Vive la Oregon-Davis! Students Start a Revolution at School
Irate. Enraged. Infuriated. These are just a few words to describe the feelings of Oregon-Davis New Tech students. Oppression. Tyrany. Injustice. Three words to explain why. To overthrow the school’s monarchy, the students called for a revolution. Luckily for the teachers, that’s exactly what they hoped would happen to bring the 18th-century French Revolution into today’s 21st-century classroom.
The facilitators of the integrated social studies and communications class wanted to bring learning to life to teach students about forms of government and their affect on society. The best way? Bypass the lecture, let the students experience oppression, and make them fight for democratic freedom.
“We really wanted to emphasize authenticity in our project and make the students see real-world applicability to what they are being taught,” said Matt Bertasso, technology coordinator for the Oregon-Davis School Corporation.
The teachers challenged themselves to create a unique way to help students learn about different conflicts and revolutions of the past and present. Abandoning the New Tech philosophy for a traditional education approach gave the teachers the perfect platform to incite a revolution.
The New Tech model fosters a culture of trust, respect and responsibility among students and staff. Using these tenets, students enjoy unique privileges like personal laptops, group work, and self-directed learning. For 65 students, teachers stripped away these freedoms without warning.
The project started out as students would expect. The class engaged in a discussion on the French Revolution and its historical impact. Students took the next two weeks to study uprisings happening in the Middle East and across the world. Then suddenly, things changed when students showed up for class the next day.
Laptops and all other forms of technology were banned. Groups were forbidden and students had to sit among rows of desks. What normally is a noisy classroom was hushed as students were forced to remain silent unless given permission to speak. The teachers abandoned the inquiry-based learning approach to return to a lecture-style format. Students were made late to lunch, barely having enough time to eat, because of an unexpected extension to the class period.
The students noticed as every freedom was taken away one by one, especially as inequities developed.
“As we clamped down they began to get more restless,” said Oregon-Davis teacher Christy VanDeMark. “We would also randomly select a few students and allow them to use their laptops and give them other privileges the rest of the class didn’t have.”
The students became increasingly frustrated, but one specific instance pushed them to the edge.
The teachers announced that there would be a pop quiz. To make matters worse, since there was not enough time to grade the quizzes, that class would be split in two with one half receiving A’s and the other all F’s.
The students had all they could take. Cue the revolt.
Students began shouting and swearing. They started a petition to have the rules changed. Others complained to their parents forcing principal Greg Briles to field several angry phone calls.
“I thought it was mean and confusing,” said freshman James David, who was one of the more disgruntled students. “No one really knew what was going on until we started to realize that we were being taught about revolutions. It helped us understand what was going on in the world.”
The more the students were pushed, the more engaged they became in the experience.
“It was sometimes hard to watch, but it was great to see the students be completely engrossed in the whole thing,” said Bertasso. “Students weren’t told about it, they experienced it. This was real life.”
Eventually the students realized how their experience connected to the previous discussions about oppression and revolutions. Their personal revolt gave them a unique perspective, which they captured in a reflection paper. The lesson resonated with the students.
“You could see the lights go on and that this experience will stick with them for some time to come,” said VanDeMark. “The students were put in a position where they could understand and experience how other people around the world live on a daily basis even to this day. They realized how well they have it.”
Eventually the students’ rights were restored. They returned to their groups to complete a research assignment about different revolutions. The class compiled the reports to create a news program.
David now has a new appreciation for New Tech’s educational approach.
“Compared to just writing a report, we got to have a new way of learning,” he said. “I have learned more this year than ever before.”
Published: June 2011