Happy New Year!
The first 25 days of December was insanely busy for me. There were simply too many happenings at my school to mention, but I wanted to try to get this post out
before around the new year.
One way our school learns about cultures and traditions is through presentations during our weekly community meetings (we call them chapels, but they are assemblies. See here and here for examples and explanations). My department was asked to present for two of the December all-school chapels: Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. Our music department is always involved with preparing music for every chapel (to perform, to sing or both), so this request had us look for other ways to present to our community. My teaching partner and I decided early on that I would organize Hanukkah chapel while he works on the other. We let these ideas simmer for a while :-).
December was approaching fast. So while mulling over ideas, I decided to make 2010 Hanukkah celebration about our community and elsewhere. Some questions I wanted to explore were:
- What makes Hanukkah special for members of our community?
- What is Hanukkah to them?
- How do other people celebrate Hanukkah?
- (Because I’m a music teacher) What songs are sung during Hanukkah in their community?
- How do we learn about people outside of our community and how do I bring them to our school?
Other considerations I needed to be mindful were:
- Having the Kindergarten class take a “presenter” role
- 15-20 minute presentation time limit
Talking to a Person I Know: @WhatEdSaid
Making our school connections were easy: My teaching partner who teaches Kindergarten was teaching a beautiful song titled, Hanukkah Shalom; I talked to several group of teachers and students to give them a framework of what is to come. While I was thinking about asking outside people questions, @whatedsaid (Edna Sackson) came to mind. What I remembered about Edna was that she was a passionate educator who lived in Australia teaching in a Hebrew school. Read her blog posts (this one and others) and you will immediately see what I’m talking about. She is a very active participant in our PLN: she shares resources, writes posts about learning and comments on many of our network authors’ works. Everyone’s busy, I know. But at least I could ask a question to see if she can help me in some way.
I direct-messaged Edna on Twitter, giving her my email address and stating I had an idea to connect our school children around Hanukkah. And then I waited.
Edna emailed right away with:
So do tell what you have in mind :)
So our conversations began. It was about the third exchange of emails I had realized that end-of-the-school-year for schools in Australia was in a few weeks. Even with the busyness, Edna had sent out emails to her colleagues at her school, inviting them to collaborate, and assuring them how she will be there to help video their classes.
After our initial emails, things were moving along. I exchanged emails with two other teachers saying hellos and discussing possible collaboration now and for the future. Thanks to technology, I was easily being in touch with people so far away!
Edna helped tremendously. She posted videos from music classes from her school in a Dropbox I set up. She DM’ed me when she posted, I got the footage, and started editing them along with what I was working on from my end.
Our collaboration was a direct result of open communication(emails, Twitter), efficient use of technology (VoiceThread, Dropbox, iMovie) and a mutual love for learning and our interest to make connections outside of school walls. I am so grateful for this initial collaboration and can’t wait for more!
Here is a VoiceThread of our project. Although I MC’ed the morning, you can get a good idea of what happened through this. What you won’t see is 1) the Kindergarteners performing their song with some kids playing the bells (this live performance commenced the chapel. You can hear the beginning of this song in a video we exchanged with Edna’s school at the end of the VT). 2) When you get to a slide that reads “Listen to the Words” this YouTube video by the Maccabeats titled, Candlelight was played during the chapel. It’s a great music video with a catchy chorus. What I love about it is that it teaches the history of Hanukkah.
The VT features our Kindergarteners, 2 of our teachers, the Preparatory class (5 year-olds) from Edna’s school singing with their music teacher, Janice Roth and Year 1s reflecting on Hanukkah traditions.
- Ask your network for help: I took a simple step of asking Edna. I thought about many ways not to “bother” people and come up with my own ideas. In the end, it was clear that I needed help. Your network people, especially the ones you’ve had conversations with, are respectful people. They will let you know what they can handle at that moment. If you do not have a PLN, start one today!
- Use of video/VoiceThread in learning: Because I didn’t teach the Kindergarten class, finding time to rehearse with them proved to be somewhat difficult. Taping them on video helped me to use my time efficiently, feature them for the presentation day and keep the presentation pretty short. Skyping with other school are great, but scheduling a live face-to-face chats are difficult when they are in a different state or country. Our school community loved listening to Edna’s school children and learning about what those children know about Hanukkah. Our students are eager to connect with them this year!
- The learning continues for me and my students: I am so grateful for this opportunity. I am grateful for Edna and her colleagues who took the time to make this connection with me so that our school communities will learn from one another. I am grateful for future opportunities that my school sees now in making global connections.
If you are looking for opportunities to connect your class with outside people, take one simple step and look around you. Who do you come in contact with? And who do you learn from? Who can you ask? And will you have an open mind when someone asks YOU to collaborate?
Take the plunge and look around you! Here’s to great learning in 2011!
PS: Do you know who helped me to get my VoiceThread on here? (If you’re a WordPress blogger, you know what I’m talking about: WP doesn’t play nice with many embeds or files…) – Edna helped me to get it on here. Do you see how much I’m learning from her? :-)