Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Helping Build Lifelong Learners by Andrew Jobson

One of my greatest struggles as a teacher is to find ways to actually impart knowledge to my students; in other words, to go from telling the students something to seeing them make new ideas their own.  Along with that is the challenge of getting them to not merely regurgitate what I’ve said, but to engage the ideas and adapt them to their own understandings—to do battle with the ideas rather than merely memorize them.

I have often used Francis Bacon’s famous essay about books: the one where he says “Some books are meant to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested” (or something very close to that).  I recently discovered a more recent writer who provides additional ideas for students on how to read a book actively.  Mortimer Adler was the father of the Great Books series, and I’ve been reading his 1940s classic How to Read a Book.  It’s good, but a very short essay entitled “How to Mark a Book” may be even more useful thanks to its brevity.  It’s easily located on the web.

Adler argues that “marking up a book is not an act of mutilation but of love.”  He distinguishes between those who “own” books by holding them in pristine condition on their bookshelves, and those who truly own books—whose books are all “dog-eared and dilapidated, shaken and loosened by continual use, marked and scribbled in from front to back.”

Most of my students, if they mark books, merely underline large swaths of text.  Adler provides some additional suggestions to actively read and understand (and to test one’s understanding) a challenging text.  I think I’m going to have all of my students read this essay early in the year.

You may find it useful as well. 

Do you mark up books?

An educator of 22 years, Andy Jobson has taught government, economics, and U.S. History. Currently teaching English literature at Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville, GA, he’s also been an administrator, a STAR teacher twice, and taught elementary school with Teach for America. 

Friday, September 25, 2015

Psst...Hey, You Want a Free DVD? by Susan Gable

by Susan Gable
Director of Education Curriculum - izzit.org 

Four teachers and I found ourselves making that offer over and over again in Nashville and Boston in November, 2014. It's an offer most teachers find hard to refuse. (I mean, come on! It's FREE! No catch!)

The Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE) conference took place from Nov. 5 - Nov. 7, 2014 at the Opryland Convention Center in Nashville, TN. Jim Buchanan, a 2009 Teacher of the Year Runner-up and a 2010 Teacher of the Year, helped at the izzit.org booth, along with Love Merryman Bates, a 2014 Teacher Associate of the Year. Though Jim's trip started with a wrinkle-- the hotel had no room for him when he checked in at 11:30 pm, and then the room they "found" for him turned out to be occupied by four sleeping women when he accessed it with the keycard the front desk gave him, exciting times! -- things smoothed out quickly. Both Jim and Love are enthusiastic izzit.org proponents, and they shared that with the attending teachers.

The National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) convened Nov. 20- Nov. 23, 2014 at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston, and I thought if ever there was a location that would draw social studies teachers, it would be Boston. That turned out to be true, as attendance was higher than normal, but it turned out to be a curse as well because we discovered, in the mostly empty exhibit hall on Saturday, that social studies teachers would rather go out and explore the real history than stay inside and take workshops or peruse new materials. (We understood, as we were eager to see some "real history" as well. We did, with an amazing private tour of the Old North Church, but that's another post!) Elizabeth Harris, new to us as a teacher associate but who's been using and recommending our materials for years, and Mike Siekkienen, a 2011 Teacher of the Year who attended AMLE with me last year, helped us in Boston.

While our main goal is to find and engage teachers who don't know about izzit.org, we also get current members visiting us, which we encourage by sending emails prior to the conference. Sometimes they bring friends to introduce them to izzit.org. Other times we would get unsolicited testimonials as teachers walked by and exclaimed, "izzit! I love izzit!" Those folks were pulled over and "put to work" if only for a minute, telling others gathered at the booth that there's "no catch, it's really free and it's great!"

At this year's AMLE, a teacher stopped to chat and informed us that she was doing a workshop at the conference, and would be mentioning izzit.org as a great teacher resource. 

After I return from conference with my forms, it's "all hands on deck" as most of the office staff pitch in to get them entered into the computer. We run across interesting things as we go through them. For example, we're starting to think handwriting is no longer being taught in schools because teachers themselves have such horrible handwriting. (Admit it, you know this is true of some of you!) Trying to read some of the forms is a challenge. 

This year we discovered someone who, wanting a free DVD but not wanting to give us his information, had actually filled out the form as the school janitor. (We discovered that from the school's website. We also figured it was a safe bet that the district hadn't sent the school janitor to a social studies conference.) Another person gave us a "school" address that turned out to be under a highway overpass. I don't think he really lived/worked there. Do you?

Our conference presence serves to reinforce the emails we send out each month to prospective customers. I've heard numerous times at conference, "I didn't think you guys were real!" So we're able to demonstrate that yes, we're real, we're not scammers, and we really do want to give teachers classroom resources for free.

Sometimes there really is a free...DVD. At least, there is for teachers thanks to izzit.org and our funders.

I hope that during the 2015/16 school year, we'll get the chance to see some of you at conferences! We'll be at AMLE, NCSS, and NCEA again this year, as well as the NEA conference. Stop by, say hi, and get your bonus FREE DVD!

Susan Gable is the Director of Education Curriculum at izzit.org. She holds a BA in Psychology from Douglas College/Rutgers University and is a certified elementary teacher in 3 states, with ten years of classroom experience. She’s a multi-published, award-winning author who also teaches writing workshops.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Where Were You...on 9/11?

Dr. Mike Siekkinen- (A Military Perspective)

I was active duty Navy, attached to a submarine on September 11th. Our submarine was returning from deployment that day, where we would meet the other crew and begin the process of turning over and "taking back" our sub. The "other crew" had been on deployment for the last 3 months. My wife and I were getting ready for work and we had the television on, listening to the news as we got ready.

We heard the report of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center and both thought perhaps it was a sightseeing plane that had gotten too close. When the second plane hit, we knew something was wrong. As I drove onto the Navy base, the radio told me of the Pentagon being hit and then in the parking lot, as the entire crew sat listening to the radio, the plane went down in Pennsylvania. 

We watched as our submarine came up the river and was then met by tugboats that turned it around and sent it back out to sea. We watched the family members who had been waiting for their husbands and fathers, leave in tears as they were told to go home. The sub was being put out to sea where it would be safer instead of tied up next to a pier where it could be a target. Our crew was all sent home and told to wait by our phones until further notice. The base was being secured. We waited like that for the next week as details of the attack came out. Everything changed after that...

Rob Schimenz- (A New York Teacher's Perspective)

I was walking down the third floor hallway with Usman Hanif, my student and varsity baseball player, a fellow teacher said that a plane had crashed into one of the Twin Towers.  I scoffed, yet Usman and I walked to the west side of the building.  Sure enough, smoke was coming from one of the buildings.  Within seconds, the second building burst into flames.  I knew intuitively what was happening.  We stared out the window for several minutes.  Throughout the rest of the day, teachers and students watched the news from wherever they could.  As a dean, I had less classroom time, but the halls were still.  The few people who passed each other said little.  I recall speaking to students in numerous social studies classes, mostly with the message that this was done by individuals, not a religion, ethnic group, or nationality.  As a Red Sox fan, I never really liked the Yankees.  But when I was asked "why?" I tied the two together.  "Many people hate the Yankees because they are successful," I said.  "It's pretty much the same reason," I said.  "Many people hate the United States because we are successful." 

By the time the school day ended, we smelled the smoke from the burning buildings, which we had watched not only burst into flames but collapse too.  The trains were mostly shut, and parents had been coming to pick up their children.  As I was walking out of the school, the principal announced that there were many students who had to wait for their parents, and she asked teachers to stay with the students.  I went back and stayed until the last student left.

About 8pm, I finally headed home.  It was eery.  There was no traffic heading west, toward the city.  There was little traffic heading east.  I went to see my parents.  Mom and Dad were 20 when Pearl Harbor was attacked and I wanted to know how this compared, how it felt.  Mom said that this was much worse.  Pearl Harbor was a military base in a U.S. territory.  This, she said, was an attack on us, on citizens, and it was only 35 miles away from where we lived.  

Several days later, I drove through a neighborhood in which there were usually many flags of Latin American countries.  But that day, all I saw were American flags.  That was very emotional for me.  

Despite being a New Yorker, I had never gone to the World Trade Center.  I wish I had.

I think of 9/11 often.  I used to drive to work and look at the Twin Towers from the Long Island Expressway.  I still look....

Susan Gable- (A Mom's Perspective)

I was sitting in a classroom at the Northwest Tri-County Intermediate Unit in Edinboro, PA, learning how to be a substitute teacher, despite having taught for 10 years in NJ. I remember an administrator came into the room, her face so ashen, I thought she was going to collapse. She said,“We’re under attack. The Pentagon has been attacked.”  And we were all like, “What? What do you mean, attacked?” The idea of war on our soil is so foreign to us, it didn’t really register.  No way that was happening. We tromped into a room across the hall that had a television set, just in time (if you can say that about anything of that day) to see the first tower collapse.

I don’t remember there being any noise at all in the room. We all were dumbfounded. Just in shock. Then a person from the Intermediate Unit came in and announced, “If you guys want to go home, leave now, because we’re going on lock down, and no one will be able to leave once we do that.” So, I left. I had a 10-year-old at home. I wasn’t getting locked in. I remember driving home, still in shock, wondering what else was going on, what else would happen. I rode with the news on. By the time I got home, my then-husband, who worked at a television station at the time, was also home. We were transfixed to the television (where we, like most of the country, would remained glued for the next few days.) I remember sending my husband to school to pick up our son because we just didn’t know what was happening. Didn’t know what would be next. And so I, like many other parents, wanted my kid at home, with us.

I went to give blood the next day because though I’m in Erie, PA, that was close enough that blood could have easily been shipped to NYC from here.  I waited for hours with a huge crowd of people, all of us again glued to the television in the waiting room. And I remember that blood wasn’t  needed on the scale that they’d first imagined. We all donated because...we just didn’t know what else we could do, and we all felt so helpless, like we had to do something.

The world my ten-year-old inhabited had changed massively. Life would never be the same...

Dana Roberts- (A Student's Perspective)

I was actually in middle school at the time of the attacks, in social studies class. Everyone was taking notes and listening to Mr. Walker, when suddenly another teacher came rushing into the room, his face pale-white. He whispered into my teacher's ear and Mr. Walker immediately turned on the t.v.

Everyone was confused, some of my classmates began to panic, others became emotional, the rest of us just sat and starred at the t.v. until the principal came across the PA system to inform us school was being dismissed early. The buses would be at the school shortly, and students who needed other transportation were allowed to use the classroom telephones or their personal cellphones to contact parents. 

That is when chaos began. My school district had two separate schools, one middle school and one high school, but they were located on the same grounds, meaning the older kids rode with the younger kids to and from school. The younger kids were confused, scared, excited and unsure of why they were being sent home early. The older kids were on their phones making arrangements with parents and families. My parents came and picked me up.

Flash forward to 2013, when I took a trip to NYC. I made my way to the 9/11 Memorial/ Ground Zero and also the NYC Fire Department. Both stops filled me with immediate emotion, not because I lost someone personally but because our nation lost thousands of people.

Going to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum caused two emotions: sadness and hope. Walking around, looking at the North and South pool monuments, seeing all those names engraved into the granite, seeing people mourning the loss of their loved ones made me tear up. Continuing around I found myself directly in front of the "Survivor Tree." Looking at this tree I was filled with hope, thinking if this  remains after this tragedy, then perhaps there is hope for our nation. After all the massive resources combined together to construct both trade centers were demolished almost effortlessly, here stood this natural resource that survived it all. This tree was recovered from the rubble at the World Trade Center site in 2001, standing 8 feet tall and badly burned with only one living branch left- no one expected it to survive.

The tree was moved to the Bronx for care and later replanted at the memorial site, standing 30 feet tall. This tree has become a symbol of hope and rebirth which accurately represents NYC and the United States of America. This tree also serves as a reminder of the thousands of survivors who persevered after the attacks.

So...where were you that fateful day? We'd love for you to share your perspective of that day in the comments.