Saturday, May 27, 2017

"In these trying times..."

Good morning colleagues! I am sitting on my parents' couch, back in Iowa, drinking a cup of coffee on a terribly foggy morning. I am in town for my nephew's graduation from high school... my nephew who was born when I was a little freshman in high school. I'm just getting all the feels!

My nephew attended a local public high school (of course, rival to my high school - Go J-Hawks!) that went through some notable public turmoil over the last two years. As a teacher, I was blown away by what happened. As a former resident, I didn't know the principal or the entire situation, but I knew enough to know that his forced resignation was devastating to the students. He was someone that built relationships with EVERY SINGLE STUDENT in the building of 1600 kids.. The class of 2017 made a decision about their graduation celebration - they did not want to hear a speech from the superintendent, but instead wanted to hear from the people they loved and admired. The students led the graduation, had the interim principal and counselors speak, and they voted on a keynote speaker. The class of 2017 chose Stacey Walker, Washington alum, and the current Linn County District 2 Supervisor.

This is Stacey Walker. Unfortunately, I had to steal this image from Twitter because there is NOT a creative commons sourced image of him! This is not at all surprising as he is from Iowa. *begin sarcasm font* Nobody famous is from Idawahio, right? *end sarcasm font* As I am sitting in the LONGEST graduation I have ever sat through to support my nephew (and I'm silently making fun of the teachers sitting next to the graduates), this man gets up to speak. My niece and I look at his speech and immediately roll our eyes. It is two pages long, single spaced, with what looks like 10 point font.

But when he opened his mouth, my niece said, "He sounds like Barack Obama!" And that he did. I was instantly engaged, impressed, and inspired! What blew me away, even more, was that he graduated from high school in 2006 FOUR YEARS after me.

Even though I have one day left of just teacher check-out, I wanted to inspire the rest of you through your remaining school year. I want this speech to remind you WHY you teach and HOW you influence and motivate your students every day.
This opportunity has caused me to revisit my formative years. Not just those glorious four years I spent in high school, but the time leading up to it as well. I was born to a single mother who raised me and my younger sister on the southeast side of Cedar Rapids... These were the places others referred to as the ghetto. We relied on food stamps and food drives, and other welfare programs just to get by... When (my mother) left that day, I would never see her again... After learning of her death, my sister and I went to live with our grandmother... I stand here today because she lived. 
It is important that I share my story with you this afternoon - the stories of the people whom I hold dear - because I hope you'll do it too one day. I hope that you will pay homage to those in your life - parents, teachers, mentors, coaches, and friends - who helped to get you to this point. No one can do it alone. We all had a little help getting here, and we all will need a whole lot more going forward. 
When you go from place to place, you will be encouraged by friends and caring adults to pursue noble careers... However, I implore you: seek the path that sets your soul on fire. Pursue your truth and your passions, and do good by others in the process, and surely, your life will be one of purpose and satisfaction... (w)e should recommend career paths that align with our values and our passions...
How do we make this happen... The answer is you. All 278 graduating seniors are here today and your peers across the country will soon have the opportunity to put your smarts and your energy to good use and make an impact on your community... Your partisan affiliation will never matter as much as the content of your character. What matters most is what's in your heart.
In these trying times, you are the greatest hope for a better future... We will rely on your curiosity and idealism which will lead to great discovery... This work is difficult. But no one here is asking for a break. That's not what Warriors do. We don't pray for easier lives. We pray to be made stronger women and men. We don't seek easy answers or cliched wisdom. Instead, we seek the challenge of the impossible...  
There is more work to be done in this imperfect world, and we're all relying on you. Let your thoughts - the chief glory of man - and your heart - the vital organ of morality - light your path, forever. 
Go forth, dream big, work hard, and change this world for the better.

"Be the change." I'll see you next week :)

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Visual Essays

Greetings colleagues! I am writing to you this week as I'm finishing up my LAST unit of the school year! In fact, it is my LAST unit as a Social Studies teacher (for now). I recently accepted a job as the broadcasting teacher and technology specialist in my school. I'm excited but super overwhelmed. My job is going to look so different next year that I cannot picture it right now. This summer - it's so close!

But I digress. The unit that we just finished up was over Reconstruction in the United States. Yes, the Civil War is quite significant, but Reconstruction certainly changed the United States for a good 90 years or so, plus has lingering consequences today. To get my students to understand its impact, I had them do the DBQ Project's Reconstruction DBQ while also doing a case study on a modern case of racism (within the last five years). I felt it was important for students to see related connections - it also makes history more relevant!

The culmination of each DBQ is a 5-6 paragraph essay. I'll be honest; it's the end of the year, and I definitely didn't want to grade another essay! So I had my students do what I call a "visual" essay. This is when the students follow the same process as creating an essay, but in the end, they take the writing process and create something visual. The best three applications that I've found for creating visual essays are Piktochart, Spark Page, and Canva. For this unit, my students used Piktochart.

We spent four days going over the DBQ packet. The students analyzed four documents to answer the question, "North or South: who killed Reconstruction?" They completed the DBQ packet by filling out an outline in which they responded to the question with their opinion, and used evidence from the documents to support their answer.

They then took their outline and turned it into a Piktochart.

Did this go well? Yes! It was great for the end of the year, the students appreciated learning about something that connected to present-day, and though the Piktochart iPad app is lacking in some usability, they enjoyed trying a new app and liked the creativity and choices that it offered.

This week I'm encouraging you to try something new, maybe fun, and definitely engaging with your students. Think outside the box and get your students to connect to your content!

Thanks for reading. I'll see you next week :)

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Saturday, May 6, 2017

The most beautiful sentences in literature

Hello, colleagues!

Are any of you counting down how many days of school left? No? Me either, although I keep hearing this number whispered in the hallways, "15."

It is times like this that I need a dose of inspiration to make it through. I am currently teaching a unit on Reconstruction, and the students are pretty into it. The students find it fascinating how racist the North was during that era... that it was not just the South hampering Reconstruction efforts. So at least, I hope, I will have their attention (and may just inspire them) for the next two weeks.

Though my class is working through a sound unit, I need more motivation. The weather is too beautiful (Spring fever is alive and well), I am thoroughly exhausted from track season, and the thought of two months of freedom is sucking out my soul. I woke up this morning with these words in my head, "I am, I am, I am." I decided to share with you some beautiful photography and beautiful words to get you through your Saturday, your weekend, or your last few weeks of school.






Namaste. I'll see you in two weeks :)

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website