Monday, September 8, 2014

Creating a Place for Students to Create

Public education is changing.  But change is slow when new programs, ideas, or teaching methods don't fit into existing structures.

Last spring I proposed a Student Help Desk program for our high school.  My hope was for students to have the opportunity to create tutorials that would help teachers and students integrate BYOD more smoothly and successfully at our school.  See, I don't believe in tech for tech's sake.  But our students are already bringing incredibly powerful smartphones and tablets to school, so why not teach them to leverage that power to enhance their academic experience?  BYOD can help students:

This is how professionals are getting things done, so why shouldn't our students be working this way in the classroom as preparation for their professional lives as adults?

The problem is that this idea - having students create the school programming without a highly structured curriculum already in place - doesn't fit into a public school where teachers and students are told they have to meet standards and follow frameworks.  It also did not fit nicely into our schedule or our academic departments. It isn't really a business class and I'm a history teacher.  Science? Nope.  Health and Wellness? Nope.  At first it was a tough sell.

Thanks to some supportive and forward-thinking allies, after several drafts this is the proposal that was accepted:

8-1-14 RMHS SHD Pilot Proposal.pdf


Rockets Help Desk started meeting the second day of school and, based on an early teacher request, the kids settled on their first tutorial topic: digital note keeping in Evernote.

Click the screenshot to see the students' first public tutorial.
We still don't really fit into any of those public school categories.  I'm still teaching my 5 history classes and am facilitating Rockets Help Desk instead of a traditional duty (like lunch or hall monitor).  Even though the students are working hard and are producing authentic products that are meant to help their school community, they aren't getting credit... just yet.  They are choosing to use directed study time, traditionally used by students to help with the crush of homework, to build something new for our school.  Also, we don't really have a home yet. We are operating out of the library media center for now, a great central location in the school.  But don't have our own computers or a guaranteed quiet space for recording audio and video.  For now, the kids are using my laptop and their own BYOD devices to make it work.  It is working, though! We are making it work together.

I'm hoping to support the kids by publicizing their work via Twitter and through an in-house e-newsletter so that teachers and students at our school can benefit.  As the year goes on I'm hoping to hand over more and more control of Rockets Help Desk to the kids.  My early members, Julia and Megan, can become mentors for students we recruit in the future.  Over time we can grow into a program that helps students and teachers communicate about how we can learn best together.