We began with Sharpies, Post-Its, and a bag of candy. Naturally, this is how the best ideas are born. The three of us laid some ground rules for our idea development: our groupthink would be a safe, open place for idea-sharing, where the thoughts of our group members would serve as catalysts to our own. Our first topic of discussion was around our initial, personal observations about how technology had affected our lives, and we expanded from those points. During the course of our brainstorming, we discussed a variety of student personality types to broaden the accessibility of the activities. We kept the needs of each student in mind as we turned ideas into actions and began to prototype. Soon, we had posters of Post-Its, and columns of possible activities to expand upon.
During our prototyping weeks, we made sure that notepads, markers, and Post-Its of many shapes and colors were available to encourage our creativity. After assembling the activities into their most basic forms, we were ready for a mock trial. We carried our supplies around the park to our work stations and set up shop. These trial runs allowed us to test the fluidity of the activities on a micro-scale to predict their success with actual students.
To break the traditional “classroom layout,” which can lull students into auto-pilot, we arranged the chairs in a circle to keep energy and attention at its prime. We began with a “gripe session” allowing the students to actively complain about how difficult the document may be to analyze. This would provide a safe, almost humorous space for kids who may have an uncontrollable funny bone, or may feel intimidated by the difficulty of the activity. After the group’s confessions of how unmanageable the manuscript was, it was time to look at the document’s layout and format in group discussion. This activity prepped the students for the primary documents they would encounter in the activities to come.
Technological, visual, and informational literacy were our focus points. We developed activities that surrounded these ideas using the park’s primary resources – exploration of a historic site, manuscripts, and galleries. Joshua Knighten, a fellow intern, helped us develop the manuscript-analysis table, depicting the many elements of paper-making and handwriting that occurred during colonial times. Across a three table layout, our group designed a layout of primary resource documents with accompanying modern texts to put the historic manuscripts in context.
To aid the students’ exploration and discovery of their resources, our team developed Focus Cards that centered the individual’s research on a single topic. These cards encouraged students to explore with a single theme in mind, and then to share their ideas with their small groups, uniting the different Focus Card perspectives in discussion. After the small groups had discussed among themselves, we encouraged students to expand out to the larger group and share their findings publicly, with a lead instructor suggesting and answering questions.
Our hard work was put to the test this past Tuesday, when a group of French exchange students became the first class to try our millennial teaching techniques. With an exceptional attentiveness and willingness to learn, our French students excelled through our prototyped activities. Our first class was a success, and we will prototype until perfection as our future students visit Morristown during the summer of 2017!
This post by Abby Parsons