Thursday, May 27, 2010

Makin' it Real

This has been my favorite teaching semester.

Why? Because I've taught less.

One of my goals for this school year was to spend less time standing in front of students and more time learning right alongside them. Instead of dictating notes, I've focused on honing my skills as a facilitator, setting the stage for students to learn and discover literature concepts on their own. I've tried to find more ways to get my students in front of the classroom, teaching their peers about various grammar mistakes, about motifs from The Kite Runner, about themes from Asian poetry. I'm no longer afraid of open-ended assignments. In fact, I relish in them. I don't want to read 30 of the same exact essays on cyber bullying. Instead, students research issues that have meaning for them and find ways to adapt and share their research with authentic audiences outside our classroom. And in doing this, I find that my students are more engaged and more interested in delving deeper into our content. And as their teacher, I have an opportunity not only to learn more about my students but also learn about a topic that I might not have otherwise encountered. I've tried to find more ways to connect my students with authentic audiences as a way to encourage deeper, more meaningful reflection on the skills and content we learn in class.

In this past semester alone, I've been able to bring in a speaker from Penn's Middle Eastern Center and one from the South Asian Center, Michael Herskovitz spoke with students about his experiences in the death camps of World War II, and most recently, my students have connected with students from Kabul's Marefat High School in Afghanistan through our Ning discussion site. Students have been learning about history first-hand, an experience I hope to replicate semester after semester. There's something about learning from those who have lived through the experiences we've studied in our literature and social studies courses that cannot be replicated by a teacher standing in front of the room with a PowerPoint packed with notes. The connections, the questions, and critical thinking that such opportunities inspire make the effort of organizing them well worth it.

Over the last couple of years, I've tried to cultivate these sorts of opportunities in my classes. It has not come easily, and goodness knows, I've definitely made many missteps along the way. But more than anything, I've found value in learning from those faltering steps right alongside my students. It is such opportunities that make it enjoyable to come into the classroom, for students and teachers alike. And, with so many wonderful collaboration opportunities available through education oriented websites, it's even easier to bring the world into the classroom, to make literature come alive. So, I thought I would pass along a few of my favorites. Check 'um out:

Taking it Global Educators (TiGed)
What is TIGed? (from the TiG website)
  • As TIG's vibrant global community has evolved, educators inspired by its young members have sought to integrate its resources and focus on action-based learning into their teaching. This was made easier beginning in 2006, with the launch of the TakingITGlobal for Educators (TIGed) program. TIGed allows educators to leverage the resources of the world's most popular online community for youth who want to make a difference - TakingITGlobal.org - in ways that meet the needs of their learning environments.

    TIGed is a community of globally-minded educators interested in empowering their students to think and act as world citizens, a collection of resources that facilitate the inclusion of global perspectives in the classroom, and a virtual classroom that allows students to use collaborative technology in order to connect with people from around the world and learn about global issues.
A Community of Global Educators
  • TIG members who are actively engaged as educators can apply for an educator badge through their profile settings in order to join the TIGed community, a network of thousands of teachers and students from over 70 countries around the world. Collectively, the TIGed community comprises diverse perspectives, expertise, and knowledge and members can potentially learn a lot from one another. TIGed uses technology to make it easier for global educators to connect, share ideas, and work together.

    TIGed members can network, communicate, and collaborate in several ways. Having an educator badge allows users to search the member database for educators only, thereby identifying potential friends, allies, and partners. A discussion forum allows educators to share successes, challenges, strategies, and ideas with respect to integrating technology and global perspectives into education. A collaboration database of educators interested in partnering with other classrooms around the world facilitates international learning partnerships. Meanwhile, regularly produced TIGed blogs and newsletters help TIGeducators stay up to date on developments and events related to the TIGed community.

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Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration (CILC)
Planning to take your students to worlds unknown? Partnering with CILC is a great way to start! Here you will find information and tools to help make your job easier and to enhance learning through the use of videoconferencing and other collaborative technologies.

BENEFITS: In addition to searching a variety of databases, membership in CILC enables you to
  • create a Custom Catalog aligned to discipline types and/or topics, audience type or grade level, national standards, and/or learning objectives

  • post collaboration requests in the Collaboration Center

  • Receive in your inbox weekly updates matched to your preferences, CILC e-News, published 5 times from September to May, e-Flashes sharing special CILC offers, usually once a month, and e-Updates explaining new website features, usually twice a year

  • access MyCILC.org to manage your CILC member profile, view all your collaboration and/or class requests, and see all the Favorites you've marked as you searched
TAKE THE CILC TOUR: Learn where and how to access all your benefits.

The tour is a free, live presentation, accessed through the Internet at your computer, which provides a complete overview of www.cilc.org. View a variety of dates and times and REGISTER.

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ePals: Welcome to the World's Largest K-12 Learning Network!
ePals is the leading provider of safe collaborative technology for schools to connect and learn in a protected, project-based learning network. With classrooms in 200 countries and territories, ePals makes it easy to connect learners locally, nationally or internationally.

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People-to-People International
From the People-to-People International website:

People to People International's School and Classroom Program is a free service that connects teachers and their students with classes in other countries for pen pal exchanges and projects that improve cultural understanding and encourage friendship. Classes are matched according to similar age and number of pupils to form partnerships. Students interact by exchanging traditional paper letters or email messages supervised by their teacher, who receives a program manual for guidance. Teachers may form partnerships with classes in multiple countries and work together for one or more school years.

Primary, middle and secondary-school classes and youth groups (grades kindergarten-12) from all countries are welcome. To join, we ask teachers or adults, who supervise students, to register. Registration is open during July - October. Registrations submitted before or after this time will be held for the following semester or school year. We will contact you to discuss options.

Register here or contact classroom@ptpi.org.

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More Ways to Connect with other Teachers/Classrooms:

Try finding other teachers interested in connecting with your students using one of these sites:
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