Should I begin with the overnight bus ride on Monday? Or maybe I could start with the snow storm on Tuesday? Hmm…I could start backwards and talk about the 14 hour bus ride back during the day and the 2 hour stop at the border patrol….
I could talk about teachers falling asleep, students falling asleep, and even tour guides falling asleep.
I could talk about being completely annoyed by 25 tired, cranky, hormonal 13 year olds.
Cirque du Soleil Totem…now that could be an amazing piece of writing!
Or maybe I could talk about the food…oh the food…pucapuca, breakfast, sugar shack, chez marie, spaghtini… Mr. Bennett falling in love with maple butter and bread and the other chaperones eating cake that was so good that it brought tears to their eyes.
I could focus on the Sugar Shack, where our kids put aside their differences, let down their guards, and became a family.
What about Anne-Sophie, our tour guide, with her energy and enthusiasm for life?
I could highlight the moments of calm and inner peace that we felt at St. Anne’s and Notre Dame.
I could attempt to reflect on those funny moments…the ones that had us laughing so hard that we were crying, but you wouldn’t get it anyway.
Maybe I could talk about the last 2 hours on the bus on the ride home where one student had the ability to break down the walls of the entire grade by saying what needed to be said in an honest, emotional, and thoughtful way. When those walls came down, the tears were flowing…reflection, healing, and bonding had begun.
…but…I won’t. There are no words to describe this trip or the emotions that come with it. This is my 6th year chaperoning, and the power of it never ceases to amaze me. Those memories are sacred and unique to each class. They are a special moment in life for all of the people on the trip. Thank you, class of 2010, for allowing me to be a part of your memories.
This is the itinerary for the trip followed by video from the Sugar Shack as well as a photo video memoir of the trip. Enjoy.
I recently showed my 8th graders a photography project by Susan Mullally entitled, “What I Keep”. This photo essay collection sparked a discussion about what we value most. I asked them all to bring in one thing that they would keep if they could only keep one thing. It could be symbolic, real, or a photo. I brought in a jar of sea glass that my gram and I had collected throughout my childhood. Inside is a card that reads:
This shell and sea glass collection is now yours. I treasure the memory of the happy days we spent together collecting them on the shore of Ship Ahoy beach.
We talked about the fact that it is not about the object, but the memories that were created around the object. Today they brought in their objects and I photographed them by the beloved “Winnie the Pooh” tree on our campus. I loved seeing what they brought in and hearing the stories that came with it. I also loved showing my students how one thing and one picture can tell a story without one word.
When I ask my 8th graders about making a difference in the world, I get very different answers between September and April. We require our 8th graders to delve into an intensive year-long project that focuses on a person or organization that has made a positive difference in the world. This gives the students flexibility and the ability to choose something that they are passionate about. At my school, my 8th graders make a difference in a variety of ways:
The topics this year included: Unicef, Alex’s Lemonade Stand, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), PGA Foundation, HOPE International, Ronald McDonald House, Pearl S. Buck Foundation and Welcome House, World Wildlife Federation, Tiger Woods Foundation, Holocaust Education, American Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, Surfaid International and Malaria Awareness, Jackie Robinson, Hoops of Hope and Aids Awareness, World Fair Trade Organization, Amnesty International, United Way, St. Jude’s, Dupont, Covenant House, Big Brother & Big Sister Organization, Save Darfur, World Vision International, Livestrong, Animal Rescue, and Greenpeace.
The project starts off with a persuasive essay. The purpose is to pursuade the teacher of the merits of the organization, materials available, and connection for the student.
Once students are assigned a topic, they write a formal business letter requesting information. I’ve gotten about a 60% return rate on those.
Then, the research begins using noodletools. Students are required to have a minimum of 2 books, 4 Internet, 2 print, and 2 multimedia sources in order to create 50 facts about their person or organization.
Around November, students decide what extension area hours they would be participating in. For this project, students are required to do 8 extension area hours with a mentor (teacher supervisor) in their choice of: community service, art, music, creative writing, or technology. This allows the students to gravitate towards an area of interest or passion that provides a more meaningful layer of the project. This year, some of the extension areas were done in the following ways:
Creative writing ~ published children’s books, poetry books, journals
Music ~ original recorded guitar music along with lyrics and poems
Technology ~ powerpoint, video game, original video, website setup for fundraising
Community Serivce ~ free throw night, lemonade stands with local business participation, craft fair participation, collections for wish list items and delivery, family room activity with patients, working with a local fair trade business, creating an ice skating fundraising event, helping with the set up of a BB BS community event, creating and implementing a “horseless” horse show, getting pledges, donating items, and working with a local animal rescue
These extension area hours are probably the most meaningful to the students. It allows them to be independent and connect with their project in a way that was important to them.
I dedicate a minimum of one class per week from September to April in order to teach the writing skills necessary for this project, and to give them time to complete the written portions within the school day. In March, students learn how to take all of their research from noodletools, synthesize what they learned, and take that information to write a traditional MLA style research paper. The focus of the paper is not the history of the person or organization, but how they make a positive difference in the world, which is evident in their thesis statements.
Students are then required to make a visual that includes 20 photos and original typed captions. Some students choose to do this with a standard trifold board, when others take this as an opportunity to be more creative. The visual allows students a conversation piece for the final day and evening.
Perhaps one of the most meaningful parts of the project is the creation of the toolbox. Students are asked to create a toolbox that has 3 items in it that represent how their person or organization has made a positive difference in the world along with a detailed written description of each. For example, the student that did Hoops of Hope, an organization that combines basketball with AIDS prevention and awareness, cut a basketball in half for her actual toolbox. Inside, she had a dollar to represent fundraising, a heart to represent caring, and a camera to tell a story about the founder of the organization traveling to Africa and taking pictures of the children in order for them to “see” themselves for the first time. This toolbox not only gets students to think in a more symbolic way, but it allows them another point of reference during their final day interviews.
Reflection is a vital part of this project. Students are asked the week before the final make a difference day to write a personal reflective paper about their project. They think about why they chose their topic, what interesting things they learned, what they would do differently, what they enjoyed the most, and how doing this project has made a difference to them. To me, other than the interviews, this piece shows growth, maturity, and true understanding of themselves and their topic.
On the make a difference day, students come dressed to represent their project in some way and bring “artifacts” to decorate their tables. They set up first thing in the morning with their binders that include all of the written work, visual, toolbox, and artifacts. This year, they walked into the exhibit area with a sense of excitement and pride that you could just feel in the air. During the day, they are interviewed by a panel of teachers that use a rubric designed for evaluating this final process. These interviews allow the students to be experts in their topic as well as allow the teachers and administrators to see a side of them that is passionate, proud, and dedicated. The day time also allows students from grades 4-7 to walk through the exhibit to learn from the 8th grade experts. Students were required to have a way to engage younger learners and to teach them about their person or organization. The younger students actively listen, participate in activities, and ask questions. Educating the community during this day is just as important as completing the projects for my students.
After a long day of teaching and interviewing, students return in the evening with their parents and other family members. This is a chance for the students to truly shine. Parents are amazed every one of the students was able to look them in the eye while speaking intelligently and passionately about their topic. They saw glimpses of future volunteers, advocates, and people who will make a difference in the world.
So, what makes a difference?
Giving students opportunities to study things that they are passionate about.
Celebrating differences in learning styles by including art, music, technology, and creative writing.
Connecting students to their work through service learning.
Allowing students to shine by becoming experts, teachers, and leaders.
Having a community that promotes student experiences that go beyond the walls of the classroom.
Faculty who are willing to be supervisors and interviewers because they focus on one thing: kids.
Administration that spends hours facilitating the logistics of the project, allows for flexibility in the curriculum, and are willing to push students and teachers to go above and beyond to make sense of the world that we live in as well as see the good in it.
Students who are willing to put themselves “out there” with their learning, their passion, and their view of the world.
Parents that now see their children as young adults that can do anything they set their minds to.
The make a difference project is in its second year of implementation. I had no idea how much this project would change my life and the lives of the students that I teach. I have learned that when combining passion and learning, there is no end to the possibilities for the students and the teachers. I am blessed that I teach at a school that creates opportunities for students to be successful and to learn that they, too, can make a difference in this world.
For more information about the project, you can visit the student blog here.
Since April is National Poetry Month and March is (unofficial) Basketball Month, I decided to have a little fun with poetry! The original idea was from an article on the National Council of English Teachers website. I used How to Eat a Poemfrom the American Poetry and Literacy Project to gather the 64 poems that I needed:
The book is separated into 4 themes: Magic Words ~ Poems about Poetry, Books, Words, and Imagination, My Heart Leaps Up ~ Poems About the Beauty of the Natural World, I Think Over Again My Small Adventures ~ Poems about Travel, Adventure, Sports, and Play, and Hope is the Thing of Feathers ~ Poems About Love, Friendship, Sadness, Hope, and Other Emotions. This made it really easy to put the poems into four different sections, so that each class was only analyzing 18 poems. Students read the poems with a partner and had a discussion about the following:
voice and speaker
structure and form
I structured the poems in pairs that would be voted on after each poem was read and discussed. Here are the “lineups” that each class received:
Each student also had a blank bracket, but I had a live google docs bracket that had all of the class information on it that we would add to each class. I have to say that I’ve never seen kids so excited to read poetry! We certainly had some lively discussions, voiced opinions, and had a really great dose of healthy competition! The final four came down to Six Words, Swift Things Are Beautiful, Sick, and How Many, How Much. The final votes came down to How Many, How Much, by Shel Silverstein. The poem is perfectly fit for middle schoolers…it is short, sweet, and about the most important thing in their lives: friends.
How Many, How Much
By Shel Silverstein
How many slams in an old screen door?
Depends how loud you shut it.
How many slices in a bread?
Depends how thin you cut it.
How much good inside a day?
Depends how good you live ’em.
How much love inside a friend?
Depends how much you give ’emHow Many, How Much How Many, How Much
How Many, How Much
How many slams in an old screen door? Depends how loud you shut it. How many slices in a bread? Depends how thin you cut it. How much good inside a day? Depends how good you live ’em. How much love inside a friend? Depends how much you give ’em.
Congratulations to Duke and Shel! I absolutely plan on doing this again next year, but I’m going to have the students research to collect their own top picks and seeds!
I came across a post by @dougpete entitled “My Childhood Community”. He used Google Street View to take a virtual walk down memory lane. My head started spinning because I saw a student assignment in this. After just finishing an immigration unit as well as a project called “What’s Your Story”, I was thinking that this was the perfect opportunity to tap into some 21st Century skills while connecting with adults. I imagined my students sitting in front of a laptop with a parent or grandparent and asking them about where they grew up. The child would then show them using Google Street View the places they were speaking of. As the conversation developed, the tool would be used as a virtual treasure hunt where the two generations would be exploring, sparking memories, and learning from each other. They will be able to talk about changes in childhood, buildings, and technology. What a recipe for a meaningful conversation!
I have not started this with my students yet, but have created directions for the project here. Even if I don’t have time to fit this in for this current year, I have learned how to use Google in a way that I’ve never thought of before. Digital storytelling has become an integral part of my language arts curriculum, and this is just another extension to it.
This past week, I sat with my mom as we talked about my childhood. I showed her what I was doing on Google Street View and she was amazed at the technology! We spent about an hour reminiscing and exploring our little town and the surrounding areas. It truly was a great conversation and walk down memory lane. I see her every day, but don’t always have the opportunity to connect in the way we did this week. Here we are just before my first birthday…I was just beginning to walk…
Below are the examples that I made from that discussion with my mom:
Thanks to @dougpete for sharing your experience, and a special thanks to my mom that walked with me through my childhood, and continues to walk with me every day.
This past week, I took my kids to see Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. I was blown away by the beauty of the film along with its ability to make me (an audience member) believe that I was in Wonderland…or Underland that is. Beyond the drama, costumes, and special effects, a quote that was derived from Carroll’s original text, Through the Looking Glass, resonated most with me: You used to be much more…muchier. You’ve lost your muchness.
I immediately came home and tweeted the quote along with a question: Can we teach muchness? I had two amazing conversations about this with @averyteach and @jeffwolfsberg. If you saw the movie, you know that Alice found her muchness and was able to slay the Jabberwocky with the Vorpal Sword. But, what was that muchness that Alice found? Was it her passion? Was it the strength to discover who she really is?
After thinking about these questions, I knew why this quote had become an earworm in my head: Isn’t it our job as teachers to help students find their muchness? Shouldn’t we be giving them the skills and tools to help discover their strengths and passions?
I’m reminded of a TED talk that Temple Grandin gave recently about helping spectrum kids find their passion using mentors. As a mom to an aspie kiddo, I know the importance of using that child’s passion to help them relate to the world and learn about academic areas through that passion…that muchness. But this shouldn’t be a special needs thing…this should be just good teaching and learning for all students. Every student should learn about their muchness…about their passions…and if they don’t know what it is, we should help them to discover it. We need to look beyond our four walls to connect students to mentors in their area of interest…we are no longer the gatekeepers to learning in our rooms, and it is time to explore and embrace that fact.
Yes, this is another *thing* that we need to add to our already packed days. It is not easy. It takes a lot of work, time, and dedication to help each child develop their muchness. Do we want to create good little test takers or do we want to create a community of learners that is engaged, innovative & creative, connected, and has the ability to communicate and collaborate? Aren’t these the 21st century skills that we have been hearing about? Is muchness the key to teaching and learning in the 21st century? I believe if you ask any employer today, they would say unanimously, “YES!” So let’s prepare them by tapping into their passions, breaking down the barriers of our four walls, and encouraging teachers to tap into their own muchness.
But…that’s another story…that I’ll answer with a question: What happens when teachers have lost their muchness? Can’t my original earworm quote apply to teachers as well? You used to be much more…muchier. You’ve lost your muchness. Let’s continue the quest for muchness for our students as well as for ourselves.
While watching the ASCD conference streamed live last week, I was eagerly anticipating Heidi Hayes Jacobs talk about Curriculum 21. I had just finished the innovative book recently and have been telling every edu-type that I know to read it. During the talk, there were some amazing nuggets of advice, awesome quotes like, “Lamination is the mummification of curriculum”, and a challenge to have every teacher replace one dated assignment or assessment with one that is current and highlights 21st century skills.
This past week, Heidi started a new ning for Curriculum 21. Her first post was this:
Upgrading: One Assessment at a Time
Each teacher in a school can make a commitment to REPLACE a dated assessment type with a modern one. For example, instead of doing an “oral report” with notecards, students can create a video podcast. IDEAS?
This immediately caught my interest, so I responded with a story of replacement that happened recently:
I just wanted to share a wonderful experience with a middle school math colleague of mine with “replacement” practices. She came to me and wanted to figure out a way that she could make her mathematician reports that she has done for years more “current”. She wanted the basics of the assignment to be the same, but wanted to use 21st century skills in a meaningful, purposeful way.
I teach the same students that she does, so I know they are highly skilled in using technology, but I didn’t want to overwhelm her. So I taught her how to create a wiki and how to set the parameters for the students. She went and worked on her wiki diligently, and returned for some follow up one or two times.
Within 2 weeks, she had learned to use a wiki, created a wiki, was comfortable enough to use it with students, and had the students successfully complete the project!
Not only did she replace a dated assessment, but she also changed how she grading it by using a rubric. We had another session where I taught her how to use rubistar to create a rubric and roobrix to calculate the grade. In the end, she changed two things about the project, but the content met her original goal from years ago!
Here is the final wiki created by the students. She is so thrilled with the final results that she came to me two days ago to help her plan the next “replacement” assessment! She loved that the students were engaged, interested, and learning in a way that she hasn’t seen before. She also loved that she did this paperlessly!
Hopefully, this “replacement” practice will start to spread with this little seed. Thank you Heidi, for continuing to have the vision.
I would like to continue to support Heidi’s challenge to “replace one“, but I’d also like to add “guide one” to those of us that have the skills and resources to help those who would like to “replace one” but don’t even know where to begin. If we begin to internalize this practice of replacing and guiding, we are creating a community of learners amongst ourselves that will continue to grow exponentially as each “seed” is planted.
Two years ago, I was fortunate enough to be trained in Holocaust Education through Facing History and Ourselves. At the time, I had no idea how that program would change so much of my program. If you ever get a chance to be involved with the organization, it is an amazing experience!
Since then, I’ve created a year-long 8th grade research project, make.a.difference, in which students choose a person or organization that has made a positive difference in the world. Facing History uses the Holocaust as a catalyst for teaching tolerance as well as choosing to participate in order to make the world a better place.
In 7th grade, I’ve created a rich Holocaust Education experience involving film, literature, short stories, poems, and graphic novels. I challenged my 7th graders to research a survivor or upstander from the Holocaust to remember. They used imovie and photostory to create a digital story about their person. The end result was powerful, meaningful, and moving. Click here to view all of their amazing creations!
I introduced an immigration unit to my 8th graders with Shaun Tan’s The Arrival. My instructions were to “read” the book. Now, if you’ve never read The Arrival, it is a graphic novel with absolutely no words. It was fascinating to see my more traditional students really struggle over how to “read” this book, and amazing to see those visual learners and outside of the box thinkers plow right through it. While reading, they had to keep track of characters, setting, problem(s), solution(s), and symbols. This generated a great discussion about using symbols in writing. From that, they were to create a “found poem” with words or phrases from the book. The problem? There are no words or phrases in the book…now that was a challenge! Click the book (double click to read each poem) that we created above to view my 8th grader’s interpretation of Shaun Tan’s The Arrival through found poetry. Enjoy!
Sounds too good to be true, huh? Professional Development in your pajamas? That is exactly what I did this weekend. Unfortunately, I did not get tickets on time to go to educon in Philadelphia, so I had to go with plan B. I had my laptop up and running with my #educon twitter feed running in one window and the Friday night keynote panel discussion: What is Smart? streaming on vokle.com in another window. Here, I heard Loren Brichter, Martha Farah, Happy Fernandez, Eddie Glaude, and David Shenk discuss their thoughts on what they thought smart was. While the discussion was going on, I was having other discussions about the topic on twitter. What did I learn from the keynote panel?
Howard Gardner was right.
Dewey is still awesome.
Smart means different things to different people.
It is really hard to follow a neuroscience professor.
Passion for something is vital for being “smart” in it.
Elementary teachers resonate most with “smart” people.
My favorite question posed: How do we make smart?
I woke up Saturday morning to watch the vokle stream of the morning keynote Marilyn Perez. I found myself more concerned about what conversations I was going to attend than listening to the stream. It was a good thing, though, because I got into my first choice conversation for session 1: Teaching Big Ideas to 21st Century Learners with Ben Hazzard and Zoe Branigan-Pipe. I will have to admit, that the technology of the elluminate session was painful at best to begin with. So, while they were working on that, I was adding to my PLN (personal learning network) by searching through the #educon twitter feed. Wow! I am blown away by the people that I met and what they have to say about education and learning. So, what did I learn from Zoe and Ben?
Ask yourself these questions when thinking about Big Ideas..
What are the relevant topics you can address with your students?
How can you make learning meaningful?
What are the Big Ideas your students will find relevant?
What 3 takeaways do you wish for your students. Answers from the session can be found here.
There are cool new tools for Blooms that were introduced here.
My last session of the day was with Chris Lehmann, the principal of the Science and Leadership Academy called, Leadership 2.0: Who do we need our leaders to be? Currently, I’m finishing my Master’s in Educational Leadership and working on my principal’s certification, so this one was the one I was really looking forward to. There are some people that are born to be leaders; Chris Lehmann is one of them. What did I learn from Chris?
Leaders need to use inquiry, technology infusion, and communities of care.
In inquiry learning, follow the lead of the students.
Technology should be a part of every day and transformative.
A caring community is one that is 24/7…in school, out of school, online, and off-line.
Character education needs to go deeper than the posters we hang around the school.
Teachers need to know the vision/mission of the school in order to incorporate it into their lessons each day.
Servant leadership is top down support for bottom up ideas.
Leadership is being able to get everyone on the same common ground, then move them forward.
You can’t bully teachers into caring for students.
Every good teacher knows how to outlive a mandate.
So, my mind was absolutely spinning from the day. I took the kids out to Target and out to dinner. When I got home, I went back to the #educon twitter feed to see what I could catch up on. This community of learners were now synthesizing the information they learned in the other sessions that I couldn’t attend and were sharing it with all of us…now those are some great teachers/learners/leaders/collaborators! I came across an ebook that was made in Ben Hazzard’s second session here:
Amazing how a group can collaborate so effectively! Thanks to all who helped create the field guide.
Now it is Sunday morning…unfortunately, I won’t be attending any virtual conversations today because I have to catch up with the real world and everything I ignored yesterday. Was it worth it? Absolutely! This was an amazing learning experience for me. I have built a personal learning network that I will be able to learn from every day. Hopefully, I’ll be able to meet them in person next year!