Give Millennials a Chance!

Are you familiar with the term “millennial”? It refers to the young, upcoming generation–loosely defined as anyone born between 1982-2000–who have grown up in the midst of new technology. Millennials are accustomed to having computers, cell phones, and internet at their constant disposal, and therefore can be mocked by the older generations as unable to function without electricity. If you are a middle school or high school teacher, it’s likely that you are teaching a classroom full of millennials, so it’s important to understand them and how they operate.

If you want to know how “millennial” you are (which isn’t necessarily contingent upon age), you can check out this quiz created by the Pew Research Center.

One of the biggest things to keep in mind when you’re teaching millennials is that there is a lot of technology out there competing for our students’ attention–during school time and in the evenings during homework time. With so many easy distractions and so much to keep our kids awake all night (unlike my dad’s generation who, according to him, used to watch the television test pattern once the programs were finished for the day), it’s no wonder that it’s more difficult for Millennials to be focused and successful. I think we need to keep this in mind when we’re planning lessons (and assigning homework), and use technology in our instruction and delivery rather than trying to compete with technology.

Just think of all of the websites and social networks out there that could creatively be incorporated into our instruction to help our students further their thinking and learning. Even a video sharing site like YouTube could be used to enhance instruction. It has become very trendy to post (and watch!) how-to videos on YouTube, and they are becoming more and more prolific. It seems that there is a how-to video available for just about any topic imaginable! I think that we could be utilizing videos like these for tricky concepts in the classroom to help students who “can’t remember the steps” when they get home. If there isn’t a video available for the topic that we need, it would just take twenty or thirty minutes after the school day ends to film a how-to video for the math concept taught that day or a review of the history lesson that was packed full of facts. We could also get our students involved in producing videos like these! How exciting would it be to have a YouTube channel devoted specifically to our classroom (with written parental permission to get our students on video and publish it to the internet, of course)! I think creating an ongoing class project like that would harken back to what Alan November was saying about having students identify a problem, create a solution, and publish their work to benefit not just their classroom, but the world. It would certainly be a great motivator and a great way to engage students in their class work!

I also think that we need to be forgiving of our students’ attitudes—and perhaps lack of ambition. According to Kelly Williams Brown (author of the bestselling satire Adulting: How to Become an Adult in 468 Easyish Steps) we need to stop “collectively wringing our hands over young people acting young,” and try to remember what our thoughts and dreams were when we were that age. I have included an excellent TED Talks lecture from Kelly Williams Brown (also satirically titled)–“Millennials: Why Are They The Worst?” She is funny, but she also gives her audience a lot of great insight and reasons to appreciate millennials for their unique awesomeness. 🙂

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TED Talks: Alan November

I recently watched this YouTube video of TED Talks featuring Alan November as speaker. In the video, he addresses the way that technology should be used to build a classroom community and curriculum from the ground up, and the impact that it can have on students when a teacher really pulls it off.

In the video, Alan November said, “This is not about adding technology. It’s a fundamental shift in relationships and roles and the feeling of empowerment that students have.” This is a really great way to sum up my prior misconceptions about technology in the classroom. I was always looking for a way to “add in” technology, almost like an afterthought, to fulfill state standards. Generally, I ended up using technology to do something that the students could have easily done without it (composing papers on a word processor rather than on a notebook page or giving lectures with a PowerPoint rather than writing my notes on the board). However, it’s obvious after watching this TED Talks video that embracing technology should mean so much more than that—it should be the driving force behind what we’re doing in the classroom (rather than an afterthought), and it should empower students to take charge of their own learning in a way that they couldn’t without technology.

I also really like what he mentions about using technology to give students a global voice and a means to enact social change. Students should use technology to enhance their problem-solving skills by identifying a problem and using web tools to find a solution to that problem. Plus, when students are able to publish that information to the internet and share it with the world, their classroom activities are no longer “busy work.” Suddenly, students are in charge of their own learning and pushing themselves farther than their teachers ever dreamed possible.