whatever works” to engage students in their own learning and to venture beyond the limits of the classroom and repressive conventions of yesterday’s education.

    • m2smith Says:

      You brought the “whatever works” modality to Wachusett artfully. I remember (and try to use) some of the classroom management skills you exhibited, too. The result I’m looking for is one where the student learns and explores an area in history – our curriculum – and understands certain events and their context. How they get there is not important.

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