Classroom Integration: Powerful Voices for Kids

Role of the Powerful Voices for Kids In-School Mentor. In the Powerful Voices for Kids program, the In-School Mentor takes a collaborative approach to training, working side-by-side with teachers both in and out of the classroom to target the specific needs of classroom teachers and their students. These may range from technology training on video cameras, editing software, online databases and digital tools to integrating popular culture texts into lesson plans for literacy, social studies, science, the arts, and health. The In-School Mentor collaborates with teachers in planning and teaching lessons, assisting with technology needs when necessary and also teaching technology-specific workshops in design, production, and research.  The In-School Mentor also assists with after-school programs in media and technology that enable children to develop their special interests in media and communications. Throughout the school year, the In-School Mentor receives mentoring and support from the scholars and staff of the Media Education Lab at Temple University. Having this expertise available in a flexible and tailored way supports student learning and helps educators to make a smooth transition towards integrating media literacy and technology into their classrooms.

Teaching through Collaboration. In Year 1 of the Powerful Voices for Kids (PVK) Program at the Russell Byers Charter School in Philadelphia (RBCS), John Landis served as the first In-School Mentor.  Mr. Landis, a former PVK instructor, transitioned from his work with the Media Education Lab to be a full-time employee with the Russell Byers Charter School. His work there encompassed several aspects of media literacy and integration of digital and video production in the RBCS curriculum, including collaborative teaching, special projects, and extra-curricular activities. His success in the 2009-2010 school year earned him a full-time position at RBCS as Technology Coordinator beginning in the Fall of 2010.

Integrating Media Literacy and Technology into the K-6 Curriculum. Before the introduction of the Powerful Voices for Kids program, faculty and staff at the Russell Byers Charter School (RBCS) made little to no use of computers for learning. Children would play learning games on computers occasionally and some children used word processing software in the upper grades. The school did not have a functioning computer lab and machines in the classrooms were rarely used. Although every classroom had wired Internet access, there were only four data projectors in the building for 22 classrooms and a population of 400 children.

However, after the Summer Institute for Educators and with the availability of the In-School Mentor, each grade-level teacher developed at least one major class project focused on media literacy and technology. The In-School Mentor helped to integrate digital and media literacy into both the lesson plans and final projects. Examples of work from the 2009-2010 school year include:

  • Kindergarteners created a series of FlipCamera videos designed to depict elements of a healthy lifestyle, focusing on nutrition and exercise.
  • First grade learned the distinction between fiction and documentary, and then produced a documentary and a series of "video-comics" on the life of Henry Ford.
  • Fourth grade students created a series of video public service announcements from multiple perspectives and points of view about the impact of horseshoe crabs on the ecosystem of the Delaware Bay.
  • Fifth grade students created a collaborative website with writing and images to document their learning and educate others about global warming.
  • Sixth graders, students created a video public service announcement about the role of genetics and environment in acquiring diabetes.

This sample of projects represents a major shift in the culture of the school community toward technology integration and media literacy skills. Teachers recognize the importance of preparing students with 21st century skills that include creativity and expression, teamwork and collaboration, reflection, critical thinking, and ethics - and the value of teaching students how to use technology tools for information-gathering, communication and problem-solving.

After-School and Extracurricular Programs. In addition to his work during the school day, the In-School Mentor created and ran an extra-curricular yearbook club for fifth and sixth graders. The club focused on basic computer literacy and writing skills, including web and graphic design, image manipulation, and concise writing for online publication. The students were also encouraged to use personal writing to reflect on the unique aspects of their school community.  Each student combined these elements into a final product that they shared online with the rest of the school community, demonstrating their knowledge and skills and piquing interest among students and faculty for the 2010-2011 school year.

Technology Integration. Teachers and administrators often lack knowledge of the constantly changing trends and specifics of technology, while Information Technology specialists often lack knowledge of the pedagogy and practice of media literacy education.  The In-School Mentor has been in a unique position to bridge these two worlds.  With a deep understanding of teacher's specific needs as well as the opportunities offered by technology, the mentor has proven extremely valuable to the school as it ramps up its investment in instructional technology.  The In-School Mentor has overseen the following projects at Russell Byers:

  • The creation of the school's first traditional computer lab, featuring 25 new computers.
  • The creation of the school's first mobile computer lab, with 25 laptop computers for use in classrooms.
  • Installation of projector systems in all 22 classrooms
  • A pilot program to assess the value of Smart Boards to the school
Before the Powerful Voices for Kids program was initiated, none of the RBCS teachers used media or technology for meaningful educational purposes. These results represent a major change in the culture of the school community. Teachers are beginning to explore how to help students use digital technology tools for information-gathering, communication and problem-solving as a means of preparing students with 21st century skills that include creativity and expression, teamwork and collaboration, reflection, critical thinking, and ethical decision-making.