It’s been over a year since we started the Digital Learning Farm in Room 305B. Over a year since that opening day assembly featuring Alan November that got me so excited that I got back from the high school, went onto the November Learning website, and changed up quite a bit of my curriculum. It’s funny how when you least expect something big, when you are truly open-bowled, that you can let all kinds of new thoughts in your mind.
I’ve long done digital storytelling projects, starting in the fall of 1999. The first Erickson class produced a movie was about the History of Thoreau School. The second one, produced in 2000, was called “River, Rails, and Revenues” about the history of West Concord. This video won a student video contest in 2001 as did subsequent movies, “Talking Tombstones” and “CEI – Concord Ecological Issues” did in 2002. In 2003, my class produced a 40 minute movie called “Shoes for the Soul” . In 2004, after watching a Ken Burns documentary, I decided to switch from live video to having the students produce documentaries, created from still photos from the Colonial period of U.S. history. Colonial Storytelling then morphed into Egyptian Storytelling and China Storytelling. This went on for a number of years until that fateful day in September 2009.
So what’s different now? My students are still creating digital products, right? How could this farm project changed my view of learning so greatly?
In the digital farm, I really let go. I let the students collaborate more with one another, infuse their product with their own brand of creativity. I let them decide the type of product in which to display their knowledge of a certain subject area. I decided that I did not need to know everything. I remember in the past, I felt like I needed to be an expert in iMovie, in Robolab. Quickly, I found out that the students bypassed my level of knowledge so quickly. It is okay to say “I don’t know how to do that.” No longer was I held back by my own fear of failure, instead I created an atmosphere of it was okay to take a risk and it was okay for my students to take a risk. Fortunately for me, I have always had principals and administration that allowed me to take risks to improve student learning and student engagement.
Speaking of engagement, I found that student engagement is the key to classroom management. Engaged students are that – engaged. If you read some of my earlier blogs, you will find time and time again my amazement at how many different things were going on in the classroom and how totally on task everyone was at any given time. Whereas before, I only wanted one way to present information, now I had iMovie, Garage Band, Activ Studio, Keynote, a blog platform, and a webpage design activity going on at one time. Never was it chaotic.
Finally, I became co-learners with my students. We would learn together, sometimes get frustrated together, and often rejoice in their work together. I learned to better value their time. For example, the students had written these incredible realistic fiction stories. When it came time to a rewrite, I thought, “Would this be a good use of their time? What is the main purpose of this experience?” Instead of rewriting 20 plus handwritten pages, the students created book trailers about their stories.
So this week in Room 305B, the new farmers set off to display their CBL knowledge by using some new farm tools. It wasn’t totally chaos-free. My techie partner was out, I had lots of storyboards to review and students to set up on different programs. I challenged the students to try something new, to stretch themselves, to help one another. By 3:00 p.m., one student had deleted all her photos, but she was still smiling, another had tried ActivStudio, totally outside her comfort zone, and another was still trying to figure out how to do something on Garage Band. But, they were all challenged and engaged for the entire afternoon. For me as a teacher, it is both liberating and energizing to be a farmer. I look forward to learning new skills alongside my newest crop of farmers.