New Journalism

Jan 12 2011

Help me to build a more explicit community around Youth Voices and Voices on the Gulf this spring

I want to invite you to join me in an experiment in collaborative curriculum building this spring. With your help and the help of other teachers, I want to create and launch a series of challenges or missions that we can pose to students on Youth Voices and Voices on the Gulf.
I’m not sure if the word challenge captures what I’m talking about. What I have in mind is to provide students with a 3-part assignment each week, plus an additional request for personal reflections to be placed on their profile pages. The model that is banging around in my head comes from the work I did along with my students last spring when we played Jane McGonigal’s alternate reality game (ARG), “Urgent Evoke.”
Last spring, every Wednesday for ten weeks, a new “mission” and a new “quest” unlocked. Each mission had three objectives:

LEARN - Investigate our great challenges and share what you discover.

ACT - Get out in the world. Do something small to help solve a real problem.

IMAGINE - Unleash your creativity. Tell a story about the future you want to make.

How To Play - Urgent Evoke

Alongside of these missions we built imaginative profiles. Each participant was asked to picture him or herself as a hero, then to reveal/imagine/discover a bit more each of the ten weeks that that the game was live. Here’s how it is described at
Urgent Evoke:

Every hero has an origin story. It’s time for you to discover yours.

Where do your powers come from? Who inspires you? What set you on a path to change the world?

A new quest unlocks every Wednesday at midnight.

Each quest is a question that only you can answer.

Answer all ten questions, and write the story only you can tell.

Perhaps we could create something similar for our students on Youth Voices and on Voices on the Gulf this spring.

I want to invite you and other teachers to do this with me, to create a collaborative project. This would also go along with our already planned revision of Youth Voices where we will have five new groups:

  1. Art, Music, and Photography

  2. Gaming and New Media

  3. Literature and Inquiry

  4. Local Knowledge with Global Attitude

  5. Our Space (K-6)

I’ve thought of a few different ways these challenges or missions could be written, but each option assumes that new assignments will roll out or unlock each week, that our goal will be to have students look forward to—or at least expect to find—a new challenge each Wednesday, for example. I’m also hoping that we can find a way to track the assignments that students have completed, or—as was done on Urgent Evoke—a way for students to self-report their finished missions.

A group of us already involved with Youth Voices and/or Voices on the Gulf might work together on creating the assignments each week. One possibility that I think we might consider is for us to create five weeks of challenges/missions leading up to the April 20th anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and the annual Earth Day, celebrated two days later on April 22.

The idea would be to release a challenge each Wednesday, beginning March 16th. We would do whatever we could to get the word out, to invite other teachers, and to help them to figure out ways to commit time in their curriculum for these five challenges in the weeks leading up to the 20th and 22nd of April. In this option, the theme of the challenges/missions would focus on environmental issues, with specific examples and references to what happened in the Gulf a year ago.

It may be that you are interested in closer collaborative curriculum than we have done before on Youth Voices, but that you are not interested in creating curriculum around environmental issues and the Gulf oil spill. That’s all good. For this to work we need to really be committed to getting the challenges out on time and we need to be sure that they work in our own classrooms, even as we invite other teachers and students to join our community by responding to these specific challenges.

I’ve also been considering another option which might still be of interest to teachers in the Gulf states, but might also get teachers from all over excited to participate. What if we were to build a curriculum together using the notion of weekly challenges/missions that came from one of the new groups that we are using to reorganize Youth Voices this spring?

In particular, “Local Knowledge” is a curricular area that has the potential of working its way into a lot of teachers classrooms, but would benefit from a clear weekly set of prompts, ideas, and provocations that anybody who wanted to participate could use at the same time. We are imagining that this community of teachers and students on Youth Voices will be investigating their local community, using  the approaches we have learned from place-based education.

Place-based education (PBE) immerses students in local heritage, cultures, landscapes, opportunities and experiences, using these as a foundation for the study of language arts, mathematics, social studies, science and other subjects across the curriculum. PBE emphasizes learning through participation in service projects for the local school and/or community.
What is PBE | Promise of Place

Over the years on Youth Voices, we have done a lot of work like this, from our early work with mapping to the Mapping Main Street project and from photo-walks to I-Search papers recently published on Voices on the Gulf.

What I’m proposing here is that we re-organize and develop our assignments, and release them over a regular period of time so that teachers and students new to our community can jump in and work on a challenge/mission with us.

I can also imagine the “Art, Music and Photography” group using a weekly challenge structure this spring to help coordinate their work together. In fact maybe a way to define and build community within the new groups that we are creating on Youth Voices is to work with other teachers using that community to produce missions that get released in an ongoing basis over a specified period of time.

Please reply to this by letting me know of your interest. Maybe just give me some response, explaining how you can imagine being involved. Does this seem like it is worth doing? What concerns or questions does it bring up for you? I know that I haven’t been very specific about what would be in each challenge. Take a look at the Missions on Urgent Evoke, and let’s keep talking!

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