Sunday, April 28, 2013

Forget career planning - Do something big now

Update 5/22/2013: Here's a motivational song and lyric video for the classroom I created based on the idea in this blog post. It comes after a year of putting these thoughts into practice.

I was very excited this week to talk to our middle school Digital Media class. I don't regularly teach in that classroom, but I am considered to be a teacher in my district.  That means I end up as sort of a guest speaker in various classrooms K - 12 and I especially love it when I get to address this particular group.

I tell them why I think Digital Media is the best class we offer.

This year as I prepared my talk I realized how insane it is to talk to these kids, ages 11-14 about the career they'll have someday. When I taught high school math I would always talk about the world of work as a motivation for learning, but I’m done with that approach.  It wasn’t terribly effective five years ago when I taught math and it feels even less so now, especially as I see more apathy in grades 4 - 8.

Now I try to motivate them with what gets me excited.  I am pumped (honestly, I lost sleep over this) when I can tell them about the powerful tools that allow them to connect like never before so they can realize their dreams.

Never in the history of the world have we had tools that made it so easy to start on those dreams right away. It makes no sense to me to try to motivate students with the promise of a good job in 8 to 10 years when a tidal wave of fascinating entertainment will hit them seconds after we let them turn their phones back on.

So I gave my talk and I saw that glimmer of hope in some of their eyes. I told them about the books, movies, songs, games and other great gifts that I know are in their minds waiting to get free to the world. I believe it completely and I look forward to encouraging them more as I continue to work with their teacher.

I summed all this (and more) up this way in my presentation:

It has never been easier to start something big RIGHT NOW.  
And it has never been easier to just play.  
Choose wisely.

On the way to work that morning I saw the sunrise (we haven’t seen a lot of the sun recently here in Michigan) and I grabbed a picture.  I combined the two here:

But after the talk I got thinking, what exactly can they start?  Our culture bombards our kids with so much to do that some don't know how to begin anything original.  I made a list of goals they can start on not in weeks, months or years, but right now. I will use and develop the list as I continue working with learners of all ages.

First, the basic rules:

  • Start a blog.
  • Copy nothing.  You must make all elements from scratch.
  • If you succeed in a goal, blog about it and include pictures. 
  • If you fail, blog about it and include pictures. 

Some goals you can starting working toward right now:

  • Make something digital that your parents will be so proud of they’ll share it on Facebook.
  • Make a video and get X views in week on YouTube video.  Keep increasing X each time.
  • Whatever your teacher assigns, ask if you can do a different project.  If the teacher says no, do it anyway (along with the real assignment!).  Show the teacher your work.
  • Make a digital lesson for a younger sibling or family member.  Pick a topic he or she will study in the future so they will already know it when they get to it.
  • What type of entertainment do you usually turn to in your freetime?  Instead of sucking up someone else’s idea, start making your own. 
  • Make a gift for someone's birthday or a holiday on CafePress or some other site where you can create and order products. 
  • Pick your favorite charity or cause. Make something online and sell it.  Donate whatever you make to your charity or cause.  

I'm confident that seriously working toward any of these goals will help our students acquire at least as many career skills as our other efforts have.

What are some other great goals students can start on right away?


  1. Hey Mike,
    Have you looked into Free, interactive, and relatively easy courses for learning to code HTML, Python, Ruby etc. They have grown a lot in the past year. If they aren't already using it, I think this is an excellent site for students to start something now.

    1. Actually Rob here, guess my wife had taken over my account lol.

    2. I hadn't looked at that one, so thanks for pointing it out. I like the interactive exercises. I will show it to my son for sure since he's just getting into programming.

      Someone contacted me from at one point, so I'm somewhat familiar with that one. I will keep both in mind if someone is looking to program.