“Put your hands up if you can name a YouTuber.”
“Keep your hand up if you know three YouTubers.”
And finally, seven hands remain in the air.
“Hands down. Now, raise your hand if you know what is going on in neighboring Myanmar.”
Two hands hesitatingly raise up.
This fantastical visual served as a reflection of the need for a call to action. The necessity to bridge a divide between a students’ world and that of ours, adults. Generation Z, or Zoomers, have an ocean of information to swim in, right at their fingertips. However, just as I wish that students begin paying closer attention to the world around them, I too should have much to gain from taking a deeper dive into what captures their 12 and 13 year-old attention.
Beginning With the “Why”
We may profess that we promote environments where students become caring global citizens, yet how might we move beyond mere words and into action? At the school where I teach, an intentional approach was taken to provide opportunities for students to speak, listen and learn about the world, ourselves, and what is currently taking place around us. This mission was designed to help us maintain focus on why we do what we do. Further, it is aligned with a three item list that is a header on our weekly meeting agendas. To design with the following in mind: agency (voice/choice); promote a robust array of opportunities to develop skills of reading, writing, speaking; and to prioritize meaningful learning that motivates and becomes transferable. Furthermore, our aspirations as social studies teachers is further backed by our school’s vision statement: “to enrich communities through the intellectual, humanitarian and creative thoughts and actions of our learners.”
How A Teacher Might Get Started
One method of going about this is a robust current events integration. This begins by our modeling of a presentation. This year it was an event about Elon Musk and Space X. Specifically how on average every two weeks of 2020 there was a commercial space launch. The Hong Kong protests was a close second. After the presentation we invited students to comment positively and specifically. Following this, we roll out the rubric. Simplified, the one standard addresses communication and a students ability to engage in discussion on public issues. The “discussion” is ultimately the passion a student is able to spearhead in class. Can they proficiently speak loudly, clearly, and knowledgeably? Is a visual utilized to help guide the presentation? And, is there a call to action?
At a More Granular Level
Once students are on board, we invite students to a simple Google Doc calendar and they self-select. Some think of their soccer games and upcoming band performances. A few students usually are quick to sign up to be first stating that they are either excited or “just want to get it over with.” Whereas, others assign themselves towards the end, in an effort to be wise and build off the learning from all those before them.
A Google Slides presentation houses everyone’s presentation, to create a quasi archive in the making. Seven slides are intentionally placed at the start:
Now we make no claim that this is “the way” to do it. Simply, we have found that it works for our students. The directions for how to create the slides are explicit, yet allow breathing room for students to fill out with creativity. And they do!
Directions are to select one current event article to focus the presentation. This should be something the student cares about or possibly just wants to know more about. The first semester students selected everything from whale migration to Black Lives Matter protests. After reading the article and familiarizing oneself with the event, some students possibly will research more, but this is up to the individual. Next their three slides are crafted. The only parameters for the slides are that no slide should have more than 5 words. This engenders brevity but also leads to the creation of talking points, as opposed to turning and reading slides during the presentation. Note: this sometimes is challenging as “Death by PowerPoint” presentations have taken root and been accepted for far too many years. It’s time to bring back tht personality of a presentation. Remember Show and Tell and how much fun that was? Imagine a first grader reading a PowerPoint to tell about the item they are showing!
Further, students are invited to thoughtfully incorporate the use of visuals on their slides. A range often is selected; charts and graphs, often along with provoking images. Last, we highlight the importance of structure. To begin with a title that hooks and to conclude with a call to action. Also in the beginning, the inclusion of a map will help the audience with context. From the start the “what” and “where” is already highlighted. Logically, next students will touch on who, when, and why. The call to action, the “how.” The conclusion one that hopefully will leave us empowered either to change a habit or behavior. Or maybe just interested in educating ourselves more. Ostensibly, all 5 Ws and How are addressed in the presentation. For students who may require or desire a template for more structure, we provide a graphic organizer to help with planning.
A hurdle every year is for students to trust themselves enough to present without the use of a script or cue cards in hand. The expectation is to speak, as opposed to read. However, with practice all students have demonstrated success in this.
Beaming at the End
The final step, a favorite, largely hinges on classroom culture. Applause usually ensues following a presentation. Then, students have an opportunity to comment positively. Hands often shoot up across the room and the presenter selects. Observing amidst the “audience,” tears have welled up in my eyes on more than one occassion. Kind and specific words spoken directly to another. A boost in confidence noted on a child’s face, easily detected even though masked.
Since the precursory, “Put your hands up if you can name a YouTuber,” I made the decision to educate myself and join the legions of youth. To do so, I openly took the recommendations of students. Quickly three YouTuber names surfaced: Try Guys, Dream, and MrBeast. The first, Try Guys clearly is a niche unto themselves. Their online streaming of comedy already has 10 seasons of content. With an even larger fan or following base, Dream has close to 20 million subscribers. This YouTuber is known for producing Minecraft and speedrun content videos. The third, MrBeast, is just that. Offline, known as Jimmy Donaldson, MrBeast has more than 50 million subscribers. A number larger than the population of Spain! His videos often are expensive stunts, which combine his skills as an entrepreneur, along with philanthropy. For example, successfully raising 20 million dollars to plant 20 million trees. Then, there is of course the video of his preposterous counting to 100,000. Sped up, over 40 hours of MrBeast just sitting and counting is condensed to a full day. Nearly as asinine would be someone spending a day watching MrBeast count.
Though I do not lay claim to have fully swung open the door to our student’s world, I feel positive to have begun to glimpse inside. In doing so, it is intriguing to observe how our teacher and student spheres can intersect, collide, or even casually orbit unto themselves. Yet, one thing I am certain. YouTubers have a magnitude of influence. Their style, wit, and communication patterns emerge in student projects, but also in day to day interactions. In a world still gripping with a pandemic and where officials launch lawsuits against a city’s board of education in order force opening of schools, it is refreshing to enter the world of our students. If even to watch a YouTuber pull off the painful stunt of completing a marathon in American size 40 shoes.
Curated sources we encourage students to utilize can be seen below. Some allow students to select their reading level which is a big help. Additionally, we aim for our resources to be balanced and not necessarily promote any one country’s bias.