Current Events, a Controversial Read Aloud, & Changes I Can Make to Better Promote Peace

Nearly five years ago, I selected One Crazy Summer for my fifth graders’ end-of-day read aloud. In it, three young sisters are sent to spend a summer with their mother in Oakland, California in 1968, amidst intense developments in the civil rights movement. While the themes of the book are many, race is a prominent issue, mostly presented through the girls’ involvement with a Black Panthers day camp.

As I taught in a mostly middle-class white suburban area, I viewed the book as a great opportunity to discuss civil rights. Still in the naivety of second-year teaching, I was surprised when one student started to be picked up about 15 minutes early every day–to avoid read aloud time. When I asked about it, my student explained the family’s viewpoint that “Lil Bobby” Hutton (whose death the girls were to protest in a march with their day camp) was “a thug” that provoked the police.

At first I was shocked. Then disappointed. After all, didn’t the parents trust that we were having open-ended and lively discussions with every issue raised? Didn’t they see the benefit of considering multiple opinions? Didn’t they know that I would never try to indoctrinate my students with my personal opinions on sensitive issues?

Over time, those emotions faded into the swirl of the years, but I never quite forgot the incident. But in light of the tragic recent events in Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights, Dallas, and more, this memory has resurfaced, and with it, reflections turning inward. How could I have handled the read aloud differently to help this family feel more comfortable with difficult subjects? How can I better use my role as a teacher to promote peace in the future? 3 ideas have come to mind:

  1. I can avoid assumptions. Everyone has a story, and I can’t even begin to understand the intricacies of every family’s background experience in shaping their current perspectives. But it is unacceptable for me to assume a reason for their sensitivity to or withdrawal from something we do in the classroom.

My job is not to help students to “see the light” in favor of my opinions. Rather, it is to encourage them to ask their own questions and to analyze information as independent and confident learners. Some families may misunderstand even this simple motive if their child appears to start coming home questioning their opinions or family values. Which is why the next two steps are so important.

  1. I can preface potentially controversial topics with reassurances. No matter how much I’ve worked to build mutual trust with parents throughout the year, at no point am I “done” in that endeavor–especially when we are about to ford hazardous waters. No parent is ever going to respond well to what is even perceived as a “teacher knows best” mindset, even more so when the issue might be emotionally charged.

In the future, I will be sure to dedicate a post on our class blog with not just background on the book or activity, but more importantly, with information on differing perspectives and the respect with which we will be treating that diversity.

  1. I can share student conversations. Once we get going, I can continue to promote transparency by documenting and sharing the discourse. A SoundCloud snippet, a YouTube video, photos of visible thinking routines–the options are abundant for giving parents a window to see for themselves the impact of open dialogue.

Of course, some of those discussions might be more spontaneous; if that’s the case, this sharing would be even more essential for parents to gain insight on the quality of the dialogue happening in our classroom. (In fact, the more I think about it, the more I think it would be worthwhile to replace my inspirational quote of the day component with a student dialogue of the day section…).

I know this is just a start to changes I can make. But any step toward promoting greater mutual understanding, trust, and compassion for students and their families to engage in a safe environment is one step closer to a more peaceful future.

I would love to learn from your experiences or recommendations. Please share in the comments below!

Featured image: Lisa Ouellette

Our 2016 Scholarship Submissions Statistics!

As of midnight on March 20, our 2016 scholarship is now closed and we are busy enjoying the beautiful efforts from our applicants. This year, we had 5 times the applications from last year (so we may need to extend the date by which we contact awardees…we’ll keep you posted)! Meanwhile, here are some fun facts and stats on our applications.

Our biggest pool of applicants came from California at 15.9%.

States stats

Though the scholarship is available to students from high school seniors to college juniors, the vast majority were high school students.

image (1)

Of our two prompt options, most preferred to respond to “What is your opinion on how education affects the quality of life?

image (3)

The creative writing medium was the most popular again this year with 48.5% of the applications.  

image (4)

featured image: Joel Penner via flickr

If We Strip Away The Arts at School, What Do We Have Left?

In a fit of sentimentality, I recently looked up my old grade school: Laguna Road Elementary. After soaking up memories of scraped-knees on the blacktop, Oregon Trail in the library, and art projects in the patios, my thoughts turned to the crowning glory of those years: the sixth grade play.

Winter 99, 7
Me on the left!

Moments from our class’ rendition of Into the Woods are forever etched in my memory–my absurd shoe-fitting as wicked stepsister Florinda, the princes’ hilarious performance of “Agony,” our paper mache Milky White cow. My thoughts also turned to my older sisters’ productions of Midsummer Night’s Dream, Oliver!, and another Into the Woods.

My reminiscences were suddenly interrupted, however, by a startling parent review on GreatSchools.org.

“They spend too time on the 6th grade play and little time reviewing for the CST (California State Testing).”

Another parent wrote:

“Best part of all….when they get [to their new school], our kids will not be wasting their 6th grade at this new school putting on a play.”

I was shocked. Perhaps these reviewers’ children were simply disappointed at the roles they received for their plays (I know I sure was at first). Maybe they just felt uncomfortable with public speaking. Or maybe they do in fact value standardized testing over performance arts.

If the latter is true for these and other parents, my question is, are the arts really a waste? And what happens to schools when we strip them away?

At the recent passing of legendary David Bowie, Stephanie wrote a brief but thought-provoking reflection on why everyone was taking the time to exchange favorite songs and memories. Her bottom line? “Because music matters.”

The case for the arts in school is also well-backed by research. One study at the University of California Los Angeles found:

“…”arts-engaged” students from low-income families demonstrated greater college-ongoing rates and better grades in college. As an example, low-income students from arts-rich high schools were more than twice as likely to earn a B.A. as low-income students from arts-poor high schools. Moreover, the UCLA researchers found the students engaged in the arts were more likely to be employed in jobs with potential career growth and more involved in volunteerism and the political life of their communities.”

The list goes on; other studies spanning the last couple of decades detail the many irreplaceable benefits of the arts for kids, ranging from greater proficiency in academic subjects to increased capacity for community connection to higher graduation rates.

As for me, the answer to what would be left without the arts is–very little. I honestly remember almost nothing else from sixth grade–least of all the testing. But I will forever and vividly recall that play. Furthermore, I don’t find it a coincidence that sixth grade was a major turning point in my confidence and interest as a learner.

What has been the longterm effect of the arts in your life? And would you have traded it for more time testing?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

3 Reasons High School’s Too Late to Teach Digital Citizenship

As we read yet another news article about a high school paralyzed by a student’s social media threat, or a student pushed to the brink by cyberbullying, it makes us question. Are these just anomalies? Kids acting out despite all the support they’d received in digital participation? Perhaps.

But we still can’t help but wonder whether there’s a pattern here. A pattern rooted in the neglect of one essential 21st century principle: digital citizenship.

When high schools experience online-related trauma, they sometimes turn to programs advertised as prevention measures. And maybe such programs prove helpful. But we contend that if we’re waiting around until high school to cultivate meaningful digital citizenship, we have waited far too long. Here are three reasons that lead us to this conclusion:

The Digital Age is Their Birthright.

One of our favorite definitions of digital citizenship is as follows, “The quality of habits, actions, and consumption patterns that impact the ecology of digital content and communities.” And it is every bit as relevant to our kindergartners as those units on traditional citizenship. 

As Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach explains,

“…things have changed. We don’t only want students to be good citizens of their physical spaces and geographic regions, but now we’re all global citizens, connecting with people all over the world through digital means.”

Most teachers already value and teach citizenship from the youngest ages, which helps students understand that they belong to a community. But we must expand this priority in helping them realize how they belong to a digital community, too. Because Will Richardson reminds us, “If you think that your kids won’t be interacting with strangers on the Internet the rest of their learning lives, you’re crazy!” We must teach safety, etiquette, literacy, and responsibility–both online and offline.

Waiting until high school gives kids more time to cement the idea that tech is just a toy.

Encouraging deep understanding of the multifaceted nature of technology is no one-time lesson. It takes authentic modeling. It takes opportunity for exploration. And it takes continual in-depth discussion. Only then will our students gradually discover that resources like Youtube can be incredible learning tools–not just entertainment.

But the issue with neglecting digital citizenship reaches beyond just shallow personal amusement. As we mentioned earlier, cyberbullying and threats of violence crop up in news feeds on a regular basis, and each time, administrators and policymakers ask how it can be prevented. Introducing and cultivating digital citizenship from a young age can curb this kind of abuse. After all, when students have been encouraged to see themselves as members of a real global community, they are less likely to see themselves as anonymous outsiders, and more likely to recognize the impact of their online actions.  

Kids are capable of positive online social interaction much earlier.

We’ll let recent tweets from hashtags like #Comments4Kids, #HourOfCode, and #MysterySkype speak for this point.

Above Tweet via Orchard Place Elementary at Des Plaines School District 62.


What difference does digital citizenship make at your school? What are some of your favorite ways to help students become better digital citizens?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

When & How to Cite Social Media: A Student Guide

Sure, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media may be a great place for exchanging selfies and cat videos, but what about when you come across legitimate information in social media that backs up your research?


Over the course of the past couple decades, we have moved from card catalogs, to library computer searches, to articles published online, and now on to social media!  It can feel overwhelming to keep up with the most modern methods of research, especially when it comes to the various APA or MLA citation formats.  Hopefully, this post will be a useful resource for you as you decide when and how to cite social media finds!

How

The TeachByte graphic below is an excellent general guide for both MLA and APA citations.  However, as anyone who has done any research knows, certain instances can get more complicated than general guidelines.  For instance, what if you want to cite an expert who sent you a personal communication, and it’s not publicly visible for audiences to click on?  Or how do you know how to cite in-text vs. your bibliography reference list?  The official APA blog answers these questions and more in greater detail using examples from their post in October!

via TeachBytes
via TeachBytes

When

As with all research, you will want to make sure there is plenty of variety among your sources.  Just because it is now acceptable to cite social media does not mean it should consume most of your bibliography.  Additionally, because of the unique nature of social media Tweets, posts, and videos in that they can go viral even if they are inaccurate, you will want to be particularly careful when considering whether to use one.  The information literacy website, EasyBib, provides an excellent Infographic to help you in that decision-making process.

EasyBib Infographic
EasyBib

Remember…

…It’s all about giving each individual the credit they deserve for their efforts and ideas!  When in doubt, discuss your concerns with your teacher or professor!

Photo Sources:

Pete Simon (featured image)

TeachBytes

EasyBib

Source:

Chelsea, L. (2013, Oct. 13). How to Cite Social Media in APA Style. [Web blog post]. Retrieved from: http://blog.apastyle.org/apastyle/2013/10/how-to-cite-social-media-in-apa-style.html

Considering Flipped Learning for Your Classroom

You’ve probably heard the buzz around Flipped Learning online or around your school.  If you are contemplating implementing this teaching approach, we would encourage you to carefully consider several areas addressed in this article.


The Gist

When teachers flip their classrooms, they flip around their use of classroom time and homework time.  To sum it up quickly:

  • Traditional class structure:  lessons during school → practice during homework.
  • Flipped classroom structure: practice during school → lessons during homework.
AJ Cann
AJ Cann

Click for an Infographic that gives more details on certain aspects of a flipped classroom: Oer Research Hub Flipped Classroom Infographic

The Reasoning

  • Efficiency and relationships: Proponents frequently submit these as two principal benefits of Flipped Learning. With the lectures transformed into much more efficient, shortened videos, teachers can dedicate class time for more personalized interaction with students.  This in turn can also better enable differentiated instruction (see youtube video below)

  • Revolutionizing Homework Time: Homework critics have long asserted their view that student practice at home without any teacher guidance is an ineffective, frustrating use of students’ time.  Flipped Learning has the potential to address this frustration when that practice time is instead brought to the classroom (source)¹.
  • Data Support:  Formal studies examining the effects of flipped learning have yet to come, but many positive experiences have been shared.  For instance, Clintondale High School reported that when their teachers used three 5-7 minute lessons per week to flip their classes, math and English failure rates dropped from 44% to 13%, and 50% to 19%, respectively.  They also had a sharp decrease in discipline cases. (source)².
  • Actually a Time-Tested, Old Idea?  Others bring up the point that Flipped Learning is just a modern strategy to implement a proven, John Dewey-coined pedagogy: centering the learning more around the learner than the teacher (source)³.

Some (free!) Resources

Homework Side of the Flip:

Teacher-made resources
  • Screenr:   Records a video of what you do on your computer screen (ie, a PowerPoint, Prezi, or Word Document), while simultaneously recording your voice as you explain the content.  Easy to share through Youtube or embedding.
  • Educreations: Records your voice as you draw your lesson.  You can also prepare the slides before you start recording your voice to be more efficient through your lesson.
  • Sophia: Allows you to bring in content such as PDF’s and Google Documents.  You can even attach quizzes to your lessons!
  • Youtube: Great if you want a full-blown video with your face.  Make sure the lighting and sound are high quality, though!
Already-made resources: (for details on each of these, see our article on Common Core-aligned resources for teachers)
  • Khan Academy
  • Better Lesson
  • LearnZillion

Classroom Side of the Flip

  • ExitTicket.org: Particularly if you have a 1:1 mobile devices due to a BYOD or other program (see our post on tips for a BYOD Classroom), you can check for understanding at the beginning of each lesson before proceeding to better enable differentiation.  Click here for an article on how one educator uses this!
  • Respond to questions inspired by homework lessons: Start the lesson with exploring student-raised questions that came up during the homework.  To allow you time to consider and prepare for those questions, you can even include in the homework assignment for students to email you at least one question.
  • Require students to take notes: This approach would be especially appropriate for older grades.  Just make sure you model to them effective note-taking while watching a video (see article addressing this practice).

5 Ways to Encourage Student-Centered Learning in the Flip

1. Understand Flipped Learning’s Direct Instruction Design

The official FLN (Flipped Learning Network) definition of flipped learning says, “”Flipped Learning is a pedagogical approach in which direct instruction moves from the group learning space to the individual learning space…” (source)⁴  In other words, flipped homework videos are intended almost exclusively for direct instruction use.

For this reason, we strongly encourage every educator to be extremely selective in when and how they choose to flip lessons.  If many of your class lessons are already inquiry-based, only use flipped learning on the occasion direct instruction is needed–or perhaps, even after your inquiry lesson to extend and reinforce the big ideas students discovered.  If most of your lessons are currently direct instruction, we feel that flipped learning is just one step in how you can approach your teaching in a way that reaches more learners, and on deeper levels. (see points #2 and 3).

We have seen articles mentioning that one benefit of flipped classrooms is that students who are absent won’t get behind (source)⁵.  However, this perspective suggests that students wouldn’t miss much if they had to skip the classroom inquiry time–that the teacher-centered, direct instructional videos would be sufficient.  However, we maintain that it is critical for teachers to possess the reverse perspective if they are to cultivate a student-centered focus.

2. Don’t Depend on Flipped Learning Alone to Inspire!

To illustrate this point, we would like to reference a few educators that have discussed the topic of Flipped Learning in the context of inquiry-based instruction:

  • In his April 2013 Ted Talk, “3 Rules to Spark Learning,” educator Ramsey Musallam said the following:
    • “Questions and curiosity…are magnets that draw us towards our teachers, and they transcend all technology or buzzwords in education. But if we place these technologies before student inquiry, we can be robbing ourselves of our greatest tool as teachers: our students’ questions. For example, flipping a boring lecture from the classroom to the screen of a mobile device might save instructional time, but if it is the focus of our students’ experience, it’s the same dehumanizing chatter–just wrapped up in fancy clothing. But if instead we have the guts to confuse our students, perplex them, and evoke real questions, through those questions, we as teachers have information that we can use to tailor robust and informed methods of blended instruction.” (source)⁶
  • Edna Sackson, author of blog WhatEdSaid, shared her perspective:
    • “It’s not so much about flipping as about rethinking altogether. [emphasis added]. Learning isn’t linear. It’s not a step by step, one size fits all process. It doesn’t go in a sequence from remembering to understanding to analysing… and finish with creating. And it doesn’t necessarily have to go in the reverse order either. It depends on the learner and on the situation.” (source)⁷
  • Many individuals discussing flipped learning promote the idea of moving lower-level Bloom’s Taxonomy skills (remembering, understanding) to the homework lessons, and higher-level skills (creating, evaluating) to the classroom (source)⁸.  However, educator Shelley Wright suggests flipping Bloom’s Taxonomy as well!  She writes, “Here’s what I propose. In the 21st century, we flip Bloom’s taxonomy. Rather than starting with knowledge, we start with creating, and eventually discern the knowledge that we need from it.”  (source)⁹

3. Start With the Why

Gavin Llewellyn
Gavin Llewellyn

Author Simon Sinek gave a TED Talk a few years ago about what motivates people, stemming from his “Golden Circle” model.  He explains that what has always set apart innovative and inspiring leaders, such as the Wright Brothers, is that they they focused on their beliefs or their Why, rather than the How or What.

This concept absolutely applies to how we approach learning.  Think about your Why as a teacher:  is your end goal for students to just pass your class and move on in the system, memorizing your content just long enough to pass your tests?  Or do you hope for their sights to be raised in wonder and possibility, taking their learning further by building upon it throughout their lives?  If we focus only on results, then all of our most carefully-constructed worksheets, projects, and activities will stem from the How and What, and will likely lead to very little.  However, if we focus on the Why first, we will find increased levels of student ownership and engagement as they set their own visions higher.  (check out Edna Sackson’s post on Differentiating Learning for additional ideas for raising our own sights in this approach!)

4. Design Homework Videos to be Accessible & Useful to Students

Particularly in higher education levels, we have seen examples of teachers and professors approaching the homework side of the flip in ways that can be overburdensome and/or ineffective for students.  For example, creating videos that are especially lengthy may work in isolation for your class; however, if a student has multiple instructors who have flipped their classrooms, it may be prove overwhelming for students. Additionally, one benefit of flipped classrooms is students’ ability to pause, rewind, and replay the videos as needed to better absorb the information.  Therefore, if your 1-hour video is one among several assigned in an evening, students will be less likely to thoroughly engage, regardless of their age  Jonathan Bergmann, a pioneer in flipped learning, recommends no more than 1 ½ minutes per grade level (source)⁸.  On the other hand, instructors should also take care that the content of their video adequately covers the concepts to be practiced in class.  Finding the balance between these two ideas will come with trial and error, so be sure to seek student feedback as you do so!

As you consider how to make your videos as practical and engaging as possible, don’t forget about accessibility, either!  Many students prefer to access flipped homework videos via smartphones, so make sure the platform you’re using is available on both desktops and mobile devices!

5. Have a Realistic Troubleshooting Gameplan

  • No internet, computers, or mobile devices at home?  This is becoming a less frequent problem all the time, but it still exists!  While we have come across several potential solutions to this problem, (including burning videos to DVD’s or flashdrives, using the public library, using the school computer lab after school, or watching with a friend or borrowed device), not every idea will be practical at your school.  To guide your search, seek your students’ input to find out not only what they would prefer, but for how many of them this is an issue.  Consider factors such as your own time constraints for burning DVD’s or how many computers are even available for students at your school.  You may need to take an alternative route altogether and watch the videos during class.  See the video below to see how this works:

  • Some students don’t watch the homework videos?  Establish a formative assessment each day to check for understanding, whether it’s ExitTickets.org, emailed questions, or note-taking.  If you have computers in your classroom, you may decide that students who missed it can watch the video in class, but make sure you still have measures in place to encourage accountability (ie, the students would then have an extra assignment based on the practice they missed).

Photo Credit:

Dan Spencer (featured image)

AJ Cann

Gavin Llewellyn

 Sources:

1. Goodwin, Bryan & Miller, Kirsten. (March 2013). Evidence on Flipped Classrooms Is Still Coming In.

2. Knewton. Flipped Classroom Infographic.

3. Hertz, Mary Beth. (July 2012). The Flipped Classroom: Pro & Con.

4. Flipped Learning Network (FLN). (2014) The Four Pillars of F-L-I-P™

5. Bergmann, J, Overmyer, J., & Willie, B. (2013). The Flipped Class: What it Is & What it Is Not.

6. Musallam, R. (2013). 3 Rules to Spark Learning.

7. Sackson, E. (2012). Learning Isn’t Linear.

8. Raths, D. (2013). 9 Video Tips for a Better Flipped Classroom.

9. Wright. S. (2012). Flipping Bloom’s Taxonomy.

3 Tech-Savvy Powerpoint Alternatives

We’ve all snored through text or slide-heavy Powerpoints before.  The next time you have to create a presentation, consider some of these more engaging alternatives!


These 3 resources each explore the what (how the resource works), the when (uses in the classroom), and the how (how they can replace Powerpoint)!

Thinglink

What

Take any image and turn it into an interactive dream as you link in videos, pictures, articles, and comments!  They work particularly well if you have a classroom blog or other website your students can access.  The Thinglink above contains more links with details on introducing you to this fantastic resource.

When
  • Introduce yourself to your students in a fun new way!
  • Instead of assigning your 30+ students to all make Powerpoint reports (taking endless hours afterwards presenting in class), assign them to make Thinglinks, publishing them to a class account or on the class blog!
  • Rather than taking class time to go through a Powerpoint, give them a homework assignment to explore a new Thinglink that gets them thinking!  You can just put up an image with questions for them to start wondering and thinking (see example below), or include multimedia to really familiarize them with the subject before doing further study in class!

How

Say you want to present to your students information on documents and systems that helped influence the United States Constitution: the Magna Carta, the Iroquois Confederacy, the Mayflower Compact, and the Articles of Confederation. With a powerpoint, this would be a very linear discussion, covering each topic consecutively, perhaps with videos sprinkled throughout.  With a Thinglink, however, you can link all the videos, media, and thinking questions into one image, and then publish it to a classroom blog or another platform your students can access.  Students can then explore all the links in a manner that best suits their learning–re-watching videos that were confusing for them, or reading articles at their pace that give them even more information!  Check out an example of how we put this together below.

Prezi

What

A Prezi is a zoomable presentation that engages viewers as it flows from idea to idea in unexpected, animated ways.  The video above chronicles the development and benefits of using Prezi as it goes through an actual Prezi!

When
  • You can embed a Prezi into your classroom website any time you want your students to be able to explore a concept at their convenience.
  • Great when you want to help your students really “be there” with regards to your big idea in presenting.  The Prezi below does a beautiful job of this!

  • Especially amazing when you want to teach about anything connected to timelines.  Check out the Prezi below for an example of what we mean!

How

A Prezi can be used exactly as you currently use Powerpoints–in fact, it even has a feature for you to upload existing Powerpoint slides into a Prezi template!  Only, then, you get to play with the 3D templates and zoomable features to help bring it to life!

Skype Virtual Field Trips

What

The definition of what makes a Skype virtual field trip is confined only by your own imagination!  Watch this video on Skype’s education page for a wonderful introduction!  Connecting through Skype, you can interview activists, have docents show your students around museums, or even take students on virtual road trips (see that field trip described in more detail here, along with 4 other amazing examples)!  An article from Scholastic explains how it provides “customized curriculum” and “global connections.” You can either pick existing lessons from Skype’s page on classroom use that you can schedule right away, or connect with other teachers around the world with similar project goals using your Skype account and profile!

When
  • Meet classes with whom your class is quadblogging
  • Give students an opportunity for authentic learning experiences when budgets for actual field trips are tight!
  • Explore other cultures as you connect with people and places outside your own country!
How

Forget making a Powerpoint with the who, what, when, where, and why of wolves in North America: Schedule a Skype interview with an actual wolf expert for students to interview and learn from after they have prepared some questions!  Not only does this dynamically bring learning “off the page,” but it hones students’ communication skills as well!

Photo Credits: Photographer (featured image)

SourcesWays to Use Thinglink in the Classroom