"The tech club helps keep me interested in school, and I can see how things work together more," Stephanie S. told Education World.
Now in her second year as a member of the technology club at Anne Darling Elementary School, in San Jose, California, Stephanie joined the group because she had an interest in the type of activities it offered. "I entered the tech club because I like acting, dancing, and performing," said Stephanie. "I enjoy learning how to integrate those skills with technology. My favorite thing is the dancing!"
Richard Soos, the technology resource teacher at Anne Darling Elementary, developed an eight-session training series about how computers work and how people use computers as tools in daily life. "The students who attended those sessions after school hounded me afterward, saying, 'We want to learn more' and 'We want to create the products you told us about,'" Soos recalled recently. "So, the club was actually started by the students. I am more or less a coordinator who helps keep some semblance of order."
As the technology resource teacher, Soos provides staff technology training and deals with 840 students in the computer lab. Students in the upper grades attend weekly classes, and those at the lower levels go biweekly. Soos also writes many grants and is always seeking new way of using technology in his school. The tech club is just such a program.
"The tech club's goals have changed over time. The first goal was to learn how to create a CD. The children learned how to record and use the computer to edit the recordings," Soos said. "They all felt like superstars when the first CD was actually released. They created three promotional videos to go along with it; the promotional videos were shown in all classrooms, with the students making presentations that explained how they had created the project. That was done in the fall of 1999. After the presentations, new groups of students became interested in participating in the process, so a second CD was created in the spring of 2000. Summer school students created a third CD."
Soos and his students utilized MP3 software called Music Match to generate their CD recordings. "The students enjoy having a product with their voices [on it]," he explained. "I believe that long-term, this is great for their self esteem. They also learn that participating in the marketing of a finished product is not an unreachable dream for any person who makes that commitment. We are a Title I school, and I often sense the feeling of hopelessness toward the future from parents and students. Having these small projects at the grade school level gives students a vision that they can fully participate in America."
Most sales of the CDs have occurred at the school. There have been a few worldwide sales, and MP3.com has handled all transactions. The online sales bring occasional small checks to the club. The students choose how they will use the money that they have earned and usually opt for a pizza party!
After the first CD, Soos felt that the group had done something unique and entered the project in the competition for the Internet Innovators Award from National Semiconductor. The tech club, known as School Kids through its CDs, won the award. At present, some of the club members are rehearsing for a live production, while others prepare the artwork for the next CD, design posters, and complete additional related tasks.
Some of the School Kids from the tech club shared their experiences with Education World.
Cassie V., a two-year member, became involved with the tech club through the recommendation of friends. "I've helped make two CDs and three music videos. I also am involved in the play that we are currently doing, A Rumpus in the Rainforest. I am the Shaman, and I learned about my character by doing research on the Internet. I also got to help develop the music for our newest CD and live production. We [club members] get to learn how to use technology to create our projects and then move beyond technology to put on performances. It is not all fun and games; it is hard work."
Cassie introduced friend Vivian L. to the tech club. "I am a jaguar and a monkey in our new production," said Vivian. "The best part of being in the club is that we get to sing because singing is my favorite hobby. We learn how to work together. It also makes me feel good about the future -- that I'll have more choices when I'm looking for a career."
Newcomer Crystal M. joined the tech club to improve her dancing and performing. "I play the part of the Frog, who is on stage during the whole performance," she explained. "I recorded my song, and it is already on the Internet. My song is called Just Once. The best thing for me is performing in front of thousands of people and learning how to sing better. The tech club is fun, and you can learn how to perform and sing. We also transfer those talents to technology."
"I am filming the process for a video documentary," said Rebecca A., a club member for two years. "Last year I helped edit a video, and I also learned to edit songs. Performing is fun. I enjoy acting and having fun in the club. The tech club is a great place to learn."
According to Soos, the principal goal of all of the tech club's work is teaching students that technology is not an enemy but a means to create. The students participate not only in music but also in art, marketing, video production, the manipulation of images and sound, and the creation of Web pages. The current class of students is also learning to create a stage production of their product and plans to perform at various functions. This is particularly exciting for Soos because the special education class and a third grade class are collaborating to build the stage set -- a rainforest! Two other resource teachers have joined in the production, providing choreography and lighting. It is truly becoming a school-wide effort.
Soos advises educators interested in starting technology clubs at their schools to listen to the students and not be frightened by the technology. His students were able to discover exactly what software they needed simply by doing Web research. Club members also sent e-mail messages to people who were doing something similar to what they wanted to do and requested guidance. By his own admission, Soos is simply the coordinator. The students do all the work. "It's their baby. Let 'em run with it!" he said.
"I am excited this year because the fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms will each make a CD yearbook for their classrooms," Soos eagerly commented. "The yearbook will include class artwork, poems, stories, songs, essays, and photos. They are also producing videos that document the process. Each student in the class has an integral role in the project. In the end, each fourth- and fifth-grade student will have a product in hand that would not exist if every person in the class had not participated fully."
The most common question other teachers ask Soos is "How much time does this take?" Each semester, he spends two hours per week with the tech club, and fourth- and fifth-grade students meet with him for a total of ten hours. Soos added, "I do not feel that ten hours of a child's life is a very big investment in a product that he or she can carry for a lifetime."
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