Saturday, 28 December 2013

Letting Go of the Reins...or Trusting Students

Taking inspiration from Shelley Wright, I decided to change the way I taught the Holocaust to the students enrolled in "Adventures in World History" (CHM4E1).  I wasn't going to teach them directly; rather, they were going to research, explore and create.

To begin, we talked about the question: What does the Holocaust reveal about humanity?  Students were able to recognize that tragedy can bring out the best in people and the ultimate worst in people.  From there I explained to the students that we were going to change the approach to learning.  We watched Chris Lehmann's Ted Talk "Education is Broken".  I remember reading one of Wright's posts and thinking, "Really?  Your students clapped after?" But there was some applause in my classroom.  Most of the students were inspired.  One student recognized that in the our previous unit about Gladiators, students were directing their learning and making it visible.  He said something along the lines, "I see what you're doing".  Yes, exactly...I'm trying to make learning meaningful!
Painting their exhibit about death marches. 

Working and chatting at the same time.
Students did some initial guided research about the Holocaust.  From there, we determined a variety of topics and students selected areas of interest to research more in depth and create a museum exhibit.  We discussed the set up of the museum and our discussion about the set up was interesting and intense.  Would the museum best be set up chronologically?  By topic?  Ultimately, I put two students in charge of this, and they chose a combination of chronology and topic.

To allow students to access an expert, I invited my colleague and friend, Dr. Adara Goldberg, into the classroom via a Mystery Skype.  Students prepared questions for her, as a way to round out their learning.  Additionally, we watched Schindler's List, as a way to give students visual interpretation of one story from the Holocaust, which is really the stories of many people.

Watching the collaboration and discussions that happen while doing is inspiring.  I could overhear students talking about their project.  I could hear them making reference to the Mystery Skype and to Schindler's List and how the ideas applied to their exhibit.

Explaining Auschwitz-Birkenau
to a guest.
One of the best parts of this process was watching the students actually build their exhibits.  This is where the collaboration really took place--not just between students who were working on an exhibit together--but also between students in different groups working together to meet a deadline.

I was nervous that the museum wasn't going to be finished on time, but students came in on their spares to complete all of their work and they all pitched in to help each other get things done.

Students visiting the museum.
The museum was a success. During our class period, four of my colleagues brought their classes to check out the museum and learn about the Holocaust. Additionally, some of my students' parents, and my own, came in to support the class' hard work.  Another teacher brought two of her classes by, for informal visits, as a way to provide context for their novel study on The Book Thief.

Through the museum creation, students had the opportunity to build their skills in research, collaboration, time management, and synthesis.  Skills that will serve them well in "real life".

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Adventures in Mystery Skyping

The first time I read The Rez Sisters, I was in third year university taking the course "Modern Canadian Drama".  When I began teaching at ODSS, I noticed that we had a class set in our book loft.  I soon discovered that the play wasn't being taught in any of the courses, but I knew it would work in ENG3U1.

This semester was the fifth time teaching the play, and every time I teach it, I uncover more and more meaning.

This semester, however, I realized that I could "flatten my classroom walls" and extend my students' knowledge and understanding and that of my own of First Nations students.  Julie Balen is a member of my PLN and I remember her mentioning that she teaches First Nations students.  I am very thankful that she and her students were willing to Skype with us.

Getting Started.  Photograph courtesy Ben H.

As Julie wrote in her blog post, the Mystery Skype was more than just using technology in the classroom.  Technology was a method to expose our students to the experiences of other teenagers living different lives in the same province.  Many of my students made note that there were many similarities between their lives and experiences and those of the students living in Wikwemikong.

Mina noted that she had a negative view of First Nations people, but our conversation gave her a new perspective and challenged the stereotypes that First Nations people are subject to.  Riley detailed the traditions that the students from Wikwemikong practice.  Sam liked that he got to hear about the perspectives of First Nations students directly from them, not from a secondary source, like an article or documentary.

I asked my students to blog about the Mystery Skype, and to specifically answer the question, "What needs to be improved upon for another Skype?"  This forced the students to reflect on the experience.  For example, Hailey and Tristan noted that they needed to organize their questions better.  Mina made mention that they needed to maintain their assigned roles, and another student suggested that more roles be assigned.  I liked Helena's suggestion that we Skype in smaller groups, so that the conversations could flow more easily.  Jesse pointed out that both classes needed to be better prepared.

I loved hearing my students reflections and found it interesting that, for the most part, their areas of improvement aligned with the reflections of the students from Wikwemikong.  I loved that the student themselves were able to determine what they needed to do to improve; I didn't have to tell them.

Overall, the Mystery Skype achieved my goal of making the play more real for my students.  My one hope is that they will continue to connect with the other class.  Some students have already indicated that they have some more questions.