There have been more and more conversations recently about the need for young people to be risk takers, problem solvers, critical thinkers, collaborators and creators in order to thrive in the workplace they will enter. In my experience, it is the idea of taking risks, the fear of not getting it right and the need to know all the answers before “leaning in” (Sheryl Sandberg - COO Facebook) that inhibits girls. It has become a bit of a mission of mine to empower girls, which luckily is the vision at St Margaret’s College!
I was incredibly fortunate to be in on the ground when The Centre for Innovation was created at St Margaret’s College. It is common knowledge there is a very real shortage of women in the tech industry. I can attest to this having entered the tech world myself - but that’s for another post. Initially this was a key driver behind establishing The Centre for Innovation. However, what I see as being the real strengths of providing girls with opportunities to tinker, create and innovate is the resilience and self confidence that is developed throughout the process.
I made it my mission this year to incorporate new ways of learning into my teaching and learning programmes and I was blown away by the capabilities of the young women I worked with. It was important when thinking about incorporating innovation into English and Social Science that the learning was authentic and it wasn’t simply a bit of “play time” at the end of a unit - not that I’m against play! Earlier this year the world celebrated Shakespeare’s birthday (400 years) which put The Bard in the spotlight. We had the Pop Up Globe Theatre here in Auckland and a number of the students in my class were lucky enough to get along, so I decided to introduce my Year 8 class to Shakespeare - I’m a bit of a fan! Their initial responses were very interesting…
- “Isn’t Shakespeare only studied in the Senior School?”
- “Aren’t we too young…”
- “It’s really hard, we don’t have to read the play do we?”
- “Why are we learning about something so old?”
So I approached things from a different angle and took that last statement, adapted it slightly, and we embarked on an inquiry into - “Why is Shakespeare still relevant and why should we study his works?” I ditched the plan and started again looking at everything through a different lense.
The unit culminated in the students using their understanding of Shakespeare’s language, plays (Twelfth Night) and his influence on popular culture to bring Shakespeare alive for their generation. The brief was for the girls to incorporate new technologies to create something relevant and original for their peers.
I am all for giving students choice and see a high level of engagement when they drive their own learning. However, I also see students try to take the easy way out. I had girls instantly ask if they could simply act out a key scene of “Twelfth Night” and create an iMovie. I asked if this would challenge them. The short answer was no. The brief then extended to choosing a project that would challenge and excite them.
The results were outstanding and included:
- A 3D printed range of Shakespeare merchandise - including the “quote hanger” and a 3D printed bobblehead of Shakespeare.
- Gamifying the plot of “Twelfth Night”.
- The use of Scratch to create a trailer for the film “She’s The Man”.
- The use of Minecraft to collaboratively create the setting of “Twelfth Night”. This was brought together and analysed using iMovie.
- A group wrote the lyrics to a rap based on the plot and themes of “Twelfth Night”. They created a music video using iMovie and Garageband.
- The use of papertronics to create a gift card range incorporating Shakespeare’s language and themes.
- 3D printed fridge magnets of Shakespeare’s famous quotes.
There were times that girls found their task “too hard” and wanted to give up or change direction. But they didn’t give up, they dug deep, persevered and experienced success. There was one group that reminded me of the young boy in the film “Most Likely To Succeed” who worked tirelessly to complete his section of the class project. This group worked around the clock, overcoming challenges and they were extremely proud of their finished project. There was such a strong sense of achievement that the class organised a celebration of learning afternoon. They invited the senior leadership team and other classes to see their learning. Sadly they ran out of time to get their parents along, however, the learning was shared with parents via the students’ LINC-ED learning portfolios.
This unit of work with this Year 8 class was one of the highlights of my professional career. Why?
At times it can be harder work to deviate from the plan but taking the teachable moments, shaping them and enabling students to share in the direction of the learning is powerful.
We can never know it all and I had the good fortune of working with a team of exceptional teachers at St Margaret’s. I would like to acknowledge Linda Chong (Head of The Centre for Innovation) and Sarah Coursey (Library and e-Learning Centre Manager) for supporting this learning.
Facilitator rather than fountain
It can feel uncomfortable when we, as teachers, don’t hold the knowledge. There was a great deal of problem solving and learning alongside the students for me throughout this unit.
Embrace new learning and become a learner
I find it is becoming too easy for teachers to opt out of the digital world because they feel the students can pick it up and often know more than them. Whilst it’s great to be an enabler of tech, it’s important to continue to keep learning.
I was extremely proud of the creativity, perseverance and self management skills exhibited by these exceptional young women. I am looking forward to seeing the pathways that they choose and hope they take squiggly ones (Claudia Batten - The Squiggly Line). I would love to see some of them become passionate entrepreneurs, innovators and tech leaders!
Aimie Sibson - Former English Teacher and Digital Learning Facilitator St Margaret’s College, Co-founder LINC-ED