How I Help Students Create Purposeful Media Projects that Matter to Them - Digital Promise

How I Help Students Create Purposeful Media Projects that Matter to Them

September 14, 2022 | By

In 2021, Digital Promise and Ciena launched the Ciena Solutions Challenge, a global design challenge inviting middle and high school students to design solutions that address the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals within their communities. This blog post is part of a series in which educators from around the world share their experiences facilitating the Ciena Solutions Challenge with students. Featured below are lessons from educator William Cavada, who facilitated the Overcome CO2 student project team at Mt. Pleasant High School in San Jose, California.

Engaging Students in Authentic Project-Based Learning

When I first started my project-based learning (PBL) journey, I was excited about how the learning methodology would empower my students. I was excited about how PBL could change the learning environment for my students. I knew engaging students in authentic PBL helps build students’ agency and ownership over their learning. And in turn, students become more engaged in their learning. This is key for increasing retention and retaining information for a longer amount of time.

I have experienced how PBL helps develop students’ soft skills, such as collaboration, communication, curation, and problem-solving. The transfer of vital technology skills like digital citizenship and media literacy empowers our students to become media creators. Importantly, as students create, they develop empathy and an authentic connection to their community.

Digital art with a tiny student driving a large car.

Student-produced digital art photo manipulation

Getting Started with the Ciena Solutions Challenge

Many teachers ask questions like, “How do I design a great PBL project? Will students stay engaged in the project? Will the project hit all the key metrics and align to standards? How will students demonstrate understanding?” I know that not every project is guaranteed to succeed. That is why I like working on the Ciena Solutions Challenge, which asks students globally to design meaningful solutions that contribute to their local community and address the Sustainable Development Goals.

Having help and support from the Ciena Solutions Challenge team at Digital Promise and teachers in the Ciena community was key for me in developing a robust project for my students because I was not designing from scratch. The thoughtful conversations with other teachers around the topic of facilitating learning helped me to develop a stronger essential question. This was important because I felt the essential question would be key for setting the foundation to developing students’ curiosity.

Creating Media with a Purpose

As students moved deeper into the Challenge, they began to value the purpose of what they were doing and not just the grades. They worked on creating ideas and brainstorming solutions to problems that resonated with them. They researched and learned the difference between opinions versus facts. Then, as media creators, students turned ideas into visual stories and created buttons. At the end of the project, students wrote, produced, and recorded their own podcast to broadcast their stories to their community and a larger audience.

Students holding up an Overcome CO2 button

Students share one of their Overcome CO2 buttons

I see their buttons all through school. Friends are wearing them, teachers are wearing them, and they keep the buttons on their backpacks for the whole year. Their buttons become a part of who they are. That’s probably the best part to see how long lasting this project is. 

– William Cavada, Mt. Pleasant High School, San Jose, Calif.

Designing and Facilitating Successful Project-based Learning Experiences

My advice to other educators who are just getting started with PBL is to not be afraid and to embrace the unknown. Help students learn how to navigate a world of uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. Our students are entering a life full of situations of constant, unpredictable change. This demands that teachers prepare students to see themselves as incubators of innovation and creative problem solvers, ready to find solutions to today’s problems with ingenuity and passion, leading to positive changes in our world.

Learn more on the Ciena Solutions Challenge Website

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