Hope Springs Digital
The science assignment, in all its wrinkled, photocopied paperness, emerged from the depths of my 5th grader’s backpack. It contained, smacking of “parental involvement,” directions about how to display the results of the experiment on a tri-fold posterboard…due the next day.
The parental involvement I don’t mind, but when it comes to tri-fold poster displays, it becomes less about parental involvement and more about uh, parental guidance -and I don’t mean Mike Parent’s blog. (Although a blog does eventually play a part in this tale -read on, Digital Reader).
I dispise tri-fold poster displays and their inbred cousins, construction paper cut outs and foam display boards. They’re the so analog, so last-century, remnants of ancient business presentation expectations that have infiltrated our classrooms and science fairs. They’re very useful for the static displays of parental creativity and competition in gymnasiums converted to exhibition halls. Some may publicly look down their noses at the neatly arranged, heavily parent-influenced items on the tri-fold, but secretly covet the blue ribbon hanging on the corner of the board. And that’s where it starts. The pitiful tri-folds find themselves stuffed in the far less-traveled corners, assuming they even make it out of the classroom. So, in an effort to help our kids present themselves in a positive light, we parents make suggestions that turn into directives that turn into maddening scrambles and searches for mom’s special scrapbooking scissors that add some flare to this border. I wonder how many Sunday nights have ended with parents meticulously gluing display doodads while the kid is off in the other room playing video games. Nobody else? Must just be my house.
No longer, I resolved this time. (Plus, all the craft stores were closed and we were fresh out of foam board having used it all up on a quite beautiful State of Ohio display, which, by the way resides behind a door in the spare room downstairs as a monument to a maniacal frenzy of parental involvement.) It was time to take a chance with our kid’s education. Risky, I know, but I just didn’t have it in me to top the Ohio display.
About then I made a crazy Web 2.0pian decision and suggested that we put the required pieces of the assignment on a blog. Since this would be my son’s first foray into the blogosphere, I would set the blog up for him and give him a basic how-to after he had recorded all the required elements in a Word document. I wanted the initial blog experience to be more about the learning and less about the technical manipulation.
So he proceeded with his experiment, recording the materials and his hypothesis and the procedures and and the data and taking pictures as required. I set his blog up so he could copy and paste his text from the laptop. I made sure to make his blog viewable by invitation only because I knew I’d have to convince the hand-wringing, Internet fear mongers that this wasn’t a digital terrorism plot or would jeopardize his safety on the Internet. The really radical part was that we had several discussions about safe online behavior and what to include on the blog. We spoke about the type and amount of pictures he would be using and what he hoped to communicate with them. We talked about design and formatting and how each of those could help his audience understand him more clearly. We had more meaningful conversations that connected more of his past, current, and future learning to what he was doing just then. Certainly much better than the strained interactions of previous display-type projects. We’ll have more of the same conversations, I’m sure -and that’s just great.
With the entry edited and posted, I turned my attention to the science teacher and the district. This was going to be a surprise for the science teacher and I didn’t much appreciate those when I taught. I figured, more hoped, it was worth a shot. Just in case, I made a PDF of the blog post and emailed it to her after the blog invitation. She was able to see the blog from home and later on at school. She made some meaningful comments with questions and my son responded with thoughtful answers. I thought their exchanges were much better than a grade written on the back of the poster. Even more, she was very encouraging with the next assignment asking him to make another post.
For us and the teacher, it’s a dynamic resource easily accessible, not shoved in a corner or behind a door. We can look at the difference between the two entries and see the improvement -although he didn’t initially proof his spelling and mechanics on the second one, but we’ll work on that. His teacher shared it with some of his other teachers, who asked us to invite them so they could view it and we did. I was glad to see his excitement and his teacher’s. When the time came for the second assignment on the blog, he needed very little direction in the creation and organization. In fact he planned from the beginning how he was going to use the digital tools to accomplish his task. Score one for the Web 2.0pians.