Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Putting a Dent in the Universe

This summer, at the Apple Distinguished Educator Global Institute in Berlin, we were challenged to consider how we could put a dent in the universe. That's a big question. At the time, I really felt strongly that I wanted to make that dent, that kind of big global impact, through my work with pre-service teachers at the University of Central Arkansas. However, as the year has progressed, I've found my passions shifting into my high school English classroom.

Don't get me wrong, I'm passionate about working with pre-service teachers, and I'm excited about the work I've been able to do with my Models class on unit planning and instructional strategies. I'm excited about the progress we're making this semester. I'm just really feeling like the dent I want to make on the universe has a lot to do with "denting" the universe enough for my 11th graders to see that they are not isolated learners, and are instead, part of a global community. 

As I started this year, I found myself constantly noticing how disconnected my students felt from their learning, especially since they are, literally, constantly connected to each other. They talk in the halls, they check Facebook before class starts, they update their Snap Story as soon as they walk out of school at 3 o'clock. They very rarely unplug. And yet, many students still lack connection in their lives. For some of them, they lack connection as they deal with difficult family situations, others struggle to connect with peers, and still others feel a huge disconnect from what they're learning in high school. The "why do I have to learn this" argument has to be addressed. We are failing kids that will not seek out higher education if we don't find ways to bring the real world into the classroom and prepare them for a future and adulthood that's looming very close. I am finding that a growing portion of my students are feeling this way, especially as the rising cost of higher education leaves more and more students feeling helpless to avoid college without large amounts of debt. 

So I decided I needed to make a dent in the universe that brought the real world into my classroom and made learning feel like necessary, important work, and I decided to do this through research. Research is an often dreaded piece of an English class, so I've decided to make it my mission this semester to show students that we do research all the time. We do research every time we Google something, and we discern the reliability of a source every time we decide to "fact check" with a second website. In this case, I wanted students to see that research isn't typically the end goal. Often, we use research as a means to an end, as a way to learn how to do something. 

We started by reading these articles about using 3D printing and virtual reality to preserve world landmarks. Many of our world's most incredible historical and cultural sites are at risk of being destroyed due to national disasters, war, and acts of terrorism, and even those not at risk are still too far away for students to take a field trip and see them in person. Preserving these places digitally provides greater access to each site. Next, I asked students to choose one landmark to research and argue why that landmark is significant enough to be digitally preserved. Finally, I asked my students to create their chosen landmark using Minecraft or SketchUp and a 3D printer. 

This is definitely the biggest research project I've ever taken on, and I was so excited and SO nervous about how my students would respond. They could get excited and jump right into this, or they could get overwhelmed and shut down on me. Fortunately the minute I said "Minecraft and 3D printer" my kids were pumped! Bringing a real tangible product into the research process created a "hook" for students. They knew they had to complete a successful research paper in order to begin the design process, and that has been incredibly motivating for many of them. 

In addition to bringing all of these global landmarks into the classroom, we've also been able to make the world a little smaller by partnering with another classroom for the peer editing process. Fellow ADE Richard Perry is a huge inspiration to me, and he's been kind enough to partner his students with mine to work as peer editors in the writing process. Our kids have "met" each other using Flipgrid to send videos back and forth, introducing themselves and discussing their research papers. Watching how excited my kids are to receive feedback has me just about giddy. It's created an opportunity for them to receive honest, objective feedback, and it's teaching them that they can seek out resources outside of the classroom. Once the writing process is complete, students will also hear from fellow Canadian ADE, Marc Gobeil about the design process and the incredible design work he and his students are doing. In all of this, I hope I'm bringing the "learning universe" a little bit closer to my students in my classroom. 

Working through this research process with my students has been exhausting and awesome and rewarding. Their final research papers and projects in Minecraft and Sketchup will be turned in at the end of next week, but I just couldn't wait to share all the hard work we've been doing this month! The final step in this project will be for students to share their digitally recreated landmarks with a global audience, so please be watching Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram for their work! I'm so proud and excited to share all of it with you and keep on creating that dent in the universe. 

No comments:

Post a Comment