Teachers Tear Down the Classroom Walls in Edgy TEDx Talk About UClass

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Two teachers slam the test-centered culture pervading the U.S. education system and propose that students step outside of their classroom walls by collaborating with students around the world on their new global education platform, UClass.

UClass Founders Give TEDx Talk

Zak and Leah, founders of UClass, sing the introduction of their TEDx Talk

Our students will live the future of this planet. Will they be able to create it or will they only be able to fill in the bubbles to follow along?

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When two public school teachers were asked to give a TEDx Talk because of their success as founders of a new global social learning network called UClass, they framed their speech as an indictment of the U.S. education system for its fixation on testing.

After singing an opening duet while strumming a ukulele, Zak Ringelstein and Leah Schrader presented the typical modern U.S. classroom as one whose four walls box in a student’s sense of possibility. The metaphorical walls that they highlighted are: a focus on multiple-choice assessments, minimal authentic contact with the world, scripted curriculum and teacher-centered classrooms.

“I’m going to boil down most modern teacher training programs, professional development for teachers and new education policy into one short sentence: Your purpose as a teacher is to ensure that your students get high test scores.”

They drummed up several political references to make their point, including a poignant adaptation of a well-known Elizabeth Warren quote from the 2012 Democratic National Convention: “No, U.S. Department of Education, our students are not test scores. They are children. And children have wild imaginations, fearless dreams, boundless curiosity and complex experiences. They hope, they create, they cry, they sing, they play, they struggle, they overcome, they love. And that matters.”

Zak and Leah presented their new global education platform, UClass, as a positive alternative to the test-centered culture pervading the U.S. education system. They demonstrated how students on UClass are stepping outside of their classroom walls and comfort zones to discuss “the hard questions” with students across the world. They highlighted students in Brooklyn discussing recent protests in the Middle East with students who actually live in affected regions.

UClass, which stands for United Classrooms, is a global social learning website that launched in August in partnership with Teach For America and Teach For All. K-12 teachers can sign their class up to connect with classrooms around the world for free. Zak and Leah started this venture after they tried to connect their students with other students around the world, but could not find a platform comprehensive enough to do so. It is now an expanding global network of thousands of students in over 40 countries who interact via collaborative projects, pen pal messaging and live feeds.

At the end of their talk, Zak and Leah presented the current education crisis as a choice. While describing a student in her class named Hope, Leah said, “She is one of those kids who will work relentlessly towards whatever goal you put in front of her, but unfortunately the goal that has been put in front of her for her entire educational career has been to score high on a test. Hope, like all children, has the potential to do more than just comply and perform.”

“Our students will live the future of this planet. Will they be able to create it or will they only be able to fill in the bubbles to follow along?”

To view the full TEDx Talk, click here.

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