Use Movies as a Learning Tool

|Corinne Jacob|

The impulse of youth and the unquenchable desire to make a difference led me to travel the world and volunteer when I could. If there was one thing to connect all the varied places I visited, it was the homogeneity of the education system. It focuses more on drilling in cold, hard theory, rather than inculcating a healthy sense of curiosity and self-discovery. I remember the deep sense of shock I felt the first time I encountered this situation. Having grown up in a family where my “experiments” were encouraged (even if it meant the inevitable destruction of something or the other at home), I realized the value of facilitating the learning of critical thinking skills.
I also realized that the idea of using out-of-the-box learning techniques is somewhat taboo. I can still picture the way the teachers and students looked at me – one like I was completely insane and one like I was the coolest person on the planet. I didn’t think that a simple screening of ‘The Lion King’ one clear night on the foot of Mt Kilimanjaro could cause such differing reactions. To use teaching mediums such as movies, music and play time is considered too radical and yet their benefits outweigh their cons.
While there are copyright issues when it comes to what movies you can and can’t show in a classroom setting, I have used movies as a teaching tool as a homeschooler to varying degrees of success. Learning techniques are different in different children and making sure your children have the visual stimuli they need along with other learning methods is a great way of ensuring holistic education.
How Movies Help Kids
It teaches kids about cultures that are different from yours, making it easy for you to appreciate unique differences rather than being closed off and fearful of them.
It gives space for children to think about and discuss the important concepts of the movie – this develops the kid’s critical thinking skills and encourages free vocal expressions of their ideas and thoughts.
It becomes a supplementary resource for teachers who can supplement their teaching curriculum with movies that address their class’s learning objectives.
It creates stronger bonds with the people you watch it with, be it family, classmates or friends. A movie is an experience and sharing an experience builds a child’s sense of community.
Not only are the movies great story-tellers, they teach technical skills and improve your language and vocabulary skills.
Movies to watch out for in 2014
Being as media-saturated a society as we are, it’s hard for a homeschooler like me to pick out movies that I know will be an enjoyable experience for my kids without being fully loaded with age-inappropriate themes of sex and violence. However, 2014 looks like a good year for kids movies. Make sure you take your kids to see these.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 – Releasing on June 13th
The first movie navigates themes of self-esteem and self-discovery. Through the eyes of a little Viking boy, Hiccup, the movie speaks of what courage is, how to deal with adversity and negativity and also about encouraging scientific discovery. How to Train your Dragon 2 explores the story of Hiccup as an older boy who is keen on learning even more by exploring uncharted territory.

Planes: Fire and Rescue – Releasing on July 18th
2014 seems like the year of sequels. Planes 2 follows the story of Dusty, a crop duster plane, who, despite all the odds, wins an around-the-world race. On learning that he can never race again, Dusty joins a firefighting team and learns what it is to be a real hero. The movie will continue to explore similar themes of never giving up on your dreams and the value of friendship.

The Box Trolls – Releasing on September 26th
I am personally most excited about this movie – the idea seems unique and it is bound to thrill audiences of all age groups. The story is about a bunch of Box Trolls who have a fearsome reputation of being vicious. A closer look shows how they are eccentric and endearing creatures who love cheese. Along with their adopted human, Eggs, The Box Trolls seems like a movie that will explore themes of team work and family.
I can hardly wait to have movie marathons with my children and engage in discussions with them about what they thought and what they have learnt. They always seem to bring up things that have never crossed my mind. I am, however, curious to know if any of you have had similar experiences with using movies as a teaching tool. Has it worked? If it has, what are your favorites?

About the author: Corinne Jacob is a wannabe writer who is convinced that kids learn best when they’re having fun. She is constantly on the lookout for new and exciting ways to make learning an enjoyable experience. Corinne loves all things that scream out un-schooling, alternative education and holistic learning.

Coping with Computer Illiteracy

|Lindsey Wright|

There can be little doubt that the advent of the computer is the most significant and influential technological development since the printing press and movable type. At least so far as education goes, this seems undeniable. With the emergence of printing, not only were books more broadly available than ever before, but for the first time different copies of the same text were consistently identical in pagination and content. This consistency enabled scholars studying the same texts to do so with much greater ease than their predecessors, who were obliged to work with often varying manuscript editions. In a word, printing enabled better shared access to information, and more reliable transmission of that information between its users.

The same situation has occurred in the Internet age. Computers, the Internet and the immediate access they enable, not only to vast amounts of information but also to direct informational and interpersonal connections, have in the same way proved a boon unimaginable to education. However, just as the appearance of the printed book highlighted the extent of illiteracy, so too has the computer brought about its own issues in education.

Computer illiteracy has been an educational concern for a long time, since the early days of computer use in baccalaureate and graduate programs. While today it may seem more or less safe to say most students are familiar and comfortable with using computers, the discussion nevertheless goes on as educators try to set standards for computer literacy. The concern to establish such standards evinces that not every member of Generation Y is naturally computer competent. Moreover, such discussion also reveals that computer literacy is not a single, simple measure, but a complex, multivalent and contextual set of skills not teachable in a single course of lessons.

Thinking back on my own experience learning how to use computers, I recall one breakthrough, critical to my subsequent education, that did happen to occur at school, but not in the classroom. I had grown up playing on hand-me-down computers from my father’s work since age four or five, but by middle school (in the late 90s) I still couldn’t type. I had no trouble at all reading and writing, yet dreaded the occasional writing assignments my teachers required to be typed. I would complete them in handwriting, passing leaves to my mother to type rather than agonize through hours of labored hunting and pecking.

Knowing I would need to overcome my fear of the keyboard, my parents took me to summer typing classes, but to no avail. The rigid discipline of touch typing drills was both unpleasant and ineffective. As soon as the classes ended, I was back to hunt-and-peck, and I began the eighth grade still unable to competently type.

However, that year the school library had installed new computers with Internet access, available for students’ free use. I didn’t even have an e-mail account yet, but a couple friends introduced me to their MUD (multi-user domain), an online, text-based interactive space they used to host a role-playing game. There, learning the commands to navigate and build this textual virtual world, my fingers struggled to keep up with my mind. Willing myself to muck through it, gradually I thought less about the keys and less about which finger to move. There, during recess and lunchtime, I learned to type.

What directed lessons couldn’t accomplish, I did in my own free time, while playing. What I couldn’t learn as a subject unto itself, I mastered without particular effort in the course of doing something else. In the same way children develop superior reading ability by reading for fun on their own time, they can also acquire broader computer literacy. While the questions of defining standards remain, the fundamental competency at issue is that which enables a user to be learning user, able to acquire additional skills in the course of doing what they want to do. Perhaps this user-learning ability is better developed indirectly by play and in using computers for other tasks than by specific computer literacy curriculum.

Lindsey Wright is a former music tutor and computer repair consultant. She is currently a content creator for OnlineSchools.org

Christopher Columbus Creates 21st Century Explorers

Yesterday, Silvia Tolisano of Langwitches Blog (The Magic of Learning) shared an incredible story of learning.  After reading through her post I asked if I could share the story here and she graciously agreed.  Siliva and the fifth grade teacher she worked with did an incredible job of letting her students take charge of their learning.  It has been so successful that her students want to continue learning and connecting their knowledge about Christopher Columbus.  I love that Silvia’s story of learning begins with a glimpse of what the planning for the learning looked like.  Silvia lets us peek inside the intentional planning and organizing of the learning.  Using an iPad and the iThoughtsHD app, Silvia and the fifth grade teacher planned a unit on Christopher Columbus that went beyond the textbook and exposed them to authentic research,  multiple perspectives, and the opportunity to come up with their own conclusions about the “hero” status of Christopher Columbus in the United States.  The results are truly incredible.  Follow this story of learning from the planning stages to the “end” where students find themselves eager to continue their learning.

Christopher Columbus Creates 21st Century Explorers

By Silvia Tolisano Langwitches Blog

(Reposted with permission)

Take a listen to the students’  “CC Newscast” video and then read on about the “upgrade” process from textbook to globally connected learning!

http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=16175433&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=1&color=00ADEF&fullscreen=1&autoplay=0&loop=0

Columbus Creates 21st Century Explorers from langwitches on Vimeo.

Christopher Columbus Creates 21st Century Explorers

It all started out with a planning meeting with the 5th grade teacher. We used iThoughtsHD on the iPad to brainstorm and sketch out some of our ideas for the unit. The visual helped us see the big picture and made it easy to add components in areas that we felt needed upgrades in terms of 21st century skills and literacy. We wanted to give students research opportunities that went beyond their textbook and library. We wanted them to be exposed to multiple perspectives and come up with their own conclusion about the historical figure “celebrated” here in the USA on October 12th of every year.

Christopher Columbus Unit Plan 

We had a meeting with students to talk about the Christopher Columbus unit. Collaboratively we created a KWL (Know, Want to Know, Learned) chart on the iPad and got them thinking about THEIR contribution to the research about the historic figure. We decided that the culminating project and assessment would be a class movie. Each student would contribute a segment with their research findings. The segment could be a presentation, dance, song, etc. Mrs. Z, their teacher created a Google Doc, which she shared with all her students. After thinking and negotiating project partners, they added their contribution ideas to the document. Some students needed more help than others form their teacher. Using Google Docs as a class community greatly contributed to the collaborative nature of the learning taking place.

  • Jilliyn-  Skype with people Mrs. Tolisano has made contact with in other countries.
  • Shira-”Skype Team”-when we interview students from other countries about what they learn about Columbus.  You must research first about the other country and then formulate your questions for the interview.
  • Josh-research statistics about Columbus’s voyages-how many sailors were on board, etc. and formulate questions to ask when we interview people about Columbus and interview Ms.Stein.
  • Edyn-perform a play about Columbus.  Either write your own play based on research you do on Columbus or check with Mrs. Tolisano -she has a play you can use.
  • I think it would be good if you had commentators to speak after you do your play.  They would decide whether your performance was mostly fact or fiction based on research yes
  • Hannah-Dance-BUT-you must also create a song about Columbus based on research about his life. Interview Mrs. Tolisano.
  • Ryan-research and see if any movies and/or video games have been made about Columbus–Maybe check educational channels too such as Discovery and PBS and try to view the programs (with your parents or  my approval first)
  • Allie- I will interview Mrs. Rogo. about Christopher Columbus, be in a play and make a Power Point about important dates in Christopher Columbus’ life.
  • Sabrina- Find books about Christopher C. and see how the authors portray him and interview Mrs. Rogo–must submit interview questions to me for approval first and you will need someone to film the interview with the flip camera. Also-did you want to perform in the play?
  • Max-videographer…commentator/fact checker
  • Daniel-I know you are interested in dates…so you will research and make a timeline of Columbus’s life. Include at least ten important dates.
  • Rachel-Why did Christopher Columbus take his journey? What happened to the prisoners after the journey? How hard did he work during his journey?  You must research several sources to find you answers and TELL me what sources you used.
  • Montgomery-research why Columbus decided it would be a good idea to sail West and not East.
  • Lance-I would like for you to interview Mrs. Reppert and ask her questions about Columbus.  You will need to do some research so you will know what you want to ask before your interview.  I will need to approve your questions first. You will also need someone to film with the flip camera.
  • Samuel-I would like for you to meet with Mrs. Leonard and email the contact she found.  (I will give you her name)  I want you to tell her what our class is doing (our Christopher Columbus project) and ask her at least five questions.  You will discuss this on the video.  Sam and Josh z will do special effects on video.
  • Claire–skype interviewer and help Rachel
  • Shelby-see Edyn’s name
  • Reesa- I will make a song and dance with hannah
  • Josh-you will do research about Columbus’ s voyages. You will tell us where he went on each of his four voyages.
Class Meeting 

KWL Chart created with and by the students. Again, using iThoughts we passed the iPad around the table and asked students to add a bubble to the chart. We will later re-visited the chart to add WHAT they have learned about Christopher Columbus.

KWL- Student Chart 

I blogged and tweeted a call for “experts” who would be willing to be contacted by our students and interviewed about their knowledge and perspectives of Christopher Columbus.

Our school’s librarian was also able to pass on an e-mail contact of a Native American from her network.

Call for “Experts” willing to share knowledge and perspective 

Greta Sandler from Argentina and Melissa Techman from Virginia responded via Twitter, Maryna Tsehelska from the Ukraine and Steve Wilmarth from China answered our calls through the Around the World with 80 Schools site.

In an effort to support our students as collaboration and communication coordinators, we passed the task to e-mail and communicate with the “Experts” on to them. I met with the students to create a draft for their initial contact e-mail. They took it from there to coordinate Skype calls.

Student e-mail to Skype Contact 

Skype with Argentina 

Mrs. Techman read a book via Skype to the class 

Skype Call with the Ukraine 

Other students eagerly got started in preparing their contribution to our collaborative project.

Enthusiastic E-mail from Students 

Then came the moment when the class formulated questions to be used in a survey asking others to share their thoughts, ideas and knowledge about Christopher Columbus. The survey was then embedded on the classroom blog. I tweeted and blogged about their survey and asked my network to please take the time to answer their questions.

These were the questions:

  • Where do you live?
  • How old are you?
  • Do you think Christopher Columbus was a Hero, Victim or Villain?
  • Explain your answer
  • Do you think Christopher Columbus discovered America?
Survey embedded on Classroom Blog 

The survey generated just short of 400 entries from over 12 countries! Students were enthralled when we projected the survey spreadsheet and the entries were “falling” in as they were watching! We shared the Google Document with all the students, so they would have access to it anytime.

How exciting as the survey responses were being updated live on the spreadsheet 

As a class we analyzed the responses of the survey in the spreadsheet, although I received nightly updates via email from excited students as the numbers of participants climbed steadily.

Analyzing the Survey 

The following Wordles were created with the answers for some of the questions.

Location of Survey Contributors 

Survey: Do you believe Columbus discovered America? 

Survey: Do you believe Columbus was a Hero, Villain or a Victim? 

You can download the survey entries as a pdf file here.

Once students completed their research, we started working on the Newscast video, which would be the collaborative product of our learning.

Newscast Brainstorming Session 

How will each section be recorded? 

We were also contacted by Steve Wilmarth, who is currently teaching in Wuhan, China at a Middle School Attached to HuaZhong Normal University.
He writes:

I would love to have my students in China join in the discussion about Christopher Columbus.  They would like to share with your students the story of the great Chinese admiral, Zheng He (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zheng_He), and his exploration of the world 50 years before Columbus set sail.

My students are studying US history this semester, and we are exploring the topic of the “Columbian exchange;” how the the early explorations brought plants, animals, and diseases around the world for the first time.

What an incredible opportunity to connect with these Chinese High School students with our 5th graders. Learn about the exploration in Asia. Although Christopher Columbus day as come and gone and the 5th graders unit on the historical figure has (officially) ended, we will continue to make connections to expand our horizons and learn from different perspectives.

Learning can be sooo exciting!!! What kind of tried and tested project, unit or lesson plan have you upgraded recently? Please share your documentation or reflection of the upgrade to help build examples from the classroom HOW teaching and learning are taking on new forms.

Thank you Silvia for sharing this story of learning.  It is refreshing to see the ways that technology can be used to connect and empower students in their learning!  If you have a story of learning you would like to share, let me know about it via my contact page.

Embrace the Mess

Today I asked the following question on Twitter: “Anyone out there have learning that is truly student driven? Flesh out what it looks like for us.”  I got a great response from Jon Orech including the following awesome story of learning.  Jon was generous enough to let me cross-post the story here.  You can read the original on Jon’s blog Snapshots of Learning.

Embrace the Mess

We like to use catch phrases in education. How far can you read without coming across these: collaboration, project-based learning, formative assessment, authentic audience, or student-centered classroom. It seems that for many, these phrases become empty vessels–elaborate and  impressive, but containing little depth. Too often we talk in theory and assume that educators can fill in the details. I would like to share how I added flesh to these phrases in my sophomore English classroom (These methods can be applied to any discipline).

First, let me say that I am not a big fan of final exams in high school. Instead, I would prefer to see a Final Project. Assessing growth and learning is much more valid when measuring the development of a project over several weeks than on a ninety-minute test. Here’s what I did:

There were six weeks left of school, and one novel left to read: Lord of the Flies. Now, as much as I love teaching literature, Lord of the Flies is not on my top ten list to teach. Yes, I do realize the literary merit, but always struggled teaching the book. I decided to take this opportunity to try something different. Instead of a final exam, the students would complete a final project, where I would assess their skills on what I felt was important. I wanted them to do a project that would measure their success in:

· Cooperative learning
· Literary Analysis
· Inquiry Research
· Text marking
· Reading for purpose
· Peer teaching
· Literature circles
· Collaborative writing
· Creating a multi-media research project
· Proper documentation and citation

I began by placing students in heterogeneous groups of three, and passed out copies of Lord of the Flies. To each group, I gave a slip of paper with one of the following phrases:

· Freudian Psychology
· Biblical Allusions
· Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs
· Biography of Golding
· Allegory
These represented the five themes I would have “covered” in a more traditional teaching of the novel. I then told them that they were going to read the book on their own, with support from their group, through the lens of the particular theme or motif on the slip of paper. When they text marked (which they had done all year) it was to be from the perspective of that particular lens. Whenever they chose, they could meet to discuss issues in the book and help make meaning. There would be no study guide, no quizzes, and no vocabulary lists. The final product was to create a scholarly article online analyzing the particular theme and how it was illustrated in the text. We used a wiki as a vehicle to create these articles. Students were permitted to use whatever resources they could find, add appropriate, helpful images, and provide links to other related articles. In addition, groups were to supply two foundation questions relating to specific issues raised in the article. They were not to supply answers.
At first, the kids were a bit shocked. I had always tried to promote independence and developed activities that afforded them some autonomy…but not THIS much. As the weeks progressed, students read, discussed, researched, discussed some more and even consulted groups with the same theme in other classes via an online discussion board. They learned, struggled, disagreed, negotiated, and learned more; it was a messy six weeks. At certain times I gave them feedback directly on their wiki, suggesting ideas, praising good work, and posing questions, always posing questions.

The time came when the books were read, articles were written and foundation questions were asked. But what about a final assessment? Students needed to be well versed in all the themes. Students were to read the articles of the other groups and answer their foundation questions. What was created was a network of “experts” in one area who shared their expertise with the rest of a class; it resembled a “jigsaw on steroids.” The students were given three days to read, review, ask questions of each other via discussion boards or directly on the wiki. What I found was that during this phase, students had to defend their positions on the articles they wrote, which were often called into question by the other students. Of course I encouraged them to revise based on any new ideas they had. Yes, this was a messy three days as well. What a wonderful mess.

What I found is that through this process, students gained a much deeper understanding, asked more important questions, and spent more time researching than I had ever experienced before. Even after the assessments were collected, students still questioned, discussed, and defended views about the book, and human nature. When I surveyed the students afterwards, phrases like “hard work,” “on my own,” “worked to make,” and “I really understood,” kept popping up.
As I look back, I have never gotten such a response with using study guides, quizzes, and vocabulary lists. I will admit it was the hardest I had ever worked on an “independent” study project. What I found was that I was able to assess far more learning targets than I could with a timed test. Messy? Yes. Was it worth the mess? What do you think?

Thank you Jon for this inspiring Story of Learning!

The Power of Twitter

Classroom Chronicles is one of the blogs featured in the iLearn Technology Edublogger Alliance.  Recently, Henrietta Miller shared the following story of learning and with her permission, I am re-posting it here.  The Power of Twitter is an incredible story of learning, discovery, and collaboration.

I am a primary teacher and every year for the past five years I have taught my class a unit of work on Antarctica. In the NSW syllabus the study of Antarctica is part of the Human Society and Its Environment syllabus for Stage 3. The NSW Syllabus documents provide guidelines and expectations on what the students will learn, starting with this:

Current Issues: Antarctica
This unit provides opportunities for students to explore issues and decision-making involved in human interaction with a significant world environment, the Antarctic. The unit focuses on how beliefs about human interaction have changed over time and differ from person to person, depending on their perspective and interest in the area.

Not surprisingly there are many excellent websites, lots of fabulous books, hundreds of worksheets and many units of work to guide one when teaching the topic of Antarctica. Over the past five years I have developed my own inquiry based program, using a matrix of activities created using Bloom’s taxonomy and Gardener’s theories of multiple intelligence. I am the kind of teacher who is never satisfied that a unit is perfect and so every year I have made modifications and adjustments to my Antarctic unit, tweaking and improving it, mostly to increase the students use of technology within it but also to add IWB activities or lessons.

The story I want to share with you today is how this year not surprisingly, I used Twitter to assist me in this. Earlier this term I sent out a tweet that went something like this “I want my Antarctic unit to include more inquiry questions, can anyone help?” Almost immediately @audreynay sent me link to a complete inquiry based unit. If I had been a new teacher or someone who had not taught Antarctica before, or a teacher from an isolated school without support and guidance I would have been set for the term. This unit was fabulous. As it was, I read it carefully, reflected on my current unit, cherry picked a couple of ideas from it and used those to further improve my own work. Just perfect, I was set for the unit.

Last week I sent out two more tweets “Year 5 class seeking Antarctic scientist to skype with” and “seeking stage 3 class to collaborate on Antarctic Tourism voicethread”. To the first tweet I had two responses, unfortunately I cannot now find who they were from but I am eternally grateful, as I followed up their leads and by Monday afternoon I was in email communication with Nick, a scientist wintering at the Australian Davis Station in Antarctica. Communication and assistance from my IT department followed and we were set. So to top our final week of term two, on Friday afternoon my class enjoyed an amazing chat with not one but three Antarctic scientists. Skype does not work in Antarctica, so we had to make do with a land line and a speaker phone with some of his photos displayed on our IWB screen. Nick and his colleagues a physicist and geologist listened patiently and answered questions ranging from ‘what inspired you to become a scientist and go to work in Antarctica’ to ‘what do you eat’. Nick and his colleagues were interesting, informative and above all real. It was brilliant. The students listened intently, they were focussed and engaged throughout

Next term my students have to complete an individual task which they will choose from a variety of options. These include such things as creating a brochure, to advertise Antarctica. Or writing producing and directing a skit retelling Shakleton’s journey. Those who choose to create a podcast describing a day in the life of an Antarctic scientist will, I believe, have a head start over the others. They will be able to draw on our soon to be created podcast from Nick in Antarctica. They will be able to describe not only the science involved but a daily life devoid of trees and greenery. Where the only winter daylight is two hours of twilight. Where the temperature is -20 degrees on a good day. Of a life eating only frozen vegetables and a small amount of home grown salad. Yet one which they described as the most amazing experience of their lives, surrounded by scenery and animals that would take ones breath away and worth every deprivation and hardship.

Now all I need to do is find a school that wants to collaborate on my semi completed voicethread and I will have had complete success with my tweets. Are you learning about Antarctica in your class this year? Will your students consider the question of tourism in Antarctica? If so let me know and we can continue this learning together.

Photographs: Nick Roden

I would love to hear your stories of learning.  If you have one you would like to share, please fill out my contact form or contact me via Twitter @ktenkely.

To Kill A Mockingbird Meets 21st Century

Yesterday I was chatting with Megan Palevich (@mrspal) on Twitter and learned about this fantastic Story of Learning.  Megan took a common high school reading project and transformed it into an engaging, fun activity for her students.  Rather than simply assigning and testing on chapters (the way I read To Kill a Mockingbird), Megan brought the characters to life by inviting students to create social networking profiles and updates from the view of the characters.  Brilliant!   The students genuinely enjoyed the opportunity to think differently about their reading, growing more intimate with the characters 140 characters at a time.

Here is what Megan had to say about the project:

“So how to you take a classic book and make it relevant to kids today?  You include Facebook, Twitter, and IM into the project.  My 8th graders ate this project up!  If you want to see if your students truly have a grasp of character development, have them write tweets as that character.”

Here is an example from one of her students:

You can read Megan’s original post here.

Do you want to recreate this Learning Story in your classroom?  Megan shares her original instructions for the project here.

Be sure to check out Megan’s blog, Middle School 101,  for more excellent Stories of Learning happening in her classroom.  She is a fabulous teacher!

I would love to hear your Stories of Learning, please contact me here to guest post or cross-post a Story of Learning.

Stories of Learning

I had an incredible first grade teacher.  It was Mrs. Hebert’s first year of teaching and she had just been married.  I thought she was beautiful.  I remember being excited to be in her classroom, from the first day of class there was a sense of adventure and fun.

One Monday morning, we all trooped into a darkened classroom to find glowing stars all over the room and a giant UFO made out of cardboard and egg crates, spray painted silver, glowing in the center.  There were purple rocks (dried purple play-dough) hidden in bookshelves and desks around the classroom.  We were immediately drawn into play, I don’t think that our backpacks and coats made it to the hooks that day.  Mrs. Hebert was peppered with questions, “What are we doing today?”, “Is that a spaceship?”, “What are all those purple rocks all over?”, “Cool, what happened?”  She answered us with complete surprise, “I’m not sure what happened, I came in this morning and there was a UFO in the room, what do you think happened? Maybe we can find some clues.”  We all set out on a hunt for clues. We started collecting the purple rocks and putting them in a pile next to the UFO.  One student found a book called “Space Rock” and suggested we read it for clues.  Mrs. Hebert produced enough copies of the book for the whole class.  We all agreed that the book would probably give us clues about what happened.  We sat in a big circle around the UFO and took turns reading.  As the story unfolded, we learned that the purple “rocks” were not ordinary rocks, they were pet space rocks.  We also discovered that each of the space rocks had our names on the bottom.  They were our pet space rocks.

That day we read a very basic, first grade level, leveled reader.  Every member of the class was engaged and excited about that leveled reader.  Good readers, struggling readers, and advanced readers read together and all enjoyed it.  We learned that books can be fun, that they can help us discover things, that they can lead to adventure.  We all wanted to learn more about space, UFO’s, space rocks, and spaceships.  This was just the beginning for us, we had many adventures of learning that year.  The next week Mrs. Hebert had us each act out a planet, star, or moon.  We practiced being a solar system, orbiting and rotating around the room.

Mrs. Hebert taught in a public school, she had to administer the ITBS test every year, I am sure she had set curriculum that had to be taught.  What I love about Mrs. Hebert, is that she wasn’t willing to just teach us from a scripted curriculum. She was determined to make us a part of our learning and include us in the adventure of learning.  I am so thankful for her approach to learning. This is the reason, 21 years later, I can still remember the name of that silly leveled reader.  How many of you can name a leveled reader from first grade?  How many of our students could?

I am beginning the Stories of Learning blog because I am surrounded by amazing educators like Mrs. Hebert every day.  My PLN is made up of creative, innovative educators who are daily taking their students on adventures in learning.  This blog will not be mine, it will be ours.  My hope is that all of you incredible educators will help me to build it.  I want your stories of learning.  I want your guest posts and your cross posts.  The goal here is to get a collection of excellent stories of learning from teachers around the world.  I want to give teachers who are feeling uninspired, inspiration and ideas to borrow from.  Please share your stories, I will post them here with a link back to your blog or website.  If you are interested in participating, please contact me with your story attached.

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