Thursday, February 2, 2012

Students & Transformative Work (introduction to teacher presentations moderated by Alan November)

A sixth grade student started a community newspaper in the St. Louis area in the 1970s. Circulation grew to more than 1000 within months. This sixth grade student enjoyed going to the movies. When he turned twelve, he realized that he would only be able to buy a child's movie ticket for one more year. At age thirteen, he would have to pay $3.50 for an adult movie ticket. Recognizing that 13 year-olds could not attend R-rated movies, he reasoned that it was unfair for movie theaters to charge them adult prices. When he complained to his parents, they told him that if he didn't like the prices, he should work to change them.

This young man wrote an editorial in his newspaper calling for intermediate prices for young teens. When other kids in the neighborhood responded favorably, he decided to start a petition drive, eventually collecting over six hundred signatures. I was this kid who wanted to make a difference in my community. And I eventually went into teaching, like other educators, to make a difference in the lives of others.

Years later, I worked as a teacher and head of an alternative school in Chelsea, Massachusetts, just outside Boston. Most of our students were former dropouts who had returned to school. As part of the schools project-based curriculum, students wrote detailed autobiographies. At the end of the year, students and staff cooked dinner for the families of students. After dinner, students read excerpts from their autobiographies to their parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts at the event. The stories were riveting. Many of our students were immigrants from Southeast Asia or Mexico and they described their journeys to America, many of which involved great personal sacrifice and risk. There was not a dry eye in the house. Students had an immense sense of pride regarding the autobiographies because they knew their work was treasured by their family. Students who had not yet written their autobiographies committed themselves fully to this project the subsequent year because they knew they would be creating work of great value.

Working on an Autobiography
Educators sometimes speak of preparing students to contribute to society at some point in the future, after graduation. What if we allowed, even encouraged, students to make a difference in the world around them NOW? This would amount to telling students that they matter and the work that they do in school matters. Educator @AngelaMaiers emphasizes the importance of telling people that they matter. Giving students the opportunity to do transformative work is the ultimate #youmatter message.

Click Here to View #Youmatter Talk
Some teachers in our division already give students the opportunity to do transformative work. Elementary students help their peers by blogging to share book recommendations. Middle school students create and post math tutorials for a global audience. High School students teach elementary students about heroism.

Today, Alan November will moderate presentations by other teachers in our division whose students are doing transformative work as they learn the content and skills of the curriculum. You will hear about students who are incredibly engaged. They commit themselves fully-they own the work- because they value what they are doing. They are willing to persist when the work is difficult because they value the work. They achieve so much more because of their commitment, ownership, and persistence. With transformative work, there is joy in teaching and learning!

Last summer Alan November challenged educators from around the world to give students the opportunity to proclaim "stand on our shoulders.” In other words, give students the opportunity to do work that is valued by others and then have other students build on this work.  Alan is planning a global exhibition of this stand on our shoulders work, this transformative work.

I spoke to Alan regarding the criteria he will use in selecting exemplars for “stand on our shoulders” work. He spoke not just about the nature of student work but of the importance of celebrating and sharing students work in a way that inspires and supports other teachers in doing similar work with their students. This is what teacher-leadership is all about!

We became educators to make a difference in others’ lives. When you share your students’ work with others, you are making a difference in the lives of students and teachers in other classes in your school and in other schools. Thank you for the work you have already done, for the work you are doing, and the work you will do to give students the opportunity to change the world.  #Youmatter

After these introductory comments, Alan November moderated presentations by teachers regarding transformative work by students. Subsequent blog posts will provide detailed descriptions and photos of student work. Please click on the "Join this Site" icon in the right hand column to be notified of new posts.
·        Gingerbread House Project-Kindergarten students worked in teams to research, produce a master plan, create and follow blue prints to make a gingerbread house as a gift to senior citizens.
·        eToys Project-Students in two 3rd grade classes in separate schools helped create eToy websites, modeled after eBay. The students collected gently used toys, photographed the toys, and wrote descriptions for the websites to market the toys. The students earned play money which they used to bid on toys of students in the other class. The classes also communicated and marketed through Blackboard Collaborate and Skype.
·        History Mystery Project-7th grade English students worked in teams to create videos to teach their peers about historical topics, such as the contributions of Henry Ford. They used digital tools, including their own technology they brought to school, to create the videos.
·        Oyster Restoration Project-Building on the work of students during the past seventeen years, 11th and 12th grade Marine Science students are growing oysters in the Chesapeake Bay to help restore the native oyster population. They monitor growth data on ongoing basis, learning about the estuary ecosystem, other native species and water quality.
·        You are What You Eat Project-After consulting with experts, 11th and 12th grade Anatomy students designed nutritional, appealing menus for school lunches within budgetary constraints. They also wrote advocacy letters to congressional representatives and created informational videos regarding school nutrition.
·        Professional Learning Network-Teachers in an elementary school participate in a wiki (using Ning) created by the principal. They post, view, and discuss articles and videos relating to instructional practices.


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