I created a sample project to model an assignment for my Honors classes this past week. The topic for my project was Josh Gibson; the assignment was to research a person or event for Black History Month and then post the research on a web page. Students are to follow up their project with a reflective blog post on what they learned from the project, what they liked about the project, and anything they would change about the project. Here is my sample reflection…
I researched Josh Gibson, one of the best power hitters in the history of baseball, why do many people not know of him…he played in the Negro Leagues. He has been called “The Black Babe Ruth” others have gone as far as as calling Babe Ruth, The White Josh Gibson,” that is how good he was. He was finally voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972, the second of the Negro League Players to make it there.
I learned many things during this project, some were about Josh Gibson. I admit I knew of him before the project, I am 51 years old, a history teacher, and love to focus on the Mon Valley, a place that is still dear to me. I did come across an interesting fact about Josh Gibson and several other Pittsburgh Crawford players; I am not sure of the veracity of the story, but it was found on several sites that attest to varying degrees of truthfulness to the events. They played one season in the Dominican Republic for Ciudad Trujillo, the team of Dominican Dictator Raphael Trujillo. Players were followed by gunmen the entire season, including while in stadiums, with gunmen lining the field during play. You can find my sample project by clicking here.
I also learned some new skills and tools, some out of necessity. My preferred platform, Wikispaces, is closing, our district’s Google domain is a walled and locked garden, and time is the ultimate scarcity, so I had to adjust quickly and bounce ideas off of my PLN on which platform I should host my students’ projects. By the way, PLN refers to Personal Learning Network or Professional Learning Network, your choice. I ended up going with Google Sites, the old version, because it still allowed me to share the student sites with the world.
I liked a good number of things about this project, but most importantly for me, I liked that what I believed about my students was true, even my students who shy away from technology can grasp its use and run with it in a creative fashion WHEN THEY CHOOSE! (Yes, I just dropped all caps, but they deserve that.) They handled the uncertainty of trying something new, along with the malleable nature of the project due to conditions mentioned above and rose to the occasion. With a bit of prodding I got a number of them to open up with their concerns and questions towards the project and we were able to adjust due dates
There are plenty of things I will adapt as I move forward with my class and this project. My students, or at least some of them may not be happy with this section, but they were very influential to my thoughts. I believed, incorrectly so, that giving the students a brief introduction to the project and turning them loose on research would not cause stress. Students were charged with researching a topic and when I returned from the conference we would work on building their websites on the chosen platform. I explained that I wanted to test a few websites before declaring a definitive project landing space. I was leaning towards using Wikispaces.com as the home for the project and when I discovered the site was closing down I was thankful for my hesitation. Over the next several days at a conference, PETE and C, I polled my PLN on possible replacements, attempted a weak and unsuccessful Twitter campaign to change Wikispaces mind.
When I returned from PETE and C, I discovered how wrong I was about student stress. It took a bit of time upon my return from a conference to calm the frayed nerves, but things settled down with the extra effort. Eventually students opened up with their concerns and questions and we worked through the process to clear any confusion, or at least I think we did.
This showed that I still need to work on lines of communication. I try to encourage student feedback and input, the attempt is there for them to feel comfortable offering their opinions. That being said, a number of students were not very willing to open up about their concerns. Even after I witnessed a number of eye rolls, heard some huffs of frustration, it still took a bit of cajoling to get some to share their thoughts. I have no issues with giving students a voice and ownership in class activities, it is a good practice for all involved. It is just an ongoing process we all have to adjust to and this project showed that I still have a ways to go to keep a comfortable setting for open communication.
The projects have not been turned in for yet review, but watching the students work and talking with them as they turn their research into online presentations has made me confident that the projects will be successful. Students are purposefully trying out new tools such as Smore and Voki to add depth to the content of their presentations. they seem to understand the concept of adding technology or new tools just for superficial reasons will not benefit their work.