Dennis Harper

Dennis Harper

It’s no secret that students often know more than their teachers do about new technologies. Working from this reality, Dennis Harper has developed Gen Y, a unique staff development program that trains students to guide their teachers in technology implementation.


Tell me what Generation Yes is all about.

It’s a staff development model to help teachers infuse technology into the curriculum. But it’s opposite of the normal way people do staff development, in which you train teachers in a tech skill and hope that that training results in improved student learning. In the Generation Y model of staff development, you train students with the technology skills, pair them up with teachers and hope that this results in improved teaching.

The premise is that for the first time in history we have students knowing something that’s really important to society better than their teachers know it, and that’s technology. We try to bring students into the picture, to use their proclivity with technology to help reform schools, to change the role of students from the old role of being objects of change to a new role as agents of change.

We accomplish this through student centered courses for schools. The course is the same whether it’s elementary, middle or high school. It’s a curriculum that we spent over five million dollars developing and researching and testing and it’s gotten better over the last four years.

How many schools do you have involved?

We have 351 schools doing the class right now. By September we’ll have over 1,000 schools; over 10,000 schools have inquired and want to do the program. We’re trying to ramp up because we don’t have the staff to support that many.

What is involved in the courses themselves?

The first thing is that kids learn technology skills. But the skills they learn are skills to help teachers, so the exercises they do are exercises aimed towards helping teachers. It’s a rather rigorous course as far as the technology goes. It meets and even exceeds the 12th grade ISTE Net standards for students (National Education Technology) – so a 4th grader completing the class would have the 12th grade standards completed. When the kids graduate from the course, they’re called a “Gen Did.”

Would you give me an example of what a Gen Did would do with a teacher?

Beyond learning tech skills, they work with a teacher in the school to develop and deliver a technology infused lesson plan. So if there are 20 kids in the Generation Y class, they pair up with 20 teachers in the school.

About three or four weeks into the semester, the teacher and the student sit down and look at the syllabus, and ask, “Where is there a lesson that could be enhanced and delivered better via the use of technology?”

It could be a Web page on Civil War generals, it could be collecting data from different schools around the world relating to the position of a planet in the sky on a particular night. It could be a project where kids would do research at the Shakespeare archives site, or a joint poetry project with classes in Equador. Something that the teacher is already doing, but now hopefully technology can help them do better.

All these projects are aligned to state and district standards. The student is the one that actually does the Web page. The kids do all the programming, find the pictures, do the things, and they work in conjunction. The teacher of course checks the content and is responsible for how it’s used in the class.

There are other advantages besides taking the technology work away from the teacher. It could take at least ten hours to train a teacher to do a really good Web page with good links, backgrounds, content, tables and all that. At the end of this, you could end up with a 50-year-old teacher making a web page on the solar system for sixth graders. If you have a sixth grader make that same web page for the sixth graders, with teachers providing the content, the sixth grader knows the cool colors, the cool animations, the cool pictures and words and everything else.

How do teachers react to this?

Last semester, 2,000 teachers who had participated in the program filled out a survey form that included the question “Do you prefer learning from students or do you prefer learning from adults?” More than 98% said we prefer learning from kids.

We asked them why, and they said that they got into education because they like to work with kids, and this allows them to work with kids. If they need a picture scanned, someone to go out and find something on the Internet, someone to scan through their email and find what’s important, or some technical thing done, they know they have kids that can do it. They don’t have to wait until the tech coordinator shows up, or until they have time to go out and research it.

I think a perfect example is a surgeon. Do we expect a surgeon to learn how to input patient records? Does a surgeon have to come into the operating room early and trouble shoot all the equipment in the operating room? No, the surgeon walks in and everything is ready, and they just do it. Teachers should be teaching and doing what they do best, and that’s working with kids, helping kids.

How do teachers get in touch with you if they’re interested in Gen Y?

The best way is to send me an email: The website is

Thank you.

My pleasure.



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