Before I left for school on April 26, I took a moment to tweet:
Truly, at that moment I had no idea what the day would bring. It was the first time my teammates and I had ever tried to organize an all school event like this. For the past three weeks, the eighth grade teachers at my school had been working with the students to learn about digital citizenship so the kids could become “experts” in one of seven areas of digital citizenship and teach the younger students (6th and 7th graders) what they had discovered.
The 6th and 7th graders day would be broken up into three parts; 1/3 of the time with the eighth graders, 1/3 of the day with a guest speaker from the Illinois States Attorney’s Office, and 1/3 of the time synthesizing the information they had reviewed in order to make artifacts that would be shared with the parents coming that night. Additionally, any digital products would be shared on our district’s Kids Connect website to share with students around the district and the world.
For the two weeks before “Digital Citizenship Day” I was sweating it out. In the hall I would hear concerns from 8th grade teachers that the kids were not “taking it seriously”. Teachers worried that there was not enough time in the computer labs to find information. We knew this was a possibility before we began, so we had created preprinted articles for each of the “expert groups”. As we got closer, some 6th and 7th grade teachers felt like they were losing instructional time with their students and were unsure of the expectations for the “synthesis” piece. And then…the phrase train wreck floated through my head (and perhaps through the hallways).
But, the day (and few days before it), proved to be full of surprises. Some of the surprises were good, some bad, but all of them eye-opening.
Surprise #1—An authentic product is important.
I list this as a surprise, but it really wasn’t . I knew it. I saw it in other blog posts, I listened to colleagues talk about their successes, I’d seen it on other projects I’ve done this year, but as the teachers were telling me the kids were “not taking it seriously”, and they really weren’t “getting anything done”, I began to doubt myself. And sweat.
But there was a real turnaround when they began working on their product. I should mention, that due to issues with scheduling and availability of some of the tools, not all of the products utilized technology. In fact, I’d say about 80% of the products were done on Tri-fold board. Yes, I said tri-fold boards. But, who cares? The goal was to provide information to an authentic audience, if the only tool available is a trifold board, then so be it! In any case, when the kids had to work in groups, to discuss what was important to share, and to synthesis the information for others, something lit up in them. There was a buzz in the room. The LMC hummed and kids moved around, it had energy.
Surprise #2— Audience is important– AKA “Kids don’t want to look ‘dumb’ “
Again no surprise to me, but maybe an eye opener to some of the teachers. Often we tell the students to “imagine” who the audience would be, but when there is really is a classmate or teacher standing in front of them, it’s a whole new ballgame. Fourteen hours before the presentations were to begin, a teacher told me that there was no way that the kids would be ready . When he saw the kids presenting and answering questions from the audience, he told me that it was because they didn’t want to look dumb. I guess I would say that the kids had pride and wanted to show what they had learn. There was a real purpose behind what they had been studying, and when they saw an outlet, they rose to the challenge.
Surprise #3—They can do it!!
So, when “Game Day” came, I was pretty nervous. As I fell asleep the night before the vision I had going through my head was of 60 students in each classroom gossiping, poking each other, and being generally unproductive. The train wreck phrase was running through my ears and I was apprehensive to say the least. So, as my teammate made the announcement for students to move to their first location. I held my breath. I slowly opened the door to one of the classrooms and found students doing exactly was the “textbook” says they should have been doing. There were questions being asked and answered. Although the teachers were in the room, the students really didn’t need any prompting. To be honest, we did provide them with a note sheet that probably helped guide their questions, and I think it helped keep them on track. But, in all of the classrooms I walked in that day, I did not see more than a handful of audience members/ presenters disengaged.
Also, the 6/7th graders created some pretty amazing projects. The students’ “synthesis” time was only designed to be 40 minutes (although some of the teachers chose to give more time). But, during that short amount of time the students were able to create various projects (in their native language) such as podcasts, Videos, and word clouds. They were all simple, but even those simple projects allowed the students to create a real product that would be seen and used by others in the district.
Surprise #4—Where there’s a will there’s a way.
Our school has two computer labs (60 computers). We had over 200 eighth grade students participating in the project. One obstacle we faced during the project was that there wasn’t enough technology to go around. And then, the funniest thing happened. Teachers made it work. Emails started getting sent around to other teachers to see if devices could be shared. Teachers “gave up” their computers for a day or a series of days so students could use it for this project. They made it happen. They didn’t just say “well there’s not enough technology, so forget it.” They found a way (sometimes with my help and sometimes not) to find a solution. It made my heart happy!