Sunday, November 17, 2013

A revelatory visit to New Tech High School in South Bend

Despite the fact I've now done three dozen presentations, I am still learning, and my visit to New Tech High School is testimony to that fact.

Heather Nimon, an environmental science teacher at New Tech, had invited me to present to the students there — sophomores, juniors and seniors — in two separate classes.

For the first class, I gave my standard presentation: climate change facts, some bumper stickers, and my new "we have to stop bullying the earth" section. It was fairly successful. The students were largely quite respectful and attentive, but the session ended and I racked my brain for inspiration. How can I make presentation MORE engaging?

Inspiration was sparked when my colleague John Gibson, who had witnessed the presentation, suggested I start the second one with a more personal question: What is the world going to be like when you all are my age?

Basically, 40 years from now.

The answers were a wide range of concerns, from depletion of natural resources to a much warmer planet. Those answers led to the students sharing their sustainability projects they're in the midst of formulating.

Those projects made me realize these students were way ahead of my presentation, that it in fact was only reinforcing what these kids already know — and feel largely helpless about.

So I gave them a choice: the presentation I had planned, or my climate change game show, The Ain't Too Late Show. They chose the latter, and boy am I glad they did.

The Ain't Too Late Show starts with good news each time, and so hope led the way. Then, the questions are fun and informative — and two sets of students competed, with their fellow students' help. It was great fun and a terrific lesson for me. I need to be nimble and assess the level of knowledge of each set of students I present to. If they "get it" then they are also likely to feel — at least sometimes — a sense of hopelessness.

It's much better to provide a little information in an entertaining context, so that we all — including me — have a good time talking about the most important thing of all: these kids' future.