Monday, May 25, 2015

Effective Promotion and Learning by Students from Students

Last week, I was away at two separate events. At first glance, they seem very different. The Taking IT Global Social Innovation Student Symposium was held at the Ontario Science Centre on Thursday, May 21. The TDSB East Region Red Maple Marketing Campaign and Celebration invaded the Malvern Branch of the Toronto Public Library on Friday, May 22. (I've written about this event multiple times on my blog.) However, both activities involved using social media and technology for a specific purpose and allowing student voice and choice to shine through authentic projects that go beyond generating marks for the report card. I was really impressed with the effort made by the many schools and classes involved. Students are learning how to use the tools they consider a normal part of the technological landscape as more than just entertaining distractions. They promote their causes (in the case of the Taking IT Global projects) or advertise their Kid Can Lit selections using many different venues - I saw examples over the past two days from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, Goodreads, independent websites, YouTube, and more.

The most effective promotions did not neglect the "people factor" and used low-tech methods in addition to engage their audiences. Mr. Roberts' Grade 7-8 students made a huge paper map and encouraged visitors to place a star where they live in Toronto, to see that the issue of safe oil transportation is not just important to the Goldhawk Community, where they live, but to the majority of Torontonians, due to the intricate network of railways, pipelines, and waterways criss-crossing the city. We even had a gentleman visit the booth who said that the Line 9 pipeline travels through his neighbourhood - all the way in New Brunswick.

The winner of the Red Maple Marketing Campaign this year, the group from Milliken P.S. that were responsible for the book The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel, also used a great mix of low-tech and high-tech means to get their message across. Their poster artwork was eye-catching, and their bookmarks, Photo Booth stand, and treats all supported the theme of the book and their intent to get as many people interested in reading it as possible.

The second similarity between the events - and the part that delighted me the most - was how the learning was led by the students. I got a bit teary-eyed when I watched a team of students enthusiastically explain their call to action to another student. As I chatted with the teacher, who was filming from a short distance away, so to allow her students the chance to do all the talking themselves, she shared that this was a Home School (aka Special Education) class and that this project turned them into outgoing leaders and agents of change. They weren't talking because their teacher forced them; they were sharing what they knew because they were passionate and knowledgeable about the issue. I loved how students would approach me at the Student Symposium, introduce themselves, and ask me to accompany them back to their display area so they could get the opportunity to tell me about their projects. I took several photos of their projects but since I don't have written permission to share their faces, I won't share them here. The excitement they had for their work was genuine.

This was equally as true at the Red Maple Marketing Campaign. Last year, our advertising executives praised the work of the winning group (Agnes Macphail's Loki's Wolves team) for their innovative use of social media. This year, almost every group had some sort of social media presence as part of their projects. This year's judges, the wonderful Sydney, Samantha, and Eryn from Manifest Communications, stayed extra late to provide written feedback specific to every team, as well as to include overall observations applicable to all groups. Suggestions included audience engagement, exciting book summaries, and dynamic presenters that "sell" during their allotted presentation times as well as during less formal, booth visit times. Even before the trio of judges gave these ideas, I heard students commenting on the other projects, saying "we should have a Photo Booth next year" or "that was a good idea to give paper copies of the Twitter feeds to the judges".

In fact, it took a great deal of effort to pry the students away from each others' tables to get them ready for our author visit. It was the outstanding, charismatic and wise Richard Scrimger, (who enjoyed checking out the student projects just as much as the students did) and he kept the audience completely enthralled.

Once again, it was a wonderful couple of days. At the Taking IT Global event, I was not as involved in the preparation (the key teacher from our school was away with the Grade 8s for their graduation trip) but I congratulate everyone involved with the project. As for the Red Maple Marketing event, I have to publicly thank:

  • Jennifer, Samantha, and Alison from Milliken P.S., David Lewis P.S., and Brookside P.S., for participating and helping to plan
  • Analisa from the Toronto Public Library for hosting the space and paying the majority of the author's bill
  • Samantha, Sydney, and Eryn from Manifest Communications, for judging our student projects
  • Richard, for being a fantastic speaker
  • all the students who worked so hard on their book promotions

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