Guest post: Encouraging collaboration and engagement in middle school students

As we prepare for the Microsoft Partners in Learning Global Forum (#PiLGF) in Prague, Czech Republic, I will be featuring guest posts from “Team USA” (the 16 teachers who will be representing the U.S. at this amazing professional learning experience). Today’s post is from educator Todd LaVogue @ToddLaVogue featuring his “Educator’s Choice” winning project “What’s UP Egypt?“ from the Partners in Learning 2012 US Forum. Todd is a middle school teacher in West Palm Beach, FL.

My name is Todd LaVogue. For the past three years I taught sixth and eighth grade history teacher at Roosevelt Middle School in West Palm Beach, Florida.

I enter each unit of study with the idea of taking something the students know and enjoy and combining it with the material mandated by the state that should be taught during the unit. My students, in turn, create television shows, plays, public service announcements and music videos within our unit of study. image

In one of our more recent projects, my students researched and created an ancient Egypt Today show-style news program with news, weather, sports, cooking, lifestyle, historical and music segments. For example, the weather segment discussed the annual flooding of the Nile and how that was essential to life in ancient Egypt through the depositing of silt on the banks, fertilizing crops.

We accomplished this by infusing technology into the curriculum. Using a flip video camera, a digital camera, video editing software and tools like Microsoft Word, Internet Explorer and Windows Movie Maker my students were able to compare and contrast ancient Egypt with today’s society very well. In the end, they had a better understanding of what it would have been like to have lived during that time.

Some of my students are homeless, others are gang members. Over 80% of my students qualify for free and/or reduced lunch. A vast majority of my students have more important issues to worry about than what took place in Egypt 4,000 years ago. A vast majority do not enter my classroom with enough prior knowledge to scaffold learning. It is important I engage students in a way that involves and inspires them in the learning process. Innovative uses of technology, combined with what they know and like have been my hook to involvement and inspiration. My students are engaged in learning. When this happens, classroom management takes care of itself.

We were able to combine other content areas during the making of our television show. We took and field trip to a local television station to discover the number of jobs and people necessary to make a television show. We learned about the various technology used in the making of one show. We were given writing, filming and editing advice by the television staff. We also needed sets and costumes. We took another field trip to a reuse facility where we collected supplies for our sets and costumes. We discovered the importance of recycling and reusing materials in the process. Both field trips took less than two hours each, limiting lost instructional time.

After the field trip, I had the students divide into groups that interested them in the production of a show. The groups were: on-camera, film team, writers, editors, lighting, set design, cue cards and wardrobe. We also selected a production team that would decide on segments, segment order and overall look of show.

We viewed the state benchmarks and brainstormed the best way to meet the state requirements through the use of technology. We researched, wrote, edited, rehearsed and designed each segment to meet benchmarks. This may seem like a lot of work to accomplish. Since the students had already divided into departments that most interested them, each department worked on their responsibility. One department did not want to disappoint the other departments so the quality of work increased as the production continued. We previewed each segment before the production department gave final approval.

Once you complete a couple of these projects, it gets easier as well. Students enter my class knowing what is going to happen because someone they know has taken my class. Once students see examples of completed student projects, it’s easier to get them focused on their own.

I left the Microsoft Partners in Learning US Forum a much better educator. It was the best professional development I have ever received. I look forward to representing the United at Partners in Learning Global Forum in Prague, Czech Republic. I am anxious to learn from teachers around the world.

The link below to the Partners in Learning Network site includes a details on my project including a short video, timelines, rubrics and other resources to help you do something similar:

Todd LaVogue   @ToddLaVogue

Magnet Coordinator

Roosevelt Middle School

West Palm Beach, FL

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Comments (1)

  1. Rebecca Lawson says:

    Dear Todd,

    One of my graduate students at Winthrop University (SC) posted a link to your blog on one of our class resource sites.  Congratulations on finding such engaging ways to make learning relevant to your students!  As I was reading, I wondered how many you inspired to set and reach goals for future employment through your projects.  Research shows us the importance of middle level students having goals.

    Thanks for making our world better – one student at a time!


    Middle school teacher for 35 years

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