Cougar Nation Livestreaming Crew: Real-World Project Based Learning

It's playoff time in Cougar Nation with teams at my school, Yeshivat Frisch, competing for titles in volleyball, hockey, and basketball. In addition to the many fans joining us at the games, we have added livestreaming, by popular demand, so parents, students, and other members of our school community who could not make it to our gym can watch from home. You can join the excitement by watching upcoming games on our channel on the Cube. (Sorry for the shameless plug ;)

While researching and planning the implementation of this project with various stakeholders, I knew that it would provide a valuable service that our community really wanted. I did not realize what a learning opportunity it would be for our students as well. The Cougar Nation Livestreaming Crew, as my students call it, has become a genuine avenue for real-world project based learning.

Let me explain.

Project Based Learning is defined by the Buck Institute for Education as:
a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an engaging and complex question, problem, or challenge.
Key elements of Project Based Learning or PBL for short include challenging problems, extended inquiry, student voice and choice, reflection, critique and revision, and most importantly an authentic product presented to a real-world audience. The authentic product presented to a real-world audience is what distinguishes project based learning from other teaching strategies but it is often the most difficult aspect of PBL to implement.

Let's face it. Kids who succeed in school are not necessarily the smartest. They are the ones who get "school". They figure out what each teacher expects of them and how to produce something that meets or exceeds the teacher's expectations.

Creating an authentic product for a real-world audience upends this model. The student is not producing something to please her teacher but to impress others. This motivates the student to do her best and constantly revise and improve her work. It creates not only an external motivator, the need to produce for an audience, but is internally motivating as well. Students want to put their best foot forward and are driven to succeed on something they know is important to others. This is amplified when the finished project is not only presented to a greater audience but is authentic as well in that it addresses a real-world problem.

These types of assignments are difficult to administer on a consistent basis in the regular classroom setting. Some subjects can feature a special night for students to show off their work, the Evening of the Arts and the Science and Engineering Symposium at Frisch come to mind. And of course, there is Shiriyah, the week-long festival at Frisch involving so many different talents and such an overwhelming amount of student-driven energy.

However, consistently implementing this across every subject area multiple times can become artificial. It also violates another important principle that I find as a teacher, the need for variety. I try to vary my teaching style and methods, assigning projects and sometimes true project based learning activities, more traditional curriculum delivery methods and tests, and various types of assignments. I think this reaches more students and is more natural in that my choice of learning experience and outcome is driven by the curriculum that I am teaching not the need to always follow one teaching strategy. At the same time, when one finds genuine PBL that can be carried out on a consistent basis, it is quite exciting.

So what does this have to do with livestreaming?

I discovered this past week that having a student-driven livestreaming crew is real-world project based learning at its best. The excitement connected to our Cougar Nation livestreaming launch has been infectious. This has been complemented by students gaining various 21st century skills without their even realizing it.

Students have created signs with QR codes connected to Google Forms which they plastered in the hundreds throughout the school. To communicate with the dozens and dozens of students who responded, they created two whatsapp groups, one for all participants in Cougar Nation and the second for the organizers. These were followed by the creation of shared folders in Google Drive for student collaboration. This all happened organically, led by students trying to solve the need to communicate and collaborate, not assigned by me. I have functioned as their facilitator and guide and marveled at my kids' enthusiasm, creativity, and hard work.

Embedded in the whatsapp forums have been many learning opportunities discussing various issues of equity connected to the stream. Students pondered how one divides up the work fairly, deciding who gets to broadcast which games and who to assign the various roles of camera person, computer tech, and announcer. They asked if the crew, which at the present time is entirely boys, should equally broadcast girls games as well. - On this issue, I gave my input, an emphatic yes that we broadcast both boys AND girls games. - 

Students quickly realized the platform not only allowed for live broadcasting but for adding predesigned video and graphic segments to be mixed into the production as well. This has led students to start devoting their free periods to creating intro and highlight videos for the various games. They are even scripting a commercial which will be filmed and edited tomorrow.

After watching and reflecting on their games, they recognized the need to further improve their announcing skills and have been using social media platforms like Twitter to message broadcasters they have a connection with to seek out their expert guidance.

Others in the crew created their own social media platforms to post highlights from games on both Facebook and Instagram. You can watch the video they posted of the game winning goal with 18 seconds left from this past Thursday night's hockey match below.

What has made this such a powerful project based learning experience is the genuine authentic product, the sports broadcast,  which students are producing on an almost nightly basis to a real public audience during these busy playoff weeks. The students know that what they create will be transmitted to an audience of hundreds and perhaps even thousands of devoted fans. They want their production to be the highest quality possible and are innately motivated to do their best work, and then reflect, and revise.

I can hardly wait for what awaits us in the rest of the playoffs. I hope that our teams exercise good sportsmanship and, of course, I want them to win. At the same time, I am excited for the continued intellectual growth by our Cougar Nation Livestreaming Crew as they produce, reflect, revise, and then produce again to further their quest to create the highest quality broadcast for our fans everywhere.