Technology and its accessibility catapult students into the busiest streets and conversations of our time, the information super highway better known as the digital world. Reading news feeds, manipulating content, and republishing, while creating content and sharing it with the world is only the beginning. Young people’s opinions on any topic plays a role in what is trending on popular social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook daily.
The “power of voice” youth have today is greater than ever. However, their expression are quickly ridiculed and labeled as self-indulgence at best. These judgments may have merit, but arguably there is a level of competency needed in high school graduates to create responsible content while becoming active and responsible citizens in an increasingly interconnected world.
Planting the seed to ensure high school graduates are globally ready for todays ever changing society must begin as early as middle school. It is here where students are most willing to learn and express acceptance, empathy, and personal failures. Students are open canvasses with a youthful understanding of the world. They have limited experiences and lack the maturity to fully engage with the world.
Therefore, laying the foundation of becoming responsible global citizens starts with creating a basic foundation of understanding for the world they live in today. At the middle school level, it is imperative to build foundational skills in responsible citizenship, global collaboration, tinkering, utilizing real-world applications, and media literacy.
Responsible Citizenship: Culture Moving in a Different Direction
Responsible citizenship begins with understanding one is not in an isolated bubble and the world continues to evolve around them, even when asleep. Simultaneously in those other time zones and other countries there are different sets of laws. In our culture, other cultures’ system of governance may seem odd and offensive. But for those natives their system may be status quo and our way of governing may be perceived as odd. Furthermore, one must recognize there are different perspectives on what is deemed right and wrong based on one’s personal upbringing, experiences, and worldview.
In order to facilitate an understanding of their world, many districts offer flexibility on how teachers introduce students to diverse cultures. For middle school students, building responsible citizenship is like building a reservoir of wisdom. Exploring current events in the world, historical events and its effects – long and short term – on society allows students to understand how the global world is interconnected. Memorial or remembrance services and speeches (i.e., D-Day, 9/11, Pearl Harbor, etc.) are regular news stories prepared by news media outlets and are great tools to use for relevant teaching moments to tackle delicate topics from the past and tie it to the present.
Jolene South is a Reading English Language Arts teacher at North Dorchester Middle School in Hurlock, Maryland. She believes incorporating multiple perspectives on sensitive topics to increase student engagement while working to develop or extend student aptitude is necessary in today’s classroom. As an extension to hearing about anniversaries of historical events involving discrimination, genocide, or events of a major war, she uses digital field trips to offer real-life experiences to students who may never get an opportunity to critically study historical turning points in our global history. Each virtual field trip is used as an aid to further research on the topic and locate hidden nuggets of knowledge not always presented in traditional textbooks. South focuses on modeling particular skills, reinforces those skills, and assesses those skills by offering meaningful and authentic writing opportunities for students to display their mastery of the standards.
One example of this is to offer authentic writing opportunities by incorporating social media into the classroom. For instance, South models how to make a fictitious Facebook page for a literary character from their readings. Using an historical image depicting the character and writing a profile description to match their character’s attributes – as well as flaws – students create status updates using internal and external conflicts. Writing in the voice of the character, each student posts and responds in a conversation with other characters. South looks for students to demonstrate complexities and depth of a character’s thoughts in their posts while incorporating the dialect of the character into the modern medium.
Another example is utilizing the traditional news story coupled with infused curriculum approved readings. This gives students a tremendous opportunity to understand multiple perspectives toward a sensitive topic. Encouraging students to evaluate all perspectives of a topic or theme is a necessity as students’ springboard into a new era of responsible citizenship. The basic premise of responsible citizenship swells as individuals harness technology to further illustrate a needed skill for future graduates.
Global Communication No Longer Uncommon
Growing ones ability to collaborate on topics across content areas is another expected skill set global graduates must possess when entering the workforce or the university level. The demand has never been higher for each future graduate becoming an expert communicator and being comfortable working with diverse populations. Many businesses are now utilizing technology as part of team efforts when working on projects and school should be no different if they anticipate adequately preparing its graduates to compete in the global workforce.
Katie Shaffer is a language arts teacher at Middletown Middle School in Middletown, Maryland. She believes in rolling up her sleeves and taking risks in modeling the power of technology in her classroom. She primarily does this by modeling the use of video conferencing. To do this, she harnesses the power of Google Hangout and her personal learning community (PLC). Each student connects with another student in a class 200-miles away as they jointly break open the rich layers of literature. Each day students read and analyze portions of the text with their virtual cross-state partner with teacher made discussion questions. Students document their discussion and work by using a Google Doc, an online document where both students contribute.
For Shafer and others, incorporating video conferencing is a great way to offer authentic global communication and collaboration opportunities into the classroom. For instance, Shafer models how two different viewpoints often see the same topic differently while students study the same piece of literature. To display mastery of the literature, students create two-voice poems with the perspective of two different characters from a short story. The expectation is that each line displays the inner voice of the character while the student demonstrates knowledge of the text.
Utilizing the traditional videoconferencing applications already supported with most Internet browsers and combining an authentic collaboration task gives students an authentic learning task tied into their already approved curriculum. This uncommon learning activity is becoming more common as Google Hangouts is one mechanism used to prepare middle school students to collaborate with students in classrooms across the globe.
Maker Movement: Learn By Tinkering
Every child has the right to innovate and create. Teachers are charged with preparing students for technology related jobs that do not even exist quite yet. Therefore, there is no cookie cutter education experience that is going to make a child prepared because the world is constantly changing. Hence, more opportunities need to be available if there is ever a hope for a student to attain global competencies needed to actively engage in the world.
Brittany Hulme-Tignor, a media specialist at Snow Hill Middle School in Snow Hill, Maryland, designed and implemented the first maker space in her district. Driven by her conviction that students should be encouraged to explore their passions she created a student-driven community space where students can simply make things. Leaving an open-ended opportunity for students to explore their talents, students can create by engaging with 3D printing, circuitry, LEGO challenges, and video game design.
Offering maker stations in school libraries gives students the opportunity to build foundational skills in design, construction, and problem solving. Each of these transferable skills across most educational settings is necessary to build especially at an early age.
Real-world Applications for Assessment
Every teacher gets frustrated hearing the common student complaint I am never going to use this in real life. The way students learn has not changed, but the environment in which they learn has been drastically altered. Multiple sources indicate students are spending more time online using multiple tools. Hence, the student learning environment has gone digital, and it is an expectation those same tools be used in the classrooms or the teacher becomes irrelevant even at an early age.
Kristi Schmidt is an English Language Arts Specialist in Frederick County Public Schools in Frederick, Maryland. She offers professional development to educators about incorporating the elements of graphic design with tools called infographics. She believes an infographic holds the same components as an essay or research assignment (i.e., thesis statement, textual evidence, transitions, and message). However, student learning is demonstrated in a creative manner using Piktochart. The application allows a different learning style and students determine which is the best way to present their information resulting in high student engagement.
The traditional essay is no longer the status quo or sole source of formative or summative assessment in classrooms. But the basic writing standards and principles learned are still foundational. Students must feel comfortable manipulating and navigating real-world applications to survive in a technological world. By applying writing standards through technology integration, however, students are offered rigorous assessments and continue to build the foundation blocks needed at the middle school level to eventually become high school, college, and career ready.
With an increasingly encroaching media environment it is necessary for young people to understand the nature of media companies and their power to persuade. Therefore, navigating media messages and evaluating media reliability is a job readiness skill necessary for anyone at the secondary level. At the same time, these same media companies are often built on individuals – yes, even youth – creating and contributing media content through a post, retweet, or video, making anyone that does so a media content creator. Engaging with and critically interpreting media messages is important in the formative years of education. Equally important is helping young people to become responsible media content contributors and creators.
In my own middle school classroom located in Pocomoke City, Maryland, I facilitate cross-curriculum quests focusing on media literacy within the contexts of social studies and current events. It is my belief the youth of today can easily be manipulated by accepting media posts as credible because it comes from the media. I often push for students to explore the author of the messages as well as their political and business connections. For instance, we often explore political campaign donations because they are public record. Afterwards, students chart how particular individuals vote in their coming term. Discovering how politicians vote with their donors while presenting alternative messages prior to coming to office is intriguing to them and provides a deeper understanding of political affiliations. Another example, students explore the owners of major newspapers as well as their political affiliation. Afterwards in a seven-day span, students chart articles – mostly opinion editorials – that are for or against that owner’s political affiliation.
The traditional evaluation of the five o’clock news has dramatically changed with real-time news sources working around the clock. Young people cannot depend on a few news sources to be entirely accurate and unbiased. It is essential for students to explore all aspects, including sources that provide differing viewpoints and make their own decisions.
It is difficult to determine one specific skillset necessary when teachers are preparing students for jobs that do not yet exist. However, one can guarantee technology is not going to cease or slow down and students must be able to use it to their advantage. If not, students will leave middle and high schools unprepared for their education or career path.
Therefore, responsible citizenship, global collaboration, tinkering, utilizing real-world applications, and media literacy are now the basic skill sets needed to stay relevant in our current world. The examples provided are how some exemplary Maryland teachers have tackled these new global competency skills, which must begin at the middle school level, to transition students toward becoming global ready graduates. More of these uncommon learning activities will continue to occur as teachers understand the need for creating global-ready graduates to enter college and career opportunities.
-Brian Cook, Ed.D.