We left the UN with a sense of wonder at the realization that we had been part of something truly special. We left with the idea that maybe we could do something to start changing the world.
But we also got challenged to enter the Visions for Tomorrow challenge of the NBC Universal Digital Media competition, by making a short video about some issue addressed by the show. During the one month that followed, the students and I worked to construct a movie about the role of women as leaders, inspired by the portrayal of the president of the colonies in Battlestar Galactica, Laura Roslin, played by Mary McDonnell.
It wasnt easy. The students tasks were many: they did research on their project and pulled a number of articles on women representation in the media, which they analyzed to develop their ideas and wrote a full proposal and script for their video. The students met several times and develop a set of questions to ask Mary McDonnell, as we were interested in interviewing her. They also set up schedules to interview their schoolmates and did the filming, obtaining permission to work in the school and borrowing a digital camera.
I worked with the students to obtain necessary permissions to interview Mary McDonnell and others, to reprint pictures and get consent forms from the students families. We had extensive discussions on copyright issues, which made them aware of the laws on this topic. Finally, my students learned to digitally edit the sound and video of their movie, as well as several aspects of post-production.
The students learned so much more by developing their ideas and doing their own movie instead of passively listening to a lecture in a classroom. They acquired new technology and literacy skills, and the opportunities presented to us at the United Nation panel and through the Digital Media Competition were phenomenal. The skills acquired by the students were real professional skills, which they will definitely use in any work they will chose to do in the future. To me, it is the best that education can offer: learning by doing and active participation. This was a one in a lifetime opportunity and I learned so much from it as a person and as a teacher.
On June 9th, our team won the SyFy Channel award for our video entry on women in leadership roles and was rewarded for their hard work. But it is more than just winning a prize, it is about learning real life skills, it is about learning not to be afraid to state an opinion publicly. It is about learning not to shy off from trying to change our world. Right now, students in high school want to present a picture perfect image of themselves to gain access to colleges in a time where competition is more harsh than it ever was and money more scarce.
Nobody wants to take risks anymore. Students work for short term goals, immediate rewards, number grades, for reference letters and perfect transcripts. Those who do not have the ability or the social support to gain access to colleges plainly give up and get hooked to pop culture, mundane ideas or even destructive behaviors. On only rare occasions have I seen students learn only for the pleasure of acquiring knowledge, the elation of understanding the world around us or for the thrill of research and discovery.
I have seen students who really wanted to contribute to the world around us with a sparking desire to change our world for the better. But such students are getting rarer and rarer, and often their spark is extinguished by the demands of the society around them: do not make waves, stay in line, and mostly, oh please, do not think too much.
Only through education, we will start changing the attitudes that mold our world. Programs like the UN panel with Visions for Tomorrow and ThinkQuest NYC, challenging students to use the media and to explore the world in a different light, whether it is through a science fiction show or any other media, are rethinking the way we educate our children. Such programs are pioneers in the way education should be; they give power back to the young generation. Make no mistake: education is our only tool to save our world.
We are running out of time. What are you going to do about it?