Students on a Global Stage
Essential Guiding Question: How can technology help my students see themselves as citizens of the Global World and take part in a social action project to push for positive change?
One of the many marvels of technology in the classroom is the realization that the world of student learning no longer needs to be contained within the four walls of the classroom. An internet connection is a passport for many young people to discover facets of cultures and lands that otherwise might have been undiscovered country. As educators, we should try to tap into both that opening of the world and our students’ interest in technology and connecting with others to engage them in global affairs in meaningful ways. The Many Voices for Darfur project is one such example of how students in my relatively sheltered suburban school district in Western Massachusetts were able to use the power of persuasive writing and their own voices to engage on the world stage on an issue of poverty, violence and inequity in Sudan, Africa.
The brainchild of George Mayo and Wendy Drexler, the Many Voices for Darfur project was conceived during the 2007-08 school year as both George and Wendy, after meeting for the first time at a conference, proposed using the concept of Weblogs for social action with students. Their idea: to have a single day when young people from all of the world would provide evidence and persuasion for world leaders to act aggressively to bring peace to the Darfur region of the Sudan, where militias were decimating villages and causing atrocities against the Darfur people.
In the weeks leading up to the launch of the Many Voices for Darfur project, my sixth graders worked hard to come to understand what was going on in an area of the world they had not often thought about. We watched documentary videos, read articles and had frank discussions about what it would be like to live under such conditions. As it turned out, we were also in the midst of lessons around paragraph writing in our curriculum and the idea of using their emerging persuasive skills for an authentic audience on a global stage made sense to them.
But students wanted to take it even farther. Throughout the year, we engaged in various podcasting projects as we talked about the use of “voice” of the writer to engage readers and listeners on different levels. After going through the research, planning, drafting and revision stages of writing their persuasive paragraphs, we moved to recording them reading their own compositions as podcasts. Grouped together as a class, the collective power of their voices lent another dimension to their pleas to government officials to do something to end the violence.
Still others began to create Powerpoint presentations with the information they had gathered during their research stage. They used visuals to bring home the fact that people were suffering and that it had to stop.
And then, there was our music video. We were inspired by a video by the group Mettafix, which wrote a song about the Darfur refugees and created a touching video that amazed my students. I suggested we could do the same. After students and I collectively brainstorming lyrics that would provide the framework for our views on the crisis in Darfur, I created music using an online music composition tool (called JamStudio) and recorded the lead vocals, with all four of my classes of sixth graders mixing in their voices as back-up on the chorus (with Audacity software). We then gathered images and created our own music video that we shared with the Many Voices for Darfur projects.
All of these mediums of media then came together on the day of the Many Voices for Darfur initiative, as my students went online and transformed into multimedia bloggers – posting not only their persuasive writing, but also their voices and for some, their collected images. By the end of the project, there were more than 650 different students writing on the same topic and calling for social justice in the Sudan.
As a school, we felt part of something larger than our small school. Posts on the blog came from all over the world as young people from various countries joined in the call for peace and the end of violence. As a class, we discussed common themes and wondered whether the writing would have any real impact on politicians who could make as difference. The violence in Darfur unfortunately continues to this day, but I would not call the work of my students wasted as I know that most of them, and their parents, still follow the developments in Africa closer than they had prior to the project and that may yet transform the world into something more positive