Students as Change Agents in the Classroom

Who says we have to ask overburdened and testing-constrained teachers to overhaul our educational system? Students aren't confronted with an educator's impediments, so they might actually be in a better position to lead the charge. We can target new ways of learning to the kids and let them be the ones to bring the materials into the classroom, where their teachers might be inspired to incorporate them.

It's happening right now in classrooms across the nation. Fast Company recently published a list of The 10 Most Innovative Companies in Education, which included three companies that have successfully used this very approach. One is Khan Academy, whose former hedge fund analyst founder started on a new path by recording math videos for his cousins. They had so much fun watching that they asked for more, and they told their friends. The videos went viral and now total some 2,200 covering every school subject, complete with tracking software to help teachers recognize which subtopics are tripping up their students. Some teachers are assigning the videos as homework and using class time to help students work out the problems they used to attempt alone at home.

Another is Discovery Education, whose video-based content reaches more than half of all U.S. schools, including 1 million teachers and 35 million students. Outside of the classroom, kids often find their way to Discovery's resources via their online contests and on mobile devices like the iPad, finding the same passion for the subject matter that they have throughout their childhoods watching the Discovery Channel.

The curriculum for our free Sustainability Workshop, also recognized by Fast Company, isn't actually written for teachers -- it's targeted to the students themselves. The workshop teaches students of mechanical engineering and design the principles of sustainable design in order to add meaning to their work, which is vitally important to this generation. The students have seized on the material and turned their instructors on to it, motivating teachers to work it into their courses.

Reinventing and reinvigorating our educational system is going to come as much from the grassroots level as from our nation's leaders. Recognizing the impact students can have on their classrooms is an important first step to empowering them to have an even greater impact on the world they one day will shape as adults. Not to mention that having a say in how they get there means they'll have more fun doing it.