Poking through my Twitterstream the other day, I stumbled across a great quote from digital thought leader Marc Prensky. He wrote: “Technology gives kids power that people their age have never had. Let’s help them use it wisely.”
That’s an incredibly important point, isn’t it? The fact of the matter is that the kids sitting in your classroom — whether they are six or sixteen — don’t have to sit on life’s sidelines waiting until they grow up in order to make a difference in the world around them. Instead, they can be agents of change today.
In my classroom, that agency starts and ends with digital tools.
Embracing the notion that raising our voice and drawing awareness to the causes that we care the most about is a valuable form of activism and participation, we’ve made videos on the impact that poverty is having on lives in the developing world and loans to more than 450 people trying to start businesses in order to improve their own lives and the lives of their families.
Not bad for a bunch of 12-year-olds, huh?
Our newest cause is a blog designed to raise awareness about the amount of added sugar in the kinds of foods that tweens and teens eat on a daily basis. In just over a month, my students have written nearly 40 posts spotlighting the added sugars in everything from popular sports drinks to 26-pound gummy pythons.
More importantly, we’ve offered practical advice to a reader with diabetic relatives, made suggestions on healthier options to a reader with a wicked sweet tooth, and landed on the radar of the physical education teachers in Anchorage, Alaska.
Creating a post is easy for my kids. They start by deciding on a food that they want to spotlight. Then, they visit an online food database to gather nutritional information, use a PowerPoint template to put together an interesting infographic, and craft a witty bit that is no longer than three or four sentences to add to our blog.
From start to finish, new entries are finished in about 30 minutes. That makes posting approachable for every student — which means we’ve constantly got a line of kids willing to draft new content for our blog.
The experience for kids who have joined our little band of #sugarninjas has been nothing short of powerful.
In just a few short months, they have embraced the notion that with a little bit of effort, their work can truly matter. Need proof? Then check out this quote from a recent interview that they completed for Middleweb.
“Our goal for starting #sugarkills was simply to inform people about the sugar in the foods they commonly eat and to help people make better choices. That has been a success from the beginning, and we’re proud of that.
But what makes us even more proud is that … we are learning that 12-year-olds can help people all around the world be more careful with the things that they put in their body. We just like the feeling of being able to be as powerful and influential as adults. It feels amazing to be able to educate people on the dangers of sugar.”
Spend any time poking through progressive conversations on just what education is supposed to look like, and you’ll hear thinkers suggesting that it is time for teachers to encourage their students to reach beyond their classrooms. Will Richardson calls this doing work that matters; Brad Ovenell-Carter calls this giving students opportunities to be significant; and Ryan Bretag calls this developing a philanthropic and entrepreneurial mindset in our kids.
As a real-live, bona-fide, full-time practicing classroom teacher, I call this doable for any teacher — and I challenge you to start your own cause-driven classroom blogging project today.
Like many accomplished educators, Bill Ferriter wears a ton of professional hats. He’s a Solution Tree author and presenter, an accomplished blogger and a senior fellow in the Teacher Leaders Network. He checks all of those titles at the door each morning, though, when he walks into his sixth-grade classroom. Ferriter tweets @plugusin.