By James Sweet
North Kenwood/Oakland Campus
Young people often have clear images of the developmental stages required for accomplishments they care about. In basketball, for example, those who wish to be good point guards understand that they need to learn to dribble, shoot, and pass the ball. However, if we were to ask urban youth about the developmental stages of becoming a screenwriter, graphic designer, music producer, film director, or software engineer, most would not have a realistic picture in mind. The University of Chicago Charter School North Kenwood Oakland Campus is working hard to remedy that with intensive digital and technology learning for their elementary students.
The North Kenwood/Oakland Campus has developed specific student outcomes for technology and digital media based on Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts as well as National Educational Technology Standards for students. These outcomes are designed to systematically increase the capacity of students to use technology and digital media to support learning across the curriculum. In order to achieve these technology outcomes, the campus provides media arts laboratory courses, digital media integration into the core curriculum, and in-school and after-school programming.
Like playing on a successful basketball team, creating digital media involves collaboration on a series of tasks that result in a finished product. At the North Kenwood/Oakland Campus, students are grouped into five broad role categories: writer, artist, performer, builder, and manager. Building on previous work at the University of Chicago Urban Education Institute, the campus has designed a developmental sequence of media arts courses taken by all students in grades three through five. Each course is organized around a real-world theme and provides students with opportunities to practice all five roles as well as develop expertise in one chosen role.
Grade 3: Design Studio
The first course in the media arts curriculum is designed around a theme of Design Studio. In the first term, students learn basic technology operations and concepts. In the second term, students independently produce a poster about themselves incorporating basic elements of visual design. In the third term, students take on specific roles involved in the design and development of a website promoting the campus’ values of self-control, teamwork, integrity, commitment, and kindness.
Grade 4: Production Company
The second course in the media arts curriculum is designed around a theme of Production Company. In the first term, students expand their mastery of technology operations and concepts. In the second term, students independently produce an audio podcast about themselves incorporating music, sound effects, and still pictures. In the third term, students take on specific roles involved in the development and production of a public service announcement.
Grade 5: Record Label
The final course in the media arts curriculum is designed around a theme of Record Label. In the first term, students level up their mastery of technology operations and concepts. In the second term, students independently produce a video podcast incorporating music, sound effects, and titles. In the third term, students take on specific roles involved in recording an original song and producing a music video.
In addition, the North Kenwood Oakland Campus offers two opportunities (one in-school and one after-school) for students to explore interactive aspects of digital media communication.
X-Block consists of a series of supplementary in-school courses offered to students who are at or above grade level in reading and math based on the Measures of Academic Progress standardized assessment. Each X-Block course explores interactivity in digital media communication through video games. Students learn basic concepts of game design while creating their own games and publishing them online. Students also participate in a social network through the GameStar Mechanic website, which allows them to critique each other’s games online.
Any student in grades two through five can participate in an after-school robotics program based on LEGO WeDo for grades 2-3 and Mindstorms NXT for grades 4-5. Each system provides an intuitive drag-and-drop programming interface that allows students to develop computational thinking at a high level. Students in the 2-3 pod build working models and write programs to control their behavior. Students in the 4-5 pod build autonomous robots and write programs that enable them to complete pre-defined missions.
The campus’ attention to digital learning develops a broad foundation of reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills in a variety of roles and mediums; as well as forges new identities for students as expert producers of digital media messages.