Student Agency and The Sixth Grade Genius Crew

The best part of my job as a tech director is getting to connect with students in their classrooms. I try and make this part of my weekly and daily routine no matter how busy my schedule seems. Recently, I outfitted two of our 6th grade math classrooms with 1:1 iPad classrooms. I worked with both teachers on setup, logistics, and resources to get started. In Ms. Cowan’s classroom she had five homeroom students who displayed natural curiosity for the iPads that were now in their classroom. And from this, the North Street Elementary “Genius Crew” was developed.


Four years ago I helped launch an iPad initiative at Burlington high school and one of the greatest rewards from that initiative was our student led genius bar (or help desk). This course established a new paradigm for technology support in schools as well as a space to design, create, research, and share. Since it’s launch in 2011, I have helped and witnessed more schools adopt this model in their respective schools. Additionally, I have witnessed two students at Reading Memorial high school design, plan, budget, present, and create their own help desk course from scratch. In most instances, these courses were primarily launched at the secondary level. However, that is changing in Grafton.

A week ago, I received an email from Ms. Cowan saying that her IT helpers would like to meet me and ask some questions about technology and the iPads. I took the meeting, but had no idea what I was about to encounter. I met with five students and I asked them how they liked the iPads and how they liked using it in their classes. Their responses were short, and basically they said, “Cut the small talk, we need to figure out why this iPad is dropping wifi, and why this document is not displaying properly when opened in Google Classroom!” Now, they didn’t say cut the small talk, but they were eager to solve problems and discover solutions so they could help their teachers. Needless to say, I was impressed, but not overly impressed because kids are resourceful and filled with fantastic ideas.

When I returned to the tech office I found some Apple stickers, blank ID cards, and green lanyards. I posted the stickers on the ID cards and wrote “Genius Crew” within the Apple logo. Today I returned to meet with the newly christened, “Genius Crew” to present them with their official badges. Their eyes lit up and they all donned them with fervent pride. But, much like our last meeting, they were excited to get to work and solve problems.

Josh started by showing me a video he made last night at home. Again, I remind the readers of this post,  this is not a course, there is no grade, there is no incentive. Their reward is the opportunity and the space to be curious and helpful. But, back to Josh and his video. When I asked Josh how he made this at home and his process he eloquently explained,

“I heard someone asking about this in one of my classes. So I decided to make a video to show the way to do it. I took my iPod touch and rigged it up so it would hover over the table. I placed the iPad flat on the table and recorded the process I was showing. Then I shared the video with Ms. Cowan so she could put it on her YouTube channel.”


The “Math” binder

After he was done sharing his video, I asked if there were any issues that they have noticed with the iPads or technology in general. At this point Georges went over to the shelf and got a blue binder that said “Math” on the binding. He brought it over to the table and opened it up. In it were tabbed pages that read “information”, “tasks”, and “questions”. After flipping through their extensive notes and information I asked, “Why did you put this information in a Math binder?” Georges responded, “Well we have login information in here so we want to disguise it (NOTE: These kids love math but simply wanted to throw off others from their trail).

As we continued our discussion, Paige and Josh had noticed that the wifi was dropping when you were on one side of the room, but stable elsewhere. Josh recommended that I add another access point to provide more coverage. At this point I handed him my badge and my keys and said that he would be replacing me effective tomorrow and that I am no longer relevant. His eyes lit up and laughter ensued.

Again, I was overly impressed by their initiative. And, this was not assigned or orchestrated  by Ms. Cowan, rather, they created this all on their own. They took ownership of their learning and they were extremely proud to be a part of this crew. Additionally, Ms. Cowan commented that, “Someday you can get hired by the school district and help out with this in the summer.” To which Georges cleverly responded, “Why do you need to get paid to do something you love?”

I promise I am not making that up to enhance the reach of this blog post.

As we move forward, the students will help out during their homeroom time and recess. Just today they were assisting teachers with iPad and app updates. I knew this because it was written in the binder and it had not been checked off yet. Additionally, they will help out when they are needed in their respective classes. We shared this information with all teachers in the school and they were all delighted to have tech support daily. Next year these six students will move up to Grafton Middle School. We are already planning to have them support technology at their new school. Next week they will be breaking down a chromebook and providing support videos and resources for all teachers and students to access.

What happened here was a simple case of student drive and ownership of their learning. They saw a basic need for something and realized an opportunity sitting before them. They not only took advantage of this opportunity, but found a way to make it their own and create something that was never there before.  Plus, they were given space to question, explore, and discover. They didn’t need a grade or any incentive to drive their thinking; they simply found something they loved doing and owned it. Two weeks ago, while listening to Jennie Magiera keynote Tech & Learning Live Boston, she mentioned to the audience about not simply asking students what they learned today, but rather, what did you create today? This simple semantic shift resonated with me and it was evident in what I witnessed with six, sixth grade students. They not only made a dent in the universe, but enjoyed every minute of it.

One Reply to “Student Agency and The Sixth Grade Genius Crew”

  1. Great article, Andrew. This inspires the schools in our school district to move forward with the Student Help Desk. Your thoughts and ideas inspire us to move forward! Thank you.

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