Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Being Remarkable! Global Collaboration

Continuing my reflection on the learning that has happened this year, I would like to share a story on how one teacher found an opportunity to collaborate globally and gave her students a great learning experience.

Over winter break, Valley View 8th Grade Social Studies and French Immersion teacher, Irmgard Farah visited Costa Rica. While there, she took a trip to the the Children's Eternal Rainforest in Monteverde. While there, she learned of the "Friends of the Rainforest" project and how classrooms around the world had donated to help with land purchase, land protection, educational programs and guided travel opportunities.

On her way home, Irmgard wondered if her students would be interested participating in a fundraising project for the rainforest. She thought it would also be a great opportunity to incorporate service learning strategies for her students, and thought it would also tie nicely to her curriculum if she could make a connection with another French speaking classroom. She contacted me, and I helped her get Skype set up and tested on her computer and we developed a plan to put the project in motion. 

Wendy Brenes, the Information and Ecotourism Coordinator for the Rainforest offered to Skype with the students to show them what they would be raising funds for. Given that we were in the same time zone, Brenes was able to talk to each of Farah's classes. 

Student's in Irmgard Farah's French Immersion Social Studies class speaking with Swiss Educator, Denise Brockman
Then Irmgard connected with Denise Brockman, a teacher in Geneva, Switzerland, whose students had raised funds for the rainforest in Monteverde. Due to the time change, her students had to walk over to her house after school to be able to Skype with the students here in Edina, but many did, and provided great information and motivation for Farah's students.

In the end, students in Farah's classes raised $1,322.64 for the rain forest!

Farah believes that the the collaborative aspect played a big role in the success of the project. I see this as a great authentic learning opportunity for her students, and an example of meeting the mission of our district, helping our students "to thrive in a rapidly changing, culturally diverse, global society."

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Being Remarkable! The 2013 Learning and Technology Showcase

Photos courtesy of Tim Berndt and Susan Brott

This past Saturday, we hosted the 2013 Technology and Learning Showcase, an opportunity for our staff and students to share some of the great learning happening this past year in our district. Over 200 students, parents and community members and staff from other districts attended the event. This year's showcase featured the work of many of our staff who took part in our iSquared Integration Initiative, an effort to unleash student passion for learning and empower great teaching through grants for technology in classrooms. The staff taking part in the initiative committed to ongoing training throughout the year in use of the devices they would be using in their classroom. 
In addition, other staff and students chose to take part, including students in our eLearning2 initiative, Project Lead the Way students from Edina High School, and 8th graders who had participated in a Language Arts Book Trailer contest, as well as documentary films from students in 21st Century Literacy.

South View Middle School 8th Grade Language Arts Book Trailer Finalists

Documentary on the South View Writing Center

It was a great opportunity for people to learn from each other, as well as share the digital-age learning enhanced through technology in our district. My favorite part is talking with students as they share their projects. I'm always picking up something new!

On our Showcase Website, we have included links to reflections from staff who incorporated iPads for both student learning and instruction, Interactive White Boards and Screencasting for instruction, and Chromebooks for student learning. They provide great insight into how the devices have been incorporated into classrooms as well as tips for others interested in using the technology in the future. We hope this will be a resource for our staff and others as we move forward with iSquared in 2013-14.

Opportunity Knocks...

A few weeks ago, while watching the Masters golf tournament, I couldn't help but notice Exxon commercials touting their support for the Common Core standards.

It's interesting that people from the leftthe center, and the right,  have lambasted the Common Core, stating that it will move us away from progressive, student centered learning, contain too much detail and will micro-manage the teaching profession, and dumb down the curriculum respectively. 

I find it interesting that Exxon spent millions of dollars promoting their support of the Common Core, and other initiatives. My skeptical nature makes me want to follow the money. Perhaps they are getting into the publishing business, or more likely are diverting our attention from the latest toxic spill

Personally, I'm not sure whether a standard core curriculum is just a way to make money for publishers, or could ultimately level the playing field by making sure ALL students have a high quality curriculum. But regardless, a couple of posts over the last few days have me thinking about opportunities

The first, came from my friend, Scott King, one of the most eclectic, thoughtful people I know. Scott is a poet, book publisher, and in his spare time, a "citizen scientist volunteer for the Minnesota Odonata Survey." 
On his blog, Of Books and Bugs, he writes about his travels and observations. On Flickr, you can see the collection of images that reflect his passion. Here is an example of his writing:

Scott has been able to combine his passions for science (he studied chemical and environmental engineering in college), writing, and publishing into both a profession as well a hobby. He is exactly the type of person that Edward O. Wilson appears to be writing to in his new book, Letters to a Young Scientist

Wilson was interviewed on NPR last weekend, and talked about the importance of encouraging students to follow their passions, balancing science with the humanities. He was asked whether students today should study science or the humanities. His response:
"And I do then want to answer this by saying [to] this young lady, 'What do you really love? What do you really want to be doing?' 
The Opportunity
So how does the Common Core fit Scott's story and helping students following their passions?
You see, embedded in the Common Core standards for Language Arts are many digital literacy standards that are supposed to be taught not in Language Arts courses, but in other content areas. In Minnesota, the common core language arts standards embedded into science and social studies include reading and writing benchmarks for both print and digital material and incorporate both text and multimedia content. 
While some may see this as an additional burden for content teachers, I see this as an opportunity to clearly identify ways for students to utilize the technology tools provided by our eLearning2 inititiative for students to consume and create content in the core subjects and greatly enhance their learning. By helping students access content, write well, and create meaning from their learning, like Scott, they will be able to share their passion with others in authentic ways. 

This is an opportunity for curricular areas to break down silos, and collaborate with one another on student assessments. Of course, this will require time to plan for creating these interdisciplinary opportunities. We also need to give staff instruction to HOW to effectively collaborate. This fall, our district will be spending time learning how to be an effective Professional Learning Community. I hope that will get the ball rolling. Once staff are on board, Caitlin Tucker has a great post that shares examples of what this collaborative integrated approach might look like.

David Jakes recent post about "Cutting Edge" gives additional guides to how we can take advantage of the opportunities of student devices as a way to find ways to become more interdisciplinary with our instruction. 

Regardless of your thoughts about the Common Core, opportunity is knocking....Will you answer the door?