A lot of the classroom technology stories that grab my attention involve middle school. A fragile time for the psyche, most of us would clearly like to permanently wipe those years from our memory. Why? It's not a good time. Nothing damages self esteem like real or perceived academic deficiencies and an acute awareness of a brutal social hierarchy all magnified by a wild ride in the fast lane of the hormonal superhighway. When limited resources require the school counselor to utter the dreaded words "peer tutor" visions of arrogant Stanford bound AP geniuses are the only things dancing in a 13 year old’s head.
I read story in T.H.E. Journal about a teacher in North Carolina who has given peer counseling a technological twist with what Bridget Mc Crea calls "Peercasting." Rather than subjecting a struggling student to socially charged sessions with an academic peer leader, the peer leader will instead spend part of their school day creating iPod-based tutorials.
After identifying which students need additional help in a specific area—say linear equations, she'll pair up those children with tutors and help plan out the podcasts. Tutors must develop a detailed plan of what the podcast will look like,then the tech facilitator and the teacher select the three best plans, and have the students create the podcasts in about 15 minutes in the computer lab.
Approaching peer learning this way makes the learning environment more comfortable for the struggling students. Cheers to those who’ve figured out that many middle schoolers are already losing academic focus because of their preoccupation with self esteem related issues. Enabling them to sit somewhere on their own watching an iPod tutorial will produce a better end than an hour of face time with myriad social ramifications and a limited chance of success.