Picture this: an 8th grade English class is creating persuasive speeches on a topic they feel needs to be brought to light. Upon completion of the assignment, they are required to present that speech in front of their class of 33 students. Sounds like a typical, somewhat simple assignment, right? Well picture this: a student who is absolutely terrified of public speaking leaves his note cards at home and in sheer panic, decides to improvise his entire presentation. With 66 beady little eyes directed towards the front of the room where he is standing, he cracks under the pressure, forgets everything, and proceeds to projectile vomit out of utter fear and anxiety. Yeah. That person was me. Flash forward five years and many things have changed. Not only have my public speaking skills made a complete turn-around, the place where I spend hours of my life each year has also transformed into a technology-rich environment.
When I first started as a 9th grade student at High Tech High Media Arts in San Diego, California, I was still that shy, timid person who was afraid to stand up in front of a group of people and talk. But just as the school itself spread from one charter school started in 2000 into a network of 13 schools spread across San Diego by the time I began high school, I also found myself finding a voice I never imagined I could have. Because the classrooms at High Tech High Media Arts are smaller and the curriculum is Project Based, I was required to break out of my shell and actually interact with my classmates.
At the end of every semester, students are required to conduct a formal Presentation of Learning, referred to as a POL, which allows students to reflect on the highlights and mistakes of their semester. This is an extremely formal presentation that typically lasts 15-20 minutes and is conducted in front of a panel of students, teachers, and school executives. Because of this, you can imagine how terrified I was to present. The only thoughts running through my head when I was creating this presentation were the horrifying images of that day in eighth grade. I practiced and practiced and knew exactly what I was going to say. I probably could have recited it all in my sleep. The night before, I called my grandfather who I am really close with and told him all about how nervous and stressed I was for that presentation. Because he lives in Rhode Island, he told me to Skype him and practice it. So I did. Almost 20 times. Each and every time he would add a small critique or would find something that I could change. Three hours later, I had a perfected presentation. When I pushed the little red “END” button in the corner, I had truly realized how amazing, and helpful, technology was. I was able to talk to my grandfather face-to-face and perfect my presentation. The next day, when it was my turn to present, it was perfect. That’s right, no projectile vomit! From that point on, my grandfather and I would Skype every night before a presentation and I would leave my nerves there.
In the beginning of tenth grade, I received an iPad for my birthday and would take it to school every day. Over time, more and more Education apps were available and I downloaded the ones that I found to be useful. My favorite was one that created flashcards which allowed me to add photos in addition to text to the card itself. When I had major presentations like a POL, I would add some notes and a screenshot of the slide that I could glance down at if I needed to. Not only did I look pretty professional holding an iPad in my hand, I continued to knock my presentations out of the park.
At the end of the day, the very fact that technology has changed over the last four years into a useful educational tool allowed me to truly grow into a better public speaker. I feel that the POL’s we do at High Tech High Media Arts prepare us for real-world situations. Having to work through my fear and practice my public speaking skills in high school is something that I will be eternally grateful for. If it weren’t for the help of technology, my public speaking skills could potentially be the same as they were in eighth grade.
No matter what you teach – or if you teach – I hope that you push your students to step out of their comfort zones and practice their public speaking skills. There are many digital tools out there to help that we may not even be familiar with. Not only will that preparation spare a group of students from the embarrassment that I experienced in eighth grade, it will create a group of students who are professional and able to carry themselves in an adult working environment.
San Diego, California
High Tech High Media Arts Class of 2015