20 Time presentations and iSearch Papers

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With all the snow, I have had some time to reflect on what we need to accomplish in my classes as we draw near to the end of 3rd nine weeks. It also gave me time to order a few things to support my students’ 20 Time projects. One of the great fears of most students is public speaking. Being able to communicate a message effectively to an audience is such an important skill to possess that I decided to spend some extra time on that aspect of the 20 Time projects. I am a huge fan of TED Talks and show them regularly in class as bounce points for discussion or journal writing. You can find a talk on pretty much any topic you might want to explore and there are new ones being added all the time. Preparing my students to deliver a TED-like talk will be a daunting task so I decided to order a couple books. I bought Talk Like TED and How to deliver a TED Talk to help me with my students’ public speaking skills. I deliver presentations to large audiences myself, so hopefully between what I learn from the books and what I already know, I can help my students craft great presentations.

I have come to realize that the model I set up with the 20 Time projects is too lengthy to keep students engaged. There was alot of excitement when we first embarked on these projects and some students have kept up with that drive to learn, but many are lagging at this point. When I changed the model to be just two blogs a month about progress and one day every other week devoted solely to the projects, I thought that would help students focus more on what they wanted to accomplish. I have come to realize now that this project should be more of a semester-long quest rather than a whole school year. The students that chose smaller ideas to pursue are starting to stall and the blogs reflect that stagnation. I think when I set this up next year, I will make it a semester pursuit, but will allow the option to continue on throughout the year for those it makes sense to. I will have to figure out how to incorporate it into second semester for those who want to continue, but that is something to think about over the summer.

I have also realized that two weeks of snow days really crunches trying to get these presentation in around Spring Break. My other impediment is the AP exam window in May. I know many of my students will be out those two weeks in May for various AP exams and it would not be prudent to try and plan presentations leading up to them or during the window since students will be spending all of their mental energy preparing for those exams. So, as much as I wanted to finish these in April, I am going to have to push them to the third week of May. The good news with that is two of my groups are doing school-wide activities as their culminating products, a “Keep Rec Sports Alive” football camp and a March Madness-style basketball tournament, “Gilbert’s Game,” in honor of a beloved faculty member with breast cancer to help pay bills and support her through her time of need. Both of these large-scale projects are happening in late April and early May so the students will actually be able to present on their full projects. I think next year I will also add a required research element to the projects, probably before the Pitch Proposals to add another layer to what we can explore with the projects and maybe give kids more ideas about what to pursue. The other thing I have been kicking around is a response element so students are actively looking at each other’s projects and maybe providing some feedback. They are always excited to hear about what others are doing when we talk about it in class, but few actively go out and read other’s blogs. I think a discussion/feedback element would aid in keeping the students excited about what they are doing.

In some of my senior classes (non-AP), my students have started an iSearch project. I read about iSearch papers a couple of years ago in Ken Macrorie’s book, The I-Search Paper: Revised Edition of Searching and Writing. I like the iSearch format because it gives room for a more personal approach to research. The paper becomes not just a regurgitation of what is already out there, but an avenue to add your own voice to that body of research. I find too, the narrative approach to research makes the inquiry more meaningful and relatable to the student’s life. So,I asked students to think about something they are interested in doing the year after graduation- career or personally- to spend some time researching and writing about. I widened the parameters more than I usually do and told them to think about ideally what they would want to do if given any option. Last year, I held it to just researching a career or college program they planned to enter. I realized as I was talking to them about their projects, that some had followed on to what they are doing with their 20 Time projects. I have students writing novels that want to be professional writers after high school and students working with animal care agencies that want to pursue Wildlife Biology and Veterinary Science after graduation. It was pretty cool to see this tie-in to what they have been pursuing all year. One thing I always require with research is a personal interview. I think it is important to talk to somebody who has walked in the shoes you aspire to wear.  It gives you a better idea of what it takes to be successful and the pitfalls you might face. I also realize that sometimes students don’t know where to start with finding an interview subject, so I always offer my resources to find an interview. I was able to hook up one of my students with a Wildlife Biologist for the State of Virginia and two of my writers with published poets. There is no substitute for interacting with people practicing in the field you want to be a part of. It is interesting to see how curriculum can become so interconnected when you make it driven by student choice and voice. It is not always easy as a teacher to let the control go, but the reward with the students is worth it.

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