Design Challenge Project

I just finished my Design Challenge Project! And I really wish I had some students to test it out on. Anybody feeling some Shakespeare? I decided to do my design challenge project on Shakespeare, which seems cliche, but I think that’s the point of connected learning; to revitalize old content with new, innovative, interest-driven assignments. I want students to feel like they haven’t ever read Shakespeare before–at least not like this. I want them to find it interesting, and vital. As vital as Shakespeare has been to literature and the English language.

The assignment I created has students first rewrite an Act of one of Shakespeare’s plays in a modern vernacular, then present it in a new and creative way using some form of technology. The reason this assignment is so great is because of how open-ended I am leaving it. Students can choose any forum of communication they want to express the content and style of Shakespeare. They don’t even have to use the same names of the characters in the play. They could write a completely new story with new elements, as long as they recognized and reproduced the literary devices and major themes of the plays they choose.

Another great element of the assignment is that it is interest-driven. I will have modernized descriptions of the plays, or lists of themes in the plays, by which they will decide the play they find most interesting. By doing this, they aren’t choosing a play to study, but first an interest, and then finding a way to learn through it. This will keep the students engaged and excited for their assignment. I’m allowing them to be as creative as they choose with it.

But what kind of teacher would I be if I didn’t first test out the assignment for myself, and work out the kinks? A pretty bad one. So here I will also endeavor to translate the text into (drumroll please) A SOCIAL MEDIA DIALOGUE!!!! What would Shakespeare have done with social media? Would he spout verses upon verses of poesy? Would he be that annoying friend that rants about their roommate or love interest? I suppose we will never know. But here on this blog I post my attempt of the melding of two cultures, one of the past and one of the present.

In creating my own presentation of Romeo and Juliet‘s Act 5 Scene 3, I have discovered a very many things. For one thing, if Romeo and Juliet were teenagers today, they would be very annoying Facebook friends to have. For another thing, when my students are completing this assignment they will face a very many challenges. Challenges with technology, challenges with Shakespeare, and challenges with making Shakespeare, a parade of thees and thous, into a modern text. Also if they go the social media route as I have they will realize that most people don’t have lengthy conversations through social media. It is difficult to translate in person interactions to digital. Some things must occur in person, especially if it is the discovery of a misconstrued death.

All troubles aside, the project was very rewarding. I felt more immersed in Shakespeare than I have before. It was also quite humorous to be tweeting from @Romeo. Maybe I’ll change my twitter handle to that. Anyway, without further adieu, I give you my digital script of Romeo and Juliet: Trials of the Digital Age. (link posted below)

A Brief Profile of Nicole Mirra

Nicole Mirra, a University of California, Los Angeles Writing Project Fellow, is an active connected learning ambassador in the educator community. She has taught 5 years as a high school English teacher in Los Angeles and New York City, and is a postdoctoral researcher at UCLA. She is also the coordinator of the UCLA Council of Youth Research, which she discusses in the book she co-authors, Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom.

I got the chance to submit a couple questions to her, by which I learned a lot about connected learning, feasible application of it, and how it relates to equitable education. Connected learning, Mirra says, is a framework rather than a curriculum. In this way it is a mindset which teachers can take when educating students and which schools can take in encouraging teachers to engage students’ interests, and thus provide more effective instruction.

On a broad scale, Mirra believes connected learning could easily be implemented, so long as those attempting to use it do not try it through rigid imitation of other connected learning models. The whole point of connected learning is to take a more adaptable approach that is mindful of the unique context in which students are in. She completely opposes district mandated connected learning because it would be absolutely hypocritical and combat the pillars of connected learning including flexibility, shared interest, collaboration, and open networking. Connected learning, Mirra explained, can only be implemented broad scale if the flexibility is maintained, various educational institutions expressed a commitment to the key ideas of connected learning, and if people who adopted the practice made sure to support their students as individuals with diverse interests.

Mira believes that equity of education, an issue that has been seen as a challenge in connected learning, is actually an essential aspect of the method. She expressed that they essentially go hand in hand, since connected learning focuses on individual interests and needs, as opposed to generalized standards. She said that at the core of connected learning is the idea that education should not be one size fits all. Both connected learning and equitable education are based on this same premise, though in application the two might conflict in standardization.

Mira believes that teachers’ roles in advancing connected learning is incredibly important outside of the classroom as well. Teachers need to become ambassadors for connected learning among other teachers and in legislation. They need to engage public discussion in blogs, social media, or anyway they can to get the word out. She emphasized how peer-supported learning is one of the main concepts of connected learning, and that teachers should adopt this practice as well when learning how to implement connected learning.


Connected Learning Project

For the connected learning project completion aspect of the Connected Learning Badge, I decided to try out the Do Now website which allows students to engage in public discussion and activities surrounding current issues that interest them. I thought this resource was amazing. I love how it provides multiple topics for students to choose from in which to engage in discussion with their peers. I looked through the topics, hoping to find something that would spark my interest and engage me, just like I hope to someday engage my students in digital learning and peer supported activities.

I chose to listen to a podcast discussing the role of feminism in the current election. I thought this would be a great topic for me to explore, since I am very passionate about societal inequities, and because I am a woman who will be voting in the upcoming election. The podcast talked about the wide spectrum of opinions represented in the female population of voters regarding Hillary Clinton, the potential first woman president in the United States. It discussed the two sides of the argument, one that voting for Hillary just because she is a woman would be incredibly irresponsible since there are broader issues being discussed in policy reform and candidate beliefs, or that voting for Hillary because she is a woman is the most powerful feminist change you could enact as an individual in the United States making it the superior feminist decision.

The Do Now website asked students to answer the question “What does feminism mean to you in this election?” and to hashtag the responses #DoNowFeminism. I promptly signed on to my twitter account to engage my peers in discussion. I found the question quite challenging, though, since both sides have their merit. Voting for Hillary simply because she was a woman would be overlooking the potentially superior plans of action of other candidates. However, voting for her would be an incredible breakthrough in the gender gap, ideas of gender in the U.S., and could potentially work towards shattering the “glass ceiling.”

If your only agenda in voting were to work towards the advancement of females as a social group, voting for Hillary because she’s a woman would be your most effective mode of action. It would be an impactful example to the U.S. and the world that women can be independently thinking, smart, powerful individuals. Putting a woman in a position of such power would validate the gender equality that the U.S. claims to adopt. If your goal in voting, however, was to elect the superior candidate, you would not let gender have any impact on your decision and choose whichever contender you believe most fit whether they be female or male.

The way I decided to respond to the prompt, then, in 140 characters or less was: Feminism in this election means judging candidates based on their credentials and beliefs, not their gender. I chose to respond this way because although I believe women should be placed in positions of power, making this decision solely based on gender would nearly combat the aims of feminism. Explicitly, yes it would allow for the social advancement of women, the aim of feminism, but implicitly it would be making a decision that combats the democratic model and the integrity of critical decision making of voters. It gives as much bias towards men as women are presently receiving. So, if Hillary is the better option, go with her. If not vote for someone else.

This is not the opinion of every person out there, which is why it is a good issue to take to social media. Everyone will have something to say about it, engaging my peers in discussion. This activity of reading and commenting on the podcast demonstrated all six aspects of connected learning. It was peer supported by facilitating discussion with my peers, interest-powered because of my interest in feminism, academically oriented, production centered as I wrote a tweet and a blog post, both of which had a shared purpose, and was openly networked on social media.

Overall I would say the Do Now website is a phenomenal resource to engage students in public discussion surrounding their interests, facilitating a community for connected learning.

Meet the Expert: THE SEQUEL

I’ve been researching connected learning for my connected learning badge, and got to sit down with Antero Garcia yet again, a contributor to  Teaching in the Connected Learning ClassroomWe were able to discuss what Connected Learning actually looks like in the classroom with modern students’ interests.

Antero discussed his extensive experience with the connected learning model of education, and how he was able to actually apply it to engage students in content. He talked about how these resources, or the interests of the students, are hobbies that the kids are already doing outside of class, teachers need to simply facilitate a community within their class that the students are able to learn in. He used the examples of Minecraft, other video games, sports, or knitting clubs.

Students are already engaging in these outlets of creative expression, to transform this into connected learning, you just need to have them share the experience with others so that it is a collaborative learning experience in which students might learn content relevant from their studies in school.

Although teachers need to create these communities, they must also know the limits of their role in connected learning. They do need to step back at some point and leave the active learning to the students. This gives them a sense of creativity and freedom that they usually don’t have in the school setting.

Connected learning requires some teacher facilitation, but it is mostly left up to the students to explore their own capacities and create original work.

Read Write Think

I’ve been exploring resources on the Read Write Think website, scavenging for teaching lessons that integrate the connected learning methods into a feasible plan of action for when I become a teacher. I found some great resources that integrate technology into the classroom, and take a creative approach to teaching literature.

The most notable lesson plans I found were Romeo and Juliet in a Digital Age, Talking Poetry, and What did George do Today (which helps students learn about the American Revolution through Facebook). These lessons all spoke to me because of their creativity and representation of content.

For the Romeo and Juliet lesson I would have students portray the Romeo and Juliet relationship through social media posts. They could have the public occurrences as posts on a fake Facebook, then the more private conversations on Facebook messenger. They would have the shorter discourse on twitter. They could also post anonymously for the happenings which occurred while a character was alone. In this way it would make the story relevant to them so that they better understand character motivation, themes, and plot. I also think this forum of study would engage students more in the material.

The Talking Poetry assignment has students write Haikus, a less intimidating form of poetry because of lack of rhyme, then post them to Blabberize, a program that allows whimsical animals recite whatever you want them to. This would add a hands on aspect to the assignment and make poetry fun for those who don’t usually enjoy it on its own.

I thought the What did George do today activity was very creative, and I think I’d really like to do it with authors of books we are reading, and have what’s going on in their time posted on a fake social media forum. I always wished I had learned more about author backgrounds in high school because I think sometimes that is so important in understanding author purpose. Oftentimes books emerge from social or political issues that are relevant to a certain time, which students could not possibly know without extra instruction. I think having the author Facebook post or tweet about what’s going on while they are writing would give students great insight into how to interpret texts.

Connected learning can be an elusive concept because of its relative newness. There are still questions that the idea faces in the realm of standardization and implementation. Teachers need to start integrating into their classrooms and find what works through trial and error. If they do this they can fail forward, and find how it is that we can actively engage students.

Personal Story Takeaways

I just read the personal story of Cas Holman, the Associate Professor of Industrial Design at Rhode Island School of Design, and I am blown away by her inventiveness with play in the classroom. The account of the paths that got her where she is today begin with a discussion of her uncertainty regarding what she wanted to do with her life as an undergraduate student. I think everyone in college can relate to that feeling of not quite knowing what you want to do with YOUR ENTIRE LIFE. She talks about this, however, and how you should be more worried if you know exactly what you want to do. This limits your chance to explore all the different things that the world has to offer.

One quote of hers that I really liked was, “you don’t have to become something you already see.” She was saying this in the context of the broadening scope of humanity’s potential, most notably in sciences. But I was thinking how this might apply to English teaching. One of my reservations I had when becoming an English education major, was that most of my English teachers in school were not very good. I didn’t want to become what I saw. I saw teachers that didn’t really invest into their lesson plans, and didn’t seem excited about what they were teaching. But what Holman said really speaks to me. I don’t have to become a boring teacher. I can become a teacher the likes of which this world has never seen before.

I was also trying to think about how her piece on learning materials for play and discovery could translate to an English classroom. She was mostly talking about materials for younger students, but I do believe that play could be an amazing tool in the classroom to get students engaged and teach them in creative ways. What I came up with was that I could really engage texts with props, performances, readings, and other fun activities for my students. I could create games that students could play, role playing parties, RAFT assignments, cross-curricular activities which get the students up and moving, and having fun all the while.

Something else she talked about was leaving out instructions from learning materials. This was for creativity toys, but I’m sure I could integrate that into my classroom in the form of open-ended prompts, like, I’m talking very open-ended, one-word prompts, perhaps. Or just letting the students guide their own instruction more. This plays a lot into the connected learning materials I am reading about student interest-driven activities. If assignments are more open-ended, students will let their interests guide their direction, enhancing the connected learning. What I will most take away from the story, though, is simply to be creative with my students, and to let them show me what they can do. I’m sure I’ll be amazed with the results!

What Does Connected Learning Look Like?

All teachers want their students to be engaged while they are instructing. It comes with the territory of being a teacher. Plus it helps while you’re teaching to not have a bunch of blank faces staring back at you. This is why teachers need to explore connected learning. It is built upon a humble premise: that we should invest in the interests of students and engage them in educational discourse through those interests. It seems simple enough, but then why haven’t we done this in the past?

Connected learning, a relatively new endeavor in the public school system, does come with its complications. Implementation comes with obstacles surrounding assessment, standardization, community engagement, resources, funding, getting students into formal settings that explore their interests, and how to track their progress and success. So what would connected learning look like in an ideal world?

I believe that connected learning could be a very integrative and useful tool for imparting necessary skills upon students that don’t necessarily effectively engage in the current school system. Connected learning acknowledges the multiple intelligences that we now know exist. Students today believe that they are failures if they don’t fit the stereotypical school setting and aren’t proficient in an arbitrary skill set defined by tests. With connected learning, however, we can use students’ proficiencies in other forms to help them learn the skills necessary to succeed in life.

Currently testing is based surrounding a model where we are attempting to have every student succeed. But this means something different to every student, so we should address their individual strengths. With connected learning we could engage the community, including adults with authority on the different student interests, to integrate a variety of skillsets into the classroom.

With this expansive view, though, we need to proceed cautiously. If we separate students by their interests too early, sending them on one path based on their identified propensities, we will be just as, if not more limiting to their educations in the current model. What this means is that we need to integrate interests into the classroom, while still maintaining the skill sets that our society values, and depends on for success. We must find a balance in which students can feel genuinely interested in what they’re learning, finding value in the material we provide, but also that they are meeting some standard which assures that each student is receiving an equal education.

Connected learning, despite not having a set form which we could entirely remodel education with, is an incredible resource for teachers on an individual basis. They can start using connected learning within their classrooms, taking surveys of what students are interested in at the beginning of their class, then creating programs accordingly which will engage the students and foster their strengths. They could group students with peers who have similar goals and interests, and focus their content around these ideas. The public school system currently does not acknowledge aptitudes that don’t fit into the typical school settings. All skills can have their benefit to society and every student has something to contribute to this world. I know that when I entered college I was absolutely overwhelmed by the decision of what major to choose, and what occupation I wanted for the rest of my life. It would be amazing if we could introduce an interest based curriculum in high school so that by college time students have enough experience to make an informed decision about the rest of their lives.

I am a Teacher Advocate

My teacher advocate badge is now coming to a close, and I can’t help but reflect upon all that I learned. The issue I chose came very easily to me. In reading The Teacher Wars by Dana Goldstein, it was made very clear that gender has been an issue in the classroom since the very beginning. Women entering the educational field sparked great inspiration and awareness for women’s rights. Gender roles constructed by our society have undoubtedly pressed themselves upon education. Through the controversy of women educators, to gender bias which still exists in education today, we are seeing progress towards gender equality and understanding, but we’re not there yet.

In researching gender in the classroom, I have learned so much about hidden biases teachers accidentally place on their students. I have learned both about how girls are generally treated versus how boys are generally treated in the classroom, in ways which confine them to a stereotype that doesn’t respect their individual identity. Below is a link to a podcast of all I’ve learned. Enjoy!

Advocacy for Gender Equality in the Classroom


Morning Pages: Open Door Policy

When I become a teacher I will definitely institute an open door policy. I believe that students and other teachers should feel free to talk to me any time, about anything I do. I have had teachers through the years that are so set in their ways that they are not open for discussion surrounding their methods and teaching techniques. I think, though, that criticism from students and colleagues is some the most helpful insight you can get into your performance as a teacher.

Being a new teacher, it will be difficult at first to feel that I can open my door, since I hardly know what I am doing and will likely receive a lot of criticism that could have detrimental effects on my confidence. I think it is very necessary, though, especially since I will be new and not know how exactly to facilitate learning correctly for each diverse group of students.

Morning Pages: All Teachers Are Teachers of Literacy

Being an English teacher, sometimes you must reach beyond your content area for material to assist you in engaging students and diversifying their skills as readers and writers. What literacy looks like in an English classroom is first learning the basics of reading and writing, and then delving deeper into analysis and complex thinking. The job of an English teacher is not limited to simply teaching literacy in the common understanding of the word. We need to teach a literacy that will transcend the words on a page and find greater purpose in other content areas.

To complete this task, we as English teachers must provide the resources necessary for students to become immersed in multiple genres and topics. We can provide readings from the sciences, history, math, business, communications, philosophy, and so many others to aid our students in finding their passion, and becoming well versed in the common vernacular of what it is they want to do with their lives.