Since I started the TEDx project, I have been amazed at the things my students are doing. They are learning about fascinating topics, writing truly awesome reflections, building a positive online presence, and just all around being great. I’ve posted lots on this blog and on my twitter about how much fun this project is for me and my students, and I’ve talked for countless hours to everyone I know in the real world about it. And, if you’re a teacher, YOU SHOULD DO THIS WITH YOUR KIDS.
With that said, there are some pretty serious reasons that you shouldn’t do this project. I don’t know, maybe they are more like things to consider before you embark on this project. With that said, here they are.
#5: You’re on an island
Chances are that if you’re taking on this project, you’re the only person on your campus taking on this project. Anyone that deals with Professional Learning Communities, Common Planning, Department Meetings, or any form of administrative micromanaging, will understand how difficult this can be.
I am lucky in that I have a great group of teachers that teach 9th grade English with me. They are all-around wonderful people, and we are all genuinely friends, regularly hanging out socially as well. The great advantage of this is that we are able to work very closely together, and generally speaking, all 9th grade students are getting the same content at roughly the same time, and in many cases, the same assignments on the same day. I know that many teachers would find this level of group planning annoying or overbearing, but I love it.
With that said, taking on this project has made group planning difficult on me. I have to find ways to include the same content they’re doing but in a fraction of the time. It isn’t impossible, but it’s time consuming.
#4: Kids off-task
Admittedly, this is not an issue unique to the TEDx Project, but it does seem to be escalated. Whether it is because the laptops are just so much fun for the kids, the project is so completely self-paced, or just because of the usual pitfalls and time-vacuums that the internet offers, students will get off task.
My advice is to h ave a monitoring plan. We use LanSchool to let me monitor all student machines from my computer, as well as share my screen or student screens, lock down machines, . If you’ve never used it, it’s amazing.
If your school doesn’t have monitoring software of some kind, you’ll be walking around the room. A lot. Keep on top of the kids, even your best kids, because they will get lost. With that said, don’t be too strict. Part of the point of this project is to let students explore their interests, so even if what they’re doing seems off-task, it may not be.
#3: Not all students will love TEDx
We have all dealt with this issue, most of us very often. Students won’t all love this project. Some will find it tedious, some will be annoyed they can’t find videos they like, others are just so apathetic that they dislike anything that makes them “work.” Again, not unique to TEDx.
What I have found interesting with TEDx is how personally I take their displeasure. I have put in a ton of effort to make an assignment that the kids will enjoy and really benefit from, and for them to not care feels like a direct attack, or at least a failure on my part. This project has become my baby, my pride and joy. I literally talk about this project as much as I talk about my own son. So for a student to not appreciate my work, for them to not give themselves the opportunity to learn and grow from it, for them to be so close minded as to not accept something new, is just sad and disheartening.
My advice: focus on the positives. There will be so many great moments. Kids will surprise you, they will inspire you, they will touch you emotionally, they will come out of their shells, they will speak up for themselves, they will stand up for others, and they will grow. No, it won’t be 100% of them, but it will be most. Or it won’t, and it will be some. Or it won’t, and it will only be a few. Regardless of the number, focus on the victories.
#2: Kids will push boundaries
One of the issues I didn’t forsee is the way my students push the boundaries of the classroom. A great example of this cam from Jennifer. When she brought me her list of videos to be approved, these were her top 5 choices:
- The power of introverts
- Our unhealthy obsession with choice
- Is religion Good or Bad
- Atheism 2.0
- The power of vulnerability
I think we can all see the two big areas of concern: Is Religion Good or Bad? and Athesism 2.0. Add these two choices to the fact that this is a particularly outspoken class, and I’m well aware that many of the more outspoken students are also strong believers in their own faith. Lastly, add in that Jennifer, while a bit of an introvert, is not one to hold her opinions to herself, or walk on eggshells with her words.
I had to really look at her list of choices and consider if I would let her review those videos. I believe that most teachers would probably have said no. Religion, in most schools, is one of those topics you just try your best to avoid. There are few topics that could so quickly and easily enrage a class, and by extension their parents. It’s a topic that adults avoid when meeting others for the most part, because it is an issue so closely tied to so many people’s sense of self.
But I approved them. I warned her that she needed to be careful, needed to present both sides of any debate equally, and that she should be prepared for her peers to potentially be irritated, or even angry with her. She said that was fine and proceeded on. She handled the topics perfectly (and one of the students I was most concerned about the reaction of was absent when she presented), so I don’t regret the choice (if you’d like to read Jennifer’s thoughts, click here for her blog).
To me, this project is all about exploring interesting topics, and I couldn’t bring myself to stop one of my students from doing that. You will need to decide ahead of time what, if any, topics you don’t want your students to explore. And regardless, they will find an uncomfortable topic and you won’t be prepared for it.
#1: So. Much. Grading.
As I write this blog post, I should be reading my students’ blog posts. The average post my students write is about 15 sentences. Each post gets read by me, given very specific feedback (through our online gradebook), the students edit and improve, I reread, comment again, and so on. In a best case, students get it right the first time. In most cases, I read each post twice, in some cases more. It takes me about 2 minutes to read through a post and write my feedback. Multiply that by 25 students per period, 3 full periods and 3 half periods (it was an optional project for my regular students) and you come up with a billionty hours of grading.
Hyperbole aside, this project is inherently time consuming. There’s just no way around it. When you combine the necessity of monitoring students throughout their period, you come up with an unavoidable need for extra time, which we know none of us teachers have. I’ve spent hours reading posts at home, getting to school early, and staying late.
At the end of the day, despite all these issues, I am so glad that I tried this project with my kids. I cannot wait for them to give their final presentations next week and really see how far they’ve come. If you consider my 5 warnings going in, I know you will enjoy this experience as well.