“Imagine if every teacher could use technology fluidly in their lesson plans. Imagine if students could take classes at other schools via video teleconferencing. Imagine if a Spanish class in Chicago had daily speaking sessions in English and Spanish with a classroom in Mexico City. We believe if our recommendations are adopted, those dreams could be a reality.”

So begins the final report of the Mikva Challenge on bringing Chicago public high schools into the 21st Century.

Students in this afterschool program with a civics focus have rallied around a challenge to bring technology into their classrooms, done their research, and ultimately presented their recommendations to the “CEO” of the Chicago Public Schools, Ron Huberman.

In this webisode, StudentSpeak takes you inside the policy meeting with the Mivka Challenge Education Council, a group of 15 teenagers from high schools across the city.

The council’s focus has been on how digital media can transform high school classrooms. The afterschool program is one of several run by the nonprofit Mivka Challenge, which encourages high school students to participate in the political process through elections, activism and policy-making.

After more than 120 hours of research and interviews, the students presented the following recommendations:

* CPS should offer mandatory semester workshops for teachers on successfully using technology in the classroom (and we hope this goes beyond using PowerPoint to present lesson plans!)
* If a course is not offered at a student’s school, he or she should be allowed to take the course at a different school through video conferencing.
* Teachers should have a personal password for unblocking CPS “restricted” websites for educational purposes. The principal’s discretion will determine which websites can be viewed.
* Cell phones should be allowed during passing periods, lunch, and as a teacher-defined learning tool (e.g., for research, surveying students, and background knowledge).
* CPS should be equipping schools with iPod touches, MacBooks, FlipCams, and Smart boards to enhance the classroom experience by building sponsorships with companies who can provide them.
* There should be a video that CPS shows citywide, as well as student-led programs for students in schools, about the dangers of sexting and cyber-bullying and their consequences.

These are just the start. The 53-page report goes into great detail on the do’s and dont’s of teaching technology and provides supporting evidence for each recommendation.

Lisa, a member of the Education Council who we previously met on StudentSpeak, said knowing her efforts and policy recommendations could lead to real and lasting change “is a really cool feeling.”

Huberman was agreeable to using YouTube in the classroom and online courses (he one-upped the students by suggesting online courses over the students’ proposal to use Skype), but he rejected allowing cell phones in classrooms, in part because of concerns over bullying and sexting in schools.

Huberman called on the students to produce a video to change the culture.

“You guys come up with the plan of what we do about cyberbullying,” he said.

They have taken the challenge and will spend the next few months talking with teachers, administrators, and fellow students and begin planning their YouTube video.

StudentSpeak, a video series produced by Spotlight, goes behind the scenes to show how teens use digital media in their daily lives. View previous webisodes here: spotlight.macfound.org/btr/category/studentspeak/.

Plus: As part of their research in forming their recommendations, the students surveyed 377 Chicago Public School students.

Of those surveyed:

* 77 percent are black or Latino
* 47 percent go to a neighborhood public school
* 38.5 percent report they can operate a computer professionally; 35 percent can use it for basic functions
* 56 percent do not use a computer regularly at school
* 85 percent of students use YouTube for entertainment; 30 percent use it for personal expression; and 41 percent use it for academic learning. Only 7 percent don’t use YouTube
* 52 percent use textbooks daily; two-thirds think digital media can replace textbooks
* One-third think they can learn just as well from computers (e.g., online classes, Google, educational games, etc.) as from teachers; 30 percent disagree; the rest are neutral on the question

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