Epic Learning: Large Class as Intentional Design

  • on Apr 5
  • in DML
  • by Educator Innovator

Northern California Writing Project teacher-consultant Kim Jaxon’s jumbo-sized composition class is designed to harness the collaboration, virality, and spontaneous exchange of “epic learning.” Last October, I gave an Ignite talk at the Digital Media and Learning Conference called “Epic Composition.” Below, I offer a more extended look at the design and structures of my “jumbo” first-year writing course at California State University, Chico. Walking into our “jumbo” first-year writing course as an outsider can be a bit intimidating. The room is packed with people: 90 students, nine writing mentors, and the instructor. Students sit in new desks: rolling chairs with a bottom “saucer” for storing backpacks, a moving tray designed for a laptop. Students have nicknamed the chairs “George Jetsons.” These rolling chairs allow students to easily and seamlessly glide together across a low carpet in small and larger group configurations. Across laptops, tablets and smart phones, they talk animatedly about their weekends as mentors weave among them, participating in this opening class ritual. On a front wall are three large projection screens detailing opening instructions for the class. Throughout the class period, students move in and out of large and small configurations with their peers. They write together, move...
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How To Assess the Strength of a Democracy

Examining historical case studies with resources from our partner Facing History and Ourselves helps students think about the cultural and institutional factors necessary for a healthy democracy. The tensions and divisions that were unearthed by the 2016 presidential campaign were not put to rest once Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th president on January 20. Mending such divisiveness will require active, thoughtful, and responsible participation of citizens to work through together; our responsibilities as citizens do not end at the voting booth. As we move forward with a new administration, we should reflect and renew our engagement as committed participants in a healthy democracy. As we take stock in our own role in this, how do we also help students make sense of these divisions and assess the strength of democracy and civil society? We might begin by examining the idea of democracy itself, what strengthens it, and what weakens it—a central theme in Facing History case studies about the Reconstruction era, Nazi Germany, the novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, and others. Our Teaching Mockingbird study guide features an excerpt from a 1944 speech by Federal Judge Learned Hand, which might serve as a starting point for class discussion...
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In East L.A., Teenagers Tell New Stories About Their Neighborhood and Make Plans for Change

Civic engagement projects give students at East Los Angeles Renaissance Academy an opportunity to celebrate their community, as well as the skills and experience to make positive change. Search for “East L.A.” on Google News, and you’ll find that most of the headlines mention shootings and car chases. Do the same on the LA Times High School Insider site and you’ll come up with stories that paint a much more complex portrait of the community. The articles on the site are written by students at East Los Angeles Renaissance Academy (ELARA). The high school is one of Los Angeles Unified School District’s new themed pilot schools, and its focus is urban planning. Mirroring the population in the greater neighborhood, ELARA’s student body is nearly all Latino. Many students come from recent immigrant families who are often struggling on low incomes. Like others who live there, ELARA students are subject to the negative stereotypes about their neighborhood. “These perceptions don’t just come from the outside—they are also internalized by young people who grow up in the area,” said Mike Blockstein, Principal at Public Matters, an organization of artists and educators who design and implement creative civic engagement projects. Public Matters and...
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Behind the Camera, Students Document Life and Learning

At Philadelphia’s Workshop School, students are developing media production skills to shape their school community and their own learning. The video opens with a voiceover: “Are you tired of traditional learning?” Black-and-white stock images of school children sitting in rows, looking bored to death, float across the screen. The narrator continues. “Are you ready to start having fun with your work and build the skills you’ll actually need for the real world?” The student-made video is the product of a recent documentary media unit at the Workshop School in Philadelphia. Last year, students at the high school made short films reflecting on their experiences in the unusual learning environment. [caption id="attachment_11797" align="alignright" width="500"] Photo/The Workshop School[/caption] The Workshop School is part of the The School District of Philadelphia and a member of its Innovation Network. The school focuses on project-based learning and holds a vision for democratic education that gives students a voice in making positive change in their school and community. Students here spend half of each day engaged in hands-on projects, perhaps building the set for a student-written play or designing water filters to combat contamination. The school draws students and families who seek innovative learning approaches or...
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