Did I Change Your World?

Way back when, at the dawn of 2.0 in education, I attempted to have my kids be the first to use any type of technology.  We made Voice Threads when there was only one page of Voice Threads to be searched.  We made Prezi’z when if you had a question only the guy who started it was answering your questions.  And while we don’t have a certificate proving it, we were the first class to do a research project exclusively using Bing–not sure if we want the certificate for that.  Wikis, podcasts, blogs, and glogs, we also made time to watch the live streaming birth of rare frogs.

Over the last two years I have noticed that we have steadily used less and less technology…maybe a better way of saying it is that we used fewer “tools.”  We still have blogs(but use them a lot less), we make videos, use google docs and presos, do some live streaming with Ustream, and that’s about it (we would use twitter but it was blocked this year, and the shorter schedule has left us little extra time to try new things).  We do use some random things here and there as the need arises like Sound Cloud, but none consistently.

I have really noticed that this year since we have 1:1 laptops that we have used the coolest-newest tools and the sites that twitter is all excited about even less.  So we have more computer time, but have used fewer tools and sites.  Somehow I thought it would have been the opposite.  Our last two projects had end products that were created with limited tech.  One that we did in December ended with a song.  The students were given primary source documents (probate, diaries, etc) on a New England farmer and told to write a song about the essence of his families life.  They analyzed the docs, did some research, about 80% of them used Music Shake to create an original tune,  and then everyone wrote their own lyrics.  Everyone got up in class and sang their original song live…that is really, really, hard.  We even found a great use for the overhead machine.  We took off the mirror and used it as a spotlight.

I think one of the greatest challenges we face as teachers is putting ourselves into the shoes of students.  The documents I gave them were tough and there was no easy answer to be found, writing lyrics is tough, matching it to a melody is harder, and singing it live…well…I have written before about how I think it’s important to do what your kids do, and so of course I joined them.

No you are not going to see the whole thing!  I was challenged to make it a rap, I believe my first ever, and the video is from my last class of the day.  Despite having done it four times earlier, I still needed to stall because I was so nervous before starting.

After that project I had neck surgery and so for a couple weeks we did social studies “lite.”  After that the next project we did was on the Lewis and Clark Expedition.  I always wonder about how much time to spend on this topic.  I do think its importance is overplayed, the negative impact is overlooked, but the excitement of the adventure and stories that occurred  are contagious.  After spending a week introducing the Expedition, the students did some individual research on it.  What they basically had to do is put themselves into the shoes of one of the crew members and decide what characteristic would have been most needed to be successful, and then give a speech describing why it was important.  As I was giving the very foggy directions that were meant to be more “figure it out” rather than “here is an outline” I heard one kid whisper “I can’t do this” to her friend.  That is exactly what I actually wanted to hear.  I have an interesting bunch of kids this year.  I joked with a teacher the other day about how they would be happy to do sub plans everyday–read and answer questions, fill in the map, memorize for the quiz.  At the half-way point through the year they still have not realized how powerful they are.  I needed something in which they were going to face one of the biggest fears that anyone faces, and conquer it.  They are at this point in the year comfortable presenting, but “teaching” is different than a speech.  You can hide behind videos and images when you do a presentation.  With a speech all you have is your body, and your words.

This speech was going to be live for the class, and we were going to stream it live.  It was supposed to connect with the audience, connect to the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and they were told that it should change the world.  Simple…  The day before the speeches I picked up a book and it echoed the “change the world”  sentiment.  I shared the first paragraph of the introduction with the kids:

The only reason to give a speech is to change the world.  An old friend of mine, a speech writer, used to say that to me.  He meant it as a challenge.  It was his way of saying that, if you are going to take the trouble to prepare and deliver a speech, make it worthwhile.  Change the world.

Working the Room by Nick Morgan

I did make a huge mistake during the unit.  I needed one more essay to grade for my Data plan and my yearly admin meeting, so I told the kids that on the Monday before the speeches they could either hand in a rough draft of their speech, or an essay that they could then work into their speech.  You could almost tell from listening who did the essay.  The kids who were ahead and handed in speeches employed many of the techniques that we reviewed and were more confident and passionate.  Many of the kids who wrote the essays and tried to make it into a speech never quite got there.

The room was set-up like it is in the above image (video) the day before so everyone could stand-up in front and get a feel for it.  On the day of our speeches the live page was ready to go, http://chinupandbefierce.org, we figured out how to get around the twitter block using tweetymail, we had camera #1 taking stills, camera #2 recording in HD for youtube, and camera #3 was for the live streaming.  Microphone #1 and #2 was for the live feed that feed into a mixer and then into the laptop.  Simpler than it sounds…

My stomach was in knots all day long as my mirror neurons kicked in and I absorbed class loads of anxiety.  We talked about how those butterflies in their stomach were caused by a shot of adrenaline, and if it could help a gazelle on the savanna, let’s use it to help them give their speech.  When the kids got up for their speeches they exceeded everyone’s expectations.  Some forgot  to look up again once they looked down, some forgot entire sections, and some became frozen…but that’s ok.  They did not complete a journey, but are still taking their first few steps…and what big steps they took.

I will include a play list of the videos at the end and remember that the students have a range of abilities, from those with IEPs the length of novels, to one kid who swore that she had no fear.  In the end these speeches will mean so much more to me and them then they ever will to a web audience.   I know who got up after coming back after school in tears begging to get out of it.  I know who in rehearsal after rehearsal could not complete a sentence without stuttering and gave the speech  without a single stutter.  I know who got up and was fierce after whispering “I can’t do it.”  So many made me so proud because of what they fought through to get up and speak  Video   Video   Video    Video   Video   Video  Video

I know for many it might seem like most just read off a piece of paper, but there was a special personal component to all of them.  It is hard to let your soul do the talking, I guess that’s why 5 paragraph essays rule the day.  They are easy, you have to support an answer, and write to an audience, but you don’t have to connect with the audience.  My kids connected with the audience in the classroom, and I hope they connect with you.  In the end this might not seem like a big deal of a project…it might not seem “social studies enough” for many teachers.  But what is social studies?  Is is the study of the past?  or is it using the past to study ourselves…

“We study history not in order to know how to behave or how to succeed, but to know who we are.”
Leszek Kolakowski

I think that each kid found out a little bit more about who they are.  They found out that they are more powerful than the previously thought.  That their fears can be conquered.  And yes, they took one step forward to believing that they will have the power to change the world.

The videos on the playlist are not just a select group.  Please listen to a few to get a good feel for what we experienced.  There are all levels, from kids who never looked at their notes and had wonderful body language, kids who stayed frozen clutching their papers, to those that walked to the front of the room and were able to address the class for the very first time this year.   At the end of the videos most kids finished with the same question…”Did I change your world?”  Please let them know if they did…

To watch the videos you can go directly to the playlist here, or the video box below starts with the first speech and the forward button allows you to skip through. You can also place you cursor over the lower right of the screen and click on the box next to the “CC” and a playlist will pop-up that you can scroll through.

PS–please don’t let my kids know that this was a State Mastery Test prep unit…8th graders write persuasive essays for the test, and what is a speech but nothing more than a persuasive essay in disguise!