New York Times Op Docs Incredible Teaching Tool

The New York Times website has great resources for teachers. There are gems throughout the website that can be used as teaching tools, texts, and learning opportunities all teachers need to know about. One of these gems is Op-Docs.

Op-Docs is a short documentary series begun by The New York Times Opinion section in 2011. Today it comprises more than 270 short, interactive and virtual reality documentaries. Each film is produced by both renowned and emerging independent filmmakers.

As the Times states these documentaries are, “films driven by the creative and journalistic interests of the filmmaker and that will also challenge the New York Times audience to see the world in new ways. Op-Docs spark conversations, tell memorable and astonishing stories, introduce powerful and unexpected individuals, make thought-provoking arguments and give viewers unforgettable cinematic experiences.”

Documentary film, done well, can engage and instruct through storytelling. But a film can’t stand alone as an instructional method. Watching the documentary should only be part of the process. Discussion questions and related readings need to be included in the mix to prompt reflection and to illustrate the topic more completely.

The Op Docs have so much potential in our classroom for teaching critical and close reading to writing different text types for different purposes.  So many of these short films showcase aspects of life that are hidden or unspoken.

I was moved by San Quentin’s Giants about the San Quentin prison baseball team. This Op Doc showcases how baseball is a vehicle for reform, reflection, and purpose for the incarcerated players. When the film begins the images show men playing baseball, one might think it is a local or community baseball team until the camera zooms out in the background the viewer sees the barbwires around the buildings and the people on the periphery wearing prison jumpsuits.

Again, these documentaries are used to inform viewers about the people, places, and things presented in the film. Some might describe these types of films as a “slice of life” that presents an angled representation of a subject.

If we asked students to create documentary films what might they present on film with research and narrative?   Whereas San Quentin uses storytelling and interviews, the Op Docs A Conversation with . . . about race are interviews and testimony with people about race, racism, and perspective. The testimony of the people interviewed are a catalyst for classroom  discussions. Think about what these same conversation might look like and sound like in school. From our students’ perspectives what will they say about race, class, or gender in their school and community.

 

After watching a number of these Op Docs with my students and discussing the research and filming elements involved, I asked students to research and investigate the issues that are hiding in our school. Who are people worth shining a light on their life? Wright’s Law really puts into perspective how much we might not know about someone.

When I posed this question to my students some students wanted to address bullying, a common theme in schooling today. Whereas, another group researched video game playing and addiction among young people because of the influence of Fortnite. In completing this project students had to gather relevant data from multiple sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information in documentary film writing.

First, research is conducted, then students have to decide how they wanted to string together the facts and testimony. The Op Docs blends a bit of narrative with information and argument writing.  We studied closely how to start the documentary by visually hooking the audience right from the moment the film starts. This might be a statistic about the topic presented in the film or a sound bite from an interview conducted with a member of the school community. Then, students introduced the topic and elaborated by including both visual and audio footage to offer perspective on the topic. This, in turn, is like support material in an essay or research paper. Students are still working on their projects and I should share some finished films soon. 

Any person can actually submit a op-doc to The New York Times and this can be an authentic assignment for students to create as a project based learning opportunity. The New York Times is looking for “films that are driven by the creative and journalistic interests of the filmmaker and that will also challenge the New York Times audience to see the world in new ways. Op-Docs spark conversations, tell memorable and astonishing stories, introduce powerful and unexpected individuals, make thought-provoking arguments and give viewers unforgettable cinematic experiences.”

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Haiku: Teaching Japanese Aesthetics Through Its Poetry

An old pond:

A frog jumps in —

The sound of water.

by Matsuo Basho (translated by Harold G. Henderson and Geoffrey Bownas

Many students have been introduced to the poetic form of haiku in elementary school. It is a deceptively simple form which constructs an entire poem with only 17 syllables organized in three lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables, respectively. Typically, if you ask students of any grade or ability level what they know about haiku, they will tell you about the 5-7-5 structure. Perhaps they will have some idea that many haiku are about nature. I like to start a haiku lesson or unit of study from that point from the students’ perceptions that haiku are mostly about their form, to the reality that haiku are perfectly distilled representations of several aspects of Japanese aesthetics: an appreciation of simplicity, of impermanence, of suggestion, and of nature.

Criteria for Haiku:

17 Syllables

3 Lines

5-7-5 Form (traditional Japanese haiku poets count “sounds,” not syllables. 

Doesn’t rhyme

Usually about nature (not required)

Shows change or contrast

Can go from the general to the specific or vice versa

Very Condensed form: suggests rather than tells

Seems simple, but makes you think or evoke feeling

Emphasizes impermanence, the quality of things which do not last. 

Almost all haiku contain a seasonal word or phrase which indicates the season, like “spring rain.” In Japanese, this seasonal word is called a “kigo.” Additionally, the poet usually introduces an image in the first line which he then illustrates or contrasts in lines two and three, or he develops an image in lines one and two which he then summarizes or contrasts in the final line. Haiku cluster the image at the beginning [5-7]-5 or the end 5[-7-5] of a haiku. This technique of “cutting” – the Japanese term for switching from the general to the specific, or from one image to another related one. Haiku are written in present tense. A haiku freezes one moment in time the way a snapshot does. There is no firm rule regarding capitalization and punctuation in English haiku nor as to whether haiku comprises a complete sentence. These things are decided by the poems themselves, on a poem to poem basis.

Haiku began in Japan during the 17th century. A haiku should share a moment of awareness with the reader. Peace, sadness, mystery – these are only a few of the emotions that evoke haiku and which we can feel when we read haiku. The key to our feelings about the things around us and to the feelings we have when we read a good haiku, is the things themselves. The things produce emotion. The words of the haiku should create in the reader the emotion felt by the poet, not describe the emotion.

Before trying to write haiku, it is a good idea to look over some examples. Think about each one. What makes the moment it talks about special? What word or phrase tells you the season? How does that affect the meaning of the haiku? Notice how many haiku create emotions by connecting two or more images together in a strange, new way.

Because haiku have an alive now quality, most haiku do not have any metaphors or similes. For the same reason, haiku poets do not use rhyme unless it happens accidentally and is hardly noticeable. In making haiku, try to present something in the more direct words possible. Haiku are about common, everyday experiences and avoid complicated words or grammar. As one expert on the Japanese haiku called it “a poem recording the essence of a moment keenly perceived in which nature is linked to human nature.”

between the pages

of a favorite book I find

squashed fruit crumbles

— Annie Wright

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Get Happy with Hyperdocs

Authors of The HyperDocs Handbook, Lisa Highfill, Kelly Hilton, and Sarah Landis define HyperDocs as

a transformative, interactive Google Doc replacing the worksheet method of delivering instruction, is the ultimate change agent in the blended learning classroom. With strong educational philosophies built into each one, HyperDocs have the potential to shift the way you instruct with technology. They are created by teachers and given to students to engage, educate, and inspire learning. It’s not about teaching technology, it’s about using the technology to TEACH.”

I love that with hyper docs students are able to work at their own pace to learn and showcase their understanding. I think of hyperdocs as roadmaps or game boards for learning input and output. When creating hyperdocs for literary analysis in my middle school English classroom, I consider the important elements that I want students to take away from the text and what are different or differentiated ways that students can showcase their thinking about reading.

Since my students are reading different dystopian texts, I have created different hyperdocs specific to the books they are reading to help build background information about the texts, for students to keep track of their thinking while reading, and to showcase their thinking about the reading by writing a thematic literary analysis essay.

Animal Farm HyperDoc

To check out the HyperDocs with links and activities, click here.

Hyperdocs come in different formats and layouts. This teaching tools allows students to work at their own pace and gives me more time to conference and work with students in small groups or individually. They are multimodal and offer blend learning opportunities.

For more examples of hyperdocs that I have shared on this blog click here.

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The Mindset of Grit: Learning & the Brain Conference Fall 2018

Learning and the Brain Conference in Boston this weekend examined the science of human potential, passion, talents and grit. Bringing together researchers, authors, and experts in their fields, the conference states:

By studying child prodigies, savants, and great innovators like Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein, scientists are trying to answer the complex questions of human potential: What makes a person a “creative genius”? Is “greatness” the result of innate talent or practice? 

The conference kicked off on Friday with sessions on personalized learning, problem based learning, digital learning, mindfulness, the science of innovation, and personalized learning. Keynotes included Scott Kaufman, PhD addressing Personal Greatness and Gail Saltz, MD speaking about the power of difference, Robert Sternberg, PhD spoke about teaching for wisdom, intelligence, creativity, and success and Ransom Stephens, Phd addressed Your Pursuit of Greatness. Sunday’s keynote, Sir Ken Robinson, PhD was titled,  “You, Your Child, and School: Teaching to their Talents, Passions, and Potential.”

My mind is spinning with the amount of greatness and learning buzzing at the conference. Here are a few key take aways to reflect and act on based on this experience in Boston.

“Outliers in the distribution of human achievement, they are not just a bit better than most at their chosen vocation, but dramatically so. . . We are not born knowing how to write a sonnet or flip an omelet. On the contrary, human expertise, at all points in the distribution—including the far-right tail—is acquired.” – Scott Barry Kaufman and Angela Duckworth

“Attaining a certain level of expertise in a given domain gets you in the door and starts your career. It puts you on the playing field among others who have put in the time, effort, and commitment to building up the necessary exper- tise base. Yet to rise to the very top of a creative domain — to achieve true greatness — seems to require even more (and average of 10 years more).  – Scott Barry Kaufman

The availability and use of technology has impacted student attention, working memory, and thinking.

“Personalized learning to me is student inquiry and investigation guided by teachers who carefully craft the learning process.” — Angela Townsend

“In personalized learning, a teacher defines and establishes clear learning objectives but provides students a variety of way in which to achieve these. It requires a teacher to relinquish control and expectations for linear, and uniform learning.” — David Ruiz

“The power of teachers isn’t in the information they share, but in the opportunities they create for students to learn how to learn, solve problems, and apply what they learn in meaningful ways.” – Katie Martin

The testing culture has soaked up billions of taxpayer dollars with no real
improvement in standards. Achievement levels in math, science, and languages
have hardly changed, and neither has the international ranking of the United States
in these disciplines.

By most criteria, Finland has one of the most successful education systems in the world.
Much of its success is due to the commitment and expertise of its teachers. Teaching is
a highly respected profession in Finland, and there is intense competition to join it. What
Finland shows is that rather than tempt those with the highest academic qualifications
into teaching, it’s better to design initial teacher education to attract people who have a
natural passion and aptitude to teach for life.

Sir Ken Robinson

Failure is where the new knowledge comes from, if you fail, you will keep going and ask different questions and get better. Keep pushing. Failure motivates people to be great. – Xiaodong Lin

“Our job as teachers is not to “prepare” kids for something; our job is to help kids learn to prepare themselves for anything.” – AJ Juliani

 

 

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Sentence Frames to Guide Student Writers

Helping students build their writing repertoire and vocabulary acquisition requires teachers to model what good writers do. When my students are working on a short response or extended response, I offer graphic organizers and sentence frames to help my students write and revise their writing to meet learning targets.

Particularly for my ENL students who might not have the words or academic language just yet, providing these scaffolded strategies can help to develop students’ writing muscles and vocabulary necessary for academic writing.

Depending on the writing task, the graphic organizers are adapted to help fit the prompt. For example, wrote a short response to meet CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.8.9 – 
Analyze how a modern work of fiction draws on themes, patterns of events, or character types.

The prompt stated: Choose a quote from Gandhi  that you feel best exemplifies the protagonist and his/her journey midway throughout the text.  Be sure to include two (2) or more textual details (direct quotes) to support your claim.

Students were given a bank with ten Gandhi quotes:

 “A man is but a product of his thoughts. What he thinks he becomes.”

“Be the change that you want to see in the world.”

“I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.”

“Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.”

“An ounce of patience is worth more than a ton of preaching.”

“In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”

“Without action, you aren’t going anywhere.”

“Continue to grow and evolve.”

“An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.”

“Nobody can hurt me without my permission.”  
Providing students with a graphic organizer can help students tract their thinking, make connections, and outline their understanding. This graphic organizer helps direct students what to write about.

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For my ENL and ELL students who are developing academic language and vocabulary to  articulate their thinking about the text, offering sentence frames provides the necessary format and language needed to meet the learning target.

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What looks like Mad Libs can give students the confidence to show what they know and develop their written communication skills.

For more ideas for sentence frames and scaffolding student writing from other teachers, check out this blog post from Larry Ferlazzo.

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Teaching Digital Responsibility in the Age of Online Hate

Last week the New York Times published the article, On Instagram, 11,696 Examples of How Hate Thrives on Social Media (NYT 10.29.18) three days after the mass shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA. This article highlights social media companies attention to or lack there of “treatment of toxic language and hate speech” on their platforms. Interestingly, “Social media companies have said that identifying and removing hate speech and disinformation — or even defining what constitutes such content — is difficult.”

The past three weeks I have been dealing with my own ordeal of hate speech and false representation on Twitter. After five years and 40 twitter book chats with my students, three weeks ago I moderated a Twitter book chat and an ambiguous avatar joined the chat sending funny pictures and memes. When they did not identify themselves I blocked the account. That did not stop my students participating in the chat from seeing the stream of continuous  tweets from this person. If fact, the images and tweets escalated to spread hate speech, anti Semitic photographs and sexist and anti gay memes. The person’s tweets were directed at myself and a student of mine. I reported the tweets to Twitter and within a day the racist, antisemitic, homophobic, and sexist tweets were removed and the account was suspended. But that did not stop this person.

The next day a new account was created by this same person and they used my image as their Avatar. The name of the Twitter handle referenced a Nazi program, Nacht und Nebel (German for “Night and Fog”). This directive issued by Hitler targeted political activists and resistance “helpers” in World War II to be imprisoned or killed. The person sent tweets to me telling me to die and making derogatory statements. When I reported the tweets to Twitter my reports were denied telling me that this was not a threat. The tweets escalated over ten days and the person tweeted in binary code, hex64, and other code threats to me and students of mine. All the tweets were reported to Twitter but Twitter did not consider it a threat or hate speech written in code!

I contacted the FBI, I filed police reports, the DA was involved.

It took legal action to get the IP address which was connected to a residence in the town where I teach. This residence has a young person who is a student in my school, he is not a student in my class. The family is cooperating with the police and the school;  additionally, the family has agreed to get counseling for their son. Since the police approached the family my image has been removed and all the tweets have been taken down.

My principal sent the following message out to our community:

Dear Parents,

We at XXXXX Middle School pride ourselves as educators who not only attend to the academic needs of our students but who also focus on their social and emotional needs.  We share your challenge in teaching these young adolescents how to judiciously and ethically use contemporary technology as moral citizens of the school community and ultimately the world.

Dr. Haiken, Team 8R ELA teacher, has been using Twitter for the past six years. With the consent of parents, she and her students tweet about the books they read, creating a sort of twenty-first century book club.  Unfortunately, someone has used this account to insert horrible, racist, sexist, and homophobic remarks, some directed at one of our students.  We are investigating this and are making every possible effort to discover who the troll is.  The police and Twitter administrators have been notified.  A full investigation is being conducted and appropriate consequences will be implemented.

We are having discussions with our students about the deeper issues involved, and we need your help. As we partner to help our young people grow into empathetic, responsible adults, we need you to have follow-up conversations at home not only about social media but also about how we treat those who might be a little different from the mainstream. 

Bullies hide behind the anonymity of social media.  All children regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or beliefs deserve a safe and healthy environment in which to thrive and learn. Please help us deliver this message at home.

These events impacted by teaching and the educational environment. It saddens me that this person who has digital smarts chose to use them for evil and spread hate.  In the meanwhile, I think about what are the best ways to promote positive digital citizenship and responsibility so that my students make smart choices online and not become a victim or perpetrator of hate online.

Recently, The Wall Street Journal published a video:

Two educators talk about teaching students to think critically and keeping personal politics out of the classroom.

I concur with the two teachers in the video when they talk about teaching empathy and modeling positive (digital) behavior.

Digital Citizenship is an ongoing lesson that needs to be addressed every year with every student. Social media is not going away, and blocking websites in schools or telling students they cannot use phones is not a realistic solution. These events have helped me to look more closely at the role that social media plays in our lives and how I can promote positive digital behavior in my classroom so all of my students use their digital powers for good.

Below are five resources to teach digital responsibility and citizenship:

Wicked EdTech – Here you can find a video playlist on Digital Literacy

Google Applied Digital Skills  – Ready-to-use video lessons teach digital
skills that have immediate, real-life application.

Be Internet Awesome – Google’s Digital Safety Resources for the
classroom and home.

Common Sense Media Digital Citizenship – Empower your students to
make safe, smart, and ethical decisions online.

ISTE Digital Citizenship – Here you can find articles and resources connected to digital
citizenship in schools.

 

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“Mockingbird” Should Be Part of Larger Lesson

The following essay was written for School Library Journal. To read the post on the SLJ website, click here.

When PBS announced To Kill a Mockingbird was voted America’s “Best-Loved Novel” on The Great American Read, the selection was not met with universal celebration. Many believe Harper Lee’s classic novel to be problematic, if not outright racist. When teaching Mockingbird, we cannot and should not ignore those issues. Instead, we should use those elements as part of the lesson and build on it with connected historical sources and contemporary novels that explore the same themes from different perspectives.

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I remember reading To Kill a Mockingbird in high school, and the more I read and reread it with my eighth grade students now, the closer I examine the story and craft that makes this book so memorable. In our current time, when race relations are so contentious, To Kill a Mockingbird brings to the forefront issues of race, gender, class, and speaking out when we see injustice. Throughout the novel, the perceptions of the young narrator Scout become keener as she examines these issues. Yet her observations also remain limited. She is a white, upper-middle class girl, and she can provide the audience with only that narrow insight into her small-town world.

In an article for the New York Times, author Roxane Gay recently wrote, “To Kill a Mockingbird is a book for which a great many people harbor reverence and nostalgia. I am not one of those people.…

“The black characters—Robinson and the family’s housekeeper, Calpurnia—are mostly there as figures onto which the white people around them can project various thoughts and feelings. They are narrative devices, not fully realized human beings,” she wrote.

This is true. Calpurnia and Tom are not developed characters, and we only see them from Scout’s perspective. Gay continued, “Perhaps I am ambivalent because I am black. I am not the target audience. I don’t need to read about a young white girl understanding the perniciousness of racism to actually understand the perniciousness of racism. I have ample firsthand experience.”

Gay’s essay is important. Teachers must offer multiple perspectives. Our reading and understanding of any text is shaped by our own knowledge and experiences. I teach in a school that is predominantly white and upper-middle class. Most of my students do not have experience with racism beyond what they read or see on film. Their lives are white-centric, and reading Mockingbird brings to the forefront a conversation about race, class, gender, and injustice.

Literature, as Grace Lin describes in her TED Talk Mirrors and Windows of Your Child’s Bookshelf (2016), “can show you the world and also show you a reflection of yourself.” We strive for our students to connect with books in a way they can see the potential and possibility for making the world a better place. Books not only are reflections of ourselves, as Lin points out, but they should also allow readers to see life from another perspective. Books should help readers build empathy and question injustice. They should create new opportunities that depict strength, adversity, and the responsibility to speak out against wrongdoing.

When reading Mockingbird, students can explore the issues with further reading, both historical and contemporary. From a historical point of view, supplemental readings about gender in the South during the 1930s can be paired with gender inequality today. Historians tell us that Lee based what happened to the novel’s Tom Robinson on The Scottsboro Trial and Emmett Till. To build background around Mockingbird, have students learn about Till as they study Reconstruction. The students can also read and discuss excerpts from Clarence Norris and Sybil D. Washington’s The Last of the Scottsboro Boys: An Autobiography. Susan Chenelle and Audrey Fisch’s Using Informational Text to Teach To Kill a Mockingbird offers a collection of informational texts that support the novel, along with writing prompts and discussion questions.

In addition to primary documents and historical texts, there has been an explosion of contemporary young adult novels that address police brutality and the senseless shooting of young men and women of color, all of which parallel current news events and Mockingbird.

One of the first books I used as a parallel text was All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kieley. Since then, there has been an insurmountable collection of well-written texts with diverse voices. Books such as The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes, Dear Martin by Nic Stone, Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles, Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro, and The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater are excellent contemporary books that complement Lee’s masterpiece and immerse readers into issues of race, gender, and social justice. These books can be read aloud in class, used for independent reading during reading workshop, or used for comparative reading with selected passages.

Whether teaching literature or history, we cannot be limited by a single story. In her TED Talk, The Danger of a Single Story, novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie explains that only showing one perspective impacts our understanding of others and ourselves. A single story is limiting and confining. Adichie states, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

Regardless of your personal experience with To Kill a Mockingbird, consider the novel a catalyst for conversation about the elements of a great read—books that impact our lives, change our thinking, tug at our emotions, challenge our perceptions, and shape our history and identity. Lee’s Mockingbird shouldn’t be the one and only story that defines America, but it can play a key role as part of the larger narrative and spark much-needed discussion and exploration of issues, history, and complementary fiction.

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Pathways to the Standards #CECACASL18

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On Monday, October 22nd I attended and presented the CECA/CASL 2018 Annual Conference. There were more than 50 presentation from educators, authors, and administrators addressing topics that intersect literacy and technology.

One of the key strands of the conference was differentiation and ways to differentiate in a student centered classroom. By differentiation I mean including EVERY learner in the classroom (not just the ones who are struggling). The key is that there are multiple ways for students to demonstrate understanding and instruction needs to change when evidence of learning has not occurred.

Steven W. Anderson of web20classroom.org shared 10 great tools to help differentiate content, product, process, and assessment.

  1. Poll Everywhere is an online polling platform that does more than just have students respond to a survey or multiple choice question. With Poll Everywhere students can respond to an open ended question and even formative assessments where students can pin a location on a map or diagram.
  2. Padlet – Yes, the online sticky notes where students can respond to a question or post a response. Padlet let’s users respond in text, drawing and images, and even audio. I recently had students share book reviews on Padlet of nonfiction independent reading books.
  3. Quizizz is so much better than Kahoot because it is not a competition but an assessment tool similar to Kahoot that let’s students work at their own pace to show their understanding.
  4. Nearpod is an interactive slideshow creator with a quiz feature. Nearpod does so much more and the paid version even offers AR & VR components.
  5. Edpuzzle is great for sharing videos in class and then students can answer questions before, during, and after viewing of their learning.

Teaching is an art more than a mechanical exercise. Students vary as learners and not everyone’s road map is identical for learning. When we know our students we are able to better create learning opportunities that honor their strengths, abilities, and cultures.

6. When thinking about differentiating the process and student’s understanding Anderson spoke about Gamification (Oh, Yeah!!). He shared Breakoutedu, Classcraft, Class Badge, Mincraftedu, and Duolingo – many gamification tools that I blog about regularly.

7. Flipgrid is now free since Microsoft has acquired it and it can be used in so many ways for the classroom from students reflecting on their own learning and thinking to posting a book review or explaining how they solved a math problem.

8. Book Creator is one that I am going to invest more time and attention to this year. Book Creator allows users to create their own interactive ebooks.

9. Microsoft’s Sway lets you create visually appealing and multitiered presentations. You can record audio on the slides and it will even grab resources for you when creating a presentation about specific topics. This is one to check out if you are looking for more interesting Google Slide Decks or Prezis.

10. TextHelp is the makers of Fluency Tutor and Read Write, these two Chrome extensions offers assistive technology that supports literacy in different ways. Fluency Tutor allows students to record text passages to help build their reading fluency and comprehension whereas Read Write has a dozen different tools on its toolbar to support readers and writers.

The key is choice when thinking about differentiating in your classroom. Choose technology platforms that allow students the opportunity to create new products and new knowledge. Remember, it is not technology for technology’s sake, but about creating a learning environment where there is “equity of access to excellence.”

 

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Driven to Do Something

I recently went to a special screening of National Geographic’s Science Fair. Filmmakers follow nine high school students from around the globe as they compete at an international science fair. Facing off against 1,700 of the smartest teens from 78 countries, only one will be named Best in Fair.

The film, from Fusion and Muck Media and directed by the DuPont Award-winning and Emmy-nominated documentary filmmaking team Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster, offers a front seat to the victories, defeats and motivations of an incredible group of young men and women who are on a path to change their lives, and the world, through science.

Long before the director, Christina Costantini was an investigative journalist, she describes herself as “a science fair nerd.” As a freshman in high school, she placed fourth and it changed her life forever. Her knowledge and experience participating in science fairs brings depth and an inside look at the young people who compete in science fairs. There is no one type of student who represents these passionate teens and this documentary follows nine individual students chasing a dream.

After the film there was a Q&A with high school science teacher and documentary subject Dr. Serena McCalla. Dr. McCalla, one of the student mentors featured in Science Fair, is a research teacher from Long Island. Known for her demanding, in-your-face style, she transformed her team of young students from Jericho High School—most of whom speak English as a second language—into one of the best science fair teams in the world. In an ultra-competitive setting where it is remarkable for any high school to have one or two students qualify for Intel ISEF, Dr. McCalla had nine. Dr. McCalla is capped at ten participants at ISEF and this year her goal is to bring all ten students to the competition. Her program consists of 60-120 tenth through twelfth graders. She told the audience that this international competition that has been described as “the Olympics of Science Fairs,” is 50% Science and 50% Sell. For the past ten years she has been the research director she has sent more than 70 students to Intel and has built a network and community among all her students who get back together annual to share insights, help each other with jobs, research, and make connections. She dedicates her life to the young people she works with and nurtures their interests. She notes that one day, one of her students will win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Competing in a science fair is not just a resume builder or a ticket to an Ivy League College, but a passion for the students presented in the documentary. At the beginning of filming, the directors were following 60 students and over the course of the year and in the documentary highlight nine. In order to qualify for Intel, ISEF, students need to compete and win in state and local affiliate fairs. Not only does one have to have a project that impacts the world or a global problem in some way, you also need to be able to articulate the project and your passion in a graphically pleasing way. Your display boards are an extension of yourself and must sell your research and data before the judges even interview you. Then, if you are a finalist, you spend hours being interviewed by all different scientists and researchers who are judging 1,700 projects.

What is going to make your stand out? Your presentation, your data, and how well you are able to communicate your passion to the judges. Intel ISEF finalists compete on average $4 million in awards and prizes and are judged on their creative ability and scientific thought, as well as the thoroughness, skill, and clarity shown in their projects.

The Gordon E. Moore Award is the $75,000 top award of the Intel ISEF is provided to the top Best in Category project.

Jack Andraka, American inventor, scientist, and cancer researcher won The Gordon E. Moore Award as a Freshman in High School in 2012. He is known for his award-winning work on a potential method for possibly detecting the early stages of pancreatic and other cancers, which he performed while he was a high school student.  His memoir, Breakthrough describes he curiosity as a little kid and what led him into the sciences – with few basement explosions along the way. Jack is interviewed throughout the documentary Science Fair, offering insight and reflection on the process of getting and winning at Intel ISEF.

This documentary challenges all assumptions about science nerds. Science Fair is a must see for educators whether you teach science or not. The students presented in the film are determined, intelligent, and show ingenuity. To see the passion that the teachers and students have is inspiring to all and an ode to curiosity.

 

 

 

 

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All these Wonders: Teaching Storytelling with The Moth

Today I had the privilege of attending a storytelling workshop presented by NCTE and The Moth, at Penguin Random House Books in New York City. The Moth Radio Hour, produced by Jay Allison at Atlantic Public Media and presented by PRX, highlights personal narratives and storytelling of ordinary people. In addition to listening to the Moth Radio Hour, there is a Podcast and published collections of the stories told.

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Today’s workshop, lead by The Moth Education Program, provides a framework for eliciting stories and personal narrative with students. There was a lot of talking and interacting before we even started to write. The first hour was spent meeting people and developing possible seed ideas where stories might be hiding. The first introduction required participants to complete the sentence, “I’m the kind of person who . . .”

There was lots of oral drafting before we ever put pen to paper, and this might be a great entry way for the reluctant writer/student who is more willing to try adding to or subtracting from their stories than when they physically write a draft. As teacher Tara Zinger and moth curriculum partner states, “Hearing a laugh or a gasp from a peer can be just what a student needs to know they are on the right track, and that just doesn’t happen as easily with a more traditional writing process.”

Presenter and The Moth Storyteller, Micaela Blei shares five techniques of storytelling and what makes a story compelling?

Change – Change is what separated a story from an anecdote. From the beginning to the end of the story, you’re somehow a different person, even if in a small way.

Stakes – We like to define stakes as what you have to win or lose in the story. Or, alternatively, what MATTERED to you?

Themes – Choosing a theme can help a storyteller decide how to shape this particular story. Deciding what thread or theme you want to draw out for this particular 5-minute version can help you make critical choices of details that pertain.

Show Us vs. Tell – A story is most effective when you have at least one really vivid scene: with sensory details, action, dialogue, and inter thoughts/feelings.

Be Honest/Be Real – There’s no one right way to tell a story. Be yourself.

The Moth stories online and in the published books are great for studying author’s craft and the craft of storytelling. This helps to meet the standards for Craft and Structure:

CCSS ELA Literacy. RL. 11-12.4 – Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including words with multiple meanings or language that is particularly fresh, engaging, or beautiful. (Include Shakespeare as well as other authors.)

CCSS ELA Literacy.RL.11-12.5 – Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.

After analyzing the stories, students can use these same stories as models and mentors for their own personal narrative writing and storytelling. To get started, try out one of these Moth-style story prompts:

A time you did something you never thought you would do.

A time your relationship with someone your love changed – a little or a lot.

A time that you took a risk – or decided NOT to take the risk.

A time you tried to be something your weren’t.

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