Inspired by opensource.com articles and by his Tedx Lancaster talk about the power of trusting kids in education, we called Charlie Reisinger, IT director of the Penn Manor school district, and asked if he might be interested in collaborating with us on a film. After our first conversation with Charlie, where he said that he brought open source to the school district because they wanted their students to become "engineers, inventors, and architects and not technology tourists," we immediately thought of his students as future developers, open source community members, and Red Hatters. We wanted to tell the story of Penn Manor and how this approach to education has impacted students' lives and changed their futures.
"We trust you."
At Penn Manor, hands-on learning is the focus. Each student is given technology in a 1:1 program—technology that's not locked down. They're given full access to their computers and are encouraged to modify and personalize. They're trusted to be responsible with it.
"By unlocking devices and giving kids truly open technology, it empowers them to not only understand what's underneath the hood, but understand that they can impact the world through software, through technology. They can be part of the decisions that are being made, and not the result or the end user of someone else's decision."
In addition, students are also responsible for support, acting as the help desk for other students.
There was no distinction between the technician, the IT director, the student—it was amazing to watch their confidence grow—they were fearless and intense.
This has transformed the connections between students and teachers. They're now on equal ground. Students feel valuable for their input and the best ideas win, no matter where they come from. Rather than be responsible for memorizing facts and taking tests, students are expected to apply themselves and accomplish goals.
Seeing the impact, first hand
Ben Thomas found his home and thrived through the program at Penn Manor. When he was young, Ben was diagnosed with a learning disability and placed on an individual education plan. His parents were told that college wasn't in his future—to make alternate plans. During his junior year, Ben had the opportunity to showcase his talents and pursue his passions through open educational philosophies and access to unencumbered technology.
Charlie describes Ben's participation and transformation as a highlight of his career.
Ben grew with us through the program. He just sort of roared, and I don't know that he would have found that through traditional curriculum.
By the time he graduated, Ben had helped write the software that Penn Manor's help desk uses in day-to-day activities and created an app called Paper Plane that teachers use in their classrooms. He's now a thriving, successful college student.
About Penn Manor
We didn't choose open source because we're fanatics. We chose it because it amplifies education, it solves problems, and it saves us money.
Charlie Reisinger, IT Director, Penn Manor High School
Penn Manor High School is located in Millersville, PA.