Thursday, July 25, 2019

Building A Cohesive Community — Where Educators Become Neighbors

Source: Michael Maslin, The New Yorker; Condi Nast; Art.com (for sale)

One of our favorite New Yorker cartoons by Michael Maslin depicts a woman at a party replying to a suited gentleman, “I’m hearing a lot of buzzwords from you, but I’m not getting any buzz.”

Educational conferences can be like that. Despite the best intentions of dedicated presenters, sometimes the reruns of familiar talks can feel like a litany of mots du jour. The session titles can feel like “Christmas Tree” bills in Congress — so nicknamed because Senators will hang endless amendments on a well-intentioned law, such that the final text is a mishmash of unrelated pet projects. Session headlines often do the same, smooshing as many buzzwords into a 64-character limit as possible.

Source: Building Learning Communities 2019

That’s why the Building Learning Communities (BLC) conference from November Learning is one of our annual favorites. Alan November, an international leader in edtech, personally invites expert educators from around the world to share on-the-ground experiences and best-in-class techniques. This recent BLC19 conference, from July 16 - 19 at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel, lived up to its pedigree.

For example, one of the new friends we met from South Africa introduced us to how diversity education is framed in his community. Personally, we have been struggling with terminology, from the outdated “tolerant community” to the slightly better “inclusive community.” Both of those, however, position one group in higher status that “tolerates” or “includes” the other group.

Source: ASIDE 2019

In his South African school district, they use the notion of a “social cohesion.” For some reason, this immediately struck a chord with us. "Cohesion" refers to unity and solidarity. It doesn’t give one group more agency than the other. It suggests effort with lasting effects. It implies disparate elements coming together to coalesce around a common core. We really liked his suggestion, and we are eager to take this framing back to our own school.

In fact, our session about reimagining a curriculum based on social justice inspired all sorts of meaningful and spontaneous exchanges. Many audience members offered valuable resources, while others raised due concerns about a wording shift from “social justice” to “social good.” This thoughtful debate played out even further over Twitter.

Source: @theASIDEblog

We want to thank the many individuals who attended our conversations and who lent global perspectives to the collective thinking:
Other highlights of BLC19 included:
  • "Healthy Grading," by Joy Kirr (@JoyKirr) - Kirr led a master class in fostering a debate about grading, with a group activity that worked so well, we are going to steal it for our own faculty meetings
  • Keynote, by Shaya Zarkesh (@ShayaZarkesh) - As the teenage founder of Polyup, Zarkesh introduced us to one of the most intriguing math apps we’ve ever seen, combining true gamification with adaptable learning
  • "Innovative Leadership," by Matthew X. Joseph (@MatthewXJoseph) - Joseph reminded us that “only tasks can be managed – not time,” and we should, therefore, prioritize efficiency and communication
  • "Beyond TED Talks: Voice, Influence and Impact," by Caitlin Krause (@MindWise_CK) - Krause emphasized how stories start with connections. They are "something I give in a box and care about" to share with others; to hear them, we need to be present.
  • "Encouraging and Supporting Leaders To Foster Social and Emotional Learning Through Technology," by Vincenza Gallissio (@vgallisso), Christine Zapata (@CGoffredoZapata), and Jackie Patanio (JPatanio) - This group from NYCDOE, District 31 implemented a district-wide SEL program that would be the envy of most schools. It exemplified a growth mindset toward professional development.
Finally, the conference’s prime location near Copley Square and Back Bay made for lush local dining choices — from our regular “welcome to town” lunch at the Parish Cafe, known for its eclectic sandwiches from star Beantown chefs; to the spicy pasta, fresh mussels, and sincere service at Lucca (despite having a full glass of Cabernet knocked onto our white pants by an embarrassed busboy); to the French Mediterranean flavors of Mistral, featuring a summer corn soup with lobster and chive leaves, a fabulous halibut over shrimp risotto, and a sumptuous Maine crab ravioli.

We have full heads and full stomachs after a conference like this.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Visualizing The Complexities Of Time and Place

Source: ASIDE 2019

Mapping challenges learners to think, develop literacy skills, and understand the complexity of global issues, design, and data. There is a direct correlation between the act of making a map and the knowledge acquired by doing it. Mapping their own visualizations increases a student’s understanding; they become more actively engaged in the learning process. This exercise in fine-tuning reinforces the notion of relational meaning and spatial adjacency. It is the fluid movement of change in time, position and detail instead of a static fixed point. It is about observing patterns or relationships alongside external connections. The chance to practice visual thinking through the mapping process builds proficiencies in reading multimodal, visual inputs.

Source: ASIDE 2019

Lessons And Resources

 

Mapping Activities For The Classroom

Current Events & Map Engagement

 Digital Tools And Hands On, Experiential Mapping
Source: Logos For Referenced Sites
Mapping As Social Narrative
  • Maptia: reimagines geography as a social narratives
  • Mapbox: choose layers and details to quickly share online
  • Mapstack: create custom maps, with easy access to social portals


Jerry's Map from Jerry Gretzinger on Vimeo.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

When Intent Meets Agency: Reimagining A Curriculum Based on Social Justice

Source: ASIDE 2019
Inventing an entire social justice curriculum from scratch can be daunting. It turns out, most well-conceived courses already touch on issues of equity and activism. One successful approach is to make social justice a more intentional, deliberate part of student practice. A humanities framework that highlights agency, empathy, and voice can elevate “social justice” from an afterthought to the forefront of a well-crafted curriculum. Signature projects include simulations, debates, public service videos, and student-led events. Reimagining — rather than redoing — a curriculum can raise the profile of social justice as an intersection of individual identity and critical thought.

Source: ASIDE 2019


We found multiple ways to empower students to explore the issues of intersectionality in race, religion, culture, and human rights. These opportunities provided students with a place to think critically about historical situations as they related to modern-day events. Based on our experiences developing projects and lessons for a range of ages, we designed a new framework for our curriculum that has proven particularly effective, based on five metrics.

Source: ASIDE 2019

An emphasis on student voice based on choice, persuasion, and personal identity enables them to: question aspects of forced assimilation and refugee status of Native Americans; raise awareness for human rights through documentaries and public service announcements; simulate juvenile justice in a mock trial; participate in We Day volunteerism; and identify problems and solutions as social entrepreneurs. These examples and more can offer valuable ideas for educators to implement in their own schools and classrooms.

Source: ASIDE 2019

How can a social justice curriculum elevate student voice and agency by emphasizing individual participation, historical empathy, and critical judgment? What are hands-on applications of projects and lessons, across a variety of subject areas, that focus on student choice and identity? Using a new theoretical framework, how can teachers highlight existing areas of social justice practice within their current curriculum?

Source: ASIDE 2019

Social Good

Human Rights

Migration, Refugees, Immigration
Reimagining Migration
Refugee Project
Book Series - Leaving My Homeland: A Refugees Journey From...

Student Videos
PSA Human Rights Defenders
Social Entrepreneur Enterprises
Human Rights Documentaries
Everyone Has Rights

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Social Justice With Young Learners: Using The Read Aloud To Promote Empathy

Source: ASIDE 2019

Tackling social justice with young learners is more important now than ever before; it is also a lot easier to bring into the classroom than educators might think. So many picture books published in the last few years addressing empathy issues make integrating social justice into the learning process less complicated. When we read books with children, it offers an opportunity to use the character as a vehicle to identify negative feelings or to wrestle with different points of view. It creates a safer space for deeper conversations, debates, and switching viewpoints after hearing the pros and cons for both sides. We also find that young minds can definitely handle more courageous conversations. In their innocence, they often raise issues or point out problems more easily than adults.

Source: ASIDE 2019
Children have a natural ability to feel empathy and compassion. For that reason, we decided to begin introducing ethics to our Kindergarten students through storytelling. We chose the book, “Hey, Little Ant” by Phillip and Hannah Hoose. It was a prefect tale to spur a dialog with small children about philosophical questions, such as “How does this story relate to respect” or “Who is worthy of that respect?” It provides opportunities to discuss giving and denying respect for others, as well as power and responsibility.

Source: ASIDE 2019
The story begins with a boy poised to squish an ant under his shoe, but the ant pleads with the boy to spare his life. The students were asked to think about others and whether everyone deserves respect no matter how different they are, as well as whether others should have rights when they are different. While this seems like a tall order for Kindergarteners, they actually had a lot to say, and they thoughtfully engaged in conversations to argue their points of view. Librarian Stephanie Temple made a chart of the reasons the boy gives for squishing the ant and the reasons the ant gives for not being squished. As young as these students were, they debated whether these reasons were valid.

Source: ASIDE 2019
The students were asked to consider, “Is the ant merely stealing food, or is it trying to feed and care for his family, just like humans?” With this in mind, they collaged self-portraits of their faces with their thought bubble opinions and tiny beaded ants. The head from the nose up was meant to emphasize the difference in size. Most were compassionate toward the ant after hearing all the reasons for survival. The point was not to convince them one way or another, but more to make them think about all sides before making a decision.

This story opened up opportunities to discuss giving and denying respect based on power and responsibility. We wanted students to stop and think before deciding. That was the most important lesson.

For an excellent resource see: Social Justice Books, a project from Teaching For Change: Building Social Justice Starting In The Classroom.
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