For the fourth year in a row, I have spent part of my summer teaching high school students up at Camp Newman in Northern California. In the past, I have concentrated on teaching video storytelling in the Arts-based camp session and also in the Social Action-based camp session, alternating between the two. This summer I decided that I wanted to bring something different to the campers, something that would marry head, heart and hands together to engage the whole camper. So I decided to enlist my friend Hillary Homzie to help me create a new class called "Poetry and Claymation" You can read all about what we did in the article "Fearless Campers Use Clay and Poetry to Express Emotions."
Both of us decided that it would be best to split the 90 minute sessions by using the first half of each class to write poetry and the second half, working with clay and cameras. Having this nice balance between head and hand-based work really worked for the campers.
Mental Note to Self: When working with students, use two seemingly different activities happening at the same time to balance out left and right brain engagement.
Campers were surprised at how two very different activities could complement each other so well. They felt that when they could move freely between the two activities, depending upon their mood, or their process, it really helped to keep them engaged. Once we got them going with a few days of splitting the class in half, time-wise, we let them decide how they wanted to spend their time thereafter. Some campers chose to spend 90 minutes one day focusing totally on claymation and then the next day, totally on poetry. Other campers chose several days of just claymation and then poured out their poetry on the last day of class. They seemed unsure at first about writing poetry, but seemed to grasp the concepts on their own time, and then, really surprised us at the end!
Natural Differentiation: Having two simultaneous and intertwined activities gave each learner the chance to engage in each activity when they were ready and at their own speed.
Even when we, as teachers, worried about a camper missing out on one activity, they all came through in the end because it was creative, it allowed them to find their own voice, and ultimately, they saw value in balanced end product. It took trust on our part, as teachers to allow that unfold. I will be taking this dual-activity concept into the school year next year, for sure. I may even have to do this project with my Video Storytelling class. It would be a great way to start the year off!
Today is the day that our final product from Game Design came to fruition. I can't believe that this actually happened. About six months ago, the curator from the Napa Valley Museum, Meagan Doud, called New Tech High, looking for interns to help with a future exhibit about Indie Games. They sent the call to me, thank goodness!
At that time, I boldly suggested that instead of recruiting a few interns, why didn't we just have the two Game Design classes I teach take on the exhibit as a school project? I had no idea how awesome it would be!
I took the idea to the students and asked permission to let go of the last project of the year, which was to center around coding and drones. Some were reluctant, because, hey, who doesn't love tinkering with drones? But most saw it as an opportunity to do something real and substantial, related to the Game Industry, a field that about half of the 45 students were interested in entering upon graduation from high school, or college.
We split the teams up into different sections, some covering music, art, 3D modeling, video, interactivity, early childhood educational components, game mechanics and game careers. Students picked their own areas of interest and away we went. We met with the curator every two weeks, either in person, or via Skype to review questions, status reports and next steps. Two students, one from each class, came to me and asked if they could be the overall project managers. Could they essentially be in charge of the exhibit? Um....yeah! They happened to be two seniors, one who is pursuing Game Design in college next year, and one who wanted to try on the mantle of leadership. Every team also had team project managers (PMs), who were responsible for communicating with the other team PMs, the Lead PMs and with Meagan. There were several PM meetings outside of class to make sure that everyone was on the same page with the project.
Students were asked to consider several target audiences, ranging from families with small children up to attendees from the Veteran's home on the same campus as the museum. Together, we learned about project management skills, from Gantt charts, to Scrum Meetings, to managing resources and deadlines, to using the Design Thinking Method to get clear about prototypes and deliverables. This was a hefty, real world project. It also turns out that we have a New Tech parent who designs exhibits for a living! At the last moment, he jumped in to show off his own work and help the Game Design students really think deeply about how to best engage exhibit visitors.
In addition, students learned about 3D modeling, motion graphics, 2D graphics, color theory, writing for signage and exhibits, research, game mechanics and game careers, prototyping, video filming and editing, presenting, and above all, collaboration.
I really do hope, that if you are in the area, that you stop by and see the exhibit. It turned out better than I ever could have hoped and I am SO proud of the work that we ALL did together.
"Down the Rabbit Hole" runs from July 15, 2016 through January 8, 2017 at the Napa Valley Museum in Yountville, CA, in the Napa Valley and it features 10 Indie Games. There are some great movie nights and Family Fun Days offered, including a Retro Game Marathon, Model Building, Learning about Binary Code and Pixel Art. Look at the very bottom of the blog post for the info. on the show and activities.
For me, finding authentic learning projects is a personal passion, and I am convinced that they can not only be done, but done well, can give students real-world experience, and can provide the impetus for some amazing learning. If you have questions for me about authentic learning projects, you can always contact me on twitter @lisagottfried or leave a comment on this post and I'll get back to you.
In a paper entitled "Qualitative Research in Information Management" Jack Glazier and Ronald Powell take a look at how humans process and use information and define the methodology, theory and body of findings as Sense-Making. In chapter six of their paper, they look at the Sense-Making Qualitative and Quantitative Methodology from the Mind's Eye of the User. They make the assumption that because humans are involved, there is a discontinuity in perception based on different conditions of the human depending on the time and space in which an event occurs. These differences come down to so many factors, cultural, physiological, almost any situational conditions.
They describe a common problem with the way we have collected data in the past on how humans use information, in that the questions we ask come from a system standpoint, where the interviewee is asked questions that assume that they will bend to the will of the system, rather than the system changing to meet the needs of the interviewee. In 6 step, they outline how one can change this approach to be more user centered by focusing on the Situation/Gap/Help model.
The study of information-needs places an emphasis on these 6 questions:
1) How does the individual see themselves as stopped?
2) What questions or confusions have been defined?
3) What strategies does the individual prefer for arriving at answers?
4) What success has this person had in arriving at answers?
5) How was he/she helped by answers or how did he/she put the answers to use?
6) What barriers did the individual see standing in the way to arrive at the answers?
This could be a really powerful tool for my students when they are confronted with a gap in knowledge. For those students who get "stuck" or don't "get it" in class, it would be worth stepping back and doing a micro-moment timeline interview. The form that is in the paper could become a wonderful tool for students to think through how they bridge their own gaps and how I, as their teacher could help them when they feel stuck.
Below is a great example of how the interview is conducted. I could imagine having students work in pairs to think through their knowledge gaps. This would also be a great tool for reflection at the mid-point or end-point of a project. Either way, I plan un using this as a great way to help students think through how they can improve and how I can improve the teaching/learning process. At the very least, the 6 questions posed above would make for substantive reflection or journal questions at the end of a project. I'm very excited to try them next year in class!
The truth is, I am not really an expert in anything. I just LOVE to learn. For me, teaching at the flagship New Technology school has been one amazing and incredible learning experience. I often choose projects for my students that are things I personally would like to learn. And, of course, I build into every project, the opportunity for students to write, practice math and learn Digital Media technical skills.
But at the heart of it all, it's about being as excited as the students to learn something fresh and new. It's refreshing to not have to always be the expert, refreshing to be the one who says "I don't know. Where would be find the answer to that question? Let's look together!"
This is at the heart of why I teach Project Based Learning and why I LOVE my job at New Tech High, Napa.
Lisa Gottfried is a CTE teacher with 20 years experience as CEO of her own Video and Motion Graphics Production house. She currently teaches Intro to Digital Media, Video Production and Game/3D Design. She loves her job and her students!