Meridian Stories: The History, The Objectives, The Aspirations
THE HISTORY – WHY MERIDIAN STORIES?
For the past five years, I have been working as the Executive Director of Sesame Workshop’s Panwapa, a website designed to foster the basic tenets of global citizenship in 4 to 7 year olds. I am also the Co-Executive Producer of Salam Shabab, a TV series (funded by the US Institute of Peace) for Iraqi youth that showcases youth’s stories, in film and in word, in a competitive environment, with the aim of empowering Iraqi youth to be confident, responsible and participatory citizens of society.
Both experiences have sharply focused my view on a few elements that I believe are critical to educational success. They include:
- Educating inside of a global perspective;
- Integrating digital tools on a consistent basis; and
- Utilizing narrative structures as a basis for exploration, connection and engagement.
Meridian Stories takes the creative, digital energy of kids today and provides them with a thoughtfully scaffolded, global framework to release that energy.
But here’s the other critical element that makes this approach take flight: team competition. In Salam Shabab, we consistently found that team competition can bring out the best in kids. It was the friendly, competitive nature of that show – which challenged Iraqi kids to create short performances and films around select themes, which were voted on by a studio audience – that inspired such exciting and provocative stories. It’s team competition that makes events like Science Olympiad, Odyssey of the Mind and the Model UN such deeply memorable experiences for the participants. It’s team competition that leads with a collaborative spirit and finishes with a competitive drive.
Team competition, when crafted inside of a friendly spirit, can motivate kids to excel and this notion is an integral part of the engine that drives Meridian Stories.
The purpose of Meridian Stories is to provide students and teachers with digital media arts opportunities that support the curriculum, enrich learning, and catalyze new interests and creativity. Specifically, the objectives are:
- to provide students with media-creation opportunities, as mentored by adults, that allow them to collaboratively explore vital issues – personal, global and educational – in ways that take full advantage of their digital capacities; and
- to provide teachers with a digital tool that can tap the continually growing power of the new digital literacy – including social media – for traditional, educational ends.
Meridian Stories takes the creative, digital energy of kids today and provides them with a thoughtfully scaffolded and educationally substantive framework to release that energy.
THE ASPIRATIONS – WHAT’S THE INNOVATION?
Meridian Stories is designed as a tool to help clear some of the intractable congestion that lies at the intersection of youth, digital technology and schools.
The problem is this: How do we get youth, ages 11 – 18, to channel the massive, daily energy that is expended online away from simple extensions of their social lives and toward deeper explorations of their selves and the critical issue that surround them? The digital resources at their disposal to explore personal, communal, global and educational topics are without compare in the history of education. But the youth are not being guided, on a consistent and sustained basis, in ways to use these inimitable resources toward ends that advance social responsibility, global awareness, communal participation and educational mastery. Why? Because many in the generation ahead of them don’t know how.
But that same generation of teachers and after school leaders do have experience, maturity, post-graduate education, and many other assets that the youth really need to grow, learn and develop in positive ways.
Macarthur Foundation Education Director Connie Yowell, who runs the program for Digital Media and Learning, recently spoke about the importance of intergenerational learning. She talks about how the older generation is vital in communicating questions around ethics, civic engagement and morality to the younger generation while they can educate the older generations about digital media.
Meridian Stories was partially developed as a response to the realization that there aren’t many vehicles out there whereby experienced adults direct youth inside of a digital media arena. This is because many adults don’t have the experience in digital media. But they do have the experience in questions around ‘ethics, civic engagement and morality’ and with that experience, can help students craft their digital skill set to address those issues.
Meridian Stories aspires to be a common place where teachers can apply their expertise inside of the new digital literacies in which students excel.
Meridian Stories begins with story—personal, mythical, comic, tragic—and makes it the primary structure by which students and teachers, from different regions, connect, engage and learn with each other.
Why story? At the 2009 ‘Games for Change’ conference in New York City, I heard Nicholas Kristof, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist for the NY Times, comment about the importance of personal stories as the best means to connect people to each other and to issues. To illustrate his point he said, “One death is a tragedy, millions are a statistic.”
Consider the power of The Diary of Anne Frank. One reason this is such a seminal book in education is because her personal story gives us access to an experience that is otherwise inaccessible. Stories, so often, open the door to understanding.
Today’s kids have stories to tell as well. But they want to tell them differently. Meridian Stories is a tool that allows them to do that.
 Yowell, Connie (July 26, 2010). Connie Yowell: How Digital Media Has Dramatically Changed the Way We Learn. Video. Retrieved January 15th from: http://www.macfound.org/site/c.lkLXJ8MQKrH/b.4462309/apps/s/content.asp?ct=8589753