A group of technology-loving eighth-graders at Georgetown Day School combined their digital skills with a passion for helping others. It was community service in a computer lab. As part of the school’s service learning program, we asked the Northern Virginia AIDS Ministry (NOVAM), a local health organization, if students might interview staff, record the interviews and produce podcasts about its work and mission. NOVAM educates the public about HIV and AIDS and provides support to people and families coping with the disease. The eighth graders hoped their mini-radio programs might be posted on the organization’s website for clients to download.
I noticed a trend several years ago. A sixth-grader tagged along with me into the school. She wanted to use a computer. “My printer is broken,” she explained. “Can I come in with you and print my assignment?” A few days later, it happened again. Only this time, another student needed to edit an essay on a word-processor.
When I was in elementary school, it was common to overhear adults say that children were from “broken homes” if they lived with a single mom or dad or sometimes with grandparents. One of those families belonged to my friend Ellie, who lived with her mom. So I asked my father, a Congregational minister, why some people thought Ellie’s family was broken? Dad gently explained that strong families, Ellie’s included, have three characteristics: love, connectedness and commitment.
A teacher notes that a student looks uncharacteristically pale and avoids eye contact with her classmates. When asked privately if she’s OK, the girl bursts into tears, sharing a weekend-long saga of harsh criticism delivered via emails, chats and texts.
Inspired by an article about cyberbullying, I asked my fifth-graders to write podcast scripts. They wrote about teasing, cyberbullying, gossip, intention vs. consequence, advertising, digital footprints and the lack of facial cues in electronic communication. Working mostly in collaborative groups, my students recorded complete “'casts” on our informal laptop studio.