Tag Archives: incidents in the life of a slave girl

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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The True Goal of a Wired Classroom?

16 Jan

I’ve been teaching long enough to be comfortable with the fact that I’m often wrong. A lot. All the time. Daily. Yet, I’ve grown to enjoy such moments because they represent chances for me to reflect and grow. Thankfully, using technology in the classroom seems to make such teachable moments more and more frequent.Because I believe—as I’m sure you believe—that teaching effective communication in today’s classrooms means helping students navigate multiple modes of expression, I often create assignments where students must express themselves using a variety of media. The added benefit of this variety is that I gain a more authentic, developed sense of my students’ communication skills. A recent encounter in one of my American Literature 10 classes illustrates the point well.To take the course at the honors level I require students to submit an application essay where, without much guidance from me, they explicate a poem of my choosing. I use their responses to help me gauge whether or not they can handle the more complex work. After reading one boy’s response, I had real doubts. His essay demonstrated original insight but was poorly organized and riddled with language errors. While meeting with him, however, he assured me that writing has always been “tricky,” yet he was confident he could do well. He would work hard to improve his essays, and he knew he was good “with other stuff.” When I first started teaching, there wasn’t much “other stuff” in my classes. This particular student would have been in trouble. I believed writing well was the most important focus of my classes. I still do, actually. Yet, over the years, I have learned that if students are given multiple modes of expression, I gain a more accurate sense of their skills as communicators.

I began this school year with a Modern Slavery Project. I’ve written extensively about this unit at EdSocialMedia and encourage you to visit that post if you’re interested in the details: Modern Slavery Project.

Essentially, students research an aspect of modern slavery and draw connections between this research and Harriet Jacob’s INCIDENTS IN THE LIFE OF A SLAVE GIRL. The students and I develop other aspects of the project as well, and this year the students decided to create video PSAs and write a call to action letter to someone within their own circle of influence.

Here is the video that was produced by the student who—just two weeks prior—I was a bit worried about. Words fail me.

Do you see my point? By only looking at one literary analysis essay, my view was myopic. Yet, by allowing communication skills to be expressed in multiple forms—in this case a video—this student’s stage was widened. In a relatively brief time, I was able to understand, more acutely, what a deeply critical, artistic mind he has. In truth, I was able to understand that depending on the medium, this student is a more skillful communicator than me.Now, this isn’t to say a video replaces an essay. It doesn’t. (By the way, this video is accompanied with a heartfelt letter that shows a sophisticated, organized analysis of slavery and how to combat it…and we’ll spend considerable time this year in traditional essay mode.)

Check out all the Modern Slavery Projects here.

Yet, because my classroom integrates various technology tools, this student’s voice is much, much louder, and my assessment of his ability to communicate with passion and precision can be much more accurate.I’m really interested, then, in your stories. In what ways has technology “widened the stage” for your students…and you? It’s my belief that in sharing moments like these we illustrate the true power of technology in the classroom.

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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