Academic Literacy-Part 4: Innovative Literacies

At this time last year, we were planning for earth week. Not earth day, which is in the spring, but earth week. My wife and I were in charge of planning earth week for the entire MS, and a thread that came out of the planning process was the story of a young man in Los Angeles named Caine Monroy who had built an arcade in his father's auto parts store. One day, a young filmmaker named Nirvan Mullick walked in to buy a rearview mirror and wanted to make a short movie of Caine and his arcade which he posted on social media, namely Reddit.

Caine's arcade exploded. People were coming from the airport and celebrities even were endorsing this such as Jack Black and educational reformers such as Sir Ken Robinson were advocating for maker culture in schools. The excitement was not confined to that side of the ocean. Soon after, a movement was started that spread to other countries and schools that were advocating for maker culture. Our school jumped on board and I even made a video of the culminating day which spilled over to a skype chat with Nirvan Mullick himself, and a buddy of mine (who is 100 times the filmmaker I am) who made a school-wide video of Caine's arcade that was actually was chose as the 2nd best video in the world for the global cardboard challenge. See it below:

Saigon South Int'l School: Caine's Arcade/Cardboard Challenge 2013 from jeff nesmith on Vimeo.

What I really liked about the whole experience is that it gave students a chance to play, be creative, which brings us to our fourth of academic literacies: Innovative Literacies.

Innovative Literacy Defined
We've all heard the mantras in educational reform that many of the jobs of the future don't even exist yet and we need to raise generations of graduates who are flexible, adaptive and creative. Creating legions of knowledge reproducing test takers is no longer good enough. Perhaps good enough to get a good enough mark on the SAT and a desireable college acceptance letter. Still, innovative literacies are literacies that encourage students to apply their knowledge laterally to other domains and even cut across multiple subjects. As such, innovative literacy is a way of coming up with new, creative approaches and prompts inquiry and curiosity.

"Students won't develop innovative literacies until we see their value and provide students the opportunities to explore these curiosities"
David's Connection
We had a collaborative discussion yesterday in science class on the conceptual (or guiding) question: "Why do some organisms have more of a right to life than others? For example, why do we want to save a polar bear from extinction but don't mind killing a mosquito?" Since we've been learning about microscopic life and their value to the ecosystem and their importance to a number of products, it seemed like a good point to apply their knowledge across multiple domains. The kids made great connections such as we empathise more with organisms whose child rearing habits are the same as ours and also how an organisms proximity to extinction will only then prompt our protection.

However, the most powerful statement that I heard came after the discussion from a quiet boy named "David" who isn't normally chatty. On his way out, he said to me:

"Mr. J, our different value systems for living things is just like racism. Some people discriminate against others just because they think they're inferior"

Implementing in the Classroom
Caine's arcade was a school-wide initiatives so it was easy to get on board and feel the magic. However, after such phenomena, it's easy to want to relapse into business as usual. Some ideas that I think cultivate areas for classroom teachers are:
  • 20% Time. Giving your students time to explore subjects that are interesting to them. Some schools are doing some DYNAMITE work with 20% time and students are creating amazing work, which reminds me of a....
  • Personal Project. For all you fans of the IB I am overcome with awe when I see what students are doing for their personal projects be it building a guitar, teaching someone to play music, or inventing better hand soap. 
  • STEM Initiatives. It's easy for science teachers to have elements of maker culture in physical science, but a cross-collaboration with grade level teachers can integrate aspects of writing and art. The math teacher and I teamed up to develop a project wherein students engineered a distillation apparatus as seen below: 

  1. Van Amelsvoort M. (2006) A space for debate. How diagrams support collaborative argumentation-based learning. 
  2. Graff, G. (2003) Clueless in Academe: How schooling obscures the life of the mind. 
Related Posts
  1. Academic Literacy Part 1-Digital Literacies
  2. Academic Literacy Part 2-Argumentative Literacies
  3. Academic Literacy Part 3-Collaborative Literacies


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