Last night I watched the TV show "Kid Nation" on CBS. The concept of the show is that 30 some odd kids ranging from 8 years old to 14 years old were sent to an old west ghost town and give the task of creating a viable town. Now believe me I am not a huge fan of reality TV by any means but this one might be a bit different. One interesting difference between this show and others is that no one is voted off; they have to ask to leave at the town meeting. They have competitions for jobs/pay. They also have to deal with real issues such as those who don't pull their own weight, bullies, bossy kids, cooking, etc. Watching them work together is an interesting site, as there is no one age group that is stepping up and taking charge yet they all want someone in charge. There is a town council who makes decisions such as who is on what team, who gets the golden star at the end of the week, and what prize do we get for winning the challenge. This last one was interesting and sort of re-establishes my believe in kid kind, as they had to choose between more out-houses and TV (those chose the outhouses). One thing I find interesting is how involved the kids are in wanting to make this town work. Looking at it from a teaching standpoint I see all spectrums of Phil Schlechty's patterns of student engagement (Shaking up the School House, Schlechty 2001) from rebellion to authentic engagement. For the most part I would say that the kids were in the ritual engagement arena.
What brought me to write this entry was thinking back to my first teaching assignment in a Microsociety school (www.microsociety.org). Even though it was a tough teaching assignment as a first year teacher I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge posed. I see a lot of similarities between Kid Nation and the Microsociety program especially in the arena of engagement but also in the arena of real life experiences. I see kids working in actual jobs just like adults do in the real word. I see kids tackling tough issue such as bullying, speeding, inequality, and many others just as we adults do. In the school I was at my responsibility was to help run the small businesses. Students in this area were responsible for creating and maintaining their own small manufacturing or service type business. Watching this 3rd through 5th graders work on their projects and maintain checking accounts, etc. was interesting to say the least. I wouldn't want to work for some of them as they were strict task masters. The one thing I was able to observe of the whole school was how seriously students took their jobs; they really got into their jobs and took them very seriously (which I am beginning to see in Kid Nation as well). This kind of harkens back to the elementary school teacher philosophy of student jobs (row leader, calendar monitor, etc). These "jobs" were used as more a management tool to help teach responsibility but wouldn't it be interesting to see what the impact these "jobs" had on student performance. It would be even more interesting to see what sort of an impact "jobs" would have on a higher level as well.
One of the things I look for in my tech classes are real work community service projects my students can apply technology to. One year I had students work on running a food/coin drive for the local food bank one spring. Another year I had students work on writing PSA's (public service announcements) on RSI's (repetitive strain injury) for their peers. This year I am toying with the idea of having my students tackle the task of planning of our response to a lahar (volcanic mud flow) drill in our district. I have only just mentioned to my students that I am thinking of doing this and I can see the excitement in their eyes at taking on this real world task. Just seeing the excitement in their eyes helps me to realize why I love this job so much. J