Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Visiting the United Nations before lunch (Part One: Photo Essay)

We recently connected with the United Nations for a skype session in our classroom, and although our virtual field trip lasted only an hour, what we saw and learned will stay with us much longer. We'd like to share a snippet of our morning with you through photos. More information on globalizing your classroom can be found here. 

A view of the flags from each country, outside the UN building. Yes, they are arranged
alphabetically! And did you know that the building is on INTERNATIONAL TERRITORY? 
It even has its own post office, fire dept, and security. 
Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, in action. 
The walls of the UN are adorned with photos of UN Peacekeepers
(blue helmets!) doing their work worldwide. 
One of the 30 articles of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. 
It is the MOST TRANSLATED DOCUMENTin the world, in over 
300 languages! (The bible is the most translated BOOK.)
A view of the General Assembly hall; those windows on the side
are rooms where the interpreters sit as they work. 
The UN building is like a museum with artifacts from around the
world like these landmines, photos, and gifts from other countries.   
The Golden Rule mosaic by Norman Rockwell,
created from 20,000 pieces of tile. 
A statue from Nagasaki--hard to see in this photo, but
it had fallen during the atomic bombing. The back of it
is blackened and disfigured beyond recognition, while the front
bears scars from objects hitting it and the aftermath.  
The front of the Nagasaki statue, found lying face down after
the atomic bombing. 
General Assembly room where they discuss global issues, terrorism,
atomic weapons, etc. Solutions are not legally binding, and are
considered recommendations. Each member is allotted 6 chairs.
During our virtual tour, they had just voted 191-2-0 to lift the embargo
on Cuba--we knew before the news media did!
One of our guides. This is Jackie, from Malaysia. Totally missed his
calling as a comedian--he definitely loves his job!
The School in a Box! Supplies, foodstuffs, a radio, and basic necessities
for up to 80 students. It also includes chalk board paint to
make any wall a chalkboard. 
So much thought goes into these--Jackie is holding up paper
without margins. This honors different styles of writing; those
who start from the right side of the paper or the left will find
it equally useful. 
Although the role of the United Nations can be controversial, students today learned that the primary mission is to achieve peace. Students today witnessed glimpses of the UN discussing Cuba and Syria, learned about the peacekeepers, negotiation, sanctions, and military actions. They learned about the permanent members and the EcoSoc which develops ideas to address poverty within its 8 Millennium Development Goals. They came to realize that poverty is a HUGE reason why we still have so much conflict, and that disarmament is one of the largest problems we face. 

As for the UN mission, Dag Hammerskjold said it best:
"The United Nations was not created to take us to heaven, but to keep us from hell.

For part two of this post, please click here. 
What are some successes with virtual tours that you have had? Please share in the comments below!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Globalize Your Classroom with a United Nations Virtual Field Trip

(Please note this is part two of two about our virtual field trip experience with the United Nations. Part one, a photo essay, can be found here.)
What does being a connected educator mean?

I used to think being a connected educator meant using the internet and its vast resources to plan/ create my lessons, and to occasionally contact others. As I've learned more, however, I've seen that expanding beyond my classroom walls is imperative for making learning relevant.
Now, when I am considering a topic and planning a unit, I find myself asking who I can contact, voices and resources I can bring in, whether virtually or face to face, to bring learning alive. Or how my students can, in essence, "ship out" their ideas and learning to share with others. Whether this means across the hall or across the world, it means that authentic audiences = authentic learning and motivated learners.

Our world is in transition--migration, politics, climate change, technological advances/ changes, population increases, means of communication, etc., which means that education demands are necessarily different.

Four global competences underlie the work of globally-minded educators, according to the Asia Society and Partnership for Global Learning. When I think of being a connected educator, I think of a classroom which has these learning goals for its students: (taken from Mansilla's text, noted below):

1. Investigate the world beyond their immediate environment, framing significant problems and conducting well-crafted and age-appropriate research.
2. Recognize perspectives, others’ and their own, articulating and explaining such perspectives thoughtfully and respectfully.
3. Communicate ideas effectively with diverse audiences, bridging geographic, linguistic, ideological, and cultural barriers.
4. Take action to improve conditions, viewing themselves as players in the world and participating reflectively.

Yes, these are each critical capacities for our students to strive toward, but to be truly competent in a global sense, these capacities are best when integrated. When planning my lessons, I am learning to think about how these capacities might come into play, and although a lesson might not address each of the 4 components, that consideration is increasingly necessary. And it makes sense.

How does this look?
Our students were about to learn about the United Nations and its role in the world today, 70 years after its inception. Rather than lecture, or have students read an excerpt in the text book with rote question responses, we reached out to the United Nations itself.

Our fancy connected educator tool?
We simply asked if they had any outreach program for distance learning, or a virtual field trip where a studied guide could provide some history of the UN, and talk about its many current roles.

Within a few days, we had a response, did some "logistic-ing" via email, then tested our skype connections for two (!) presentations so that more students could benefit. A little legwork, sure. But worth it?

Investigating the world went far beyond their textbook and classroom walls as we saw real time views of NYC, the flags outside the UN, and even waved to tourists as they walked by. Listening to the guides and asking them questions allowed students to view the UN through the perspective of someone who spent many many hours a day there, enmeshed in its work. Asking appropriate questions and responding to our guide provided ideal and authentic communication practice.

We really need to give a shout out to our guides--I'd have never guessed the kids could laugh as much as they did when learning about the UN! Well-done, dear guides! Excited to bits (partly from the technology working, but mostly from the quality of the presentation) my colleagues and I also learned a lot, took our own notes, and laughed far more than we'd have imagined.

During the skype session, students took notes--they had questions to guide them, but (wonderfully!) most took notes on their own, and far more than we'd asked them to. Taking action is definitely an area to work on. Maybe the next time we can ask students to prepare a 60-second speech on one of the roles of the UN, or create a short video on why it's important for the UN to stick around another 70 years. (all of the student feedback indicated the UN presence was necessary for another 7 decades) We could have asked students to seek out information and possibly contact someone with an anti-UN view, then create a persuasive piece (letter, video, art, etc.) to "push" him/ her into a different way of thinking.

The point is, it's not enough to say: here is the information. Remember it. Test  on Friday. That will not spur ideas and creativity. Promise. I guarantee very few (if any) students would express "now I know where I want to work. Where do I start to find out what kind of jobs are available at the UN?" 
Big curriculum picture in hand, think of one area in which you can begin to apply these global competences. How can you reach out to the community, extend learning past your classroom walls, and meet the differing learning demands facing us and our learners?

I'd love to know of some ways you have opened up your classroom and ways you address these global competences. Please comment or respond to me via email!
Thanks so much for stopping by.

A fantastic resource, and seminal text, for learning more about Educating for Global Competence (Veronica Boix Mansilla and Anthony Jackson) can be found here. 

Monday, November 2, 2015

Sweet Las Calaveras!

Let's talk skulls.
Las calaveras.

Sugar skulls are common adornments on the graves or on the altars of the graves of deceased relatives. Family members spend hours in the cemetery decorating graves, and can spend one to two month's salary on food, flowers, gifts, and decorations!

The skull shape is evidence of their lack of fear of dying, a way of thinking that dates back to the Aztecs. Aztecs were native ethnic groups who have lived in what is known today as Mexico. Some say the sweetness of the sugar skulls balances out the bitterness of death, but when you ask those who have performed these rituals associated with Dias de los Muertos, they tend to agree that death is just part of our existence. It isn't something to be feared, yet at the same time, it's also not something to take lightly. Honoring those who have passed on is a serious responsibility of the living.

Below are some follow-up photos from the first post about Dias de los Muertos, in which we promised to share examples of the completed and decorated homemade sugar skulls/ las calaveras!

A full altar of goodies for those who return to visit.

Close-ups of the decorated calaveras!

Of course, you have to see the tops of the sugar skulls! The
details are beautiful, and these were done by first-timers!

Friday, October 30, 2015

Calacas y Calaveras, Oh My!

Skulls can be ofrendas (offerings), too!
(They don't have to be morbid.)
Día de los Muertos has certainly made its way into mainstream commercialism, with skulls and calacas (skeletons) adorning everything from napkins to clothing to notebooks and bags.

But, what is it really? Dia de los Muertos celebrates death as a natural part of the human experience and stems from ancient Aztec traditions. It holds that the dead would be offended by grieving and sadness, so it is better to welcome the them back into the living community to celebrate each year in a joyous occasion. Although celebrated throughout Latin America, and even into South America, the traditions of Mexico are what seem to be the most well-known here in North America.

This is the altar created as a display for our
school hallway. Wow!
Día de los Muertos is technically Dias de los Muertos, since it is celebrated over 2 days. November 1st is Día de los Angelitos, when the heaven gates open to let the deceased children (angels of infants and small children who have passed away) fly down to visit their families for 24 hours. November 2nd (Dia de los Muertos) is when the heaven gates open to allow adults who have passed away to fly down to visit their families, also for 24 hours.

Families clean the gravesites, then decorate them, often with flowers, specifically orange marigolds (cempasúchil). On the gravesite or small personal altar, they then leave ofrendas (offerings) which the deceased person enjoyed, such as favorite foods, toys, flowers, candles, photos, and other personally significant objects. Some ofrendas may be "necessities", such as water for their thirst following their journey, and coins for payment along the way.
What do you think this person may have enjoyed, by looking
at the ofrendas? 
Example of an altar. Although orange marigolds are the most
traditional flowers used, Ms. J handmade these flowers, in
gorgeous colors--definitely creating a joyous space!
My colleague, Ms. J, who created the altar and bulletin board displays for our school is not Mexican (and very few of our international students are). She is from Costa Rica, so I had to ask:
"Why did you spend so much time creating these displays if you are not Mexican, and this is not the way you celebrate in your home country of Costa Rica?"
 (She has literally spent hours upon hours after school and on the weekends preparing these displays!!)
Her response?
"We are all Latin American, and it's important as an ESL teacher to show respect for the cultures of my students. 'C' was so excited when he learned I was making this. If just one student is excited, then it's worth my time. But I also want to share about other cultures. There are so many interesting things to learn."
Quick facts for students to learn something new. Note the flags
above, also decorated with las calaveras!

We may not have mariachi bands stirring up joyous tunes for us as they do at Mexican cemeteries, but no doubt wonder and curiosity will share a dance or two as our students learn more than they imagined from Ms. J's displays.

As for the calaveras? Stay tuned for part two as we see how Ms. J creates sugar skulls!
Can't wait for the makeover!

Some lessons you might want to use for your students:
(click on the "dia de los Muertos" for the links)

Friday, October 16, 2015

My Best Self? It's All Greek to Me, But That's Ok


A simple word for a big idea. When studying about Ancient Greece, students learned about different characteristics of society, government, and citizenship. They also learned a little about language--particularly key terms that lent insight into Greek thought.

Like Arete.

Arete is a tiny word that literally means virtue or excellence, but the bigger idea is about living at your highest potential from moment to moment to moment. Arete was considered one of the highest ideals of Greek culture, and we used this as a warm-up/ bellringer to get the creative juices flowing while tying in a little growth mindset.

Think Arete. What will you do to live your highest potential from one moment to the next? What does your highest self look like? What would you sketch if you were to sketch yourself with Arete, you being your best self in each moment?

Here are some simple examples from this 5 minute warmup. This work, by the way, although seemingly simplistic, serves as a continual reminder and reference point for days and weeks to come.

Remind your students that everyday when we wake up we have two options. Hit that snooze and dream about what we want.
Get up, and step into your Vision. Be your best self, in each moment. If you let yourself down in one moment, get back up the next. And continue.

Even if it isn't easy  (which it won't be), how will you live this moment and today with Arete?
Think, then live, Arete.