Last week, I shared a plan here on the Radical to introduce students to high interest nonfiction reading using Remind — a service that allows teachers to send updates to students and parents by text, email or app. If I could send out links to really cool science current events once a day, I reckoned, I might just succeed in my quixotic quest to make nonfiction cool to middle schoolers.
While I’ve only been sending links for a week now, I’m pretty sure that my plan is going to be successful. Here are five reasons why:
43 families have signed up to receive messages: I’ve got a team of 100 students this year. That means almost half of our team showed an interest in receiving cool science content for no other reason than cool science content can be fun to read. For me, that’s 43 opportunities every single day to turn students on to a genre of reading that they may otherwise have ignored.
Parents and students are signing up together: It might just be a function of Remind’s requirement that kids under 13 submit a parent’s email address when signing up, but there are several parent/student pairs in my Remind audience. That has HUGE potential to facilitate conversations about science content at home. If “hey, did you see that article Mr. Ferriter sent out today?” becomes a more common phrase in the homes of my students, then everybody wins.
Parents are taking advantage of opportunities to enjoy science with their students: One of the most popular current events that I sent out this week was about the Perseid Meteor Shower that happened on Wednesday and Thursday. I encouraged my subscribers to take advantage of this chance to see one of nature’s coolest phenomena. Two kids came in and told me that they’d set alarms for midnight, gotten up in the middle of the night with their moms and dads, laid picnic blankets down in the back yard, and watched the skies together for a while. How awesome is THAT?
Conversations about the current events I’m sharing are becoming more and more common at school: One of my favorite parts of my efforts is that putting the SAME high interest content in front of my kids is starting to stimulate interesting conversations at school. Every single day, I’ve had kids approach me with questions and reactions to the article that I shared — and as soon as the conversation gets started, other students join in. When was the last time that impromptu thought groups around science content broke out in your hallways?
I’m stealing minutes from my students: I decided early on that I was going to send out my daily current event during times when I KNOW my students are sitting on busses, stuck in the carpool line, or waiting for class to start at the beginning of the day. My hunch was that kids would be more likely to read the articles I was sending if they arrived when my kids had “nothing better” to do.
That hunch turned out to be a good one.
My proof? A student named Lanie came up to me early in the week and said, “Your plan worked, Mr. Ferriter. I was bored in the car this morning and then my phone buzzed. It was your article. I read it.”That’s important, y’all: If we can turn some of the time that kids spend behind screens into time that they spend wrestling with interesting ideas, we tap into the cognitive surplus that Clay Shirky described way back in 2010.
The best part of this entire project is that it hasn’t required ANY additional time and energy from me. I already read interesting science current events on a daily basis AND scheduling messages through Remind is a two-tap process through my cell phone or web browser. There’s a TON of extra value in those two taps, that’s for sure.
Once we get further into the school year, I’ll survey my students and families about our project to capture their reactions. I’ll share those findings here.
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