Bubble tests. Bubbling. Standardization. Benchmark. Quartile. NCLB. AYP.
This is a list that the vast majority of American teachers are obsessed with, not because they believe in it as a means to improve the education of children, but because that is what the federal government requires. I would rather the list that we were all consumed by read something more like this...
Think. Feel. Create. Collaborate. Help. Challenge. Innovate. Engage. Inspire.
I wish there were acronyms that rolled off the tips of every teachers tongue that spoke of inspiring the kids in our rooms to explore the world and opportunitites that exist outside the walls of the classroom.... I wish that the field that I worked in is concerned with more than the ability of a child to bubble. The conversation in mass media education is too focused on hurdling a low bar of expectations, while we fail to see the potential of all kids to transcend not only the bar.. but also the bubble.
What will it take to turn the conversation from one of certainty to one of untold possibility?
Right before Christmas break I gave out email accounts to all my students. I knew that using the tool would be beneficial for the students. They really enjoyed the freedom to have their own account. It allows for the easy, safe transfer of documents from home to school. Overall I had an idea of the benefits that this tool may offer my students.
We are almost a month into it and all that I expected has come to be. But, today I realized the wonderful extra benefit. After I played (and lost) two volleyball games tonight I pulled up my school email account to see several messages. Most of them appeared to be questions about the project we are working on... love that they are going home to work on their own! But there were two messages from kids thanking me for teaching them... I worked really hard this weekend to pull together a meaningful project, it took a ton of my time, but after getting those emails I knew how well spent the time was. I love my job, and not in a 'PollyAnnaish' kind of way, but in the 'I've been doing this for ten years' kind of way, and there's no place I'd rather be working than in a classroom. It's just too good.
A continutation of the last post, related to the Rwandan genocide...
I re-watched Hotel Rwanda sorting through clips that would be appropriate to show to a middle school classroom. I thought that I would never watch the movie again after I had seen it the first time. There are things that I only need or want to see once. This was one of those movies. But, now I sit with the opportunity to tell the story... to an audience that is completely out of the loop... my students. Watching the movie again was necessary to bring another form of information to them to learn from, to see, to understand. It has been a long day and I am thinking that tomorrow will be as well.
But here's the thing, the story can be told in such a compelling way today. On the blog circuit I read Tell Me Your Story; Stir My Heart and What’s in a Story? today. These two posts get at the crux of what I am trying to do with the story of the Rwandan genocide. The big idea about telling a story with conviction and passion came through loud and clear. The story I tell to the students this week is a heavy story, one that both shatters and inspires, uplifts and ashames, horrifies and amazes. The great thing about teaching history is that the whole subject is one long story. But the perplexing part is in what story is told, how the story is told and with what passion the story is told.
The story of the Rwandan genocide can be brought to life for the students in my classroom with the resources at our fingertips. We listen to interviews with the UN generals that were on the ground, with survivors of the genocide, with officials that were part of the world governments at the time. We stream in videos that play the story of the Hutus and the Tutsis, show the violence of the time and report the events that occur as a part of this devastating chapter from history. We watch with horror as the flash based timeline rolls though events and death tolls. We closely watch the news to see what is happening in Darfur and Somalia as both have connections to the Rwandan story. The story is powerful in the written word, becomes vivid with the audio, transforms to mezmerizing with video... the kids get this in a way that I cannot 'tell' the story of 200 years ago. The capability to bring this digital information to the students revolutionizes the way I teach, transforms the way they learn and transcends any bubble test the 'powers that be' come up with.
Using this story of courage, hope and integrity as a model the students soon begin telling the story of someone else who has used their life, like Paul Rusesabagina used his life... and the students will also include the story of how they plan to use their own life to positively impact the lives around them. There is a quote from Think:Lab today that sums it up to a tee
If you can tell a story, you have an audience. If you tell a great story, you have a great audience. If you invite others to create that story with you, you have something far deeper.
Starting on Monday the students will begin to tell their stories and I look forward to the challenge that this will bring for all of us.
A few months ago I received an email with an open invitation to students from Flagstaff to attend an event where Paul Rusesabagina, the hotel manager that shielded 1200+ Rwandans from slaughter in 1994, would be speaking. The event was free, the venue was close enough to walk to and after a small amount of investigation I decided to sign up my 135 students. It was not often that we get internationally known speakers, for free, in this mountain town.
While I was making the decision, it became abundantly clear that I couldn't take these students to hear from this man without a serious amount of preparation. Genocide is not a topic that one introduces to students lightly. I struggled with the decision to focus on such a grim topic, not that war is not grim and history is not grim, but genocide, for some reason is different. The Rwandan genocide was recent, there were vivid images, the stories live on being told by the people who survived. It is very real, almost too real. I ran my decision past a few of my sounding boards to see if I was being overly sensitive, or if I should rethink genocide as a topic of study for a few weeks in January. Most people agreed that, yes, it was grim... but that doesn't make it unworthy of study. I decided that the focus of the unit would be on the power of one... one person, one idea, one moment, one decision. After learning about Mr. Rusesabagina and the story of the Rwandan genocide, the students would choose one person who uses/used their life to positively impact the lives of other, tell the story and then at the end tell the story of how they plan on using their own life to positively impact the lives of others. The goal is to have each student make a short 3-5 minute movie.
Then, I received a call from the organizers of the event, the Martin-Springer Institute. They were calling to let me know that I could choose one student to attend. One, one student out of 135. This was not going to be easy. So I decided to turn the whole thing into a competition to earn the privilege to go to lunch. Each class will view another classes videos, vote for the top video... those five will be viewed by a panel of five impartial judges (a college professor, a PhD. candidate, a MS science teacher on sabbatical ;), a community college instructor and a web entrepreneur). These five would choose the top individual who would then be chosen to go to lunch at a very swank location in town with Mr. Rusesabagina.
We are on day three of genocide and the students still can't believe the stories and realities that the people of Rwanda faced in 1994. As a related tangent, we have been looking briefly at Darfur and noticing the similarities and differences in the world response. Most students didn't really realize that genocide happened anywhere outside the Holocaust. This has been an incredibly emotional topic. I am a little concerned that this is a little much. But, I fear that if they don't hear the stories and grapple with the issues that they will grow up ignorant of the situations that happen on the global scene. Also, I want the experience to focus on the extraordinary actions of 'ordinary' people that step up in times of need. I want them to ponder for a bit what role they may play to help out their local community or more.
The phrase 'never again' is used time and again to describe the world committment to not allowing another genocide to take place. Well, it's been never again over and over again. It is a story with extreme historical relevance and tangible connection to the students in my classes. By studying the story and hearing, first hand, from a man who lived through a genocide, I hope that the students may remember, may get it, may hold onto the story and act, think, feel something, as a result.
This is a new topic for me, and unchartered territory... I have faith that this will be a meaningful story to tell and path to take with the students, but we are only on day three... anyone have any suggestions? other ideas? thoughts on teaching about genocide to middle schoolers?
5 things…. I was tagged with the 5 things meme awhile ago by Christian Long… and was busy…. ok, I wasn’t that busy, but for whatever reason I did not sit down and write, right then. It’s strange because I generally don’t have trouble with words, but I have been struggling with what to write. So here goes…
So that rounds out the five things… my life has been a series of lucky, touching, inspiring, profound, hilarious and sobering experiences that leave me looking forward to what comes next. Dream big.