One of the cooler things I have going on right now is my involvement in the TED-Ed Innovative Educator program. It’s funny how your life changes in unexpected ways – when I became a TED-Ed Club facilitator in 2014, I never dreamed I’d become so involved with TED. Since that spring, I’ve organized a TEDx event (TEDxLFHS – the second event is coming in May!), attended TEDYouth in Brooklyn, and even traveled to Switzerland to take part in TEDGlobal>Geneva. But I think the most rewarding aspect by far – besides seeing students on a TEDx stage – is the TED-Ed Innovative Educator (TIE) program. There’s a lot of these programs out there (Google Certified Innovator, Microsoft Innovative Educator, PBS Digital Innovator…I’m certain the list goes on), but what makes TED so special is the people (the peeps at TED HQ are as nice, smart and progressive as you’d imagine) and the fact that it feels really ongoing. A flagship part of the TIE program is our innovation projects – we pitched ideas to TED-Ed, and if accepted they help provide us with the resources to make our innovation projects a reality. Which brings me to my innovation project: mixtape1285.
mixtape1285 (launched last week!) is an initiative at my high school aimed at amplifying student voice. It’s heavily influenced by the StoryCorps model, but that’s kind of the point. StoryCorps is awesome – you can listen to StoryCorps snippets on NPR on Fridays, or just head to the website – and they were the recipient of the TED prize in 2015. It’s a powerful experience to interview someone you care about and capture your stories (my wife and I did a StoryCorps interview in October), and I knew immediately I wanted to replicate the experience for students at my high school. TED-Ed was on board, and I was off!
I’m not an AV guy by nature, so I didn’t know exactly what to purchase. Happily, StoryCorps has a guide for replicating their process at a library, so I took their DIY manual and ran with it. I bought a digital recorder, studio mics, and a lot of IKEA furnishings to turn my office into a private, comfortable sound studio. It took some fiddling to get everything right (and there’s minor cosmetic things left to do), but here we are: mixtape1285 is officially open for business!
Here’s how a mixtape1285 interview works: You find a friend, colleague or loved one to interview, and you register online. Choose some questions, then show up to the studio. You and your partner have an unfiltered conversation, while I hang back and run the equipment. Interviews last up to 40 minutes, and when it’s over the participants receive a full, unedited copy of the interview, and I post cool or interesting clips online.
My first two volunteers participated in an interview on Friday, and it was a success! You can listen to some clips of their interview here (headphones really showcase the amazing sound quality – the NPR effect!), and I’m hoping to get more students in the near future. A few of my TED-Ed Club students are next in line, and anyone at my school who wants to give it a shot is more than welcome to enter the studio and unpack their stories.
So, what’s the goal in all of this? I like lists, so let’s do one of those:
1. First and foremost, student voice is my primary educational passion. Students deserve to have their stories heard, and their voices and opinions should matter a great deal in education. I’m happy to help them do that.
2. The experience of unpacking yourself to someone you care about and listening to their stories in an intimate space is powerful and transformative.
3. I love podcasts, and this is a chance to join the fun!
4. Inspire other educators and schools to provide a place for students to share their voices.
What I’m doing is very replicable. You don’t need professional mics and sound equipment – heck, StoryCorps even has a free app. All you really need to do is purchase cheap USB mics, transform an existing space into an interview center, register for a free website and Soundcloud account, and you’re off!
I’m really curious to see how this all turns out. I just began promoting it to the students and faculty, but it’s kind of a unique thing. To get off the ground, I’ll need good word of mouth and participants having solid experiences. Having faculty on my side helps a lot, too. The sound studio won’t be just the mixtape1285 experience – students can also use the space for school projects, oral history narratives, and pretty much anything that involves recorded voice. It’s multipurpose, and some of the biggest successes might be things I haven’t even considered yet. Such is life.
I’ll keep updating as this thing progresses. I’m sure we’ll have our TEDxLFHS speakers in the studio passionately discussing and sharing their ideas, and we will have a portable station at our TEDxLFHS innovation lab in May for all attendees to give it a shot. I’m hoping StoryCorps does another initiative like the Great Thanksgiving Listen – I’d LOVE for students to bring in grandparents to the studio. From there, who knows? But with the support of TED-Ed and my school administration, I can’t wait to find out what happens next.