Just over a year ago, we set out to create a Digital Immersion Mini School here at John Oliver.
A 1:1 program with a 21st century Learning Framework, each student has their own MacBook and with the help of their teachers as learning coaches, they develop and improve upon their skills and knowledge by working with rich media and web-based delivered content in a wireless classroom committed to an inquiry based model for learning. As the program continues to evolve and endeavours to provide students with a technology supported and enhanced learning environment the aim is to nurture them in their goals to learn, adapt, and thrive in our new technology rich world. Growing in confidence with respect to their technology skills, these students will eventually have the option of pursuing an area of interest or passion in a yearlong course of their own design – an opportunity to explore an area of specific interest or produce an original work in their field of choice.
The idea of choice and our students’ growing understanding of the “political” power behind creative expression as a means to “making a difference” is the focus behind the Digital Immersion students’ current collaborative venture. In partnership with the City of Vancouver, they are initiating a digital storytelling project to showcase what the city is doing in terms of environmental sustainability and why Vancouver should be the greenest city in the world by 2020. It is a project that will also draw attention to what the Vancouver Board of Education is doing and why the VBE should be the greenest school district in North America.
These grade 8 students are going to schools throughout Vancouver to interview people about their ideas and their work around green projects. They will be using flip cams to video and will be uploading the footage to their iPads to create their video/investigative documentary (they’ll be using ReelDirector apps as the iPad1 does not support iMovie).
The students have secured an $8000 grant from the Vancouver Foundation’s “Generation Green Awards” with their proposal to build two community gardens on the school site (the hope is that one of them will be on the rooftop). The exciting educational piece, as Zhi Su tells me, is this:
Within this garden, everything we plant and use will be tagged with QR Codes which will be linked to our Digital Immersion website/pages and wikis that the students are going to create. This is just the beginning! The wiki will have pictures and other learning objects. Participants will have access to all the content via iOS devices over wifi that will be available at the gardens.
The idea is that our students will create wikis with information on the garden, the specimens, the lifecycle, the maintenance etc. Elementary students and the greater community will come to JO and interact with the garden like an outdoor classroom. These observers will come with devices (or devices we provide through our school’s Learning Commons), scan the QR Codes, learn and interact with the content, but now add to the information by contributing to the wiki.
The “how to” piece has us purchasing a Mac mini server to leverage as a wiki server with the overall intention of developing this project so that all students can become content creators through posting and podcasting on our wiki.
It is an exciting proposal that uses technology not as the driver but as the means towards establishing a message of environmental sustainability at a local level. However, of equal importance to the message are the skills that all involved will be developing: critical thinking, creativity and innovation, collaboration and leadership and the notion of caring for personal health and planet earth (21st century foundation skills put into practice without any ideological haranguing).
What resonates with me most about this project is that, to borrow from Chris Kennedy, it’s not about the “tools”. The tools being used here are innovative, exciting and flashy; however, the technology is not the focus but is being used to facilitate content creation and knowledge making in a hands-on constructivist fashion. Within this inquiry based approach, students are developing their abilities to look at a subject in depth, survey a wide range of sources and ultimately put this information together in ways that make sense to themselves and, ultimately, to other persons as well: it’s as much about process as it is product.
Our challenge from here (if we can laughingly agree that at this point we still need to be challenged) is to help our students grow in their confidence and move beyond the paradigms of research and synthesis – to go beyond what is known and stretch themselves and their thinking in new and unexpected directions, what Howard Gardner describes as the attributes of the “creating mind”. It is this challenge and not any respective project that should drive us as educators; a challenge that will always merit the investment of significant amounts of our time and our resources to ensure continued success.