In a week, every 9th grader at East Bay Arts will be delivering a TED-Talk style presentation. They will get two minutes to talk about something about which they are really passionate. They have to use a visual of some kind, and have been told DO NOT DO PUBLIC READING. ESPECIALLY FROM A POWERPOINT. Unless they want to make their teachers cry, that is.
So let's back up. Every students in 9th grade started the year with a unit on learning, the brain, and education. The centrepoint of that unit was a series of TED-Talks. We learned how to take notes and listen attentively. We talked about passion, and how passion influences people to speak from a place of excitement and power.
Concurrently, they have been working on their very first all-school project. At EBA, every grade level does one major project per trimester. For the first freshmen project, students have traditionally been asked to choose a social issue that is important to them and both write an essay about it and prepare a presentation to be given to a room of their peers and graded by the teacher.
If you read my blog and/or know Andrew and I, we tend to blow things apart and find the pieces in the rubble that work, and then build up the structure around those things. That's kind of how this project started. We liked the idea of self-selected topics. We liked students giving a presentation that means something to them. We also liked the idea of a project that all their teachers could see, work on with them, and learn from.
But we also saw problems: most teachers from last year reported there being a ton of speeches on abortion or drug laws. Having students write a research paper then deliver a persuasive speech seemed like a mismatch, and like too much for first trimester freshmen. The topics don't necessarily touch the students' lives in a serious way, or in a way that is relatable in a 4-5 minute speech. Also, the teacher in charge last year pretty much just told the other teachers what to do, and we really wanted to include the rest of the project team on the planning.
So we decided, in collaboration with the other two teachers on the team, to make it a presentation about how they wanted their school to change. We started gearing up for that when we had a better idea. Instead of advocating for a change at school, what would happen if we gave them the freedom to share something that made them truly passionate and interested? What would school be like if every student got to share something they loved for a day?
Wouldn't that be the best day of school ever? Wouldn't that MAKE the kind of school they would want to attend?
Then the next piece that fell into place was when we realised that this was basically the structure of a TED Talk. Since we've watched so many, it was an idea students quickly embraced. It also has the benefit of being a real-world context for public speaking. After all, how many people leave high school and ever have to present about a social issue for five minutes on their own? But sharing an idea with passion and enthusiasm and clarity...that's something EVERYONE has to do.
And the final piece (stolen from Jon Corippo and Minarets): the teachers will not be assessing the students. Instead, students will judge one another, based on the format of American Idol (the original). There will be a Simon, a Paula and a Randy. They will offer feedback based on the rubric categories and will decide the grade...but more importantly, will share what they thought and how it could be improved.
We will be filming the whole thing, and students will vote on which ones to feature on our YouTube channel. I also told students that this was their chance to show their teachers, their parents, their friends, and the world that they were more than just a "dumb teenager who only cares about stuff posed on Facebook." This is their chance to prove that they can have 80 9th graders in one room, listening to each other talk about something they love and not fall apart.
I'm writing about it here because I'm very aware that it might fail. In fact, failure is likely - not of the whole event, but of certain presentations, and certainly technology. But I'm sharing it so that I am clear going into it that the outcome doesn't matter. What matters is that we aimed high and worked hard. And that we learn from whatever failures may come.
In a week, it will all be over. I'm excited to share what happened.