I’m always looking for good student media project examples from clever teachers and, lucky me, I hit the jackpot this week when I met Larry Schmidt. Larry is a high school English teacher in Minnesota who teaches online courses for EdVisions High School. EdVisions sounds like a pretty interesting idea….to quote their web site, it’s a “learning community offering students througout Minnesota personalized, project-based learning experiences”. According to Larry, he tries to find out what his students are passionate about, and then works with them as a coach/mentor/interlocutor to guide them to tools and resources that would be most useful. He’s done some pretty amazing things with them — poetry, writing songs, making movies, graphic novels — and I’m going to share two of them with you in this post.
The first was a grammar project. Grammar….eeeewww, you’re probably thinking. But that was part of Larry’s plan. He thought he’d take the most compelling new tools and apply them to the most boring topic to show students how it could come to life. So he started by asking students to review each others essays and color-code them for typical grammatical issues… things like subject/verb agreement, correct use of plurals, dangling participles…that sort of thing. By reviewing each other’s work, his students came up with a set of the most commonly encountered grammatical problems in their class. And then Larry challenged them to work in teams and create a movie that would fix each of the problem. Sounds easy? Not really. The movie had to, first, correctly identify and explain the problem and then offer a solution. The students had to plan it, script it, figure out lighting, music, and editing. I’ve seen two of these student-created productions and they’re terrific. Here’s one that helps to identify and correct run on sentences. And here’s one on that common bugaboo of when to use woman/women. Priceless.
But wait, there’s more. Another project that Larry got his students interested in is making their own graphic novels about an historical event or a concept. He first had them read Persepolis (by Marjane Satrapi) and Maus (by Art Spiegelman), engaging them in a discussion about what worked and didn’t work in those two books, what they liked and how this genre works. Then he showed them how to use toondoo and set them loose. The students created their own stories, with themselves at the center. Here are a few of them for you to savor: one student’s perspective on the Islamic revolution in Iran, a little time travel through the Italian Renaissance, and a walk-through of Women’s Rights in Iran.
What I love about all of these examples (and about Larry’s approach, in general) is that he’s making it possible for students to be producers, to be in charge of their own learning. I can only imagine how much “Ravy” learned about Iran from putting together her online graphic novel. And while she was at it, she learned about page layout, photo research, permissions/creative commons, maps, and how to construct a clear narrative flow.
It’s when we hear from educators like Larry Schmidt that we realize what this new world of participatory media is all about.