On Saturday, we held the end-of-the-semester showcase for our Digital Learning TechTeen program. Creating these "stand and deliver" moments for our teens is one the best parts of my job.
Youth showcases are a great way to see what your students are getting out of your program, in their own words. It is a way for all the people involved in your program to celebrate the work of your students, including their families, friends, youth in other programs, staff that they worked with, and partner organizations. And it's a way for the larger public to see the kind of impact you are having on young people.
For our teens, showcases are opportunities for them to organize and summarize all the things that they have done over the course of the program. Articulating and recounting your own experiences and learning for others can help the student lock-in that learning and place it in a larger context. And learning how to give an effective public presentation is a skill that we can all get better at, no matter our age or experience.
"Rik, what do you do to keep yourself from shaking when you are speaking?" one of the teens asks me, a few minutes before their presentations. My students nervousness and anxiety is palpable, even if the audience is just their immediate families plus some Academy staff people.
"I tend to pace when I speak, which I think helps me deal with my nervousness," I suggest. "But more importantly, remember your intention: why are you speaking now? What do you want people to learn or know?"
Earlier I had our teens stand in a circle and share with each other their intentions and what they wanted to share with the audience. It was really enlightening to me what they wanted to express:
- "I want people to know that we weren't forced to do anything, that all the work that we did was stuff that we came up with and did on our own."
- "I want the audience to understand that we worked together on everything and did a good job as a team."
- "I want the audience to learn something about science that we researched."
- "I want my mom to understand what I've been doing this entire semester since she doesn't really get it."
By 2pm, we were ready to go. I nod to Darrah, one of our senior TechTeens. She stands up and walks to the front of the room.
"Hi everybody! Welcome to the Fall Semester TechTeen Showcase. I'm Darrah and I'm part of the TechTeens," she confidently begins.
One of my goals for student showcases is to have our teens do as much of the work as possible, from preparing slides, to setting up the room, MCing the program, managing questions and answers, and staffing the hands-on activities after the presentations. This weekend's presentation I was able to delegate nearly every aspect to our students, to the point that I had nothing to do but stand in the back of the room and feel proud.
My own pathway as an educator has involved getting better at creating rich experiences for our students that expose them to science, technology and nature in fun and interesting ways. I'm learning what environment helps young people to work together effectively and be their most authentic selves. And I'm improving at creating clear educational scaffolding for our students, so they know why they are doing something, what it's a part of, and what is coming next. And perhaps most importantly I am learning how to get out of the way and trust our teens to manage themselves, where appropriate.
So student showcases — which are kind of like the "finals" of our programs — are also a test to see how well I've been doing my job.
So for all these reasons, it's uniquely gratifying seeing our teens deliver smart, clever, and fun presentations about their work at the Academy.