Thursday, September 29, 2011

How can Jay-Z remix education? Let me see...

I just read a really interesting article entitled "How Jay-Z Can Help Us Remix Education". Obviously as a fan of Jay-Z and as an educator I was really intrigued by this title. I wanted to know how hip-hop and education are related or better yet, how exactly it helps us remix education!

Keep the Language Simple—and the Context Deep

"Jay-Z's debut album was lauded by fans for its texture and complexity. The album analyzed urban life in the 1980s and 90s and incorporated deft and engaging storytelling. It also kept him from reaching a broader base of listeners. So Jay-Z shifted things for his next album—he simplified the language but kept the context deep.
What's the take-away for us as educators? We want all students to fulfill high academic expectations, but we must balance this with the need to meet our students at their level. I often hear educators refer to this as an "either/or" situation—but we can provide the "and." We can speak in language our students will understand without sacrificing the meaning, context, and depth of what we teach.
It's worth noting that Jay-Z was accused of 'selling out' when he simplified the language in which he articulated his experiences. However, ultimately, he reached many more listeners, and his real fans respected his growth. As teachers, we may experience some pushback from peers who are unwilling to meet their students halfway, but if we engage students in meaningful learning, helping them to master critical concepts, we will have done our jobs well."
Students are often 'talked down to' and this leads to a misunderstanding or not a clear picture of the content for them. The synthesizing and understanding of content is extremely important, yet some teachers seem to forget that students simply can not grasp some concepts when they are over-explained or in a worse case, under-explained. I think that Jay-Z's stepping out to change his approach in music to reach a broader audience is a great move for him. Possibly educators can approach teaching the same way in that changing the way you approach a concept in the classroom by speaking and discussing so everyone is comprehending. It may sound silly but I know that I am guilty of not breaking it down enough sometimes and just moving forward but really if I had just simplified what I was doing and made it a collaborative process with my students, life for me and them would have been a lot easier.  
It is also important for educators to realize that our profession is not as isolated as it seems. We are similar to other occupations in a number of ways and many of the same issues and concerns that others have. Maybe making those connections can be a healthy way for us to develop a greater understanding of the world our students are headed into and how to help them work in it. Collaboration is key!

Collaborate With Diverse Partners

"Jay-Z understands that his professional place in the hip-hop universe is strengthened by diverse, visible collaborations—often with unlikely partners. He's made an album with rock band Linkin Park ("Collision Course") and has lent his voice to the albums of a wide range of artists, from Juvenile and Drake to Lenny Kravitz and Coldplay. He even invited Gwyneth Paltrow to sing the hook to "Song Cry" at a recent London show.
Just as Jay-Z enriches his solo work by collaborating with others, we can enliven our teaching by drawing on the expertise of our peers. Unexpected combinations can be especially productive, encouraging students to see a concept from an alternative perspective. Math teachers can draw upon social studies texts as we teach students to graph on a coordinate plane. Science and language arts teachers can co-create lessons that help students identify and use literary techniques as they read and respond to science texts. But however collaboration looks, its goal should always be to improve students' experiences in our classrooms."
I think this statement is exactly correct: "Just as Jay-Z enriches his solo work by collaborating with others, we can enliven our teaching by drawing on the expertise of our peers." Every time I have the opportunity to sit down with other educators and discuss new methods, share ideas and just talk, I feel like I come away with a huge opportunity to broaden my classroom with not just new ideas but new influences and possibly a new project! This is where technology becomes really proactive and helpful in collaboration. Sharing is so much easier when the web is involved and tools like Skype and website tools such as  wikispaces help develop a global opportunity to build partnerships with diverse people and diverse places. That is what the PLN (Personal Learning Network) is all about! 
Honestly, I think educators could all take a look at this article and see exactly how to remix our education system and create a better classroom for students to grow in. Check it out and let me know your thoughts!

Monday, September 26, 2011

In Real Life - Show starts Oct. 3rd!

YTV's In Real Life
        One of my grade 9 students, Sydney, was given a chance at an amazing opportunity this summer. Last year, Sydney created a video entry for the chance to be on YTV's In Real Life and she was chosen to be a competitor on the show! The television series, which is similar to The Amazing Race, has competitors doing real life challenges all over North America. Although Sydney can not say much about her experience yet, we are anxious to see how she does and look forward to talking with her more in depth about her experience once the show ends.This seasons In Real Life airs beginning on Monday, October 3rdand will for run 10-one hour episodes every Monday. Look for Sydney and cheer her on!

Montreal, QC
Mon., Oct. 3 at 7 p.m. ET/PT
Our challengers are put through their paces in their very first experience as army recruits! They navigate a tough obstacle course, test their resourcefulness by setting up camp in the field and ride Jeeps in hostile territory as part of a patrol. With drill instructors pushing them to their limits, challengers try to soldier their way to the top. In the first twist of the season, challengers get to choose their own teammates!
Link to trailer:

Sydney has been dancing competitively and winning loads of awards in all kinds of styles from ballet to hip hop since age four. Her friends say she’s kind, creative and tons of fun. In her small hometown, everyone knows each other and there are only 55 kids in her school. But she likes imagining how big the universe is and would love to become an astronaut.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Create lessons kids want to listen to using technology

Time and time again we hear the tale of needing to engage students in the content we are teaching. They say it is the key to classroom management and enhanced learning. Well, they (whoever they are) are right - to an extent. Don't forget, it is not only about the delivery, but loving what you teach and why you teach. 

I've been dealing with boring content issues lately. I'm teaching History 30: Canadian Studies this year and finding my group of students to be particularly un-engaged in the content so far....sure there are some that are natural 'history buffs' and love it all no matter what but many of my students, are not. I am left with the struggle of making my course content a bit more interesting, thus engaging my students, 'minimizing' my classroom management issues, and having the learning occur a lot easier. Stopping the time honored tradition of notes, discussion, lecture and questions theory in history courses is not something that is easily done in such a heavy content-orientated class but it definitely needs to be addressed. I don't think the answer is to over-engage by way of making them bored from technology but by splicing up my coursework into manageable information chunks with bits of technology sprinkled in. Sounds like fun right? Sounds easy? It is if you try!

Integrating technology into content or as a supplement or complement of content is actually more simple than you think. All it really takes is you taking a few minutes to think about what your needs are. Do you want students to create something for you? Instead of an essay (again), try a presentation style project where they present their argument or content they have learning using a prezi ( and either present it to the class, just to you, or even have the students send you a link to their work for you to mark! They still have to complete the objective (indicator) and will show the content learned but just in a different and more interactive way! Believe me, I teach English Language Arts as well as History so I do know and advocate that writing an essay is still a skill needed to be learned, practiced, and improved - I've written blog posts about just that - but the point is to mix it up a bit! They can still do an essay, but really, do they need to do more than one or two a year in one course? In my opinion, NOPE!

Simplicity is the trick. Show a video instead of reading notes. I've found a good series of videos about the HBC   and the Fur Trade - there are 6 videos in total, each about 10 minutes in length so it takes just over a class period to view them all. I had notes to accompany the videos - which were from the curriculum, and covered more specific topics related to Aboriginal issues and the effect of French involvement leading to the Royal Proclamation of 1763.

Another idea, which I will be using later on in the course, is to have the students create a video! There are a number of ways to do this. You could have them create an interview with a historical figure, interview veterans, re-create a battle or event, describe the event from a person who was there and experienced it from their point of view - just to name a few good ones I've used in the past. They love doing this because they can put as much or little effort as they want to achieve a mark and they tend to like being given an option to participate in videos. These video ideas could also be adapted to be done as audio projects or Podcasts.

I also use my SMARTboard - or PowerPoint or Prezi - for notes. A lot of my notes I have gotten from other teachers when I started teaching were on overheads or board notes, now as that is all well and fine once in a while, it is nice to have your work saved somewhere to use it anytime you want, or share it with other colleagues. Thus the presentation of notes from a technology point of view. You can incorporate pictures, short video clips, and links into your presentation/notes so that students are more engaged and interested. I know it involves you writing them out but who cares? At least you will never have to do it again, and your kids will thank you for the change!

So as you can see, there are a number of ways to incorporate technology into your classroom without too much work on your part. I hope you find these different ideas useful and easily adaptable for you classroom. I know that it may seem daunting sometimes to use technology but no one is really expecting fireworks every lesson, every day. Using technology can be a gradual thing that as your comfort level increases, so will your ability to think on the fly and use technology or create projects from scratch quickly and efficiently. Cheers to a good year everyone!

Friday, September 09, 2011

Need some ideas and lessons....want to help?

I've been asked to present at our Teacher's Convention this year in November and my topic of presentation is 'Teaching with Technology in Senior English Language Arts' - basically technology infusion in ELA classes. The presentation is tailored more towards high school but anything in upper middle years will work as well. This post is a shout out to all teachers who have ideas or lessons that they have either used, or want to use, that relate to this topic. If you are willing to share an idea - even if it isn't classroom tested yet - please comment on this post with whatever you can or email me at!

I have been working on organizing a wikispace for my presentation and if you want to add anything or shout out ideas I would appreciate it so that I can add more resources for teachers to use and try. If you have access to student samples or want to include those as well that is great as well! If you do or do not want your name added or cited by your idea that is fine as well - ideas are welcome nonetheless.

Check it out and tell me what you think or what you can add to the pile! it is a work in process....

Friday, September 02, 2011

A life-changing opportunity for my student this summer

One of my students in grade 9 this year had an amazing opportunity over the summer and I wanted to share it with you:
Last school year, she auditioned for In Real Life - an 'amazing race-style' tv show on YTV. As a school we helped her with her audition video by all cheering for her and asking YTV to choose her to be on the show - and she was chosen by YTV to participate on the series! Basically, the show is a bunch of life and skill-like challenges around the US and Canada - which meant that over the summer she would be in secret locations filming challenges for the show. The show is airing on October 3rd, with 10 shows in total. She can not tell anyone how far she made it, but she has said that it was a life-changing experience and she had a amazing time. What a fantastic opportunity for her! Everyone at our school is very excited for her and can't wait to watch the show! She came in my room today and told me that the preview for the show is posted on youtube - here it is to share with you! Go girl!