Two summers ago, I nervously agreed to become the STLP coordinator at my school when my colleague and friend, Shannon Hill, asked. She had trained a new sponsor at the middle school where I teach for the last three years and was desperately seeking out a permanent sponsor. She caught me at a good time as I had just stepped down as ELA department chair and SBDM member. Looking back on the year, I am so glad I agreed to do this!
If you are unfamiliar with STLP, it stands for Student Technology Leadership Program. Initially, I was 100% clueless. And it was obvious. To everyone. Especially me. Luckily, some amazing people helped me limp through this first year, people like Amanda Ballman, a science teacher half my age who actually understood a lot of the “techie” talk, my students, who clearly knew what they were doing when I did not, and a group of parents who kept me apprised of upcoming requirements. Because of these people, I had an amazing year that opened my eyes to all the literacy opportunities embedded in this wonderful program.
STLP showed me how to blend literacy and technology in a whole new way. The knowledge gained will improve my effectiveness as an STLP coordinator next year and increase student engagement in my language arts classes. Here are some takeaways from my first year in STLP.
Project Based Learning – Find your Passion!
Project Based Learning is at the heart of STLP. Students find something about which they are passionate and use technology to showcase it. The products are as diverse as the students who create them. On April 22nd at Rupp Arena in Lexington, students from all over Kentucky showed off their year-long projects which used every type of technology imaginable. All students who attended were expected to speak about their finished products as experts. Speaking and listening skills often get shortchanged in classrooms because they aren’t assessed on annual state tests, but this authentic experience provided students multiple opportunities to practice those skills.
Students who entered project showcases picked anything, and I mean anything, of interest to them. Some students designed projects meant to improve school culture while others tried to create positive change in their communities and in the world.
Projects fell into three categories: community service, instructional presentation, and technical expertise. While attending the convention, I saw elementary students who developed projects to stop bullying, middle school students who created apps to encourage reading or physical activity, and high school students who developed a campaign to raise awareness about the issues surrounding teen pregnancy. Each project incorporated technology, and groups presented their work to visitors and judges at makeshift booths reminiscent of boat or home and garden shows I have attended in the past. There were hundreds upon hundreds of projects that made it to the state level, which demonstrated our students are developing and demonstrating critical thinking skills, collaborating effectively, and presenting complex information to adults as experts. The students’ passions electrified the arena as they shared their ideas and hard work.
Students less eager to speak in public still have multiple opportunities to use literacy skills. Students can create digital stories where they write stories, add pictures, and then read their stories over the pictures. Two students of mine entered that category. It was the perfect opportunity for them to combine reading, writing, and speaking skills with technology.
Are you looking for ways to engage artists, musicians, and future movie producers? STLP has that covered, too. Some of those categories include manipulated photo, digital art, and multimedia products. Regardless of the product, students must write technical explanations of how they create their products, and the writing has to be so precise that anybody can follow the directions and create the same product. Voila! Technical writing opportunities abound!
Several of my students created a script and shot a movie in only 48 hours in a for the Cinemania event. The movie had to include certain props, dialogue, camera angles, and actions. While my students didn’t win, their collaboration and script writing skills improved dramatically.
Many of the service opportunities offered through STLP focus heavily on communication. Students who win at the regional events in the fall are invited to handle all of the media at the state event each spring at Rupp Arena, including social media, newscasts, live reports, filming, media production, and podcasting. This is a BIG deal since 8,000 – 10,000 people attend this event!
Another service competition called “Help Desk” expects students to develop and promote a technical support group to assist their schools with technology. If invited to state competition, students present their yearlong projects to a panel of judges. I am proud to say my students won second place in that competition, and they did that all on their own! I was of no help to them, and yet they pulled off a 2nd place win! I was amazed at their expertise, their collaboration skills, and the confidence they exhibited when presenting their project to complete strangers.
I have barely scratched the surface when it comes to STLP, but I now see it is so much more than playing video games or possibly creating them. While students can participate in activities like these, the number of projects from which students can choose is incredibly diverse, and most require literacy skills. Do yourself a favor, and look into STLP at your school today!