How could Syrian refugees transform a school in Los Angeles from 7,500 miles away?
Technology has truly opened classroom doors and communication between students in different schools or districts — whether nearby or across the country. Opportunities to engage with peers who may have different perspectives are becoming more and more common. For example, Jo Paraiso uses Google Hangouts with her students so they can talk with peers across the country.
However, it’s not so often, if ever, that you hear about students in South Los Angeles, Jordan, and Syria having the opportunity to speak to one another, and most definitely not about difficult issues impacting their respective communities. Through the Global Nomads Group’s Pulse program, Syrian and Jordanian students in Amman connected with peers in Los Angeles for a live conversation to do just that.
Sharing a virtual reality experience, curricular resources, and live dialogue, the students learned about one another, the Syrian Refugee crisis, the challenges each community faced, and how they could take action in their own communities.
We were weeks into our new journey of bringing the science fair into the 21st century: Science In The Sky.
Everything is digital so why haven’t science fairs caught up? Well, my students were doing it! A feverish pitch exploded early amongst my scientific teams once scientists from around the world started responding to different blog postings. Elshaddai and his team were working hard collecting data on their hypothesis about whether the moon does or doesn’t affect mood. “I don’t even know where Luxemburg, Munich, Hong Kong… I don’t know where any of these places are!” I overheard him saying to his team. Using social media, I was able to distribute their survey around the world and excitement ensued when data started to pour in because they had no idea that I’d done this.
Editor’s Note: Hear more about this program from Executive Director Basma Rayess in our #anewkindofPD podcast episode found on iTunes and Stitcher.
Michael had suffered for years as the result of his mother’s alcoholism. A teacher encouraged Michael to participate in a program where students could write about their experiences with violence. Michael wrote a powerful poem describing the disappointment, anger, and fear he felt with the situation, but he had no intention of having his mother read it. However, he needed a parental signature so he showed it to his mother with great trepidation. When she read it, she was silent, but something tremendous happened. The poem helped his mother make a commitment to get sober and she has been so ever since.
I was frustrated.
I was angry.
I get it. I work in a Title I school with overcrowded classes where not every teacher is blessed to have their own room, especially new teachers. I was fortunate to have my own room for my first year of teaching. I already tasted what it was like to have my very own space, which is why it was that much harder to give it up. Year two I would roam.
It wasn’t easy to hear the bad news from the principal, especially because it dropped at the beginning of the first week of school. It’s moments like these when you feel unappreciated, devalued, and sometimes you want to quit. The thought of traveling to six different classrooms throughout the day made me feel defeated from the start. Six different rooms. That meant six different seating charts, six different classrooms to set up, six different offices, six different teachers to negotiate with, and the list goes on. As predicted, I had a miserable first week of school, but my despair ended quickly. After that first week, I realized that roaming as a second year teacher would be beneficial to my growth as a professional.
After teaching fifth grade for nine years, I was ready for a change. Not because I didn’t enjoy the fifth grade content or the students — I was looking for a new experience. I wanted to expand my knowledge and experience for my own professional growth.
After talking with my administrator, we agreed that I would move down to primary and start the year teaching a 2nd/3rd grade combo class. He didn’t believe this combo class would stay long, and that I would more than likely end up a straight second grade teacher. And it happened just like that. I taught the combo for the first quarter, and then at the start of the second quarter, I was a second grade teacher with adorable seven year olds to teach. What was this experience like? Amazingly overwhelming!
When I first became an educator, the term “network” had a different connotation for me when I compared it to other professions. In my mind, it implied we were supposed to reach out to other educators within our building, or perhaps at the district level, to exchange both ideas and resources.
After being selected to Honeywell’s Educators @ Space Academy in 2006, my idea of an educator’s network broadened to include educators not only in other states, but around the world. In fact, after realizing the opportunity, a few of us decided to make our own website to stay in touch and collaborate. It worked so well that my students participated in joint science experiments with students from other states, but they also helped set up an “American style” student council in Romania.
As the 2014 year winds down, I am continuing a Teaching Channel tradition and taking a moment to reflect on four things I learned this year.
1. Change as an opportunity for growth
This year was split in half for me. On June 1st, my family and I moved from Chicago to a tiny western Massachusetts hill-town of 1,800 people. We moved away from the friends and family we’d surrounded ourselves with for years, to an environment where, at least for a time, it felt like it was us against the world. The transition was tough at first, but we eventually found our stride. Though the field of education hardly ever feels like it’s slowing down, the idea that change can be an opportunity for growth is a powerful one, as we start the new year.
Want to hear something frightening? Halloween is approaching. A day filled with candy, costumes, and corny carnival games. A day I loved as a child and loved as a teacher.
Yes, I know there are many teachers out there who absolutely dread the day, including my colleague Lily, a confessed Halloween Grinch. Well, here’s a different perspective: I truly love it.
To me, it’s a day to embrace the goofiness inside all of us, where we let go of regular classroom routines, and offer a chance for some kids who normally don’t embrace school, to shine. Now, I know that not everyone celebrates Halloween, but in most cases, the students who do celebrate it will celebrate it at school no matter what you do. So, even if Halloween is not your cup of witch’s brew, rather than ignore the day completely, think of a way to make it work for your classroom and community.
When I first started teaching, I was passionate and loved my subject area, but I was clueless when it came to classroom management. My teacher preparation program gave me no specific strategies, so I went into the classroom thinking that if I had a well-planned lesson, classroom management would take care of itself.
I, like many teachers, learned about classroom management the hard way, through trial and error. Now, after ten years in the classroom and five years coaching teachers, I want to share three things I wish I had known.
1. Teach Time-Saving Routines and Procedures
One morning during my first year of teaching, I was entering attendance at my desk. When I looked up, every student in my class had rotated their desks so they were all facing the wall. They continued working as if nothing had happened. It was bizarre and frustrating; if they were capable of doing this so efficiently, why did it take an eternity to get into reading groups or lined up for lunch? I didn’t think I needed to teach middle-schoolers how to enter a classroom — they’ve been doing this for years! It turns out I was wrong.
Earlier this year, we launched 52 videos showcasing schools that focus on developing Deeper Learning skills — academic mastery, academic courage, collaboration and communication skills, global competencies, and more. Many of these schools encourage students to do real-world, authentic work in the form of internships, community outreach campaigns, and projects that expose them to careers in environmental science, robotics, fashion design, and music.
Before school ended in June, we reached out to a few graduates to ask what kept them engaged in their education. They told us strong school relationships and real-world experiences changed their lives for the better, gave them a sense of agency, and a curiosity and excitement about what is possible.