Saturday, February 18, 2012

Crowd Sourcing Really Cool Student Activities - Can you help?

I’ve originated and started a project at my school that I want to talk about, and ask for some help with. This post is a bit long, but I hope anyone reading it will hang in!

This year, I teach Grade 9 BTT and Grade 9 English at an International Baccalaureate (IB) Junior High School in the TDSB. And we are non-semestered, so I have the kids for the full year.

BTT is actually called “Communication and Information Technology” and it’s stated purpose is to familiarize students with typical business applications. There are some problems with this – the main one being that the school computers are all running on Windows XP, and just as an example, we are running Office 2003. At home, the students and I are all running up-to-date operating systems and software. It seems a vast waste of time and effort for me to teach them in detail about software they stopped using four years ago, and that will be even more obsolete by the time they leave high school.

I also have a problem with the way the BTT course has been typically designed by the teachers who teach it: 6 weeks of Word, 6 weeks of Excel, 6 weeks of PowerPoint, click this button, pull down this menu, blah, blah, blah.

I think this type of pedagogy doesn’t meet the needs of our students in today’s technology environment. I think it encourages slow, non-adaptable thinking in a time when technology change is so fast that it’s crucial that students (and teachers, but that’s a topic for another time!) be nimble and resourceful in their approach to and use of technology.

My solution for this year – Call it “Candace-BTT 2.0” is to move to project-based instruction.

* * *

Zoom over to IB English. Since the IB program requires us to create cross-curricular units, I convinced my sister Grade 9 English Teachers that we should do something more interesting than “Tudor Times” for our year-end Culminating Activity. Instead, we are going to do a TED-like conference (see if you aren’t familiar with TED – you’ve been missing out). We are calling the conference “Toronto Tomorrow”.

Students will use this article: How Toronto Lost it's Groove as a jumping off point, and be expected to do deep research about a topic related to the future of the City of Toronto, and then to present a TED-style talk about their topic. We have 7 classes of grade 9s – each class will be invited to nominate 7 members to represent them in the conference. So, we will have 50 students talking about:
  • The Faces of Toronto (changing demographics and immigration)
  • Transportation
  • Architecture and Building
  • Greening the City
  • Art and Performance
  • Taking Care of Each Other (Charities and charitable events)

Students will have to write a proposal for their topic (that includes visiting and photographing whatever they are studying), research it, create slides or a prezi, rehearse, present to their classes and write a reflection about the process. The chosen 7 from each class will participate in the general conference.

* * * 

Meanwhile in BTT, I’ve been teaching project management using Scrum to the kids. They have developed requirements, created backlogs, done task analysis and estimated using planning poker. I’ve taught them how to use burn down charts and project status boards to track their work. Next week, will be doing the LEGO City Scrum simulation – they will use SCRUM to manage the task of building a city out of LEGO – this will give them a chance to run the whole process from end to end, and to practice the various ceremonies that come with Scrum.

After that, they divide into project teams and start working on real world projects. By “real world,” I mean that the projects are not “made up activities for school”, they are actual projects that will be used by people and they have real deadlines (not just, we have to finish this so we can move on to the next topic).

The first set of projects is to support the Toronto Tomorrow Conference. We will need PR (including a plan, commercials, letters, invitations, posters etc.). There will need to be a website that showcases all 50 of the presentations as well as other information about the conference. This will be a public website. We will be making a documentary about the conference as well (which will also be posted on the website), and a documentary about the BTT class and project-based learning. We also will need some small stuff, like a system where 170 students can sign up for a specific topic, and find all the required documents.

The second set of projects is similar – instead of the conference, the artifacts will all be related to the Annual Talent Show (A weird title considering how popular, important and excellent it is – but whatever).

We also have a couple smaller projects, notably, to create a “Student Voices” website for the school, and to create a new Website for the library.

The students will apply for roles on these projects based on their learning goals and interests. As certain projects finish, students will join other teams. The teams will create a document management repository. They will work with a variety of product owners to sort out requirements, decide what technology they are going to use based on what they are doing, figure out how to learn it, and then use it to create their deliverables. They will estimate their tasks and create a schedule. Some teams may include students that are in different classes – we have become quite good at on-line collaboration, so they will continue to use that skill. Kids who are interested in management will be assigned as scrum masters, and I have some other tasks for them as well – including setting up the 360 degree review process using tech like “survey monkey" or something similar.

The Culminating Activity for the course will be to hand in a formal project closeout report for any project they participated in.

I said that the beginning I need some help with these undertakings. One of my goals is to get kids to meet people in the community who are experts in things they want to learn. If you can suggest an idea or volunteer just a little of your time, I sincerely hope that you will do so:

  •  I need a software developer who can be available by email once in a while to answer occasional questions from students about coding web-pages and flash or DHTML (and possibly help them debug if they get stuck). Mostly, I think they will be using Weebly, which is drag and drop, but there is the ability to add your own widgets and customize the code. I have a couple technically-minded students whom I believe will want to go beyond simple drag and drop web development. I don’t see any reason to hold them back just because I’m not an expert.
  • UI design for humans. I know a fair bit about this, and they’ll be doing research, but I would love to have a professional that they could contact for an opinion, or perhaps an outside review of their page designs.
  • Documentary films – is there anybody out there who could do a documentary film-making workshop? Or direct me to some good resources about how to make documentaries? I know how to use the software (the kids will choose from Movie Maker, iMovie and Final Cut Pro), but I can’t offer much guidance on how to make a good documentary.

For the Toronto Tomorrow Conference

We are looking for more topics for the kids. Urban Planning Toronto has been amazing – they have supplied about 70 topics. But they don’t know everything going on in this city.

If you are involved in or know of any causes, events, artists, musicians, historical buildings, new architecture, community gardens, innovative technology, tree planting, web initiative, ANYTHING – all the amazing things that enrich the fabric of our city please tell me what they are. If you have a contact, that would be even more helpful.

Thank you to anybody and everybody who can help!!!!

Updates on these projects as they unfold.


  1. I'd be happy to help with reviewing the UI/UX/usability side of projects. In a sort of related, but it doesn't have to be, offer, I'd be open to doing a mini talk on usability/UX in your classes, if it would mesh with what they're learning.

    In terms of things that enrich the fabric of Toronto, I'm not really involved with anything specifc myself. But one topic could be about cycling. They could check out resources on the West Toronto Railpath, Bike Union Toronto, Biking Toronto, Bixi bikes, and things of that nature.

    And you could maybe find content for on the architecture and sustainability side via:, Heritage Toronto, Urban Toronto, and Spacing Toronto. These places (amongst others) often have stories related to the future of Toronto.

    Oh, and one initiative that I do know about specifically (but am not involved in) is with regards to the park beside me - Sorauren Park. They are in the process of raising funds to build a town square there in a derelict space adjacent to the park to revitalize it for the community. And there have been other initiatives to make the park more useful and beautiful for the community in the past few years. Could make for an interesting topic.

    Okay, that's all for now...

    cheers, Dana

  2. PS - That jumping off article you linked to is fascinating. Should promote lots of discussion about Toronto for sure.

    Also, I mentioned your projects to my friend, and he said that if you need reviewers on the presentation side, he'd be happy to help over email. Not fully sure what he means by that (and he hasn't answered my question about it yet), but know there is help being offered if it's needed!

    When I told him about your projects he said: "Wow. That's a *fantastically* *useful* approach to learning stuff. I'm a bit in awe. There's no way that's sanctioned - it makes too much sense." :)