Just in time for back-to-school: New distance learning resources are available on Wide Open School.
A place for kids to connect outside the classroom
How I Use It
Right off the bat, I would probably use the missions as assignments in my classroom--the only issue would be seeing the student posts. I would also use the guides when applicable in the curriculum. Part of me would use the grid found in play as a semester portfolio for a TAG English classroom--I admit, I'd use that as a guideline and have the kids publish it in a weebly site or google site so I'd be able to grade it more easily. If grading were not an issue, I would certainly use the site as an anchor activity or a pre-unit activity. With the variety of subject areas, learning challenges, and posting opportunities, Youth Voices could be applicable to just about any part of a lesson or unit. My advice would be to take a good thirty minutes and click around the site. It's worth it just for the ideas that it will generate.
I'm really of two minds in regards to this site. On one hand, I see a great opportunity for students to publish and connect to the world outside of the classroom walls is all disciplines. On the other, I see a place where the quality of the "research" and the quality of the postings are somewhat underwhelming (and the discussions are hard to navigate). That being said, I believe there is great potential here. Youth Voices is a collaborative project created by a group of National Writing Project teachers. Essentially, students create a free account and can join/post in one of many discussion areas from Argument to Video Conversations. The site, as near as I can tell, is free from adult monitoring; the posts, from what I've read are respectful (if sometimes lacking in depth). However, perhaps that's a good thing--in the Facebook and Twitter age, students need to learn how to respond thoughtfully online. This may be because I'm an old-fogey teacher, but I think the strength of this site for teaching lies in two factors: the guides and the missions. On the "Guides" page, teachers will find over 20 scripts for students to use when writing. What, you may think... I would never want my student to use a fill-in-the-blank script for writing. However formulaic these may be, the guides also give beginning writers a template for framing responses to tasks (much like the dreaded five paragraph essay). Once a student has written a few responses using the script, he or she may write something different while still recognizing the rules (that's really our goal as instructors). The second area that made me sit up in my chair and pay attention was the Missions area. For example, in the "Ethos, Pathos, Logos" Mission, the assignment (straight from the site) asks the student to "Find an opinion piece from an online newspaper, (Austin American Statesman, Austin Chronicle, USA Today, New York Times, Washington Post, etc.) about a topic that interests you. Read it through a couple of times – how does the author try to persuade the audience of his/her argument?" The student posts the response on the website.All the channels have missions; most are fairly well-structured. Finally, the big Kahuna discovery that made me want to teach TAG Freshmen English again was the Play page. Students can earn different badges by finishing challenges in 4 different curriculum areas. Bonus: all of the challenges are aligned to the Common Core. Click on the "Youth Voices Challenges and Tasks" link found on the Play page to see the grid. According to the Youth Voices site, "The object of the game is to become a social media power user through commenting on other players’ posts, responding to literary and informational texts, doing long-term research projects, composing, revising, and publishing with text and media, and becoming a self-directed learner." I couldn't have said it better. Overall, I think Youth Voices has merit. I believe it would be hard to attach a grade to work if assigned to the site, however, as it is somewhat hard to navigate the discussions. Grading aside, it offers a place for students to connect with others outside of their classroom. We, as teachers, are always looking for a place for students to their work as relevant--this site may just do the trick.