I have been working with teens since I was a teen myself. I began coaching when I was 16 and started on my journey to becoming a teacher when I was 19. I stepped into my own classroom 3 months after I graduated from college. I was only 3 years older than my oldest student. 20 years have flown by, but the students who walk into my classroom remain the same age. They are somewhere between 13 and 19 years old, but I can definitely say that the teens of today are not the teens of 20 years ago. Today’s teenagers have the power of technology literally at their fingertips!
I remember when my parents scrimped and saved to purchase the Encyclopedia Britannica from the door to door salesman. They bought the entire set of the latest edition book by book. By the time the collection was complete, the information in its tissue thin pages was already long outdated. Time had passed since the entries were researched, written, edited, organized, published, and shipped to our house.
With access to technology, students have the opportunity to make an impact no matter what their age! Last school year, I focused on providing opportunities for my students to share their voice in civil discourse and as citizen scientists. The experiences included data collection field trips with LiMPETs and Save the Bay, a biodiversity scavenger hunt using iNaturalist, and incorporating KQED #DoNow into classroom discussions and as blog posts on their digital portfolio websites. At the end of the year, I asked my students to reflect on the journey. What had they found valuable throughout the year?
I found a common thread as I read their posts. They found the experience of actively taking part in real world studies and discussions invaluable. You can’t get more real than working on site with professional scientists to collect data for ongoing research. Or how about using #DoNow to spark discussion about the Flint water crisis or the Zika virus?
Teens are passionate about their world and discovering how they fit into their community. They want to make a difference now. All I needed to do was find resources that would spark their interest. As I prepare for a new school year, I know I will continue to incorporate#DoNow and QUEST videos as discussion starters and ways to help students develop their own driving questions to investigate. I will also provide opportunities for my students to make connections outside our classroom, both in person and by leveraging digital media and communication. It’s all about curating the resources, sharing them with students, and then letting them lead the way!