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Monthly Archives: December 2011

What can 6th Graders do about Human Trafficking? #endslavery

Last Thursday I got to go back to the classroom, this time to teach sixth graders about human trafficking.  (Keep in mind that my last fourteen years as an educator have been spent in K-2 classrooms.)  Our sixth grade teachers do a study on various cultures through a unit called Passport to Adventure.  They invite in various guest speakers to teach five 45-minute rotations.  One of the sixth grade teachers knows that I am passionate about doing our part to end modern-day slavery, so she asked me to come share.  For the past several years, I taught a two-week unit on slavery in the cocoa industry and fair trade chocolate.  I had to try and decide how to convey all of this information in a 45-minute time period.  I knew that most of these students wouldn’t know that there are currently 27 million people enslaved today. I was pretty certain that they didn’t know that almost 20,000 people are trafficked into the U.S. every year.  And I was positive that they didn’t know that child slaves were forced to labor 18 hours, neglected, abused and denied an education for that chocolate they ate at Halloween.

I began by using a vimeo featured on to set the background knowledge on human trafficking.   We defined abolitionist, and I told them that by the end of the lesson they would know what they could do to fight slavery.  My passion for social justice began with chocolate – something I’ve always loved.  When my daughter was 5 years old, I read about children her own age forced to carry 50 pound bags of cocoa beans.  This discovery led me to research more on modern-day slavery.  I heard about girls her age raped 10-40 times a night.  I saw pictures of children her age and their parents  locked inside a brick kiln making bricks all day long in the hot Indian sun, just to wake up to the nightmare again the following morning.  Why is it okay to turn a blind eye when it’s not my child?  I decided that ignoring the issue was not an option.  As an educator, I have a heart for children and it doesn’t stop at the classroom door.

After talking with the sixth graders, telling them about International Justice Mission, Not For Sale Campaign, and Challenging Heights, I showed them that just by telling people around them about human trafficking, and switching purchases to fair trade products, that they, too, would become abolitionists.  I was blessed to receive thank you letters from many of the sixth graders.  One girl and her friends started a contest to see who could avoid non-fair trade chocolate the longest.  Another student wrote that his parents posted the new information they learned on facebook.  I heard from a community member that the teacher in the next rotation these students attended tried to give them Hershey’s candy as a reward, and they refused it!  Twelve and thirteen-year-olds get it!  They can, are, and will make a difference!

The whys and hows of collaboration

Collaboration: n. 1. The act of working together; united labor.

                                           2. The act of willingly cooperating with an enemy

Okay, so I’m not talking about strategies of war, though sometimes the life of an educator may feel like a battle.  For the past several years, our school system has had “late start Wednesday” –  a cause of joy for my third-grade daughter every Tuesday evening.  However, the purpose was intended for teachers to meet in grade levels/departments, by school, or on occasion by district to collaborate on various educational topics.  I believe some of the best pd available happens in these small, in-house, settings.  This morning at a K-2 collaboration, a second-grade and a kindergarten teacher shared what they had learned at a recent workshop on using technology in your writing curriculum.  This brought up the topic of Twitter, blogs, and Skype.  I shared how I use Twitter and blogs to collaborate with and learn from educators around the world.  Wow – collaboration, literally, at my fingertips!  I recently read (in a blog, of course) about a school system where teachers log into Skype every morning and use that to communicate with one another more often (and quicker) than by email.  Research has shown that people learn better when they talk about what they are learning.  So, here is the big question, are you allowing your students to collaborate?  On a daily basis?  Using Twitter, blogs, Skype, moodle, Edmodo?  Good old-fashioned face-to-face communication?

Collaboration:If it’s important for educators, then it’s important for students.

Holiday hustle

One meeting at 9:30 (that lasted until 12:30), and another at 3:30.  Tomorrow: meeting at 7:45, leave for North Webster at 11:15, back for meeting at 3:30.  Thursday: present at our intermediate school all morning, then back to elementary for school-wide planning meeting.  Friday: meeting at 9:00, then leave at 11:00 for meeting in  Fort  Wayne….and that is just four days!  This was not a part of the job I expected, and yet, for the most part very much enjoy.  I love the professional collaboration, the teaching and learning, that happen at these meetings.  Fortunately, not all months are like December or I wouldn’t get anything else done but collaborate.  I’m particularly excited about by after school literacy collaborative tomorrow afternoon.  This will be our initial meeting.  It’s going to be a place where colleagues can meet and share what we are doing, learning, needing in our classes.  Tomorrow I will be sharing my Bio Book Bag.  It will be filled with artifacts that speak to my reading and writing life.  It’s a great activity to do with kids.  It shows them that we do read and write outside of a school environment.  I’m going to have some picture books that I used with my second-grade class to teach various writing lessons.  I’m going to include both a professional book and a “pleasure” book that I just finished.  My bag will hold several (ahem) journals that I have started at some point and never continued.  The last piece will be my iPad.  This is going to represent my new step into blogging.  I think I’m going to be more apt to keep this type of journal.  I don’t mind typing, and can sure get my thoughts out quicker than with a pencil.  Honestly, I’ve never blogged from my iPad, but I just don’t think my desktop computer will fit nicely into my bag.


So, anyway, in the hustle of this holiday season (Did I mention that this weekend I have two family Christmases, my daughter’s ninth birthday, and two of her choir performances.), I’m going to try and take some time to reflect on my professional life, as well.  Merry Christmas!

Technology take-off

Wow…in the past two weeks I have done more technologically-speaking than in my last five years.  As a second-grade teacher, I never felt like I had extra time to “explore the world of technology”.  As a new curriculum director, however, I see the value of doing whatever I’m expecting the teachers in our corporation to be doing.  So, starting Nov. 21 I began this blog (my first!), opened a Twitter account (and actually use it!), set up a LiveBinder (who knew?!), began using Google Docs daily (what easy access!), and scanned my first QR code (so simple, and yet, so fun!).

My eight-year-old was just commenting last night how only six months ago, we were a one-computer house, and my husband and I had the most basic cell phones money can buy (actually, they were free with the plan).  Now, we each have smart phones, he has a laptop, and I have an iPad.  We started talking to her, then on how technology is changing the face of education.  It was fun trying to project what her education will look like in just a few short years.  The digital world is so quickly evolving that what I’m learning now (albeit slower than some of my more technologically-adventurous colleagues might be), could very realistically be out of date by next school year.

Technology pd is just a google search away.  We can read about it on Twitter, blogs, and other websites  We can watch it on YouTube, blogs, and webinars.  We can talk about it with colleagues through Twitter, Facebook, Face Time and Skype.  I am collaborating with educators around the world, whom I’ve only ever met through my Tweet Deck.  Who doesn’t have time for this?  I’m hooked…

Slowing down to move forward

For the past 11 years, I have had the privilege of teaching in a small-town school district.  I taught second grade with a wonderful team of teachers who listened to and shared best practices.  Then, at the end of last school year, I was given the chance to be our district’s first curriculum director.  My emotions worked the entire spectrum.  All summer I vacillated between excited, unease, and “What in the world did I do?”.  Well, my first day finally arrived and I moved into my new office.  It was strangely quiet on my first day of school…not the norm I was used to as an elementary school teacher.  Though I missed my former students, I didn’t miss the other aspects of being in the classroom.  This surprised me after my summer waffling.  Another fact that caught me pleasantly off-guard…I loved my new job from the beginning!  Since my entire career had been spent in elementary schools, I began doing some intense professional development.  Here is where things got tricky. I love to learn.  I love professional development.  I also love to train people.  The problem was every time I’d come back from a workshop, watch a webinar, or finish a book, I’d rush to my superintendent to tell him what we needed to be doing in our district.  Add to these learning experiences, everything being pushed down from our DOE: new standardized assessments, RtI implementation, transition to CCSS, new science and math curriculum…well let’s just say I was getting overwhelmed, and the teachers were beyond stressed.  A common mantra from my supe was “Janelle, you need to prioritize.”  Oh, but I wanted to get all of these initiatives and practices in place right now!  So, as the school year has moved on, I am adjusting to my new position.  I have set personal goals.  Our administrative team has set corporation goals.  And I have to continue revisiting them to make sure what I’m currently researching is in alignment with our current goals.  Through prioritizing, I’ve learned to slow down…and we are moving forward.