Monday, November 25, 2013

Kite Runner Connections

Connecting with Tech

A sea of eager faces stare back at me, pens poised in anticipation. Then, from the back of the room a hand shoots up and a call echoes forth, "Will I need to include this in my paper?" As a tenth grade English teacher in a large suburban school, I struggle with encouraging my students to write authentically, to bring their connections, their voice into their written work. But when students write for real audiences, they begin to see themselves as writers. Writing for a real audience gives students a sense of purpose for their writing. By ensuring that our students have opportunities to have their writing read by real readers, we can grow student writing skills and their engagement in the writing process.
"Readers make writing deliciously worthwhile," states author and teacher Mem Fox. When students have an authentic audience and purpose for their writing endeavors, they grow as thinkers and as writers. Technology can help emerging student writers publish beyond the walls of our classrooms.
Last Tuesday, students in my tenth grade English classes used Skype to connect with a variety of experts in the publishing field. My tenth grade English classes have been working on bringing a writing piece from our Writer’s Notebook to publishable quality which we then submitted to a variety of places for publication late last week. But before submitting for publication, students in my second block course Skyped with the co-creator and Senior Editor at Teen Ink, Ms. Stephanie Meyer, who shared with students how pieces are selected for publication on both Teen Ink’s online site as well as in their monthly print magazine. Then, students in my third block Skyped with the Production Manager of the Jenkins Publishing Group, Ms. Leah Nicholson, in order to learn more about how books reach publication.  And at the close of the day, my fourth block class used Skype to connect with Ms. Christine Weiser, the Executive Director of Philadelphia Stories who shared fantastic advice for revising both short stories and poetry, as well as details about what her editorial board looks for in the pieces that are submitted. Students had the opportunity to hear from and ask questions of someone in the publishing field before submitting their own work for publication this week. What fantastic real world writing connections!

Later in the week, we again had an opportunity to connect with those outside of our classroom using Skype. I am not an expert on psychology, but I know a few people who are. So when my tenth grade honors students started to learn about psychoanalytic literary criticism, I decided to invite those experts into my classroom.  And through the use of technology, I was bring those real world connections into our classroom virtually.  Last Thursday my students had an opportunity to Skype with local psychoanalyst, Dr. Robin Ward, who spoke with students about Freud’s theory of the divided self and shared a case example of repression to illustrate some of Freud’s concepts.  Students will be using this literary approach, among others, as they begin their student of Khaled Hoessini’s The Kite Runner in the coming days.

And this is why I am such a firm believer in using technology in the classroom.  When used well, technology allows us to open up our classroom doors to the world outside, to explore real world learning, and to in turn, learn from experts in the field.  Learning becomes purposefully, contextualized, and meaningful. Technology helps us connect our students with their world.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

All About EdCamp

I must confess that I still consider myself to be an EdCamp newbie.  I attended my first EdCamp last May at the University of Pennsylvania.  EdCamp Philly.  Wow! I had heard of the unconference style of professional development before, but I could have never imagined how life-changing attending that first conference would be.  It is not hyperbole to state that EdCamp changed the way that I thought not only about professional development, but how I thought about my teaching style. The connections and collaborations that I made at the first conference really spurred me to become more involved in helping other newbies find the conversations and resources that I had at my first EdCamp.  So, that's why I volunteered to help plan the 2014 EdCamp Philly.

Our first in-person get together was this past Friday, and I must confess, I felt more than a bit nervous.  I was asked to sit down with Kevin Jarrett, Mary Beth Hertz, Kim Sivick, and so many of the enthusiastic and engaged educators that I have been following online for years.  Who was I?!  (In case you were wondering, that's me in the stripes.) I felt like a teenage fan girl sitting at the table with so many well-connected teachers.  But I should have known better.  Not only did this group welcome me, but the same sense of excitement about learning and collaborating with one another that I felt at that first EdCamp was palpable around the planning table.

So the next afternoon when I was attending EdCampHill up in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, I knew that I had to step outside my comfort zone and not just listen to the conversations that others were having, but lead one.  As session suggestions were being posted to the board, I made my move, volunteering to lead a session on flipped learning.   What a great conversation.  Unlike other conferences where a presenter talks at the teachers in the room, EdCamp is all about conversations.  My session was just that.  I shared a bit about what I've been doing the past couple of years, and then others in the room shared their experiences, raised questions, and discussed.  I didn't have a slide show ready.  Honestly, I wasn't even connected to the internet for my session.  Instead, another session participant keep some notes on an open Google Doc for our session, which I later added to.  And this is probably the best example of why EdCamp works.  It is professional development that is tailored to what you want to learn about, but perhaps most importantly, it is about the connections.  Those face-to-face dialogues that move our thinking forward, that get us questioning and reflecting on our roles in the classroom, and that have us sharing ideas with the person sitting next to your are invaluable. And that's why I am all in.  

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Students Making A Difference

Thank you!

Students, staff, and families of HHS raised $650 in one week to support the work ShelterBox is doing in the Philippines to help those most affected by Typhoon Haiyan.

Each morning I come into my classroom and add a vocabulary word on the board for students to use and find that day for extra credit.  This past Monday's word was cataclysm.  And it became a conversation starter on Monday for us to talk about the tragedy still unfolding in the Philippines following Typhoon Haiyan.  By late Monday afternoon, students wanted to do something.  

Students suggested we start a fundraiser.  And, so we came up with a crazy idea: I would match any funds that students donated. By Tuesday, we put a poster up on our classroom door to track how much we had raised.  But very quickly I realized that I needed to enlisted the help of some other teachers and staff in our building in order to help match funds, a great problem to have since students were so generously supporting the fundraiser. By Wednesday, a tenth grade student in one of my classes had gathered 50 student signatures to start a new student club, the Natural Disaster Relief Club, with a goal of connecting students interested in helping those in need. And by Thursday, students, staff, and parents were donating to our fundraiser in amazing numbers.

And in just one week, students and staff raised $650 to support the work of ShelterBox. In the wake of the cataclysmic events that rocked the Philippines this time last week, it is inspiring to see so much student action and empathy to help those most in need.

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