Curriculum Making 101 (Part 1 of 3)

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NOTE: This is Part One in a series of posts coming out of a Curriculum Bootcamp we held at Youth Radio this fall to introduce a small group of young people to the process of creating learning experiences for peers. It’s part of a larger effort within Youth Radio’s new Innovation Lab for young people, working in partnership with veteran educators, to develop materials that will enable teachers and learners everywhere to engage youth in media and tech creation.


Our charge: To create five media-rich online curriculum units between now and August 2014 that educators can use to teach kids how to make engaging, data-driven stories using the tools of journalism and technology design.

Our edge: Young people are co-creating the curriculum materials, and we’re applying everything we know about what makes great media and great teaching.

Our team: Six dynamic young people (ages 17 to 20) who’ve graduated from Youth Radio’s multimedia classes and are now working as app developers, peer educators, and reporters within our organization. Plus three Youth Radio staffers with backgrounds in classroom teaching, journalism, and educational research.

Introduction to the Innovation Lab

On Day One of the Bootcamp, we starting by going around the room answering the question: What’s one piece of technology that’s changed your life, and how? Then we went over the big vision for Youth Radio’s Innovation Lab, which you can read all about here. We’re excited about three major moves that’ll be part of this new initiative:

  • Hacker Journalism and Transmedia Storytelling: We’ll be producing bits of technology that collect and/or display data in ways that make Youth Radio’s stories more powerful, robust, and engaging. And we’ll experiment with strategies for presenting and spreading those stories across multiple platforms and contexts, engaging communities along the way.

  • Knowledge Generation: Why not embed a Scholar-in-Residence inside a youth-driven community organization, so participants can be generating and sharing new knowledge about what it takes to engage young people in digital media creation and learning? That’s what we’ll do as part of the Innovation Lab.

  • Scale: Members of the youth team count themselves as lucky that they happen to live close enough to come to Youth Radio several afternoons per week. The organization has bureaus and active partnerships in Los Angeles, DC, and Atlanta, but we want the activities that take place here at headquarters to be available to young people everywhere all the time. Hence our mandate to create materials educators working in a range of environments–inside and outside of school–can use to engage their learners in media and tech production.

After reviewing some examples of transmedia storytelling creating by Youth Radio and others (e.g., Pitchfork’s cover story on Janelle Monae), we ran through an activity designed to encapsulate the kinds of things we’ll be doing in the Innovation Lab.

Tip #1: Use examples to introduce your project. Making sure everyone is on the same page with your vision makes brainstorming more efficient.


The Challenge

We started with a story idea that was pitched at that week’s Monday editorial meeting. A car cam video of a shooting that took place in the middle of the day in East Oakland had made the social media rounds. In the corner of the video, you can see a young person witnessing the shooting and then continuing on his way. It raised some questions for our newsroom. What’s it like for young people to navigate exposure to daytime violence? A related thought: What are the places and spaces in young people’s neighborhoods where they feel safe? We shared these questions and then issued this challenge to the Curriculum Bootcamp youth team:

  • Come up with a story you’d want to tell that addresses these questions. Identify at least one key interview and one scene you’d want to include.

  • Come up with a technology tool you’d want to develop to collect, display, and/or engage communities in data relevant to the story.

  • Identify what you would need to know and be able to do in order to produce that story and that tool. This last prompt was designed to surface learning outcomes from which we can backwards-engineer curriculum ideas.

The youth team had about 25 minutes to respond to the challenge. They proposed an interactive animation that follows two kids home from school–two journeys home through their neighborhoods. Throughout the animation you’d find stats related to violence exposure and desensitization and soundbytes from experts with experience dealing with trauma and matters of public safety. The idea would be to expose disparities in terms of exposure to violence and invite users to answer questions about their own lives in order to collect new data that adds to the reporting. We had a lively discussion about how to ensure that the story not reinforce stereotypes but instead invite community members to share their experiences, challenge assumptions and draw conclusions for themselves. All that in less than a half-hour!

Tip #2: Involve the community. Reporting that “parachutes in” can inadvertently reinforce stereotypes or ignore key perspectives.

On the question of what young people would need to know and be able to do in order to produce this media project, the youth team came up with:

  • how to identify and interview an expert

  • how to measure the phenomenon of violence desensitization

  • how to design for empathy and in non-biased ways

  • how to code switch between talking to peers and adults

  • how to solicit and report original data

These learning outcomes set the stage for Day Two of our Curriculum Bootcamp. You can read all about it here.


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