Ruth Gleicher and I have known each other for many years. Ruth teaches biology at Niles West High School (in Skokie, IL, just outside Chicago) and I’ve been one of her biggest fans for as long as I’ve known her. We see each other at the annual National Association of Biology Teachers meeting, at the occasional regional meeting, and here and there as I’ve gone through Chicago or she’s been to Boston. One year, Ruth arranged for me to come to Niles West HS to meet with some of her teaching colleagues and talk about the use of new media in teaching. We all had a great day together. Typical of Ruth, she invited me to stay in her home and meet her family, making the trip that much more fun and meaningful.
Recently, Ruth emailed me and asked for some ideas to invigorate an AP Biology project she assigns each year for her students. Here’s the assignment as she put it to me:
I am trying to infuse some new ideas into my AP curriculum this year. I decided to revise a standard brochure project that my students have done in the past – they generate a brochure, after they visit the Indiana Dunes. What I want them to do is to use data and pictures (photos and/or drawings) that they get at the dunes to tell the story of succession. I’d like to revitalize that and do it in a new way, using participatory media tools. Ideally, I’d like them to use their own hand-drawings and photographs (maybe even drawing on top of the photographs) to explain what they see at the Dunes. I will supply them with a list of terms and ideas that must be incorporated and explained in their story and let them pick how the story would be told.
I sent her a few emails, sharing some thoughts and a few links …and then I had an idea. Ruth is one of the most creative and resourceful teachers I know. What’s more, she’s been teaching for a long time, so her insights about learning are well grounded in the confidence and perception that comes from years spent with teenagers. She knows what will work and what won’t, down to the bottom of her socks. And she’s smart – she’s like a hot knife through butter when it comes to making judgments about how to set up a project, what to expect from her students, and what will be most effective. So why not take advantage of this opportunity to capture her thinking about transforming this project of hers with the use of participatory media? If we could somehow capture the process as she moves from doing the project the way she’s always done it (with her students producing a paper brochure on the Dunes) to helping her students dive into the deep well of becoming authors and producers of video, podcasts, and digital stories to be shared with a wider audience – and then share it with the wider teaching audience. What a perfect meta case study!
I proposed the idea to Ruth, being mindful of the burden when asking an already-very-busy person to do one more thing (but hey, she asked me, right?) and much to my delight, she agreed.
So, starting tonight, we’re off. She’s explained the project to me, I’ve sent her some ideas (which I’ll capture in the next post), and tonight we’re going to Skype together for the first in what I hope will be a series of interviews, documenting her thinking as she plans and implements the project with her class. Thanks, Ruth!