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Sunday, June 23, 2013

Why Can't Every Lesson Make an Impact Like This?

I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
                         -Maya Angelo

I have been teaching for 12 years, yet it was nothing like I had ever seen before. Midway through the school year and during a unit about war, I saw students working with a level of passion that I have never seen before in the classroom. During this project I saw engagement, excitement, and enthusiasm at high level.  These were 9th and 10th grade students learning about war, yet they were more engaged then one can imagine.  During this unit I saw fear and I saw confidence.  I saw frustration and I saw celebration.  I saw tears and I saw laughter.  I saw generation gaps fade into friendships.  I saw genuine altruism.  I saw a group of 14-16 year old students make a difference in their community.  I saw learning.  I saw students understand that they matter!

In a previous post, I explained my philosophy on education and the new program that I co-founded with three wonderful educators (Rick Leib, Julie Dumke, and Brad Weber).  Please read this if you want to know more about our program:

It was a truly interdisciplinary unit.  Our students worked hard to learn about the wars.  They mainly focused on World War II, the Vietnam War, and the Korean War.  They learned about events that led to the war, they learned about the culture that existed during these times, they learned about the diseases that soldiers contracted in foreign lands, they learned about the battles and the results.  They learned about the consequences and the outcomes.  They learned about the struggles with PTSD.  They wrote, read, researched, and discussed  the good, the bad, and the ugly sides of war.

Students worked hard to research the wars.  They were also fortunate enough to hear from several guest speakers who had experiences from this time including holocaust survivor Henry Golde and author and veteran Inky Jungwirth.

During this time, the students and staff worked hard to line up 75 veterans from either WWII, Vietnam, or the Korean War that would be willing to let our students interview them. 

Once our students were prepared, we had a "meet and greet" so that we could pair students up with veterans and let them introduce themselves.  About a week alter students began to set up times to interview their veteran.  Each student had been taking workshops on how to properly interview people, what questions to ask (we even had a local reporter come in to speak with the students to mentor them), and how to work the video cameras and sound.

The students began interviewing.   Each student was responsible for conducting an in-depth interview of their veteran in an attempt to capture the stories that they had and the lessons they had learned.  The students were also responsible for setting up their video camera, taping the interview and then saving and editing the video into "stories" in the following weeks.  At the end of the project, each students had conducted and taped and interview and then learned how to video edit the "stories" they created along with the complete interview and burn it to a DVD.  We distributed copies of the DVD's to the respective families so that they had a priceless timepiece for their family.  The feedback that we received from families was outstanding.  We had letters, emails and phone calls from family members saying how happy they were that the students did this and were able to get them to talk about so much. For many of the families, they were learning about stories that they had never heard before!

To finalize the unit, we partnered with the local Veterans Museum which was being completed.  It was a great opportunity for us to highlight our veterans and to draw attention to the new military museum that was going up.

That night was spectacular.  The students were in charge of planning, designing, organizing, creating, hosting, and running the event.  We had students that would open the doors and welcome guest to the event.  We had students ushering and helping seat our guests.  We had students getting food and drinks for the guests.  Once the program started, with about 300 people present, we had students emcee the event.  It was a great opportunity for them to improve on their public speaking skills, and they completed the challenge wonderfully.  We showed some of the "highlighted stories" that students made, we sang the national anthem, and we played a slideshow highlighting and showing a picture of each veteran that we interviewed.  This was followed by our high school chorus singing each of the Service Songs for each branch of the military while those veterans stood up proudly.

By the end of the night, which finalized the unit, I felt that I had a much better understanding of war and everything that went along with it.  It was the first time that war felt "real" to me (the textbook just never had that affect) and I think the students experienced that as well.

There were connections made between teenagers and elderly veterans.  There were altruistic citizens created as many of our students were empowered by the project because they saw how big of an impact they could have on someone else's lives.  There were knowledgeable, passionate, and enthusiastic learners created.  The class shared story, after story, after story about the experiences they had interviewing their veterans.

One of our students spoke to us about the veteran that she interviewed.  He was an extremely nice man with a wonderful sense of humor.  She shared some of the stories he had, one of which was a highlighted story shown at the big event.  When this veteran found out that this student loved band and music he ran and got her a very antique clarinet that once had been his.  He gave it to the student because he said that he dreamed it would be played again, yet he was too old to play it.  This was a heartwarming story.  

Two weeks after our veterans project, this american hero and kind human, passed away.  His family contacted us and told us how thankful they were for us to preserve all of his stories on DVD and give them to the family.  They said every day for the past couple weeks, their father, the veteran we interviewed would speak about his experience with our student and how much it meant to him.

That is powerful!!!  These experiences can happen more often!!!  That is learning from about 20 different angles!!!   It can be done.  I saw it with my own two eyes.  This is only one of the examples of these types of projects that we had this past year.  I plan to share the rest in upcoming blog posts.

Do you think our students will remember these experiences in 10 years?  I do.
Do you think these experiences made these students better, more educated citizens?  I do. 

Please, for the sake of the community, for the sake of the students, consider doing projects like this that provide a deep, authentic, relevant, hands-on education for our students while making a positive impact on the community and other people.

Communities at Oshkosh North High School

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  1. I would LOVE to formulate projects like this...LOVE TO! But, I don't know where to begin. I've been perusing the Internet all summer for ideas an inspiration, and I've seen several amazing projects like this in other disciplines. When it comes to how I can develop "...projects like this that provide a deep, authentic, relevant, hands-on education for our students while making a positive impact on the community and other people" in my classes, I'm stuck.
    I teach British Literature and several "skills 'n strategies" writing courses. Any pointers...?
    (Especially for British Literature...that one baffles me)

    PS...North is lucky to have you! As an alumni, I'm proud to see the progress in education you guys are making! Keep up the inspiring work!

  2. Wow. Simply amazing. Impressed and Inspired.

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