One of the first lessons we all learn as kids is the importance of sharing.
After 35-hour summer weeks spent alongside researchers for a year-end capstone project, Anya Razmi, a 17-year-old junior at Hathaway Brown School, learned that age-old lesson still applies.
The project — helping in a Case Western Reserve University entomology lab as part of Hathaway Brown’s Center for Science Research and Engineering — involved a poster session. It’s a next-level science fair Razmi refers to as a “conference,” where students create displays and provide mini presentations to guests — peers, parents, teachers and scientists from the community.
“Sharing your work makes you think in a different way,” Razmi says. “You have to think in terms of how the audience will understand your work, and it forces you to consider your work in a way that you wouldn’t have from behind the lens of a microscope.”
The presentations push students to tell a story.
“You learn to make yourself understandable to different audiences,” she says. “I’m not going to talk to a parent the same way I would talk to teachers, or a scientist.”
In one instance, a scientist inquired about one of Razmi’s graphs. Her study was about the effects of gravity on flies, but she didn’t know the answer. “It was scary because I knew the basics, but I honestly had no idea how to answer what he was asking.”
Then, he offered an explanation and suggested some questions Razmi could ask her researcher-mentor to learn more. “It ended up being helpful to get his advice,” she says.
Sharing your learning builds self-confidence and grounds school projects with a purpose — the effort becomes bigger than simply finishing an assignment or completing a paper.
“The scores you get on tests are going to be irrelevant [in the real world], so you want transferable skills,” says Scott Parsons, director of Hathaway Brown’s Institute for 21st Century Education and director of the school’s Osborne Writing Center. “You want them to go into the world putting themselves out there, contributing to the conversation and directing it.”
Beyond a Poster
Presenting your work takes guts.
“Anyone who does it is wading pretty deep into vulnerability,” Parsons acknowledges.
Gail Stein, lower school director at University School, says theme-sharing events throughout the year give students a sharing goal they work toward. They become mini-experts on a range of subjects, from Chinese inventions to Nantucket’s whaling industry.
“When you’re sharing your work, it has a bigger purpose,” Stein says. “Typically, it moves a child to being more fully engaged.”
Share Your Learning, a national campaign that advocates for more teachers, schools, districts and organizations to commit to sharing student learning, reports that by the time
students reach their junior year in high school, only 32 percent report feeling engaged.
Sharing can ignite an interest in learning.
The takeaways from shared learning are so important for building real-world skills that Share Your Learning is making it possible for students in any school to get their knowledge out there. Educators can join an online community through the organization’s site and students can begin posting projects there.
A Boost Of Confidence
Shared learning not only gives students a sense of purpose, it helps families understand what their children are learning.
Jeannine Voinovich has two sons in University School — one in sixth grade and one in fourth grade. She has watched her fourth-grader’s self-confidence soar because of Theme Sharing nights, when students present projects to their parents and guests.
“Whether they put on a skit or show us artwork or a story they wrote,” Voinovich says, “it’s all building their confidence and expressing their excitement for what they learn.”
Calling the experience a ‘mini stage’ allows them to grow. “We see the work they bring home,” Voinovich says, “but to watch how it all culminates is like magic.”
Of course, part of sharing is learning how to share. Teachers aren’t sending students up to the mic without coaching and time spent building knowledge, Voinovich points out.
For example, at University School, students might spend weeks learning about Egypt and its marketplaces as part of a study called “Traveling the 41st Parallel.” They engage in a range of hands-on learning activities that involve interacting with their peers. In the end, they create their own market for parents and students with various stands, including one that offers vegetables they raised in the school garden. There’s a buildup to the grand finale of sharing.
“They spend so much time researching and engaged with the information that they really do feel confident sharing,” Stein says.
Of course, sharing is more natural for some students. “For others, it is a risk,” Stein says. “They are shy at first, but they build their confidence as the years go by. From the time they are in kindergarten here, they are getting up and talking to their peers, sharing within the comfort of their classroom.”
And Stein notes sharing provides a bonus to beaming parents. “It’s rewarding to see their children so fully engaged and excited about learning,” she says.
Stage-Ready for Success
Ian Ashby is a freshman at Oberlin
College’s Conservatory of Music, studying jazz bass. He’s a graduate of the Lake Ridge Academy School of Fine Arts, an intensive performance and visual arts program designed to prepare students for life as a professional artist.
The program involves preparing and performing a sophomore show, and a final senior year-end performance that students arrange off-campus, doing everything from creating posters to arranging refreshments — and, of course, showcasing their craft.
“When you have a solidified date of performance, it fuels your energy to get ready,” says 18-year-old Ashby. “The stakes are higher with a performance. It’s a much more
exciting experience because you know you’ll be performing for your peers.”
But along with that comes a healthy dose of peer pressure.
“There’s a feeling of, Did I practice enough?” Ashby relates. “Will people like the refreshments I bought? You are promoting yourself in the senior show.”
Sharing your work onstage and trying to get your message across clearly involves “a whole different mental process” than practicing alone or taking a lesson, Ashby adds.
Performance can expose weaknesses, and this actually promotes personal growth. “Students find out what skills they need to develop,” says Carolyn Ballou, School of Fine Arts director at Lake Ridge Academy. “It makes them aware that they have the guts and dedication to perform.”
Click to Share
From explaining research to organizing a concert, sharing your work requires thinking and commitment. Students must consider the audience, synthesize their work, and distill their takeaways into concise messages.
According to Share Your Learning, which aims to have 5 million students sharing stories of learning by 2020, sharing knowledge and insights helps students integrate information, empowers them to own their ideas and helps them to connect to new people and contexts.
Sharing makes learning come to life.
“This is your work and your project,” says Hathaway Brown junior Razmi. “It pushes you to be the best you can be, because what you are doing matters.”