Friday, December 04, 2009

Come On In- We are Open for Learning

A year ago, I was entrenched in graduate school thinking about a message Gary Stager had delivered to our class. He indicated a profound need for our students to build relationships with other adults (not just their parents) and to help our students find meaningful connections to others in this world.

As I have contemplated his words over and over again, along with Karl Fisch’s challenge for me to bring in experts into my students’ classrooms, Maura Moritz and I have embarked upon this journey to bring the experts to our kids.

Earlier this year, as we were starting to teach Inherit the Wind, we brought in our Biology teachers (Jesse Craig, Adam Wallace, and Kathy Dinmore) to speak with our students about what it is like to be a modern day biology teacher. What changes have come about since the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925? What issues and concerns do you have as a Biology teacher? What do you teach regarding evolution versus creation? After the teachers presented their stories, the students had great conversations exploring more about what the teacher had brought up. The kids were all incredibly appreciative and felt more informed going forward to read the play. They could see the modern connection to a play written in 1955.
Currently, we are having our Western Civ teachers (Jay Lukes, Amanda Crosby, Carrie Levi, and Jeremy Hawthorne) come into our classes to help our kids understand what was going on in the world around 1930-50’s. As we are starting to read George Orwell’s 1984, our kids need to have some contextual knowledge in order to understand what were the political and economic challenges Orwell was witnessing that influenced his work. The informational sessions and connections these teachers made in our classes have been impressive. Personally, I learned so much about political and economic spectrums that our history has faced as well as the other countries. In my classes, I witnessed Amanda Crosby weave a fabulous tale regarding communism, Marx, Soviet style communism putting into context Orwell’s world for us. Then, yesterday, I was able to watch the enthusiastic Jeremy Hawthorne connect all of the Cold War to our modern day situations with Cuba and North Korea.
Bringing in experts into my classroom has brought a new insight into teaching and learning. By letting go of me being in charge of the background information, or even asking the students to pursue background information, we are changing learning. We are showcasing learning as not being just limited to one class and one classes’ curriculum but extending the learning into all areas. We are showing the students and the community that learning can be anytime and anywhere. We are also linking our classes together moving from isolated learning behind four walls to inviting in experienced voices aiding our understanding and furthering our learning. We are creating a community of learners.

Next semester, we are inviting in not just one author but two: Daniel Pink author of A Whole New Mind and Cory Doctorow author of Little Brother. We are also inviting in experts to talk with our students about post 9/11 legislation in order to understand the time period of Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother.

And so I challenge you, how are you extending your classroom? How are you finding other adults to help you students learn and understand? How are you moving beyond your four walls? I know you all have experts in your building, in your departments, and in your community. So, why not bring them in?

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