September 3

Conversations through poetry #remix

I was touched by the reaction my #clmooc friend Sheri had to this post and to my poem of anguish, a plea for a change in our society’s approach to the events taking place. Sheri remixed my poem into this beautiful piece of art, both visual and poetic, which offers hope. My friend Kevin picked up the threads and wove them into yet another poem, furthering the tenor of hope.

My response to them and others in this conversation. Let’s continue this poem-versation!

 

Harvest is upon us,
hues saturate.
Rest is coming,
a time to reflect.

Anger, discontent
soften to conversation,
fertilize new thinking.
We hum, then sing
songs together.

We dream of renewed life,
envision new growth,
dare to share.

This fresh view ignites,
bursts into new song,
blending our voices of all colors.

Together, we plan for a new spring,
scattering seeds of peace,
renewing our promise
of vibrant life for all.

August 31

Be angry and sin not

My Christian faith compels me to process events through the eyes of Jesus. As I am blasted by the neverending news reporting of the civil unrest taking place in the United States, I am crushed with sadness. Everyone has a position, and many positions are hostile and confrontational; “Kill the pigs!,” “He was a criminal,” “we need Law and Order!”

As I think of what is recorded in the Bible about Jesus’ life, I am reminded that he taught love, gentleness, grace and mercy. He regularly spent time with the outcasts of society, those crippled, maimed, adulterers. The only times he showed anger were in his judgment of the religious leaders who were using the Law of Moses as an excuse to be harsh, dispassionate and as a money grab.

What if we applied Jesus’ teachings to our everyday life? What if we spoke with kindness rather than condemnation? What if we truly tried to see people’s lives through a filter of grace? What if we learned to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you?”

As rage, distrust and violence has swirled around me, Ephesians 4:26 has come to my mind often, “Be angry and sin not.” We should be angry when injustice happens. Instead of responding in kind, we need to respond with love and compassion, and seek justice and peace. 

If enough of us apply Jesus’ teachings, we will be able to attain what is said in Isaiah 2:4, “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” That is my deepest wish.

Be angry and sin not

Say his name
sketch his likeness
tell all the world
how much you miss him.

Not everyone accepts
acts of destruction
as cries of anguish
craving to be heard.

I seek to understand,
to enter in to your pain,
to offer a safe place
for you to lament.

I am bruised
from all the anger.
Voices of all colors
loudly talking
and not listening.

I implore you!
Let us beat swords
into plowshares,
together sow fields of peace,
and rejoice in the harvest.

 

April 20

Poetry

When I first saw this cloud shape as I was walking this evening, I thought of a Boeing 747, the ultimate “jumbo jet,” an aircraft we seldom see anymore. As a young adult, I admired them as the princess of the sky, and even flew on a few.

As I continued my walk, the cloud began disintegrating. My last glimpse was of this:

A sense of melancholy overtook me, as my mind turned to September 11, 2001, “9/11.” I believe all of the aircraft involved in that terrorist attack were smaller ships, but nonetheless had a strong association. Perhaps this is because of our current situation, with the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc on our lives, our well-being, and our economy.

Once again, I took an idea from my #CLMOOC friend Kim and created a poem with only single-syllable words. Hers was inspired by waterfall poetry, mine is just… mine.

I see
a shape
a plane
no
a cloud
I think of
large craft
men in suits
wives in heels
glam, safe
then
nine-one-one of two-oh-oh-one
crashed
stunned
pained
dazed
slow mend
now
two-oh-one-nine
germs
ill
spread
dead
fear
lone
no trust
sad

 

May 13

Celebration!

For the past several months, I have been alternately a coach, cheerleader and nag in supporting a group of five teens as they have created and iteratively evolved a #project for National History Day (#NHD), a #process I detail here.

The students successfully advanced through two regional competitions. The stage was set for the last leap as they presented themselves before a panel of judges at Illinois History Day, the final round of competitions from which national delegates are chosen.

In theory, the interview is moot, as the judges are instructed to assess the projects based solely on the concrete evidence – the product (in this case a documentary) and supporting documentation (annotated bibliography and process paper). Having some insight into human behavior, I believe these informal interviews nonetheless influence the judges in their conclusions.

Initially, the group of #Meliora students was confident as they answered the judges’ questions. Then, they were asked about something they were unprepared for. They would have probably been best served by saying they didn’t know the answer. Instead, they fumbled around and several students gave conflicting information.

They left the interview totally dejected, knowing they had flubbed, and convinced they had lost their opportunity to advance. A few hours later, they glumly presented themselves for the closing ceremony, where the national delegates were to be announced. There are only 18 projects which advance from each state to the national level, and my students were in competition with dozens of other Illinois students. They understood the stakes.

We all agonized through the obligatory announcements. Finally, the moment of truth arrived. Ploddingly, the announcer named the NHD qualifiers for other categories. She arrived at documentaries, backtracked, then spoke… “Senior level, group documentary… Colleen Moore…” Hysteria erupted among the Meliora contingent, beginning with the parents. The students were stunned, then raced up to collect their medals and to await the photo opps. Jubilant, I ran with my camera to capture their joy.

For a glimpse into how the #iterative process embedded in this competition (and in #PBL in general) helps develop a variety of skills, from critical thinking to creativity, take a peek at their product for the first competition:

And the one which earned them a spot at NHD:

Of course, they are not done. They will be revising their documentary one more time before heading to the University of Maryland in early June.

April 26

#PBL as a #process within a #framework

Recently, a team of five #Meliora students uploaded a newly refined version of their history fair project. Next week, they will be competing at Illinois History Day, the last step in their quest to qualify as national contestants.

National History Day (#NHD) provides a good example of the Project-Based Learning (#PBL) #process and #lifecycle. Students are first challenged at a local/school level to create a project, within a specified #framework. As pointed out in the High Quality Project Based Learning Framework, and by John Spencer, high-quality PBL is not a free-for-all, but rather #learnercentered work conducted within the boundaries of a defined structure.

The NHD project framework consists of the following specific criteria:

  1. Must strongly incorporate the annual #theme (the 2018-2019 theme is “Triumph & Tragedy in History”).
  2. A choice of five categories: paper; exhibit; performance; documentary; or website. This variety offers students abundant #voice and #choice in the product they create. Ultimately, the product serves as their primary #evidence of #learning.
  3. Constraints for each project category. For example, documentaries cannot exceed ten minutes in length. Conversely, they should not be much less than ten minutes long, (an unspoken rule) because if students cannot find ten minutes of evidence to support their argument, it suggests they have not looked into their topic deeply enough.
  4. Supplementary documentation, including an annotated bibliography and a process (#reflection) paper.
  5. #Public #presentation (#communication) before a panel of judges at each level of competition. The judges use identical evaluation criteria for each category of project, focusing on the clarity and strength of the argument the students develop in defense of their thesis statement.

Nearly every discipline uses a framework or blueprint for their creative work, it’s a writer’s workshop structure, an engineering process, the scientific method, or a design thinking framework. ~ John Spencer

Students have complete voice and choice in the topic they explore, as long as their thesis and argument fit within the framework. In past years, Meliora students have explored topics as diverse as “The Tucker Torpedo,” Women’s Suffrage, Michael Jordan (national contender) and Soul Train (national contender). The topics chosen reflect the students’ interests, while at the same time requiring them to conduct thorough research.

In many cases, the students started their journey with superficial knowledge. As they dug deeper, their knowledge and critical analysis expanded. Not only did they learn more about their chosen topic, but more importantly (shhhhh, don’t tell them), they developed a much deeper understanding of the historical context, content, and relevance.

In my role as #facilitator, I did not “teach” them about their topic. Rather, I asked them many open-ended questions: “Why did [event] happen?” “What else was happening in the [country, world] at the time?” “What was life like at that time?” “How do you know?” I also helped them locate resources, and persistently asked them to use proper research methods.

This year, the most significant #mindset growth this team made was arguably related to an interview they conducted. That one 20-minute activity (plus the preparation work) exponentially boosted their confidence and their belief that they have significance, not only in the teen world, but also the adult world.

As I also write here, students who participate in National History Day create multiple #iterations of their product, refining their work between each level of competition. Since the project framework remains constant, they invariably are faced with making tough decisions as to which evidence is most relevant to their thesis argument. There is frequent anguish as they remove a favorite quote or an image they love, even as they recognize that a particular element is less important than others they need to include.

This refinement process is an excellent tool for helping the students develop #criticalthinking skills. When they are struggling to make decisions and ask my advice, my standard response is, “In what way does it support your thesis?” Often accompanied by sighs and groans, they make the correct decision.

This is the documentary going to competition next week:

For the truly dedicated, here is the team’s first version:

April 23

Intersections of poetry & improv

My friend Kim recently wrote about how she and her students were writing poems using inspiration from three words provided by the students. She describes how in the first iteration, the poems were very literal in their interpretation. Kim then worked with the students to brainstorm imagery related to the words. Finally, she challenged them (and herself) to write a poem using the three words without the poem being about any of the words. As she understates, “[t]his was much more difficult!”

Kim’s observations parallel the learning process of improv, a new-ish endeavor of mine. At the beginning of a set, the performers typically ask the audience to provide one or more words that are then used as inspiration for creating scenes and story lines. Just as Kim describes, emerging players often create scenes that stick close to the literal words, whereas more experienced players use them truly as inspiration and wander much further afield in associations and connections. As a result, their scenes are richer and more satisfying, to both the performers and the audience.

Developing any new competence takes time, practice, encouragement and constructive feedback. I’m fortunate to be learning to perform improv at a studio which swarms with supportive, encouraging instructors and fellow performers. This nurturing environment is part of the culture, fostered by the owner and artistic director.

In our schools, we have the same opportunity, and responsibility, to develop and sustain a culture which encourages students to grow into their full potential.

 

April 15

Another example of how and why #PBL works

A few days ago, I informed a group of five #Meliora students that their history project had advanced to Illinois History Day, the last step in their quest to become contestants at National History Day.

I see these students face-to-face one day a week; the rest of the time they work individually and in a virtual environment using collaborative tools such as G Suite for Education and Trello. I informed them by email of their victory, expecting some kind of happy dance response. And received silence.

The next day, my phone rang. “Um, Miz J, we have been working on updating our project narrative. Can you look at it and give us feedback?” They had arranged a face-to-face meeting among themselves and gone to work.

This is a fine example of #intrinsic motivation, and an outcome commonly seen in #PBL (project-based learning). As I describe here, engagement was maximized by giving students #voice and #choice over their project topic, and also over the format they used to develop their product.

They have been working on this project (along with other things) this whole semester. This long exploration exemplifies “sustained inquiry,” an integral element of Gold Standard PBL, as defined by PBLworks. Multiple factors have sustained the students’ interest. Initially, they were intrigued to find out more about the subject of their project, Colleen Moore. They researched using books, clips of her silent movies, online archives, databases, etc.

Once they wearied of these forms of investigation, they experienced a fresh spark when they interviewed Ms Moore’s grandson. His descriptions of her, and other connections he pointed them to, renewed their enthusiasm for digging deeper into evidence of her life and influence.

The inquiry process takes time, which means a Gold Standard project lasts more than a few days. In PBL, inquiry is iterative; when confronted with a challenging problem or question, students ask questions, find resources to help answer them, then ask deeper questions – and the process repeats until a satisfactory solution or answer is developed. ~ PBLworks

Another important factor in the students’ continued enthusiasm is the public audience, another tenet of Gold Standard PBL. At each level of competition, they present their project before a panel of judges. Invariably, the judges express interest in their work and in their process. The judges also provide the students with specific suggestions on how to improve their work.

This encouragement and critique from the outside audience spurs the students on to create yet another #iteration of their project (also integral to Gold Standard PBL). The stakes are also higher at each level of the history fair competition, which intensifies both the focus and the stress.

The challenge is to ensure the students are experiencing an appropriate level of stress. As this Psychology Today article states, “You experience good stress when you feel a sense of control over the event in question. No matter how your body may respond in the moment, you know you’re going to come out fine on the other side—and perhaps even better for the experience.” My observation is this group of students is functioning within this range. Their ultimate goal is to advance to the national level of competition. At the same time, they are staying grounded, taking one step at a time, to each subsequent level of competition.

The current iteration of their project may be viewed here.

April 5

Evidence, always need evidence

Earlier this week, a group of five #Meliora students finished revising their National History Day (NHD) documentary project in preparation for the next level of competition. NHD projects essentially consist of developing and defending a thesis, a difficult cognitive task for the middle- and high-school students who enter this contest each year. At each level of competition, the students present their project before a panel of judges, who evaluate and provide feedback on the solidity of their thesis argument. Those projects with the most persuasive defense are the ones which advance to the next level.

In the recent competition, my students received feedback that their selection of secondary sources was narrow and limited. The judges knew this because as part of the NHD framework students are required to create an annotated bibliography of their sources.

As I supported them in learning how to more effectively dig through (online) newspaper and other archives, one of the students commented, “we don’t need this article, because we already have this information.” Which prompted me to loop back to earlier in the year, when we discussed reliability of evidence, how we must find multiple sources that support facts or a certain interpretation in order to consider it reliable. We work on #digitalliteracy as we talk about the kinds of digital sources that are generally more reliable, with the understanding that even those must be substantiated.

During the revision process, the students also made some claims I was skeptical of as they developed their historical context. So, I did a little research of my own and presented my evidence, which clashed with their claims. Then I asked them to sort out what they thought the most valid interpretation was.

This experience coincided with my reading of a recent MindShift article on how students are unable to evaluate the credibility of what they read online. The percentages are staggering; 82% of middle schoolers in a 2016 study were unable to tell the difference between an online ad and a news article. Even more frightening is that 59% of adults in a 2014 study couldn’t tell the difference either.

As Sam Wineburg, Stanford University professor states, “rather than teaching them [history lessons] as rules or things fixed in time or set in amber, these are precisely the kinds of things that are worthy of debate.” In Meliora history classes, every topic is open to discussion. I impress upon my students that I am not the “expert,” that they are welcome to challenge any claim I make… as long as they have evidence. As we ask our students “why?” and “how do you know?” during these kinds of discussions, we are helping them develop their #criticalthinking skills.

For the curious, the Meliora documentary project currently in competition can be viewed here.

March 25

Communities, connections, and storytelling

My (virtual) colleague Kevin Hodgson alerted me to this #netnarr post by Laura Ritchie, in which Laura asks and seeks to answer the question, “How do we connect with the wider community across the globe?” I was fascinated by Jonathan Worth’s responses to Laura’s questions, as he analyzes online networks and communities.

I was particularly struck by Jonathan’s statement that “everyone’s got a story, you’ve just got to enable them to tell it.” This reminded me of ethnographic research I conducted as part of the 2017 Community Works Institute. We spent one afternoon strolling through the compact Vermont town of Winooski, once home to thriving woolen mills. After the mills closed in the mid-1950s, the town saw an economic decline for two decades. In the 1980s, the mills were converted to commercial and residential spaces, which helped revitalize the town.

The most startling trivia about Winooski is that in 1980 there was serious consideration of covering the town in a geodesic dome to make winters more tolerable for the residents! I doubt I would have ever stumbled across this fascinating information without engaging in this walkabout.

As we sauntered through the town, we observed, remarked upon, and snapped photos of the various architectural styles. We loitered in the community center, seeking to understand the “vibe” and interests of the town. We entered various shops and gathered stories from the shopkeepers. We talked to people on the streets. Some were residents, some were visiting from elsewhere.

One of the questions our facilitator asked after we reconvened was, “How did you reciprocate with the people who answered your questions?” The answer was simple, and a bit of an ah-ha for me, “By listening to their stories.”

The importance of storytelling within communities is summarized in this 2017 Time magazine article. A study that was done among a hunter-gatherer population in the Philippines concluded that “‘[s]torytelling is a costly behavior… requiring an input of time and energy into practice, performance and cognitive processing.’ But the payoff for making such an effort is big: When the investigators looked at family groups within the 18 camps, they found that skilled storytellers had, on average, .53 more living children than other people.”

Everyone’s got a story, you’ve just got to enable them to tell it. ~ Jonathan Worth

We all have stories to tell. One of the best ways we can honor our students and build trust with them is by actively seeking to hear and understand their stories.


Winooski Woolen Mill

March 15

Preparing for the adult world through the use of #PBL

I have an admission to make. I am living vicariously through my #Meliora students. A group of five teens has been crafting a documentary project for Chicago History Fair, with the goal of advancing the several steps that will take them to National History Day. This competition asks students in grades 6-12 to convincingly argue a thesis, a skill many students develop only in college.

The Meliora team’s self-chosen topic (a central #PBL tenet is to give students #voice and #choice in deciding what topics they #deepdive into) shines a spotlight on Colleen Moore, a larger-than-life, yet nearly-forgotten woman who was a top salary-earner in silent films; a significant influence on the evolution of American society’s views of women through her “safe” flapper lifestyle; and an investor maven, unheard of in her time.

Through a fortuitous series of events, the students located Moore’s grandson. I urged them to ask him for an interview, the goal being to have him provide them with additional evidence to include in their project. His initial reply to their email request was pretty abrupt, with edges of ice. He pointed them to a variety of existing sources that detail her life and influence, and said he would need to understand their “line of questioning” before granting an interview.

Fortunately, the students had already found and analyzed the sources he cited. I encouraged them to continue to pursue the interview, and suggested maybe his coldness was due to uncertainty around what questions they wanted to ask. I suggested they send him their interview questions, so that he would understand their “line of questioning.”

After receiving their list of questions, he agreed to a telephone interview, which was conducted by three of the five team members. When they actually got on the phone with him, he was friendly and forthcoming with information, and provided very intimate views of Colleen Moore from his viewpoint as her grandson.

It was apparent during the interview that the three student interviewers were feeling nervous. Notwithstanding, they did a stellar job, and obtained the information they were seeking. After they concluded the call, their relief was palpable, followed by laughter, and “That was great!’ They felt exhilaration related to the fact that this hard task they had never tried before had been a success.

This success led to increased confidence in reaching into the adult world. During a recent class session, the team made a series of phone calls to other potential sources in an effort to deepen their understanding and analysis of their topic. Some of the calls led nowhere, others bore fruit. As one of the students remarked, “This is fun, talking to all these people.”

This. Is. What. We. Want: Students. To. Learn. #RealWorld. #Skills.

The students’ project has advanced to the next level of competition), and they are currently in the process of improving it, based on judge feedback, readying themselves for the next level of competition. This iterative approach is integrated into #RealWorld design processes, another way #PBL helps prepare students for the adult world.