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Are you smarter than a 5th grader? I am sure most our readers will quickly say “why of course I am,” but  I would politely respond that you clearly were not at the Speed Geeking session at this year’s EdJewCon. As I sat down for the first of a round robin style session that was being run by 4th and 5th graders at the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School (MJGDS), I was not prepared for the pint sized, yet larger than life presenter.  The oversized tape wrapped glasses wearing, suspender toting student named Jamie B. (picture above) or, as I prefer to describe her, the complete embodiment of 21st century education, was a refreshing example of what it means to be a learner in today’s world.

EdJewCon 2013 was a wonderful learning experience and I have been doing a fair share of professional reflection on the sessions, conversations and innovation happening at MJGDS. From the celebrity keynotes, to the intimate conversational sessions and to the brave teacher who willingly accepted my invitation to join me in an improv game, I am appreciative that schools like MJGDS open their doors to the educational community and share their learning. However, as great as the overall experience was, I keep coming back to that first session run by Jamie B. and a group of fantastic young people.

Let me paint a picture. Groups of about ten educators sat at one of seven tables. At each of these tables was a 4th or 5th grader from MJGDS. When a bell was rung the students had five minutes to teach the table about an educational technology tool they use in their classes and answer any of our questions. They would introduce themselves, describe the tool, show it to us in action, answer our questions and give us a flyer they made (click here to see flyers) describing how to use the tool. They also included their student blogs and emails if we wanted to follow up with more questions. After five minutes the bell would ring and we moved to the next table with a new student and new tool. This went on for about forty minutes with a group discussion at the end. While we learned some new and some familiar edtech tools it was clear right away that when we met Jamie B. we were not there to learn about these tools.

When we first sat down at our table there were a few minutes of confusion while the session was being organized. We all sat at our table quietly like the good students we are. Then Jamie B. showed up, took her seat at the center of the table and said hello. However, the bell had not rung yet and the sessions could not begin until that sound was heard. Many of us have had to fill time prior to giving a presentation that is running late and some of us do it better than others. When it does not go well there is a chatting crowd, awkward silence or the occasional beach ball that gets tossed around. Not at Jamie B.’s table. She sat down, noticed the program was delayed and confidently said “why don’t we all go around the table and introduce ourselves?” And so we did and the time was filled with meaningful introductions.

This may seem like a simple idea, but imagine you as a fifth grader expected to give a session to a group of adults and things are not running as planned. The level of confidence and problem-solving skills needed to not run away crying is tremendous and Jamie B. has them in spades. She also illustrated, as did the entire group, a high level of creativity and communication skills throughout her presentation.  This is what we were meant to learn.

At MJGDS, they are not teaching kids how to use technology. At MJGDS the technology is like oxygen. It is invisible and necessary, but no one is spending too much time focused on it because the real focus is those 21st century skills that the school has adopted as critical to the success of their students. Don’t get me wrong. They are taught how to use those tools, but as many of the students told us they learned them in first grade and have been using them now to support their learning.  If you want to learn more about 21st century skills you can go to p21.org, but if you were at the Speed Geeking session at EdJewCon this year you didn’t need to read about it. You saw it.

Bravo to MJGDS and the innovative leadership of Dr. Jon Mitzmacher, the staff that care about the most important thing at a school which is the students and I would like to thank the Jamie, Eliana, Benjamin, Ariella, Samantha, Rebecca, Rebecca BU and all the students at MJGDS for showing us what a 21st century learner is.

Here is what the students taught us and their student blogs:

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