More on using digital kits to structure student projects

A bunch of Radical readers stopped by the comment strand of my recent bit on Google Docs and digital kits to ask questions about how exactly I use digital kits in the classroom with my kids.  I figured I’d answer a few of those questions here:

What kind of products do your kids create with digital kits?

In my room, digital kits support students who are creating any kind of final product that requires visuals.

That might be as simple as asking students to create one influential PowerPoint slide — something that I did in this lesson with seventh graders in Union County, North Carolina — or something more complicated like the video that my student Kiva club created to advertize our work.

What, exactly, does a “digital kit” look like?

Remember those plastic model car kits that we would buy when we were kids?  The ones with like 4,000 parts that we’d take out of the box and assemble over the course of a few afternoons while also wiffing highly toxic glue in our bedrooms?

They’re a GREAT metaphor for a digital kit — which is nothing more than a collection of content that kids can choose from when putting together a visually-driven project in your classroom.

Just like the companies that put together model kits for us twenty years ago, you’re assembling everything that your kids are going to need in one place before they even start working on a project.

That means what goes in your digital kit depends on the project that you’re asking kids to tackle.  In my room, they most often include lists of statistics and quotes (see here) and sets of PowerPoint slides with Creative Commons images embedded as backgrounds (see here) that are connected to the topic that we are studying.

That’s it, y’all, simply because most of the projects that my kids are doing combine quotes and statistics with influential visuals to change minds.

Aren’t you making things easier for kids when you assemble all of the content that they need for a project in advance? 

ABSOLUTELY!  In fact, that’s the whole point of a digital kit.  You see, while I really want to give kids the chance to incorporate visual content into our classroom projects, I just don’t have the time to spend WEEKS and WEEKS in the computer lab as kids search for content on their own.

So a digital kit essentially speeds up these kinds of projects, making them way more doable for a guy with a massive curriculum.

What’s more, digital kits increase the likelihood of kids creating REALLY impressive final products — which simultaneously models what’s possible for future projects AND builds momentum for the work that I’m doing with students.

Finally, I like to think of digital kits as gifts to my students because they free kids to think about the content of our curriculum instead of spending inordinate amounts of time searching for pictures and quotes.

What’s the point of a project if you — instead of your students — are doing all the searching?

People who ask this question are REALLY saying, “Are your kids thinking about content if all they need to do is assemble the pieces that you are giving them in your digital kits?”

And that’s a legitimate question — which is why most of the digital kits that I create contain content that just isn’t connected to the topic that we’re studying in class.

By throwing in pictures and/or quotes that don’t really fit with the themes that we’ve been studying in class, I’m forcing kids to make critical choices about the content that they select when making their final choices.

Typically, I include WAY more content than kids really need to complete their projects in a digital kit.  That means they’ve still got a lot of high level choices to make.

Think about the Kiva video that I mentioned earlier.  My kids had to pick the pictures and statistics that they thought were the MOST  powerful for our audience.  Then, they needed to organize those pictures and statistics in a way that told a clear and convincing story.

Just because they were choosing from content that I assembled for them doesn’t mean that they weren’t working to wrestle with their final products.  Unlike plastic models, my digital kits don’t come with step-by-step directions for assembly!

Here’s another metaphor that might make digital kits easier to understand:  When I took Home Economics in seventh grade, we did a TON of cooking.  Every time that we were introduced to a new recipie, the ingredients necessary were laid out nicely on a table that was in the front of the room.

That didn’t hinder our groups from learning to cook, did it?  After all, we still had choices to make — did we add enough salt?  Is this the right time and temperature to pour milk into our bowl?  What’s missing from our final meal?

By providing the ingredients in advance, though, our teacher made it possible for us to cook in a class period.  There’s no way that we’d EVER get a recipe done if we spent half of our time searching the school for beef broth!

That’s what digital kits do for teachers who want their students to tackle projects that are dependent on visual content but who don’t have the time to turn their kids loose to find their own ingredients.


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