Middle school students need to develop persuasive writing skills. They need to be able to take a side of an issue with at least two details from a print or online text that selected. Middle school students need to get really involved in small group and large group discussions and conversations, as they exchange peer ideas. They need to use sources-print and online – to argue for or against a position in writing and in shared discourse. While all of these are meaningful CCSS literacy and ELA/SS goals, achieving them in a student captivating and totally engaging student owned project can be very elusive.
What if students were reading, writing , researching and arguing about a topic that hit home, say school law on their grade level/ Would they be engaged enough to really get into that topic? If it is possible what type of new or sophisticated time intensive technology project/product could yield a product that would represent the students written and spoken efforts as well as be usable to “portfolio” individual growth as digital creators and producers? How many class periods would it take to develop such project.
Do 6 to 8 periods maximum sound reasonable? How about not one but two technology “live”/interactive products students and you can use to document for yourself, the students, parents, ratings officers, and administration, the students persuasive, argumentative and conversational research and citizenship now skills. Two technology products, of a high level, in six to eight sessions- does that sound doable? Show me!!
Citizenship Now MS-
Take the topic of School Law or more specifically school law cases concerning infractions of city and state school behavior codes by students or staff. Engage students in considering issues which resonate locally, statewide, nationally and internationally. Have them use their Chromebooks to read about online local cases. and then react to a local student school law case. Teachers can also identify a local relatable and appropriate school law case that gains traction online. They can curate mix of digital and video coverage of the case that is appropriate for the students in terms of grade and age level.
Cell Phone Case Study!
For example in New York City within the first months of 2015, the Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina decided to change the NYC school law banning cell phone use in all the schools. They strongly suggested, although individual school principals still could make a joint decision with teachers, parents and administrators, that students needed to have access to their cell phones at times during the school day so that they could call their parents and their [parents could be in touch with them . At Middle School IS 62-Ditmas-in Kensington, Brooklyn, NYC, the sixth graders in an ethnically diverse class (including Jamaican, Dominican, Uzbek, and Bengali students plus native born Brooklynites) were very “into” this issue, since many of them carried cell phones in their back packs. According to the ongoing school regulations of Principal Kevorkian, they could not use their cell phones during class or lunch, but had to have their turned off in their back packs. If the phones were discovered being used in class or lunch or hallways, they were confiscated for the day by the Deans and returned to be taken home. The students were excited by the 2015 Mayoral and Chancellor opportunity to potentially revise their school’s ban on students carrying and using cell phones during the school day. They listened intently and carefully read for detail the comments and arguments in favor of lifting the NYC public school system citywide cell phone ban. They used their Chromebooks research online and video and audio commentary.
Step 2 The sixth-grade students created their own word doc “reacting” to the news paragraphs which were framed as persuasive paragraphs with the purpose of getting a peer or adult reader to agree with the students. They work in small groups of three to four students sharing their key persuasive “reactions” to school law news in Power Point format. The teachers made private and shared network conventions of English commentary on the persuasive writing paragraphs but did not make comments about the issues.
They used the Callout feature of PowerPoint’s to insert shapes of quote bubbles and images. Their chromebooks allowed them to develop their group PowerPoint slides and refine them, As the teacher developed a class Chromebook School law portfolio of writings, the students developed their own group reaction portfolios. This dignified each student citizen reaction voice. This project approach is part of an initial collaboration with Michael Downes on a project called “Acting and Reacting to History.” Both Mr. Downes and Mr. Carideo felt that reacting to a historical document was a crucial citizenship and critical thinking habit to inculcate. Mr. Downes sees this reaction as an intrinsic part of the teacher’s mission.
As do adult journalists and writers, the students select lines of their word doc paragraph by a sixth grader becomes “empowered” as a citizen statements through the device of the callout “Quote Bubble.” The student citizens can also be represented on the Power Point through their imported photos and graphics taken from public domain visuals for the case or even original student illustrations imported to the Chromebook. Music chosen by the students can be imported as well. Students teams curated their own approved of by the teacher music, photo and video files for the project
Step 4- Putting it all together.
Cell phone case study: The students then worked in small groups to begin a sixth-grade student Cell Phones in school PowerPoint featuring their research and persuasive reactions to the cell phone use issue. They enjoyed working in their small groups. This truly engaged all of them in a citizenship and school law issue being hotly debated in the newspapers; but more importantly in their own building with the Dean Ms. Rigger and Principal Kevorkian available for commentary as well as their teachers eager to debate the issue. They were able to include the recorded reactions of these stakeholder adults in their Chromebook Cell Phone study. The title 1 students, many from ESL families and facing economic/acculturation challenges truly relished having their pictures taken for the Power Point as well included in their projects Chromebook files. Students were even able to record comments in their family’s native languages which represented other cultural perspectives on cell phone use in schools. The teacher invited local public officials, school safety officers and business owners to the chromebook project to comment the product.
Step Five: Podcast While the Power Point involves group work and writing persuasive paragraphs, it does not have to be the only product produced from a school law student literacy study. The basic student persuasive arguments can also become the written supports for conducting an open public forum about a controversial school law topic. This conversation can involve students first sharing their reactions to the topic and then reacting to one another’s commentary with statements such as these: “Building on what ____ said,” “In response to _____ I must respectfully disagree because _______,” ”Another point not yet mentioned _____” and “I also agree with what ____ said .” As each student is listened to, he or she is urged to speak loudly and slowly, enunciating every word. The students’ are alerted to the fact that their discussion will be taped for a podcast. They sample some past school podcasts from their website and the Chromebook archives of previous or concurrent classes maintained by the teacher.
Step 4: A host or emcee of the Podcast is chosen and asked to prepare a short introduction to contextualize the student research into the topic. A sound engineer is chosen who will monitor the recording which is done using Audacity free open source and Relativity free software to monitor the students’ audio quality. Students are cautioned about making background shifts or tapping pencils which can destroy the quality of the sound recording. They are shown how to lean in to the mike and the way to pitch their comments so that the recording levels are acceptable. The sight of the recording is one that can raise any teacher’s spirits, particularly a teacher of any content focused on inculcating students into becoming part of a discussant community, which can share views and listen to peers attentively. Chromebook audio files enable students working in small groups to practice their statements and arguments, before the class final recording. While lip service is given to CCSS speaking and listening skills, chromebook use and student ability in small teams with teacher support to record and listen to themselves immeasurably hones and develops these necessary for successful college, career and community life skills.
Alternative but also resonant school law topic
Case Study 2 Suspension Policy- (http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/editorial-school-supensions-insubordination-article-1.2123517)
In New York City, public school’s students up to Spring 2015 were subject to two types of suspensions- one in school principal suspension for actions like hitting another student or harassing a teacher or fighting or being disrespectful of authority in an ongoing basis. This suspension which could run from 2 days to a week would take place within the student’s same public school. However, the student would travel those days with another class and would receipt the home works from his /her class for the week. During lunch, the student would remain in the Dean’s or AP office and not be able to eat with peers or have the same scheduled outdoor recess. Students who committed grave infractions of the school’s behavior or disciplinary code, such as stealing, shoplifting. Fighting with other students so that blood was drawn from the student victims, hitting a teacher or other adult staff member, inappropriate touching, cyber bullying, bringing or using a weapon in school and bringing or using narcotics, alcohol or other controlled substances into school. These types of infractions once discussed by school administrators and confirmed by sufficient evidence would result in a Superintendent’s Suspension. This suspension which could run from a week to a month to even a year, would not be served in the student’s school. It would be served in a special district school for a student population of students suspended from other schools for these high-level infractions of discipline. While the Principal’s suspension in a school would be kept on record only within time the student attended the school, the Superintendent’s level suspension became part of the student’s permanent school record. It would leaved with him or her to high school and obviously, all things being equal would bar the student for consideration from some high school programs or school admission.
In Spring 2015 the Chancellor of New York City Public schools proposed that the suspension process should be made more difficult and schools should try to lessen their number of both Principal’s and Superintendent’s suspensions.
The students were at first asked to define suspension as part of a paragraph, based on their current and previous experiences in school. Next, they listened to the Dean and Guidance Counselor, who shared with them the actual definitions of violations of the school behavior code which would lead to either of these suspensions. They created word docs and Power Points with vignettes of such discipline infractions or comments from the Deans or teachers or APs or Principal about it.
Students in 6th and 7th grade Newcomer /ESL Classes were asked to compare and to contrast some of the punishments given in Uzbek versus Russia versus Mexico. In Uzbek students who misbehaved ran laps or held up tables for several hours. They talked of punishments where students who were disrespectful or got into fights were hit with long rods until red or purple bruises came out and of schools where a student who committed a severe behavior infraction would be expelled and unable to return. They also told of teachers in Bangladesh or Yemen who prefaced their hitting of the students with the comments- “I am your second parent, so I can hit you as your parent will at home.” Students for the most part did not mention any parental support in objecting to their punishments or any meetings with principal or teachers before enduring the punishments. Ironically many of these same ESL international students professed a love of schools in their native country which had “rules” and “taught character.” Some even said all things being equal they would like their own children to go to school systems like those of their native counties.
From Basic Tech- Power Point to Podcasting to 21st Century Citizenship Now –
So this School Law Project seems to run solely on school law in the news and student centered school law issues. Correct? Yes, and that makes it easy to infuse in Grades 3-8 and beyond ELA and SS classes as well as Science (think forensic crime evidence, sports concussions, school injuries), and other content (Physical Education, Health Education and Guidance). Given that applicability cross content and its easy application for informational, explanatory, persuasive and argumentative writing, it is easy to see why school law topics can be readily applied to engage those citizens subject to school law (students and staff alike) in its applications. Why should such basic- popular in the first decade of the 21st Century- technology formats as the PowerPoint and the Podcast be used as vehicles for student production, when there are so many more sophisticated and complex formats available now? Why use the highly successful and economically viable for a school with limited budgeting, Chromebook as a tool for curating, maintaining and sharing this project? Precisely because of their ease and mozartian simplicity. The bells and whistles of a Power Point allow the student to “immediately ‘call out’ his or her quote/argument on the school law topic. The students can “see” their pictures and images “power point” graphically on display. They can maintain all their work –in docs and in audio and in picture and in video files on their chromebooks so they can see how they evolve as writers, speakers, and citizens. They can easily import a popular rap lyric to the Power Point or a public domain news image as they embellish their productions.
The podcast done in one or two recording sessions with prep of research , writing and discussion spanning 4 sessions, is a product with a limited production time span, but an unlimited portal for audience response via class or student director’s email or a BlogSpot or school web site address or teacher invitation to the chromebook community.
For the busy tech, ELA, SS or other content educator, these two products and then topic of School Law guarantee student engagement- focus is on students themselves and the extent to which what they do or what is done to them is just, unjust or should be altered. The discussions, research, source review and individual opinions and arguments on the topics are the stuff informed citizenship is made of and needs to be manifest itself as. The technology formats – while simple are also ones used most if not all workplaces and have easily defined beginnings, middles and ends. They give the student citizen and content learner, a product for individual portfolios and a platform for citizenship conversation about school law values. How better a mix of technology basics with the tenets of citizenship and literacy can the students tap and charge to “voice” their evolving positions as citizens now of their schools, society and the world?
Dr. Rose Reissman,
Academic and Grant Funding Director for Sector 5
About Sector 5,
Sector 5, Inc. (OTCQB: SFIV), is a Proud American Corporation, that sells, manufactures and develops new innovative consumer electronics under Sector 5 and other brands. The Company markets its partnership with Google approved Chromebooks to educational organizations, other B2B and B2C sales channels, with retail sales on Amazon. It is in development of several new products to serve the educational, business and retail markets. Follow the company on http://www.twitter.com/sectorfiveinc and http://www.facebook.com/sect5 and find further information at http://www.sector-five.com. For Sector 5’s Forward Looking Statements, click here.