Here at New Technology High School, we focus on working with community partners so students can apply their learning in a real-world environment. In planning projects, teachers focus on Authenticity, Adult Connections, Academic Rigor, Active Exploration, Assessment Best Practices, and Applied Learning, The 6 A's.
In my 6th year of teaching, I'm getting bolder about the kinds of projects I am asking my students to do. This year, I threw down the gauntlet, and managed to get sponsorship for a dedicated building for student artwork for the 2nd annual Napa Lighted Art Festival. This means that student art will be projected on a 38 x 70 foot wall of a building during the week of Jan. 12-19 amongst a juried exhibition of over 20 project art projection pieces throughout downtown Napa. They will also be giving a panel discussion talk about their creative process to the community on Jan. 17 right before the evening show starts.
High Stakes = High Engagement
First, let me say how SUPER excited I am to be doing this project in conjunction with Napa Parks and Rec, as well as teaming up with the folks at Adobe to prepare for this event. I've done some really cool projects in the past, everything from designing a real traveling museum exhibit with my Game Design Class to creating an award winning Journalism video for the California Student Media Festival. But I've never attempted something this high profile with this much at stake. The Parks and Rec department expects over 20,000 visitors to the weeklong event, so if we fail, the fail will be huge.
I often meet with my students and wonder out loud, will this be a total disaster? They always say the same thing, "We've got your back, Mrs. Gottfried!" And I believe them. Because whenever someone comes into my class and says, "Can I borrow a few students for an activity in another classroom", all my students shout, "NO! We're busy!" When the end of the period comes, I hear groans around the room. "Can't we just have some more time to work?" Which tells me they are committed and driven to learn. So, yes, I'm worried about failure, but in terms of teaching and learning, we are already hugely succeeding if success is measured by engagement!
But, How to Grade?
For the project, I wanted the WORK to be the focus, not student compliance. So how does assessment come into play? I offered for students to be paid in points (as if they were dollars) and that they would get a paycheck every two weeks. They get $100 (points) for Knowledge and Thinking for the technical work, $100 for Agency, $100 for Collaboration, and $100 points each for Oral and Written Communication. That's $500 for two weeks of work. This averages to $67 an hour since our class meets for less than 4 hours a week, which is really high pay for student work! Last week I had a student ask another student if they were truly earning their $67 per hour or if they were phoning it in.
I meet with each student individually and we do a review based on rubric items chosen by the Product and Project Managers. They negotiate their pay for the two week period based on evidence they bring to the table. They ask for what they feel they deserve. If I would've paid more, I tell them so after they've been paid, and we talk about why and how they undervalued themselves. They learn that next pay period, they will not make the same mistake and will ask for what they are really worth, so they don't miss out on the $$. If they overvalue themselves, we talk about where I disagree with them. I bring evidence to back up my claim and we come to an agreement together about what is fair pay.
This means that instead of the pavlovian cycle of turning in work to get the grade, we are focused more on creating processes that support all the students, so that we ensure success on the final artwork. And grades are negotiated and discussed 1:1 with me, based on observation, team member input and quality of current work.
I also pay them in opportunity. I often have folk contact me when they are looking for an intern, or for a student to do some paid work for them. Guess who I always recommend? And I can recommend them confidently because I've got their resumes in hand, and I've seen their work ethic at play. In the first month of school three out of 22 students had gotten paying gigs or long term jobs with the resumes they created and a recommendation from me.
Is negotiating for pay getting results?
I have to say that it's quite freeing for both me and for the students to not have this constant worry about who, how and when grades will come in and go out. Students get to concentrate on doing meaningful work, without having to deal with the constant disruption of school business. I am feeling as though, some students, who have struggled to find their place and find their stride, have met with their teams and with me and seem to be re-engaged. The team is invested in making sure everyone gets top dollar for their work. Often work is done outside of class when a student is determined to learn a new skill or conquer a new deliverable. In other words, we are rocking and rolling.
Use of Mentors
We meet every two weeks with consultants for the Light Festival, Ross Ashton and partner, Karin Monid, who are based out of London. We are lucky that Karin and Ross are willing to Skype with us when it's late at night in the UK and class is in session here in Napa. Having these regular check-in meetings to get feedback on prototypes, review technical questions, and to talk about sound design has kept the students on their toes and moving forward. I highly recommend enlisting a community partner to do regular check-ins to make sure that large projects do not stagnate between deliverable deadlines.
Stand-up Meetings, Roles and Leaders
At the beginning of the project each student developed resumes and did an interview presentation, a SWOT analysis of who they are, what their strengths and weaknesses are and where their opportunities are for learning. I then hired certain students as product managers, project managers, technical leads and designers. Making use of those roles, I often meet in smaller groups with project managers and leaders for status check-ins and to troubleshoot team dynamics. Each team consists of 4-5 students, each one playing a specific role in the process. And ALL students are designers in that they are expected to create new artwork, as well as play the leadership role for which they were hired.
Project Managers are also Scrum Masters for their group and we use the Agile framework for product development. Srum meetings are an excellent way to break larger projects into bite size chunks while maintaining accountability within a group. They make progress visible through the use of a Scrum board and they help me to diagnose when a team might need some extra support from me, as the instructor.
The Real Test: Can They Function Without Me in the Room?
There have been a few days when I could not be in the room to teach them during critical phases of the project. One of those planned absences fell at a time when they needed to make some important decisions about the overall vision of the project. They elected one of their product managers to run the class discussion and another to take notes, so I would know what happened while I was away. The substitute let me know that they were very impressed at the level of work happening in class without having the assigned teacher in the room. Everyone participated in the discussion and they came out having made some clear decisions. I left town that day knowing they could handle things, and they did!
l think that, overall, when we treat students as though they can handle large and risky projects, that they most often rise to the occasion. Teenagers are so hungry for real and meaningful work and a chance to show Agency. I am hoping that this project becomes a yearly occurrence and each new Digital Design Lab class gets the chance to work on such a high level project. And if not this particular project next year, I'll just have to find another amazing partner and another amazing project. Anyone out there want to do something incredible with my Digital Design students? We are up for it! I hope people can come out and see their work in January and come meet the students at their talk on Jan. 17th. More details to come!
Sneak Peak Prototypes
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!