14 April 2014

"Lying" to Your Students for Good - Crafting a Story to Engage Your Students

I'm lying to my students this week, and I think its okay.

Let me tell you about the town of Oklaville, MO...

If you're not from Missouri, you may not know, but "Oklaville, MO" is a completely fictional town that I created last week to hold a fake competition for designs for a community aquatic park. I created a relatively simple website in iWeb (but probably could have used Google Sites as well) and hosted it on Dropbox using these instructions.

This "design a water park project" is the marriage of something I've been wanting to do since February (use Google SketchUp for designing and area) and fixing a project that is never really as good as I want. The prompt for the design actually comes from my textbook -

The last two years when I had my students do this project, I gave them a clean sheet of 1cm x 1 cm graph paper, and it usually came back to me in a pretty rough draft that hopefully was not totally wrinkled. They were uninspiring to say the least, but maybe that wasn't completely the students' fault. Is there really a lot of sense in taking pride in a fake water park on a piece of paper that literally no one else but the teacher will see? I wanted them to look better for the sake of work ethic and pride in work, but honestly, I was kidding myself.

When the situation arose again this year, I knew it was time for something different. I just the last couple weeks spent many hours designing a website for my friend trying to launch a side-career in Gospel music, so I had design heavily on my mind.

Take a second to go back and peruse that site if you haven't yet - its three simple pages, but they look pretty legit, right? I included a "real" seal, an address for city hall, and a couple of examples. If you take 5 seconds to do a Google Map search for that address, or even Oklaville itself, you'd know it was fictional, so when/if my students get to that point, I'll easily fess up and tell them much of what I'm writing here.

Is it deceptive? Probably. It may be risky when I tie so much of my relationship building to honesty, but I'm really counting on the relationship we can build during this project as a serve as Google SketchUp mentor.

Is this for you? I don't know, but a colleague of mine pointed out all of the times she lies to her students when they ask her if something they do is going to be for a grade. We've probably all done that several times, but for what? A single piece of paper, 10 minutes worth of work? When you create worlds for your students' work, they can get real skills out of it.

Chuck's Tips for Lying To Students (for Relevance)
1. Take time to pay attention to the details. 
It's kind of like The Matrix - your students won't know things aren't real unless they are really looking for it.

2. Prepare multiple sources of "reality."
Besides the three pages I created for the website, I also registered a new Gmail address and crafted an official looking memo for another copy of the "proposal requirements"

3. Be non-chalant about everything
I showed this to all of my students today, but I pitched it briefly to just one student on Friday and was able to get him excited about it all weekend.

4. Have a real prize, reward, or recognition ready
Of course, there isn't a real Oklaville City Council waiting to vote on my students' submissions, but that isn't any reason why I can't make a big deal out of the best submission. Have a panel of your colleagues come in to judge once you let the students in on the secret. One student asked if he could have a medal if he wins. Sure!

5. Have fun.
The whole reason you're doing this is to bridge a gap between worksheets, bookwork, and teacher-driven assessment to something that is more authentic, more engaging, and more fun. Be creative in the setting you create, and cherish the enthusiastic conversations you have along the way.

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Thanks for sharing!