by Bob Kundrat, MS Theater Teacher
Last Friday, the Middle School Theater Company (MSTC) presented their show, "Our Digital Lives," for a packed house in the SLC. The show was a collection of six original plays written, directed, and performed by the twenty-two 7th and 8th graders that make up the ensemble.
Much has been written lately on the influence—good and (mostly) bad—of technology on the lives of young people. When reading these articles and studies, I often noticed that something was missing from this conversation: the kids' voice. So I decided to create a show that asked my students the question: "How has technology affected your lives as teenagers?"
Partnering with the Educational Technology Department at Brentwood, the MSTC students logged how they used digital media throughout the day and used this information to workshop ideas, scenes, and characters. Next, the students chose which ideas they connected with and then collaborated over the course of several weeks to craft original plays. The resulting stories offered a variety of different perspectives and messages about technology. One group wrote a very chilling tale of a student who is cyber-bullied by another classmate for seemingly no reason. Another wrote a play about a family who, in arguing about rigid parental rules over technology, discovers that they all need to spend more time looking up from their screens and at each other.
In addition to writing and acting in all their plays, the students were tasked with creating the "tech" for their shows. This included music, sound, and various slides projected behind each scene to show the setting and the screen activities of the characters. For example, in the cyberbully play, there was a scene in which the protagonist innocently gets ready for school as, behind her, a scroll of negative texts about her pop up like angry whispers. In another play that explored how social media impacts friendships, a character discovers that her friend lied to her by looking at a social media app that shows locations. The students were able to screen record this map on Snapchat and project it during the scene.
Needless to say, the plays all required the students to blend a high level of artistic and technological thinking, and the fact that they were able to accomplish this was impressive. The performances were also wildly entertaining, funny, and, at times, sobering. In the end, I think the answer to my initial question was clear: technology has affected their lives in a profound and pervasive way. I think the task for educators and parents is not how to take technology out of their lives, but how to encourage students to use technology in a way that benefits them and our increasingly digital world.