Friday, August 13, 2010

Knocking Down Walls With Van Meter

I'm not exactly sure how it started. I went to ISTE10, met some awesome people and now I'm working on a Freshmen English Curriculum with the great people of Van Meter Schools.

I connected with Shannon at ISTE and we talked about doing something together in the future. I've said that to many people whose work I admire. I say it because I really do want to work with them, but often, life gets in the way. Shannon made sure that life would not get in the way and quickly created a Google Doc so we could start sharing ideas. She quickly connected me with Sean and Jared to think about Curriculum ideas.

Why are we doing this? I think this is the question I'm going to get most from parents and other teachers. I think in today's education, a global education, we start to connect students with people outside of the small bubble of their classroom. For me, Literature is done a disservice if it is discussed from only a couple of view points. Literature has so much to offer and I think it is important to open up literature as much as possible. Connecting with different schools from all over the world will allow students to see how different cultured interpret different works of literature. As a high school teacher, one of my goals is to prepare my students for college. College is filled with many different cultures, so it's important to expose them to as many different ideas as possible.

Another reason to connect with other schools is to allow students to use different types of scale media and web tools they will need to be familiar with when they head to college and the job market. The more practice that these students have using these important 21st century tools, the better off they will be in the long run. I firmly believe that we are not just teachers of content. We owe it to our students to impart everything we can to make them successful and productive members of society. Connecting with different students from different backgrounds will only be beneficial to our students.

Here are some things we are working on:

- Shared Ning site: We want to create a space where all of our students can meet and share ideas. We will have about 90 students from GPS and 150 from VM. A centralized place to meet and discuss ideas is necessary to bring everyone together.

- Student Blogs: We want to have our own areas for students/teachers to blog that will be accessible to the other schools. This will allow the teachers to have a space they can modify/moderate for their specific school. The teachers can set this system up in a way that is best for their students. It's a nice way to differentiate for each class.

Joint Units: We have looked at our schedules and curriculum and decided on a unit on/unit off schedule. This will allow the teachers time to collaborate after units and work our the bugs after each unit. Also, it will allow teachers to still tackle important district curriculum during the off time. For students, we hope to see them sharing connections during the off time and during their personal time. Connecting through Facebook, Twitter and other social media outside of the school day would be a great success for this idea.

VM and GPS will work together on short stories, To Kill a Mockingbird, Black Boy, Research Papers and Shakespeare. We have some ideas that involve discussion questions and smaller joint projects for Mockingbird, Black Boy and the short stories in the first semester. We want to move slowly and get the students comfortable with working online with students they will never meet face to face. Second semester is where we are going to go all out.

Research Paper: In Freshmen English, students are taught proper research techniques and how to write a formal research paper. They usually pick topics on Gun Control or the Death Penalty. They research one side and write the essay. Working with another school, we thought it would be great to pair students up with opposing viewpoints to research together. Give the students an opponent to their essay. Set them up with a shared space where they could exchange ideas and sources as they work to create a solid argument. One part of the essay is always on refuting the other side. Students will now be able to actually here and see the other side of the argument which will strengthen theirs in the long run.

Time permitting; it would be great to see a Skype debate on their subjects where classmates can ask questions of the two that wrote the essays. The emphasis will be on collaboration to see the other side of the argument. Too often, students write their point of view and never truly consider the other side. This project could have students see the entire argument for the first time.

The Epic Romeo and Juliet Project:

This started off as a project for my classes at GPS, but has grown into something so much more now that VM and GPS are working together. Using all forms of social media available, the students of VM and GPS are going to put on a Skyped joint production of Romeo and Juliet. The two schools will divide the play's 5 Acts and produce them at their school. Each act will be broadcast to the audience using Skype. Students will be in charge of every aspect of the production. They will be directing, producing, writing, building props, advertising, making costumes, etc.

This is meant to be a culminating project for both schools. As far as we know, no school has ever done a joint production of a play through Skype. This idea requires massive amounts of detail and work from our students. They will need to work together as they dive deep into the world of Shakespeare and the meaning of his poetry. Key decisions on the different parts of the production will need to be made by the assigned groups using different forms of technology to connect. They will use their newly acquired research skills to create. One of a kind interpretation of Romeo and Juliet.

As teachers, we will be blogging and tweeting about the work Van Meter and Grosse Pointe South are doing from an educational standpoint. Our hope is to grow this idea to a point where we have four schools rotating during the school year to allow for a different perspective for the students.You can always follow the hash tag #VMGPS to see what we are thinking over the course of the school year.

Knocking down walls is something that teachers should strive to do every day. We need to open up the world to our students so they can see the role their are going to play in the world. Students can no longer live inside the nice bubble they have created for themselves. As educators, we need to pop that bubble and show them the beauty of the world around them. Sometimes it starts with one conversation with someone from Iowa. 

If you are interested in joining us on this crazy adventure, feel free to leave a comment here or send myself or Shannon a Tweet and we will get back to you as soon as we can.

- @TheNerdyTeacher


  1. That's great that you are exposing your students to different cultures. That is something that I really want to do this year. Our middle school students are from a very poor urban neighborhood and would benefit from making connections with people of different backgrounds. Good luck with your endeavor with Van Meter!

  2. Here's a good answer for parents and other teachers about why you are doing this:

    @teachertube TeacherTube Videos - Shake it Up

    Sounds exciting! Kudos to Shannon the great, too, for follow-through! School library media specialists rule!

  3. Hey there! I love everything about this and look forward to seeing how it works out throughout the school year.

    I have a fun "hot seat" type project that I do with TKM that might work really well with this shared world. Basically, each student is assigned a character to become an expert on, and we end up with about 4-5 Scouts, Atticuses, Jems, etc. per class. When we finish the novel, students sit in front of the class in groups by character, and the rest of the class determines which of them is the "real" Scout Finch (or Jem, etc.). It's like a version of the old tv game show "To Tell the Truth."

    Obviously, this can work for a lot of different literature, but I thought of it when you mentioned using it for this adventure. You could take it in a lot of different directions, but my mind went right to having kids post video blog entries as the characters. There's a lot of different ways to do it, and your post inspired me again to think about using tech in a new way!

  4. I just want to be a student in one of your classrooms. It almost feels serendipitous the way it all has come together. I am excited to see what you all are going to do with this and hear the student reactions. I hope you will record and share as much as possible!


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