MAKEing Student Voice Heard through Political Art

“Children should be seen not heard.”

How many of us feel like this was the mantra when growing up?


Created by Jarred Meyer

In education, we can’t afford for learners to remain passive consumers of knowledge. We know that today’s employers demand being able to process, respond to, and create plausible solutions to pressing issues. This cannot happen if learning experiences are not more engaging and interactive.


Created by Daniel Larva

Thank goodness, we are learning how to leverage learner interest and talents to empower youth to articulate informed opinions on significant causes. Initiatives like Letters to the Next President create opportunities for students to create various media and share their ideas on campaign issues. Partners like National Writing Project, Youth Radio, Mozilla Foundation, Hypothis.Is, KQED Education, and many more collaborate to design activities that invite people to participate. First, this summer, educators will experience Media Makes and Make Cycles in order to prepare for what it will be like to do such work with their students. Next, educators will incorporate lessons, which will be developed over the summer, this coming fall to encourage learners to make multimedia letters to the next president.


Created by Anika Biju

Let’s examine one of the KQED Media Makes. For the Letters to Next President Media Make #2, we were invited to make our political art. Learners viewed an engaging video about famous political artists complete with 5 Tips to creating their own. They were able to work independently or with partners. They chose one of the nine campaign issues that speaks to them. They created and published their political art.

It’s important for me to focus on media-making as a process similar to the Writing Process. It’s iterative, and learners must seek and respond to feedback to hone their messages. Here are some guidelines I included in the activity description.

Agency (20 points):

  • Completed on time?
  • Connected to an election issue from resource above?
  • Received feedback from Mrs. Bence and revised accordingly?
  • Received feedback from Mrs. Boyd and revised accordingly?
  • Demonstrates original, creative thought
  • Art is memorable and powerful
  • Art is completed in near professional manner
  • Directions were followed

Oral Communication (10 Points):

  • able to articulate type of feedback desired
  • able to justify choices
  • able to explain why this is an important issue
  • able to express inspirations
  • able to articulate process

Knowledge and Thinking (10 Points):

  • art reflects understanding of election issue
  • art reflects review and understanding of Do Now Art School resource
  • art reflects sound design theory
  • art connects clearly to perspective on election issue
  • art attempts to be inclusive AND tolerant instead of exclusive AND prejudicial (our driving question)

Written Communication (5 Points):

  • posts jpeg with catchy relevant tweet message using #MediaMakePoliticalArt #2NextPrez #YouthActionFF #boydbence
  • errorless spelling and punctuation on political poster

Created by Elizabeth Fullwood

We had an extra layer of authenticity to this activity. The most impactful political art, as chosen by the Youth Action Film Festival (YAFF) Student Advisory Board, will be selected and turned into buttons whose sale will benefit YAFF. Learners got really excited about that!


Created by Raed Ahmed


Created by Ethan and Evan Williams


Created by Caitlin Rogers


Created by Daniela Villarreal

It’s my sincere hope more educators take advantage of such meaningful learning opportunities as Media Makes for Letters to the Next President. It will ignite the political agency in our learners. During such experiences, I find them to be passionate, willing to become more informed on important issues, and eager to fine tune their media to best communicate their perspectives while remaining open to diverse perspectives.


Created by Veda Velamuri


Mind Dump: Youth in Participatory Politics?

Let’s get the conversation started. What’s the role  of  youth in the democratic process?

As an English teacher, I am aware of the literacy skills crucial to being a contributing member of the democratic process. In the United States, we have the privilege of voting for those who represent us in government,

  • But how does one make an informed decision?
  • How does one attempt to make changes if our representatives aren’t working in our best interest?
  • How do we inform and persuade others for the need for change?

Literacy skills. It’s all about being able to research, read critically, and compose effective, logical texts that will appeal to varied audiences for a specific purpose.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s first gain an understanding of what youth today feel about political action.

  • Is it important?
  • Are there ways to foster agency in youth today?
  • What are the roles of all stakeholders in such a process?

Please contribute your thoughtful reflections on this HackPad:

Reluctantly Leading, Eagerly Following

“I’m thinking about starting a National Writing Project site at UTA,” Jeannine started, “would you be co-director?”

“Sure,” I responded without hesitation because she had a knack of asking people to do things, and we just couldn’t refuse.

Did I know what NWP was? Heck, no. I was just dipping my toes in the shallow end of the infinity pool that is teaching.

Did I understand what being a co-director of an NWP site meant? Heck, no. How could I? Even if I had been a veteran TC or director at that point, I wouldn’t know. Roles are fluid and flexible in every NWP experience. Responsibilities are shared. Challenge and joy are waves that are parceled out across eager participants.

Did I expect anything to happen to this request made in passing? Heck, no. And that was just plain ignorant of me. It was as if I hadn’t been working with Jeannine for over a year. It was as if I had forgotten who she was, how I had found myself writing and analyzing and publishing under her mentorship. I should have known better.


Fast forward.

“We got it!” she exclaimed over the phone, excitement rising from the the higher than normal trill in her voice.

“Got what?” I asked unsure of which endeavor she was speaking.

“NWP! We got the site funding!” she exclaimed giddily. “Get ready!”

What did that mean? How did it happen? What is NWP? 5 weeks in the summer? What?

And so it began, my journey with National Writing Project.

I had no idea what wealth this organization would add to my life, how it would nourish me and calm me and inspire me again and again. I had no idea this launch into NWP which had been planted in pretty nutrient-barren soil would repeatedly catapult me into reaching deep down and doing more than I thought I had in me. I don’t think anyone is quite prepared for the transformative process NWP carries with it.

All I know is every encounter with NWP is much like that time with Jeannine: clear vision, passion to do what’s best for learners, unquenchable thirst for learning, risk-taking, trusting, and above all, knowing where to go with the freedom of finding our own way of getting there.

We write the stories of our lives one page at a time, and our journeys with NWP are no different. Some of us take detours, others direct routes. Some of us hitch rides, Whatever our chosen or thrust-upon-us methods of movement, we know we will get there… together.

Connected Learning… Global Learning for All!

I am reminded daily of the importance of personal learning networks to be introduced to a variety of resources. Let’s face it. We don’t have time to discover all the goodness that is out there on our own.

This link to Flat Connections was shared with me by Edna Phythian. Flat Connections is dedicated to Global Learning. Julie Lindsay, recipient of ISTE’s 2013 Making IT Happen Award and co-author of Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds, is at the helm of Flat Connections.

What is Flat Learning? According the site, “‘Flat’ learning is a multi-modal approach to learning with and from others in a global capacity. There is no hierarchy of learning as such – all voices are equal, there is no one dominant group delivering the information to another group. All learners, through the use of emerging technologies including Web 2.0 and mobile computing, develop a personal learning network, bring the world into their everyday teaching and learning, and learn about the world, with the world.”

This sounds to me a lot like Connected Learning, which is an approach that’s anchored on Six Principles. Learning is:

  • interest-driven
  • peer-supported
  • academically oriented
  • openly networked
  • production-centered
  • it has a shared purpose

Connected Learning

I have been interested in Connected Learning for over a year now, and not only does it remind me to refocus my practice on what really matters, it also affirms my natural instincts as an Educator Innovator with the National Writing Project. As an educator, more specifically an educator passionate about transforming education as a whole in order to grant access to ALL learners to relevant, meaningful learning experiences, I understand the importance of being able to state my beliefs, my values, and most importantly, discuss my practice in an open manner to help facilitate change.

So whatever you name it: Flat Learning, Global Learning, or my personal favorite, Connected Learning, just name it! Own your practice. Be informed. Find networks that constantly nurture your teaching. Discuss how education has evolved. Challenge others to advocate for necessary change in education.

Envisioning the Future of Education Technology Infographic

You all know my obsession with infographics.

I know the title is about education technology, but I am finding the change in pedagogy so intrinsically connected to these technologies that it’s difficult to plan on transforming education without integrating pedagogical evolution responsive to these technologies. We discussed this for 4 wonderful hours on Friday while planning what NTH@C will become.

Exciting? Yes. Inspirational? Yes. Daunting? A little. Necessary? Well, to remain relevent and mearningful and adaptive and worthy. Yes.

I would say that Virtual/Physical Studios is defintely an area for growth, but perhaps, the bond program can help with that. Gamification is perhaps closer than we think with powerful curriculum on the horizon (and a pesky facilitator who likes to write grants).

And I want to open up disintermediation. What does that look like? What does that feel like? Can I get some help with that?

The future is NOW. 


From Trees to Webs: Transformation is About Changing How We think

I have been sitting in front of the computer for weeks and weeks now trying to get my thoughts down. How do I introduce my work on transformation? How do I communicate my motivation to change education for the better… to a more equitable system that gets quality work accomplished?

And I realized it’s difficult to begin talking about my work or any transformation efforts without understanding underlying root causes of problems or even of successes. Then, I happened upon this video from the wonderful folks at RSA Animate, The Power of Networks with Manuel Lima.

The video discusses how modern science mirrors our knowledge of how systems work. Lima discusses an article entitled Science and Complexity written by Warren Weaver (1948). Weaver states that in the 17th-19th Century, scientists solved problems of simplicity. At this stage, we relied on using tree metaphors to organize ecosystems, families, and even knowledge. Since then, we have come to understand that systems are not as linear. We have moved from viewing systems as being random and disorganized complexity to finding patterns that actually help to clarify and communicate interconnections between the most diverse elements of a system. We are currently living in a state of organized complexity.

For those of you who know systems thinking, this all sounds very familiar to you. I am thankful to my mentor, Dr. Leslie Patterson, for guiding me on a systems thinking journey via Human Systems Dynamics. Systems thinking is a way to validate, appreciate, and better understand individuals and their differences as well as how to work with rather than against differences to create generative learning that gets important work accomplished.

A mouthful? Yes. Crucial to understanding how transformation can happen in schools? Absolutely.

Let’s get back to the trees. How many of us work for organizations with a clearly set hierarchy or what is often referred to as an organizational chart? How many of us live day in and day out in a system with top-down directives? Look at that chart. Examine the flow of memos and directives. Resemble anything? A tree, perhaps? Many of our systems, especially in the workplace, are modeled after solving problems of simplicity. Problem? We are not asked to solve simple problems. How, then, can we expect this model of a system to succeed?

Now, think back on your most recent project where you feel you succeeded. It could be anything from developing a workshop to setting a menu for a dinner party. Let’s use the latter as an example. When confronted with the task of determining what one should have at a dinner party, it is not as simple as someone saying, “I want this” and it being served— unless you are a horrible host and want your guests to walk away very dissatisfied. No, more likely, suggestions are being taken—perhaps through an Evite or Facebook message. You consider dietary needs of your guests. You refer to Pinterest for recipes. You ask your frugal-minded friends if they know of any coupons or specials on any produce or other ingredients needed. And, you probably have other alternatives rather than one dish to serve. You might even ask guests to bring an item to make your party more interactive. Why? Because ensuring your guests get both a nutritious and delicious meal is a complex task that requires organized efforts of gaining information and input.

Rather than using a tree diagram to gain knowledge to complete this complex task, you used a vast web of resources ensuring you would have the best darn tootin’ dinner party ever. That’s organized complexity. That’s systems thinking.

So why pause and take a moment to talk about this? Why ask for a shift in thinking from trees to webs? I ask you, when serving our diverse students, when preparing them for an unknown future, is it a simple problem? Or, is it one that requires respect for diversity, collaboration with tough discourse, finding patterns that may help us to come up with simple rules to guide a discourse towards learning how to approach and solve problems—-and being willing to do it all again and again to best serve the dynamic nature of human systems?

Maybe, we, as educators, can learn a lesson from scientists. They have metamorphosed from the tree of life to the web of life. In education, we seem to be stuck in problems of simplicity mode; a by-product of using the education system to suit an industrialized society. But, as we make more demands on our graduates, education should be reformed to respond to the complex yet organized web of needs, resources, learners, and teachers.

And now, maybe, I can better communicate my work, my reasons, my motivation for what I try to do. Yes, I do realize this post was for me: a way to reflect on my beliefs as an educator, a way to make sense of why things don’t work and why things do. But maybe, just maybe, you will pause, consider, and remain curious on what changes can and should be made in education because it is not a question of whether or not transformation needs to come about; it is a question on how to proceed.

I believe systems thinking can frame those very profound, challenging, but necessary conversations.

More than a Number: Barry Lane’s Musical Response to Students and High Stakes Testing

Wow! I have been doing so much thinking about the effects of too much emphasis on testing on students. I know. So many people have discussed it. So many more people will discuss it. But, it doesn’t hurt to continue this important discourse. These important discussions coupled with action are the only way to transform education into what our students deserve.

Please listen to Barry Lane’s tune. Share it. Discuss it. Keep the dreams alive.


Poised for Much Needed Transformation:A Response to Saving Black and Latino Boys by Pedro Noguera | NWP Connect

This article teaches us that there isno magic formula to successfully serving our Black and Latino male students. Insome cases, separating by ethnicity and gender worked. In some cases, it didnot. There are arguments for and against any type of school.


The difficulty arises whenconsidering all the elements that need to exist in a school that is effectivewith these populations, as well as all other populations. These schools focuson community, culture, individual learning networks, mentoring, relevantcurriculum, rigor, character, ethics, and a respect for learning. That’s a tallorder.


The situation becomes even morecomplicated when attempting to transform a campus. My campus received a $6million TTIPS grant to transform our campus. We are focusing on creatingacademies to make education more relevant and responsive to student interests.Along with that since we are an urban campus with many who are considered”at-risk” students, there comes the charge of keeping studentsengaged—many of our students aren’t aware of their interests in aneducational setting. And if they are aware, they have had little to no occasionto speak or act on these interests. We are needing to create contexts thatinvite discussion, ignite curiosity, boost inquiry into possibilities. We arealso dealing with shrinking enrollment due to feeder pattern changes andchanges in demographics. We need not only to recruit new students to ouracademies but also having to re-recruit, in a sense, our current students forthem to realize that education can be different and more meaningful to them.


This change isn’t limited to ourstudents. There is a need for a philosophical shift for the teachers. Clearly,it’s not a completely new mindset, but rather, a return to the originaleducational values that drove teachers to education in the first place. Many ofus have become so accustomed to the climate of high-stakes testing, thepressures from the powers that be to deliver test results, that we have feltforced to sacrifice or hide our meaningful literacy instruction because it wasso at odds with the assessment world. In response to this, we began thetransformation process by attempting to empower our educators to believe thatit’s time to return to what we know works. It’s time to return to puttingstudents first by having high expectations, rigorous and relevant lessons, andfocusing on what works. It takes courage to confront those above us stillsaying that the test results are our top priority.


Because no matter what we do, thetesting climate continues to exist. We are deemed worthy or unworthy of futuregrant funding based on data that in part is assessment-based. So will thetransformation be successful? Will we be able to strike the fine balancebetween what we know is right and effective for all of our learners with theincreasing demands of high-stakes testing?


Only time will tell. I remainoptimistic not because I am naive or idealistic but because I know it has tohappen. We have to provide a quality education for all of our students. Onething for sure, I am more motivated than ever to find ways to reach not onlyour Black and Latino males but all of our students.  Reading this article bolsters the notion thatthe entire school community contributes to the success of these criticalgroups.