While there's lots of conversations around about engaging today's digital learners, the solution isn't simply to use technology. I don't think anyone will agree that playing Cow Clicker is the best use of our limited classroom time.
With the pressure of today's classrooms, students use of technology needs to help them progress towards a specific learning goal (content or process), as well as require them to apply what they know to create something new or solve a problem.
So what kinds of work can students do that meets content and process learning goals? Most importantly they need to be CREATEing and making, not just consuming. Here are five of my favorite ideas.
1. Develop a Public Service Announcement
Students today aren't lazy, they are as idealistic and passionate about issues that affect them. Climate change, privacy rights and freedoms, health and safety,the list goes on. If you don't agree, maybe you aren't listening.
A PSA is designed to get people to change their behavior, how much more real world can persuasive writing be? Use PSAs to help students explore content issues in depth as well as practice writing and communication skills.
2. Create a book trailer
Students in our classes don't want to use technology with the end result of simply filling out a digital worksheet. Yes, that boring book report isn't any better just because we published with technology. But what kid nowadays goes to the movies without seeing, or looking up, one of the trailers about it? Movie trailers are fast-paced and exciting. They have just a few minutes to share details about a story that will connect the viewer to it.
When making a book trailer, not only do students have to know the characters, settings, and events in a story, they have to consider them in light of what someone else might find interesting. To make a great trailer, they may actually have to read the book, not just read about it online.
3. Make your own TV Show
Students today spend more time watching TV each year than they spend in school. While they may not be watching high-quality educational shows, they have most likely seen great storytelling, watched a news broadcast that affected their mood, and see a video biography on a person who interested them, even if it was about an entertainer.
Ask today's digital natives to take their existing knowledge and media literacy to craft unique responses to content they are studying. The better the question you use to frame their work, the better their response will be.
4. Help someone else learn
There is a lot of talk nowadays about the flipped classroom, but consider asking students to create videos that teach others by demonstrating a process or explaining a rule. We all know when you teach something, you learn it better. You also have to think of many different ways to approach and share information so that others can understand it. This multi-faceted approach also helps the "teacher" cement the concept in the brain.
"When I notice someone having a grammar problem, I refer them to a student-created tutorial designed by one of their peers... and when one of my students shows mastery of a concept, I know it’s time for them to create one of their own!” shares Katy Hammack, a teacher in Santee, California.
5. Tell a story
Yes, just tell a story, any story. When students write their own stories, they have a chance to apply everything they have learned about grammar, voice, organization, and audience. A polished digital storytelling product may be a great way to hook learners, but we all know the real learning happens during the process. Producing a digital story requires planning, writing, editing, composing, considering, analyzing, articulating... the list goes on.
The next time you are at a party or family event bored to tears by the long story seemingly without end or point, you can rest assured you are helping to save numerous people from this horrible fate.
The best projects
The best projects aren't the ones targeted to meeting a specific or narrow standard, but ones that move students toward mastery of many different skills.