Introducing our Newest Cause: #sugarkills

One of the questions that I'm asked time and time again is, "How can teachers use technology to motivate our students?"

And if you've spent any time reading Radical posts, you probably know my answer already:  Technology DOESN'T motivate students.  Making a difference in the world does. 

Technology just enables students to tackle the kinds of meaningful issues that once would have been out of their reach. 



Need proof?

Look no further than the most successful project that I've ever pulled off – a microlending effort designed to give the twelve year old kids in my classroom the chance to lift people out of poverty. 

What my students loved the best about our microlending project was the tangible sense of doing something bigger than themselves. 

They totally DUG the notion that a bunch of tweens from Raleigh were helping REAL people in REAL countries that they'd never heard of solve REAL problems.

What I loved the best about our microlending project was that it allowed students to wrestle with several key elements of our required curriculum. 

EVERYTHING that we did — from researching potential loans to creating persuasive videos using Creative Commons images — supported skills that my students had to learn in their language arts and social studies classes anyway. 

Now that I'm teaching science, though, I've had to find another cause to rally my kids behindand I think I've finally found it.

Earlier this year — as a part of work that we were doing with the new nonfiction reading standards in the Common Core State Standards — we read this bit about New York City's decision to ban the sale of sugary drinks in containers larger than 16 ounces. 

My kids were challenged by the article primarily because it forced them to wrestle with whether or not a government should have the right to control the foods that people put into their bodies — even if those foods DO lead to a ridiculously high rate of obesity related diseases.

Turns out middle schoolers don't like being told what to do.


Since then, we've done a bunch of work studying the soda ban — including curating a public collection of resources about the issue that highlight both sides of the story. 

To push the conversation further, we decided to create a blog that's designed to raise awareness about the amount of sugar in the foods that tweens and teens typically eat.

Check it out here:

In just two short weeks, I can already see the same electricity that defined my Kiva project returning to my classroom. 

Every day, different kids come to school with new foods that they want to write about and new graphics that they want to create.  We've done more talking about labels and healthy foods in five days than I've ever done with a group of kids in twenty years of teaching. 

And even though contributions to our blog are completely optional and completely ungraded, I've got a room full of students in my room at lunch time every single day working on new posts. 

Instructionally, they are getting a sense for what "healthy eating choices" look like in action and they are learning about voice and tone and writing for individual audiences. 

They are also learning about the role that graphics can play in changing minds, learning about convincing statistics and reliable sources, and learning that learning can ACTUALLY be fun.

The lesson in our #sugarkills project is a simple one, y'all:  Today's students don't care about technology.  They care about making contributions. 

My kids aren't motivated by the bells and whistles that come along with our new blog. 

They're motivated by the notion that THEIR efforts — THEIR decision to use THEIR voice to raise awareness about the sugars in foods — might just keep other kids from making choices that carry a lifetime's worth of unhealthy consequences.

Do YOU want a highly engaged classroom?  Do YOU want kids who are willing to write and to create and to publish and to think and to grow even if there's NOT a grade attached to the task?

Then start using digital tools to give your kids chances to be something more than they ever thought they could be.


Related Radical Reads:

Hiding the Aspirin in the Applesauce

Making Good Technology Choices

Digital Immigrants Unite

Looking for an #edtech Workshop?  Come Learn With Me!


6 thoughts on “Introducing our Newest Cause: #sugarkills

  1. Pingback: Three Classroom Blogging Tips for Teachers | The Tempered Radical

  2. Bill Ferriter

    Hey Hannah,
    Glad that you like that work! My kids are really proud of what theyre creating, thats for sure. Just remember that causes motivate kids — not technology!
    Hope this helps,

  3. Hannah Dickerson

    Mr. Ferriter,
    I find this post very interesting. It is great that your students have gotten so involved in this activity. I read some of the posts they have been posting. They have made some really good points about healthy food, and not so healthy foods. One day when I have a classroom of my own, I hope to develop ways to get my students involved in a way they enjoy learning just like you did. Thanks for allowing me to read your blog. It is very informative.
    Hannah Dickerson

  4. Bill Ferriter

    Karen wrote:
    Ive tried classroom Kid Blogs, which a few kids liked, but it kind of fizzled out after awhile.
    – – – – – – – –
    Too true, Karen. Just introducing kids to blogs rarely leads to a successful blogging project. Its the topic that leads to motivation.
    Another tip: We always write group — rather than individual — blogs simply because then there are a bunch of kids generating content instead of one kid doing all the writing on his/her own.
    Successful blogs are updated regularly — at least twice a week. Its hard for kids of any age to sustain that kind of momentum — which results in fewer and fewer page views over time. So the audience that is supposed to motivate them dries up too.
    When youve got a whole bunch of kids writing, youve got a constant stream of content without any one student having to do all the content generation.
    Does this make sense?

  5. Karen Kraeger

    This is fantastic! I’m a fourth grade teacher who is looking to incorporate more PBL into my teaching practice. I’ve tried classroom Kid Blogs, which a few kids liked, but it kind of fizzled out after awhile. Your comments about the technology being a tool for the project are so important. That’s exactly what was missing from my previous attempt–the driving force of a problem to solve.
    You’ve got me excited to develop a PBL that uses technology as a tool. Hmm…the ideas are starting already. Thanks for the inspiration!

  6. John Wink

    Excellent idea to connect kids to content by way of things that mean something to them. I can definitely see the curricular value in what you’re doing.
    Here’s a push back for you. Writing is such a huge deal and I see that you have the expository emphasis through your blog. How could you connect your ELA team to this concept? Are there skills that they are emphasizing there that could be integrated? Same thing goes for reading skills, social studies in the role of government, and math skills in the data they find.
    I would say this project is awesome and I can tell your kids love it. I also think if the other content areas got involved, your kids could start a political action committee to stop the law if they wanted to.
    Great work,

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