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Philanthropy in the Classroom: Tech Tools for Empathy and Service

17 Jan

heartOf course, love belongs in our classrooms. Students learn best from teachers whom they know truly care for them. Teachers gladly go the extra mile for students who demonstrate a passion for a subject. Without working from a place of love, we cannot hope to develop empathetic, global citizens who care for one another. I strive to bring love into my classroom through daily actions, a patient heart, and a clear culture of respect, but I also infuse our curriculum with themes of social justice. The following sites and tools have proven helpful in this pursuit. No tech tool can be a panacea, but these are good places to start. They can help us infuse love for humankind into our daily work with students.

Kiva.org is a microlending site that allows everyday people to loan to other everyday people. Kiva works with microfinance institutions around the globe to ensure that those requesting loans actually receive the funds, and when the loan is repaid, users can either donate the money to another user or take it back.

In my classes, I tell students about the site, ask them to explore the stories, and select people to whom we should donate. I then collect a dollar (now a Euro) donation on a voluntary basis. Some give nothing. Many give more. The money is then “kept in rotation” as it is repaid, and new donations are added to the communal pot.

Kiva is a very concrete way for students to practice empathy and gain experience in directing where their donations go. I look forward to seeing how we can grow our donation pool, and it will be a nice legacy for each group of students to leave for the next year’s students.

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Visualizing One Million

10 May

one million bonesTo help my students care about one, I try to get them to picture one million. Big numbers are really big…too vast to properly understand without help. This activity can be used in any situation where students would benefit from grasping big numbers, but I use it as an opening exercise in our study of The Diary of Anne Frank.

In this situation, understanding the expanse of one million helps students begin to comprehend the vastness of six to 12 million, the estimated number of people killed during the Holocaust. When students have a nascent, sobering understanding of the horrific scale of this genocide, they approach our study of Anne’s diary with more care, solemnity, and empathy. I emphasize the privilege and duty we have to explore one small part of one life. In doing so we begin to understand the immeasurable loss and, hopefully, do what we can to ensure something like this never happens again.

 

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T.V. as Text: Secret Millionaire Essay

8 Dec

Livro ou TV?I will not shock fellow English teachers when I write that most of my students watch television more often than they read. I’m not complaining. I actually think the current generation of teenagers reads more often than the previous one…thank you, Ms. Rowling.

I have, however, been thinking about how I can use my students’ love of T.V. to make them more critical, artistic writers. If I can help them become more empathetic human beings in the process, then maybe I will finally get into Gryffindor.

In recent years I have asked my students to write about ABC’s show Secret Millionaire. For those of you unfamiliar with the show, a millionaire goes undercover for the week, posing as a regular person who happens to be making a documentary about volunteerism. The millionaire visits an impoverished neighborhood and volunteers at charitable organizations within the community. At the end of the week, the millionaire returns to the organizations, reveals his or her identity, and leaves a fat check.

As a way to help students develop skills of persuasion, organization, and communication, I assign this essay. They write to their fellow students, and I ask the most successful writers to submit their pieces to our school newspaper and other online sources like teenink.com.

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My Mustache Was Made in China

28 Nov

This most excellent fake mustache was made were most everything seems to be made…China. I, like you, buy things without ever really thinking about their origins. In this case, I just thought it might be useful to have a stash of fake ‘staches in the classroom. Of course, they’ve proven to be invaluable in so many ways.

In this case, the mustache was just another item I used to illustrate our global supply chain. Allow me to explain.

A “Made in China” Scavenger Hunt has been one of the most successful “go to” lessons I’ve created in recent years. The idea is fairly simple:

  1. Divide the class into teams of 2-4.
  2. Give the teams five minutes to search anywhere in the room for a “Made in China” label.
  3. Bribe them with a wonderful and mysterious prize for the team who finds the most items. (I keep a “Bag ‘O Mystery” on hand filled with odd flea market and garage sale finds. I gave away a Chewbacca bobble-head the other day that was particularly coveted.)
  4. Step back and watch them go.

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Paper Airplanes for Freedom: Who Cares?

3 Nov

Most teachers would probably naturally intuit this, but carting 20 students to downtown Boston so they may throw paper airplanes at strangers is probably not a good idea. Too many things could go wrong, and why, exactly, would they want to do this in the first place?

I was cautious, but I really care about putting students’ ideas at the forefront of learning, so we executed this harebrain idea anyway. It did not go so well. And, it was a huge success.

How can it be both? First some background….We used CNN’s Freedom Project throughout the term as one source for our research on modern slavery. One posted assignment, Paper Airplanes for Freedom, intrigued us. It is pretty simple: make a paper plane, write messages of solidarity on it, launch it, and encourage those that pick it up to do the same. It’s a novel way of spreading awareness. More slaves exist in the world today than at any point in human history….27 million by some counts. 

As we brainstormed our own ideas for raising awareness, the students had an overwhelming urge to create a public action. During the idea generating and iteration phases, “Paper Airplane Flash Mob” rose to the top. The students and I thought it represented a chance to grab people’s attention and make a lasting impression.  We also thought we could execute it relatively easily.

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27 Million Dots (or Why Design Thinking Is Worth the Extra Effort)

27 Oct

As I sat in line waiting to buy some blue paint and Goo-b-gone, the time creeping past 8:00 p.m., I thought, “Does any of this really have anything to do with English class?” This year I began my sophomore English classes with a project on modern slavery, and even though we moved on to topics like Gatsby’s impossible dream and the nuances of parallel structure, the Modern Slavery Project is still going, taking more and more of my time.

This re-occurring unit is one of which I am very proud. I have written about our work in the past, and every year I attempt to reboot this project, I start by showing past work and asking, “Now…what do YOU want to do?”

For the past two years this has meant tweaking the basic pattern from previous years: students research an aspect of modern slavery, create a video PSA, and write letters to various organizations and individuals, all the while making connections to Harriet Jacob’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. This work is always engaging, interesting, and original, but this year I pushed my students to think about ways to amplify their voices and increase their impact.

I utilized some design thinking training that is part of Beaver’s in-house professional development. I built in more time to INSPIRE (a research stage of the design process), and we took our ideas through a longer process of iteration. My students were particularly keen to take our work beyond the classroom walls, and they devised some novel ideas to do so:

27 Million Dots: Make Your Mark

One section transformed a three story hallway in the building by painting 27 million dots to represent the total number of slaves in the world today. This idea is inspired by Paper Clips, the documentary about children at a Whitwell, TN middle school collecting six million paper clips to represent the six million lives lost in the Holocaust.  The students generated many ideas about how to best create a physical representation of such a large number, but the plan that emerged as most “doable” and having the most impact was the dots.

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Defending Kony 2012

10 Mar

Chances are you have already seen this month’s most viral video, Kony 2012, a polished and provocative thirty-minute film produced by Invisible Children that seeks “not to celebrate him, but to raise support for his arrest and set a precedent for international justice.” As I write these words it has already received 63 million views, and I’m sure that number will be much higher by the time you read this. If you have not yet seen the film, take the time to watch it before you read on.

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Classroom Example: Students Fighting Slavery With Technology

10 Jan

post originally published at EdSocialMedia.com

I don’t own a cell phone, a microwave, or a TV. By opening my very first professional blog with this horrifying confession, I’ve probably caused you to think two things about me. This guy is a technophobe and a cheapskate. One of these assumptions is correct. Let’s call me frugal. I teach English at a school with a one-to-one laptop program, and in this post, I want to show you why a teacher who still boils water on the stove gets giddy over Wikis, Animoto, Jing, and pretty much all things web 2.0.

One student asked Google to change their logo for a day as a way to raise awareness of modern slavery.

Last spring, I taught Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl for the first time. I developed a fairly traditional unit. Nothing imaginative. Nothing new. Then one student’s question changed everything.

I had compiled a few sites about modern slavery and dedicated one class period to researching these. I hoped the exercise would help students connect their modern lives to the lives of those living during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. After looking at a few sites, one student asked, “Instead of just learning about slavery, can’t we do something about it?” It was a magical, teachable moment. After a quick poll, I realized all my students were eager to do something. I threw out my plans.

Instead, we made public service announcement videos and wrote letters to various governments, businesses, and individuals, all the while making connections to Jacobs’ slave narrative. These three weeks were filled with some of the most authentic, inspired learning I have ever witnessed, learning that could not have occurred without the systematic use of technology.

You can view all of the work at our class Wiki, and below I’ll explain how and why we used various technology:

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