Who: Doug Weitz. He teaches 7th and 8th grade English at Ardsley Middle School.
Since when: This is his first year in Ardsley. He previously taught in Edgemont and is a former director of professional development for the Princeton Review.
What’s new: Weitz and his colleague Cameron Brindise are practicing a teaching style he calls “gonzo learning,” which really means “giving all the power to students.” The idea is that for each unit of study, students propose their own projects and carry them out with Weitz’s guidance. Students write a detailed proposal that outlines their research, identifies their audience and even explains how the process should be evaluated. “Students become much more motivated because they are doing what they want to do,” Weitz said. “The teacher shifts from conveying information to the kids to supporting kids in their learning. It mirrors the way a lot of people believe this generation will work, not working for companies from 9 to 5, but working as independent contractors.”
A recent example of gonzo learning: Weitz’s students developed their own apps to visualize the arc of a character over time — in other words, how a character from literature or real life changes over time. “They created apps so that people could see what happened to a character based on what we call moments of change,” he said. Then the students got to visit NYC and pitch their apps to real app-developers at Pearson Inc. (thanks to a contact of their teacher’s). “The kids were really connected to the real world,” he said.
Why he does it: “Teaching forces me to be the best version of myself. If I’m consistently modeling behavior for kids, how can I not be the best version of who I am? I’ve got to walk the walk.”
Hard-earned wisdom: “Kids love authenticity and they know when you’re not real. So you have to really love it. I love my job and they know I love it. I wear my heart on my sleeve.”
Recommendations: Weitz likes Edmodo, the social-learning app/platform for educators, students and parents, and Trello, a project-management app.