The past year wooshed by! In January I began working on a pilot program for middle school students in Maine. After recruiting teachers, developing curriculum, building a website, and launching in the fall...I have some perspective on what just happened!
Also, let me just say... this is my dream scenario. For years, collaboration and creation have been a part of my learning approach--as a connectivist, I want to connect people, build a strong network, grow knowledge! This project allowed me to grow a small network of teachers and learners, and connect them. It was exciting! It was awesome. You can't see much beyond the front page of the website, because it's private. However, the ideas driving the program, biodiversity and conservation in Maine, and the lens of Theodore Roosevelt's time in Maine and how he wound up being a conservation hero, and yes, a sport, were what got kids talking. (RE: sport.This is Maine, sports are a part of the fabric of Maine. They are those who come here to hunt, fish, rusticate, camp, etc. Some pay for guides--Roosevelt did.)
Here are my informal thoughts on this project.
1. Boys were engaged. This is based on observation in the field, the quality of videos produced by boys, and anecdotal evidence from teachers--one particular group didn't buy-in until they learned about Roosevelt's time spent hunting and fishing in Maine. Ever since my first graduate literacy course, and "Reading Don't Fix No Chevies", this has been a topic that intrigues me (boys, engagement, literacy.)
2. Students enjoy working with other students, and this increased engagement. This is based on two feedback surveys I gave the students. They enjoyed seeing each other's work, interacting, and commenting. Students began to help each other using comments and provide feedback based on the rubrics given for the products. This is also based on Google analytics. I have around 400 users of the site and over 100k pageviews since the start, when I checked 8 weeks ago mid-project.
3. Students in middle school aren't always aware the Internet is real life. This was based on my observations in the field (which includes site visits, and web master views of content and interaction). Sometimes they shared inappropriate things (their peers called them on it, and flagged). In my site visits I showed them what I saw as a web master--all of their content, activity, etc. The kids were wild about this! They began to understand the bigger picture of interaction and ethics and that this was real.
4. Students want to follow directions, but not if they are too hard. Or meaningless. Developing curriculum for this age group is new to me and I was told repeatedly that my instructions were too hard. This caused shame for some students, based on teacher feedback. I don't want kids to feel stupid, so I need to adjust the language and input fields, and streamline as much as possible.
5. We made something beautiful. The positive feedback on how the site looks, and functions in parts, was positive. This was based on feedback from students and teachers online and in person. I am so glad, because my boss and I worked our butts off. The great thing is, we made a framework, but the content is all from the students. So really, they made something beautiful.
6. We made something confusing. Teaming of students was confusing because it was difficult to know who was on what team and our collaborative space had glitches. Based on feedback, this was the most confusing part of the experience. The second most confusing part was some of the language of the instructions. I came out of this year with renewed respect for middle level curriculum design and developmental markers.
7. Kids can produce quality content and humorous content even at this level. Based on some of the videos, and some of the timeline entries, and some of the plant collection photos, I would say content creation is something kids really enjoy, and is a winning strategy for collaboration and growing knowledge on a network.
8. Without teachers, there would be no pilot. The teachers involved did a really good job of being flexible and making the project accessible to their kids. Their role was to facilitate. I observed this during site visits and through communication with the teachers. I also observed humor and many excellent teaching strategies.
Next time I will write about some of the teaching strategies I observed in the pilot. Thanks for bearing with me as I transitioned from a classroom teacher and graduate student to a program coordinator for a state wide middle level program.