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Saturday, March 15, 2014

Presentations and Story Telling

There’s a first time for everything, and yesterday, for the first time in 22 years of teaching, I presented at a conference.  It wasn’t a solo, which was probably a good thing.  I was teamed up with the two science teachers on the 7th grade team and we explained our Biome Zoo Project that we’ve created and implemented over the past 10 years. We had an hour block, so we presented for 32 minutes.  We started out with the philosophy behind the project; with all the push for students to gain knowledge in science and math, there is still a place for the humanities. The humanities and science both play a role in understanding the world around us.

From there we explained the nuts and bolts of the project, displayed student projects, explained how this project is a lead in to our Cultural Diversity Day.  We concluded the presentation with a brief clip of one of the better student presentations in the past few years.  Questions and answers lasted the remainder of the half hour.

I attended another session.  It was on a real-world project; students were to develop a solution to a real life problem (hunger, environmental, etc.).  Students were then judged on their solution and were rewarded with an actual Skype discussion with an expert in the field in which that they chose to find a solution.  The project was intriguing.  The presentation was filled with data to persuade those of us in the session that the project was a measure of the teachers moving past content and addressing their ability to teach their students 21st century competencies (collaboration, effective communication, researching, etc.).  Also, we were led to links where we could find the rubrics used in quantifying their conclusions.  The presenters talked for about 55 minutes with about 5 for questions.

There were no examples provided, nor really explained, just the data that said it worked. (and an offer that were invited to come and watch the project in action).  I am not saying it was a bad presentation, it wasn’t.  It was well prepared and delivered.  And by some of the questions asked, it was compelling for some of the attendees.  For me the presentation confirmed one of my foundational educational beliefs...

There is still a place for the humanities in the 21st Century

When anyone gives a presentation, what you are saying is, “You should try what we do, it’s great!”  You then must provide proof to your audience to affirm that statement.  We provided anecdotal evidence while the other was more scientific.  Maybe it’s because I have always been partial to the humanities, but give me examples over data any day.  Hearing stories of how students work, seeing completed projects, watching student presentations allow the listener to think how their students would do completing the same thing.  It allows them to begin tweaking the project so it works in their classroom.

Can we really quantify every human experience?  If we can put a number on everything we do as people, are we humans or robots?  There is a place for empirical evidence and data, but my students are more complex than that and behave in ways that are difficult to quantify.  

Success in life is much more than just some score on a test.  

Success in life can be achieved even by students who are not deemed “proficient” on some standardized test.  

Can my ability as a teacher really come down to a number?

Can my reason for a project really be explained by a bar graph?

A colleague turned to me when the presentation was over and asked if our Biome Zoo Project addressed the same 21st Century Competencies that was shared in the session. It did, not because we had that in our minds when we were developing it, but a good project designed by a teacher should naturally achieve those objectives for the student.  

From the earliest of times, the storyteller has been valued as playing an important role in society.  It’s why we are still drawn to great novels.  Numbers can be used to provide evidence for choosing a particular course of action, but if you want to motivate someone, tell stories of students producing dynamic works of both visual and performing arts, demonstrating their understanding of cultural and scientific information, and overcoming challenges.  Show me the works they produced.

Providing student data can convince me your way is right, 
but telling me stories inspires me to dream and moves me to act. 

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