Tuesday, May 12, 2015
Editor's note: Today’s guest author is Gloria Musto, Child Development and Economics teacher and Director of Student Activities at Fontbonne Hall Academy in Brooklyn, New York. She’s passionate about letting students guide their educational journey and think beyond the typical means of learning.
Students often read textbooks to learn about changemakers and historical events, but interactive experiences can often have a more profound impact on students’ learning. To celebrate Women’s History Month this year, the 19 students in my Intro to Child Development class created a project in which they worked in small teams and took on the persona of a prominent woman in the field of child development. The project had three goals: encourage students to work together in different ways, challenge them to solve problems creatively and inspire them to take initiative and drive their own learning through individual research and collaborative use of collective research.
Before they launched the project, the students needed to find a platform to host it. The students experimented and unanimously found that Google+ met the needs for the project for its interactivity and collaborative elements. But they needed to figure out how to get the pages to interact. Working together, the students resolved that they should create Gmail accounts for each “character.” Using Google+, the students created an interactive project that allowed them to respond to questions and react accordingly as a team to comments from other “characters.”
Once they created the pages, I posted questions on our group’s Google+ page, and students responded in the voice of the child development leader they chose. Students researched the background and theories of women like Maria Montessori, Melanie Klein, Mary Ainsworth, and Anna Freud to build the appropriate point of view. Each student group created a Google+ page for the woman they chose, then posted content that included photos, videos, facts, quotes and journal entries.
The project encouraged students to think creatively and expand their learning beyond the textbook — some of the women my students chose, such as Mary Ainsworth, weren’t even mentioned in the chapters we’re reading. The students also discovered a web of connections between different leaders in the child development world. Many of the personas strongly agreed or disagreed with the others’ perspectives, so students portrayed those interactions in their posts.
Students worked on the project both in small groups and individually. In order to clearly acknowledge the contributions individual students made, they used a hashtag system to take credit for the post, for example #byvictoria. This simple system held students accountable for their work while fostering teamwork.
Typically, students think of social media as a platform they use in their personal lives and not in the classroom. Now, my students see social media — specifically Google+ — as a learning agent as well. As Maria Montessori said, “the greatest sign of success for a teacher is to be able to say, the children are now working as if I did not exist.” This project would have made Maria Montessori proud. The students were simply given a framework (a well-prepared classroom in a Montessori mindset), and then independently created a unique and sophisticated social media experience.