Friday, November 23, 2007

How do you spell MIT?

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On a quiet day here in Sparta, when everyone is geared up for the long weekend full of Thanksgiving meals and shopping, Ryan Lollgen and Steve Schels had something else in mind for their United States History Classes.

Ryan had made contact with Dr. Pauline Maier, the Dr. William R. Kenan Professor of History at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, after having read some of her work. A simple email and phone call to the contact information she supplied landed Ryan and Steve, and more importantly, their students, access to one of America's preeminent historians.

On Wednesday morning at 10am, we used Skype to phone Dr. Maier at her office and conducted an hour-long interview with her with questions generated by the students. The podcast of the event is available for your listening above, and while not the cleanest audio in the world, it is well worth a listen by anyone interested in a unique conversation about the American Revolution.

Maier was featured prominently in PBS's documentary Liberty a few years back, the ebullient style with which she exhibited in the documentary really came through in the phone interview. Her enthusiasm for the topics the students brought up was refreshing for us to hear, and her perspectives were poignant and insightful.

Perhaps the greatest part of the process was that she was genuinely interested in not only the topics, but why the students wanted to know these things. Her answers to the questions the students asked were above and beyond what we all expected, and reflected her desire to help the students view history as a dynamic and changing process. Here is a quote from an follow-up email she sent to Ryan:

Congratulations again on getting your students so involved in American
history. There's nothing like encouraging them to ask questions to avoid
the sense that history is a boring collection of dead facts arranged
chronologically rather than an exciting inquiry into human experience. My
hat is really off to you and the other teachers I have known who, like you,
are doing good work preparing students to think and, not incidentally, be
informed citizens of the American Republic. What was the line attributed
to Franklin (perhaps mythically)? I think as he left the convention,
someone asked him what kind of government the Americans would have, and he
supposedly said "a republic, if you can keep it." We need to know what a
republic is and what it demands of its people if we want to keep it.

This was a unique event for us to participate in, one that showed how we can easily bring experts into our classrooms just by reaching out to them and extending the invitation. Much like Dee Peselli did with Kyle MacDonald a few months back, all it takes is a teacher who wants to provide a memorable experience for his or her students.

Cross-posted at Tech Dossier.

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Janine's Music Presentation

Here is me email for those of you who asked:

I would be glad to chat more with anyone who wants more info - or has other ideas to share!

May you all have as much fun as I am having when you've been teaching this long!

Ustream Address for today

If you would like to follow the presentation online and participate in the chat, here is the link.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

If you are not busy today....

Today marks a big day for us in terms of our movement towards a more transparent school community: we are broadcasting a student-led conference on the environment live via Ustream and inviting you, your students, and your colleagues to watch us and interact with us through the chat.

Laura Sofen, a 7th grade Language Arts teacher and I sat down about a month ago and worked through our ideas and made this happen for our students. As Laura said, they had worked so hard, inquired so much and grown through this research process, that allowing them this outlet to show the understanding they have gained was a fitting reward.

Our goal tomorrow is to engage in dialogue, to pull you (and your students) in from wherever you are. We want our students to see "Global Warming" as truly "global," and not just something they are reading about because we are in an election cycle here in the states.

The times are 9:30am, 11:00am, and 1:30pm EST in the US (GMT-5). Please take the time to drop in and bring your students if you can. The students are in 7th Grade, so they are not quite high school age, but in listening to them practice today, they have done their homework and are ready for a global audience.

Here is the address for my Ustream channel where will be live from. Hope to see you there.

Flickr image credit: "What Global Warming?" from maistora's photostream

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Friday, November 2, 2007

Some Great Writing

I would hate for this to seem as if it were self-promoting, but since I am actually promoting the work and writing of others, hopefully you all will excuse it. We have a district technology blog in Sparta called Tech Dossier, which until recently was managed and written solely by me. Last week, I asked a quorum of teachers and administrators to begin contributing posts as co-authors. A few interesting things have happened:
  • the readership has increased by at least 50%
  • participation in the form of comments has increased, well, it actually never really existed before, but now every post has at least three comments
  • there is lively, conversation and diverse conversation going on.
These things are all things I could not accomplish on my own in over a year as the sole writer of this blog. Now, with the aid of three teachers and two administrators, this blog has vitality and life like it never had before. Please go and check it out and add your expertise to the conversation.

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