Sixty Creekside Middle School students spent a day being teachers, leading workshops to help their youthful colleagues make better use of district-issued Chromebooks.
The Tech Boost Conference, held Feb. 26, was billed as professional development for the student body. Debriefing Tuesday, eighth-graders who led the sessions said they learned the most.
“We got to be our own teachers,” said Alex Alvarez, who taught computer coding and hoped to get kids making their own video games and apps. Turns out, he added, teaching is a lot of work.
The team worked for weeks preparing their 90-minute lessons, learning how to talk to big groups and getting their presentations ready.
“It really was a wake-up call because teachers have to do that every day,” said Michael Trudrung, who taught workshops on digital art using photographs. “You feel the pain of the teachers.”
All started out thinking they would have their classmates making digital magic by day’s end.
“We had a little fantasy going there,” said Hamera Shabbir with a wry smile. “But they brought us back to reality.”
Creekside students chose between 90-minute sessions on building websites, designing apps, making videos, creating digital art and other technology topics – all using programs available for free online.
“You feel empowered, being able to access free stuff,” Shabbir said. “Students aren’t that rich.”
Keeping the presentation moving and interactive were key to keeping their audience interested, said Kendra Rodgers, who led sessions on creating websites so kids could present homework projects, post blogs or share their artwork.
“People learned something in every class,” Rodgers said, even the teen teachers. “We overprepared,” she said as the rest the room nodded.
“They would ask me a question, not just to get by, but because they were really into the subject and wanted to learn more,” Trudrung said. “They were not just stuck there. They wanted to be there – that was the best part.”
This fall, all 1,100 Creekside students got Chromebooks, piloting their district’s switch to digital for students.
“It’s amazing what can happen when everybody has a Chromebook and nobody’s waiting,” said Principal Kerry McWilliams.
But the point was not just to have a laptop to read on, he added. “We wanted them to not only be users of content, but creators of content.”
The idea for the conference came from the staff, McWilliams said. “The Tech Boost was also a boost of confidence for our kids, to go through the practice and prep and be able to do a presentation. It was a shining day here at Creekside. When you believe in kids and they know it, it’s amazing what you can do.”
McWilliams said the conference exceeded all expectations. “Nobody was late,” he said. “Nobody was sent to the office. It was a day not about getting a grade. It was a day just about learning, and those are fun to do sometimes.”
Patterson Unified School District Superintendent Phil Alfano dropped by for the conference, which included an opening session and keynote speaker.
“I sampled four different sessions and couldn’t believe what I saw,” he said via email. “All on-task and engaged, asking questions, receiving and accepting the guidance of their peer instructors. In my 25 years of education, this was truly one of the most remarkable days I’ve experienced on a school campus.”