Young People using Social Media positively: Authentic, real world learning opportunities


Many of you will have heard about Martha Payne, the 9 year old Scottish girl whose blog, Never Seconds, came to international attention earlier this year. If you didn’t, here’s a brief rundown:

Martha began writing her blog as a record of her school lunches.
She promised a photo, and a score:

Photo credit: Sakurako Kitsa / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Food-o-meter- Out of 10 a rank of how great my lunch was!
Mouthfuls- How else can we judge portion size!
Courses- Starter/main or main/dessert
Health Rating- Out of 10, can healthy foods top the food-o-meter?
Price- Currently £2 I think, its all done on a cashless catering card
Pieces of hair- It won’t happen, will it?

Within two weeks her blog posts had gathered more than a million viewers, and enthusiastic posts from other students sharing their own lunch photos, not just from Scotland, but from Finland, Germany, Japan, Spain and the United States. She was garnering so much attention that she even raised a sizeable amount of money for a charity; Mary’s Meals, an organisation that funds school lunches in Africa. Seven weeks later, the local council made the controversial decision to ban Martha from bringing her camera to school; thankfully this decision was quickly reversed after protests from some of her most well known supporters (including Jamie Oliver and Neil Gaiman) as well as a massive media protest at the short-sightedness of the move.

This is just one example of the extraordinary potential young people now have to influence what was previously beyond their reach; using social media and other 2.0 technologies, the thoughts and actions of young people can have powerful influences across the entire globe.

Another example is the recent news that Hasbro has revealed it will release a toy oven in shades of black, silver and blue, after McKenna Pope, 13, submitted a petition with over 40 000 signatures that she had created on Change.org.  The thirteen year old was planning to buy the toy oven as a gift for her little brother, but became aware that it only came in pink and purple, and featured all girls in the advertising. Using YouTube to raise awareness of her petition, McKenna showed how social media can be used to create positive change.

With examples such as these for inspiration, there is no end to the possibilities for teachers looking for ways to engage their students in real world action. In fact, as Marilyn M. Lombardi’ suggests in Authentic Learning for the 21st Century: An Overview, thanks to technology, authentic, real world learning has never been more achievable.

Why not consider the following:

* Use iPads and iMovie to create documentaries on student issues – post to a YouTube channel for a world-wide audience

* Publish student research as a Wikipedia page

* Tweet results of student surveys; ask other schools to comment and compare results

* Create a Google Map of the local area around the school, locating community services and resources relevant for the school community; publish on the school blog

* Participate in a global project such as the Flat Classroom or a local one such as Witness King Tides

* Use real data sets to create suggested strategies for real-world problems – try Saving Migratory Animals as an example

As you can see, the possibilities are limited only by your imagination, and the projects can be as simple or as complex as you wish.

Looking for further inspiration? Check out these amazing young people and what they’ve achieved using passion, energy and technology!

A small beginning has led to Random Kid – a website that helps kids solve real world problems:

Using YouTube to share a great message:

Have your students taken on a great real world project? Share in the comments below!

Marilyn Lombardi. (2007). Authentic Learning for the 21st Century: An Overview | EDUCAUSE.edu ( No. ELI Paper 1: 2007). Educause. Retrieved from http://www.educause.edu/library/resources/authentic-learning-21st-century-overview
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