Leading the way for students

Twice in the last few weeks I’ve needed to write about my leadership experiences – I always list Every 15 Minutes as the one I am most proud of. As leaders (and all teachers are leaders) we lead our students by example.

In August of 2013 two high school students, Brooke McPheters and Jordyn Durr, were struck and killed by a drunk driver while walking home on a sidewalk from the mall. I didn’t know either of them, though I knew kids who did and teachers who knew them well in classes at South and Service. Too often as teachers we are used to tragedy but there was something about them, these two girls, that made me want to do something more.

They were killed right by where I used to work when I first moved to Anchorage. They were killed on a sidewalk I biked or walked on several times a day for months as I commuted to my job teaching preschool. I felt at some level like I could relate to them – I found out that many kids I knew well did relate to Brooke and Jordyn, either through friendship or experience.

So, I recruited students to co-lead the program with me and we were able to pull off an event that was effective and true to the origins of the national program while showcasing the talents of South’s new video production class. I am so proud of the work Shelby, Amanda, Jordan, and John did as student leaders and how our student body received that work. I’m thrilled with how we coordinated with police and fire (it’s hard!) and the video class. I’m relieved still that my colleagues and administration supported our efforts and guided us when necessary. But mostly I am proud that we stepped up and actually did some small thing to try to prevent an accident like that from occurring again. 

When I read the comments adults make on the work and efforts of protestors, teenagers who are not too different from the kids I’ve always taught, I feel sick. These teenagers have the ability to change the world, as generations before them have had. I hope that all of us educators who have helped lead small changes recognize that how and why we have taught and led students has made the world a better place and has helped show our students how to do the same.

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9/11 – addressing difficult things

Last year South Anchorage High School teachers began the tradition of teaching a common text on the same day. This year they will do it again with texts about 9/11, starting with this old blog post of mine that I shared.

September 11th was a current event and now it’s a moment in history; most high school students weren’t even alive in 2001. This is also a very personal event for most of us. We have a personal connection to what happened because it changed the world around us and changed how we view the world.

I taught the events of 9/11 through my personal story (my dad worked in the South tower and, at the time the building collapsed we still had not heard from him) and through poetry.

And then we went to stories that have been written down. I read “The Names” by Billy Collins and I told them it makes me think of everyone I’ve lost, that echoes of people are everywhere. Next came “Prayer for the Dead,” by Stuart Kestenbaum. His line, “…if you discover some piece of your own writing, or an old photograph, you may remember that it was you and even if it was once you, it’s not you now…”  because that’s the reason I have them write an autobiography over the course of the year, so they can look back and see themselves as freshmen in high school. And the last poem, “Five Years Later,” by Tony Gloegger, addresses survivor’s remorse and the pain all of us go through when forced to tell about or relive something traumatic.

I love how new-to-South teacher Ken Hemenway added to the ideas and discussion.

I was attending graduate school in Boston on September 11 and went to New York to visit a girl I was dating in Hoboken, NJ, Friday through Sunday of that week. I have very vivid memories of the smoke, smell, and utter bewilderment of the whole situation from a personal perspective. Needless to say it was surreal and I’ll never forget the numerous places where people had put up papers, pleading for information regarding their lost, loved ones.

I attended Boston College with a young man by the name of Welles Crowther. He played lacrosse and our paths crossed being I was also playing hockey at the time and the student athlete population was a close knit community.
He lost his life on September 11th and I put a link for a short ESPN video presentation entitled “9/11 The Man in the Red Bandanna.” I’m not sure if anyone would like to use this, but I think it may compliment some of the great material shared above.
I’m eager to see how this looks in classes on Monday and will be visiting a teacher to see it in action.
How do you teach 9/11 as an English/language arts teacher? How do you teach other difficult topics and current events like Ferguson, Charlottesville, Syrian refugees, etc. so your students build empathy and cultural literacy?
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This is my seven year-old’s drawing of September 11th, some sort of pirate airplane attack – that is how he created context. I don’t know what prompted him to draw it for me but I have it hanging in my office as a reminder of the importance of teaching kids about difficult topics.

PBS in AK

I was lucky enough to be the 2016 PBS Digital Innovator for the state of Alaska and attend the summit and ISTE in Denver. After that though, it didn’t amount to much beyond using and promoting the amazing resources on PBS Learning Media.
PBS has revamped their Innovator program though and my great friend Traci is lucky enough to reap those benefits for 2017.

Just when I thought my job was done, Traci and I were asked to go to Juneau and be a part of the production for Wild Alaska Live. We arrived yesterday and attended a KTOO launch party for the show (BBC is also here).
This morning we interviewed one of my PBS Kids heroes, Chris Kratt from Wild Kratts! He was kind enough to let me film a short video of him speaking directly to my own children.
The rest of the day we have been by Mendenhall Glacier filming segments about Alaskan animals with Dr. Joy Reidenberg, a comparative anatomist. These will be edited and put on PBS Learning Media for teachers to use in their classrooms.
Tomorrow we will cruise around Juneau and take pictures with “Flat Kratt” a Flat Stanley type project

You can follow all these adventures with the hashtag #AlaskaLive and the interview with Chris Kratt is here! Facebook Live with Chris Kratt

Flipped lesson – Drive, Grit & Success – creating an Outlier?

In the same vein as my flipped lesson for Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, this is a flipped lesson for AP Language students on Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers, Daniel Pink’s Drive, and Angela Duckworth’s work on the importance of developing grit in students. This incorporates the standard WSQ assignment, class discussions (both in class and online), thesis statement building, rhetorical analysis, mind maps (for organizing ideas), reflective writing, formal argument writing, public speaking, and Socratic seminar.

 What is success and how do we find it?

1) WSQ – Rhetorical Modes – read and annotate “How to Read Like a Writer” by Mike Bunn
2) online discussion on Drive video
3) Grit survey
4) WSQ (in-class) – Grit TED talk
5) reflective essay on Grit (using the question from the WSQ)
6) analysis and annotation on chapter of Outliers
7) coaching group on assigned chapter
8) read selection of Drive in class – discussion on the argument and content
9) informal presentation on the chapter of Outliers
10) WSQ & discussion – de Botton TED talk on kinder definition of success
11) read two reviews of Outliers – rhetorical précis for each – how valid and relevant is the criticism?
12) another selection from Drive – read and discuss
13) Mind Map of ideas from all of the sources
14) 4 square discussion – develop a thesis statement
15) question writing for seminar – What is success and how do we find it?
16) seminar
17) argument essay – begin from the class-developed thesis statement

This was created with some collaboration with my friend Amy Habberstad.

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Flash Mob research

In 2010 my social studies teaching partner, Lisa Healow, and I created a research project for our 9th graders in honors and regular world history and English. The research was to answer the question, “What happens when cultures spread?”

Students were assigned a topic and a question relating to that topic with a small group of classmates.  Their task was to find 2 articles about the specific aspect of of their assigned topic (religion, geography, economy/trade, humanities/art, government, society, or science/technology) and create a summary using a specific form.

From there, students worked with group members to develop an answer to the topic question, as well as another question to expand on the topic.  They peer edited the summaries to they were submitted to the class database. Students read and took notes on all of the database entries (submitted through a Google Docs form), making connections and asking recognizing patterns, in preparation for a class seminar.

Lisa and I presented our project, along with student work samples, snippets of the final seminar, and interviews with students about the process, at the 2011 Alaska Society of Technology in Education conference.

Our presentation document, with links to additional material, is available through this link.

Public Service Announcements

Instructions: Use this form to outline your PSA. You may need to use a separate sheet of paper to complete Section 1; you should complete that section first and wait until you have had a chance to complete the online Persuasion Map (http://www.readwritethink.org/materials/persuasion_map/) to finish the rest of the outline.

Target  Audience
Message – Topic
Sound Used
Visual Imagery Used
Print Imagery Used
How do you want viewers to feel when they watch this PSA?
What action do you want viewers to feel they have to take after viewing this PSA?
Scenario: Characters act out the problem. Write script for actions and dialogue (use back of sheet or another piece of paper as necessary).
Goal: These words flash across the screen.
Reasons: Voiceover explains the problem
while image shows problem.
Facts: Voiceover discusses the facts while image shows facts.
For More Information:
Show organization phone or website (make one up or use existing).