Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Civil Rights: The Native American Perspective

Over the course of the past month, 7th grade ELA classes have focused on reading fiction and nonfiction accounts of the Civil Rights Movement. While this is an extremely significant and important time in American history for students to study and understand, what many students do not realize is that Native Americans continue to face problems with cultural understanding and acceptance, especially with the way Native American mascots are depicted. To provide a better understanding of the controversy surrounding this issue, a select group of advanced 7th graders spent a week working with me, Beth Calaway, Gifted and Talented Teacher, and Peggy Rohan, Literacy Coach, to create presentations that would explain both the pros and cons associated with the issue.

To begin this special project, called a STRETCH, students attended a presentation by local Native American speakers, Richie Plass and Weeya Smith. Their presentations highlighted some of the negative stereotypes others still hold in the community today, their journeys growing up in and out of the state of Wisconsin, and how the stereotypical depictions of mascots have affected how others perceive their cultures. Students also went away with a better understanding of the diversities within each unique Native American tribe and why society needs to reconsider its use of Native American mascots in school, collegiate, and professional sports.

Upon conclusion, students reacted in awe and appreciation for their new understanding of Native American culture. During our follow-up discussion, students expressed how they were now going to look at Native American mascots differently and why it is important to educate the rest of society on the importance of this issue.

This led to the second part of our STRETCH- reading various articles that covered both sides of the Native American mascot controversy and creating a presentation to educate others about the issue. In small groups, students read 10 articles and completed a triple-entry journal documenting important ideas, their thoughts, and further questions. Following their reading, students shared notes with one another and began organizing their digital stories.

Digital stories were created using Voicethread. Students were taught how to find and cite copyright-free images as well as their research resources. Few hard guidelines for presentation format were given to students. All that was required was that they presented both sides of the mascot issue in a non-persuasive way.  Complete freedom was given to them as to how they chose to present the issue and how much information they conveyed. There were no minimum amount of slides, comments, or images required. Students could also find creative ways to share what they learned. One group chose to use a question/answer format while another chose to use the webcam option instead of images for the main slides. We felt that giving students room to make as many of their own choices as possible would empower them to take ownership for their learning.

The final results not only turned out to be significantly informational, but also truly impressive. It was obvious how passionate students became about this topic while engaging intensely in the learning process. We hope that you enjoy learning more about this issue as you view a sampling of the students' completed Voicethread presentations below. To see all of the completed presentations, click here and follow the links listed under each group.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Google Hangout with Monterrey, Mexico Provides Authentic Learning Experience

Who is your favorite teacher?
What is your favorite color?
What type of music do you like?
Do you like hamburgers?
Do you know the movie Frozen?

The above questions may seem simple, but translating these questions into Spanish and then carrying on a conversation surrounding the topic with native speakers challenged our 8th grade beginning Spanish speakers to test their skills in an authentic way.

Using Google Hangouts, we met with a class of teens from Monterrey, Mexico. Each of our students had the chance to sit in our "hotseat," ask questions in Spanish, and then carry on a conversation based on the response. In turn, students in Monterrey also asked us questions in English.

While the conversations related mostly to "favorites," they also turned philosophical and funny at points. One Monterrey student wondered how we would define success. At a different time, our students wanted to know if Monterrey students were familiar with the dance move "the dab." Laughter broke out on both sides when Monterrey students sang Frozen's "Let it Go" in Spanish and when we accidentally mistook their question about the Japanese comic form Anime for favorite animal.

Overall, it was amazing to see how easily kids from different parts of the world connected with one another. Their likes tended to be more similar than different, and it was most impressive how well all students could carry on a conversation and read between the lines despite the language barrier.

De Pere Middle School students had a fantastic time getting to know the students from Monterrey! Muchos gracias to Patricia Gonzalez and all of your fabulous students!

Monday, March 7, 2016

The Battle results are in!

This morning I was pleasantly surprised to find the official results from WEMTA's Battle of the Books competition waiting for me in my inbox. DPMS was lucky to send an amazing team to compete at the state level, and knowing how hard this team worked, I knew that they were fierce competitors. 

Overall our team of 8th graders tied for 13th place out of 147 competing schools! Great job representing DPMS and dedicating the time and effort into reading each book, memorizing the spellings of all titles and authors, and practicing relentlessly the weeks prior to the competition. You made us proud!