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NWP Teacher-Leaders Promote Civic Engagement in Cyberspace

Every spring, the National Writing Project (NWP), an OII grantee, brings together a core group of teacher-leaders from across the country to study and share effective practices that enhance student writing and learning. This year’s Spring Meeting was held on March 28 in Washington, D.C. Matt Williams, educational technologist at KQED, the San Francisco Bay Area’s award-winning PBS affiliate, led off the day with an engaging discussion about the powerful role of digital tools in promoting and improving civic engagement among the country’s youth. Matt was joined by NWP teacher-leaders Janelle Bence, Chris Sloan, and Meenoo Rami, who are implementing the Do Now project in their classrooms as part of a collaborative effort between KQED and the NWP’s Educator Innovator network. There are currently 150 schools across the nation actively participating in this endeavor.

Savvy strategies for a new digital learning age

Do Now text boxDo Now provides a forum to engage students with current issues using social media tools. Weekly activities are offered for high school students to respond to current issues through the use of topical online media resources and social media tools like Twitter and Facebook. Do Now gives students a chance to practice civic engagement and digital citizenship skills while they explore ways to connect topics in their classes to the present day. It adds value to learning by providing students with a forum to express ideas in the new cultural landscape, where millions of users are creating and sharing information simultaneously. It responds to the needs of students in the new digital area by using tech savvy strategies to improve digital literacy. In addition, it enhances students’ abilities and skills in analysis, research, evaluation, publication, and debate in multiple subject areas.

Six connected learning principles undergird Do Now:

✔  interest-driven;
✔  peer-supported;
✔  academically oriented;
✔  production-centered;
✔  openly networked; and
✔  focused on a shared purpose — global citizenship.

Recent Do Now topics have included gun control laws, immigration reform, and raising the minimum wage. Student products are created in various media, including movies, infographics, and memes, tailored to students’ interests and strengths. Additionally, it promotes the role of social scholarship by making a writer’s thinking and sources visible to the broader community.

Level of engagement increases with the simple to complex nature of the digital communications tool used.

Graph courtesy of Matt Williams

Common Core connections as well

The Do Now framework integrates Common Core State Standards, specifically Standard 6, Content Standards for Writing for Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects. Topical areas each week rotate between science, civics, the arts, and popular culture. Biweekly, questions are posted to prompt inquiry and writing. For example: Would you approve the Keystone XL Pipeline? (March 18); Should hydrogen fuel be the future energy source for transportation? (April 1); and Should E-Cigarettes be regulated? (April 15). See additional resources available through the NWP’s digital literacy portal by clicking here.

Also during the meeting, several teachers presented a webinar to describe how they have used the resources of KQED Education, including a set of multimedia tutorials to help teachers and youth understand how they can leverage free, predominantly online tools to create media projects. Click here for the webinar, and see firsthand how teachers have used the tutorials with their students as they’ve engaged in multimedia argumentation via KQED’s Do Now Twitter-based civic engagement project.

Margarita Meléndez is an education program specialist in the Teacher Quality Programs division of the Office of Innovation and Improvement.