We've just wrapped up the first week of Departures Youth Voices in Highland Park with students from the Arroyo Seco Academy at Franklin High School. At the start of the week I asked the students to bring in an object that connects them with their community. Those that did, put the pieces in motion to what this project could become. A gym bag that gets tossed around for the love of basketball and playing with friends at the local park, a skateboard that takes its passenger throughout the neighborhood and connects him to a community of skaters. A yearbook from an elementary school where a student spent her early years and still visits from time to time.
There were lots of pictures: a beautiful front yard that invites passer byes to toss a coin into a pond and make a wish, a custom made chopper bicycle that put others to shame, a group of cousins hanging out in front of their house, a marching band, a track team, a group of friends and more. People, places and things given a unique meaning by each student taking part in the assignment but hopefully also beginning a conversation for the rest of the class that will examine their ideas about their neighborhood.
Many of the pictures were on student's cell phones. Students are not allowed to take out their cell phones in class, but an exception was made for this assignment. The majority of students have a phone and feel comfortable snapping pictures, recording video, making phone calls, and of course texting. We discussed how they may be using their phone as a tool for multimedia collection, storage and distribution. In that respect, their cell phone becomes a device to document and communicate their experiences and ties to their community.
This is a powerful educational tool the students have at their disposal 24/7; none-the-less, it is current LAUSD policy to prohibit the use of cellular phones by students on campus during normal school hours. With the emergence of web 2.0 applications that support mobile phone use, there is a growing conversation amongst educators on the real benefits of using cell phones for educational purposes both in and outside the classroom. There is the critical concern of appropriate use, but as with any new media/technology introduced in a classroom there is a need to train students on how to use that tool to facilitate learning. Media literacy education creates an opportunity to engage young people in analyzing, evaluating and communicating through a variety of media, including cell phones. Many of the students in our class have already cast their vote for the inclusion of cell phones by virtue of their use in this first activity, but this is an evolving topic that we will touch on throughout the project as part of our ongoing conversation on media literacy.
My objectives this first week were to familiarize the students with Departures and get them excited to tell their own stories about Highland Park, and begin thinking critically about the tools and elements they will use, create and/or collect as they build their interactive panoramas. Many of the concerns and issues that came up this week will be revisited as the students dive into each new activity and further explore Highland Park.