Archive for November, 2009

Fall Forum in New Orleans

November 26, 2009

It’s been almost a month since I’ve updated… Life has been full and busy. Probably most significantly, in the beginning of November I attended Fall Forum, the annual conference of The National Coalition of Essential Schools, in New Orleans.

I attended with my friend Shannon, who teachers 9th and 11th grade history at our school. Last spring, I wrote and submitted a proposal to present our interdisciplinary genocide unit at the conference, hopeful but uncertain that we’d be accepted. We were thrilled when we found out that we were accepted and our school was unbelievably supportive of us. Here’s our workshop description:

Never Again or Again and Again? Teaching Students about Genocide and Creating a Classroom of Activists

How can high school students effectively learn about genocide—some of humankind’s darkest and most terrifying hours—while maintaining hope and a desire to create change? You will interact with interdisciplinary curriculum and student work, and leave with project-based ideas for your classroom. We will explore teaching emotionally challenging material both honoring the horror of what has happened and creating hope by emphasizing that we can use our voices to make a difference. The culmination was an interactive community event with student-designed multimedia exhibits promoting awareness and education about genocide.

Our presentation went really well. The evaluations we received were excellent and so many people came up to us afterwords to talk to us about how they plan to adapt our curriculum. One woman was so excited she told us she was running out immediately to go find her principal; she couldn’t wait to talk to him about our unit and culminating project. To have very experienced teachers tell you that they’re impressed with your work is awesome! It’s also a great feeling to know that our work is now going to have an impact beyond our students and community. We’ve created a dialogue between our school and other schools around the country — we’ve already received numerous emails asking for advice/questions, links to our lesson plans, etc. Oh, and my 10th grade social studies teacher attended our presentation!!

I left New Orleans feeling renewed and inspired. I attended presentations on topics ranging from teaching graphic novels to reimagining senior year to transforming text-based seminars into character-driven seminars (instead of talking about the characters in a novel, each student becomes a character and discusses the book from his/her perspective! Instead of debating a new development in the science world, each student becomes a scientist/theorist from a different time period and debates it from his/her perspective!).

In addition to meeting teachers from all over the country who are determined to change the way we approach education, I came away with lots of practical ideas for curriculum, literacy strategies, classroom management, etc. I loved learning about the different educational models in place at different CES schools. For example, a school in NY has only elective classes, and every class has a mix of freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors.

The only part that I found frustrating was that there were 25 or so workshops offered during each time slot–there were so many that I wanted to attend, but couldn’t.

While a lot of very real problems within our education system were brought up during the conference, I found couldn’t help but feel determined and hopeful.