Sunday, November 19, 2017

Student Activism, Volunteerism, And Social Engagement - Empowering Gen WE

ASIDE 2017
Rarely does a moment emerge that highlights the enormous contributions to global activism that young people make every day. The WE Day UN celebration on Wednesday, September 20, 2017, was perhaps that moment.

Rarely does a genuine opportunity emerge that promotes engagement and social justice on both micro and macro scales. The WE Movement as a whole may very well be that platform.

And rarely does an organization emerge that dedicates itself to collective movements of change. We were honored this fall to be selected to attend WE Day UN with our seventh graders.

Source: WE Day

WE Movement started over twenty years ago by brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger with the express intent to take action and make the world a better place. It includes the WE Charity, ME to WE Social Enterprise, WE Schools, and WE Day.

The WE Schools program offers classroom resources, lesson ideas, practical videos, educator packs, and step-by-step plans for leading global change. The four step program challenges students to investigate and learn, create an action plan, take action, and report and celebrate. Issues of social justice and human rights are all tackled in the spirit of young people making a difference, and it provides the tools to take action.

Source: WE Schools

The WE Day gathering is perhaps the culmination of these efforts. At various WE Day events across the country, students and educators come together to unite their voices in a multimedia festival of speakers and performers that inspire collective movements of change.


We were fortunate enough to be invited to attend the first-annual WE Day UN congress in New York City, at Madison Square Garden. Students cannot buy tickets to WE Day; they have to be invited in recognition of their volunteerism, acts of citizen service, or hours dedicated to communal justice. Our students felt lucky to be acknowledged for their work in social entrepreneurship, public service announcements, and other local actions.

Part of the ten-year anniversary of the WE Day events, this new WE Day incarnation coincided with the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) meetings in New York. As a result, world leaders past and present visited the Theater at Madison Square Garden to share their stories and motivate the thousands of students in the tri-state area about how to make the world a better, cleaner, and fairer place to live. Leading figures such as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Chelsea Clinton, former President of Ireland Mary Robison, Whoopi Goldberg, and others all shared messages of equality and change.


WE Day itself is hard to describe. It is part motivational barnburner, part TED Talk, part rock concert, part panel discussion, part global colloquy, part volunteerism jamboree, and part digital extravaganza. The speakers and guests appeared on stage in rapid fire: YouTube celebrities and Disney Channel alums who elicited shrieks from the kids, and respected authors and actors who drew applause from the adults. WE.org definitely knows how to appeal to its young audience. And to be fair, a regular parade of corporate sponsors also spoke at WE Day, to emphasize the work that responsible business partners are doing in supporting the cause and in sharing the planet.

The effect that this day had on our students was massive. They came away with an excitement to carry the movement forward, but perhaps most striking for many was the persistent commentary on the lack of rights for women and girls around the world. Their plight must be all of ours, both for women and men. It could not have been more powerfully put than when President Trudeau took the stage to emphasize we need more "HE for SHE" in the fight equal rights.


Most importantly, our students realized that WE is Everyone. Being empowered to change the world starts with them, and they don't have to wait for adults to do it.



We look forward to sustaining these themes throughout the months ahead. This event was an ideal way to jumpstart the school year, and we look forward to empowering our Gen WE students to be changemakers for the greater good.

Source: WE Day

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Visualizing The Effects Of A Nuclear War

Source: Shadow Peace
Coming off a summer of the investigation into Russia’s involvement in the election, the riots and deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the elevated nuclear threats from North Korea, it’s hard to believe that we’ve had constant turmoil since the presidential election almost one year ago. The most dangerous of all this unrest is the nuclear threat. It’s scary to think that world leaders want to spar over this. So as we return to our classrooms with our middle schoolers, we have our hands full as educators.

This summer, Neil Halloran released his sequel to The Fallen Of World War II called Shadow Peace. This new interactive documentary combines data-visualization and cinematic storytelling to explore the driving factors of war and peace. It is a web series intended to take a data-driven look at peacekeeping efforts since WWII. Part one of Shadow Peace deals with the nuclear threat.



It is a powerful portrayal of the human cost of a nuclear war and the catastrophic impact it would have on the world population and environment. Like its counterpart on WWII, the film can be paused to explore areas in more depth. The didactic possibilities are endless, and the rewards of enlightening others toward peaceful solutions immense.


Source: Shadow Peace

We plan on showing our students this documentary, just as we watched The Fallen Of World War II. The more we can educate young people to be peacemakers, peacebuilders, and peacekeepers, the greater their vision of humanity. That is in the interest of all of us; fire and fury is not.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

5th Graders Take Entrepreneurship To Another Level Through Empathy And Action

ASIDE 2017
We started teaching entrepreneurship as part of the fifth-grade math and history curriculum over five years ago. As part of the program, several entrepreneurs visited as guest speakers to share their ideas about starting a business, creating a brand, and developing a marketing strategy. The success of our entrepreneur curriculum did not go unrecognized. We were thrilled when well-known entrepreneur Leonard C. Green wrote about it in his book, entitled The Entrepreneur’s Playbook.

Source: Amazon
This year, we changed the focus to social entrepreneurship as a way to inspire our students to empathize with an issue in need of attention, whether locally, nationally, or globally. Working closely with our colleague Natasha Chadha (@MsChadha92), we retooled the project to center on identifying and exploring social issues. The main objectives included equipping students to take action for change, to seek meaningful ways to help others, and to develop leadership skills that effect real change.

Source: Social Entrepreneurs
We used a host of materials to educate the students about social entrepreneurship, and we built a website to compile everything in one place. They blogged about their ideas and experiences designed around lessons and activities. In addition to the digital resources, we relied on a wide selection of picture books from the library that emphasize the power of personal initiative to bring about change and, importantly, to give back to others. The stories highlight that even the smallest initiative can bring about change.

ASIDE 2017
The students researched how they could help real people through microfinancing using the social entrepreneur website Kiva.org. This eye-opening experience showed them that the simple things we take for granted are not necessarily common around the world. They learned that a small loan of just $25.00 could make a huge difference in the lives of many.

ASIDE 2017

Once these young social entrepreneurs realized that they could make a difference in raising awareness and funds to help actual people, they never looked back. They worked tirelessly to develop presentations for the Social Entrepreneur Expo to explain the plight of others, as well as to seek donations for their causes. They were empowered to be change-makers in every sense of the term. Most of all, they understood that kids can make a difference. They owned it.

ASIDE 2017
Creating opportunities for student agency and empowerment mirrors real-life. The students transferred their understanding of what it meant to be a social entrepreneur inside the classroom to help ease the needs of others outside the classroom. Now that's a true life lesson.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Data Fluency Follow-Up - Beware of Content Manipulation

Source: TED Ed
In light of our recent post, we thought it worth sharing one of the latest TED Ed videos released this summer. It is entitled “How To Stop A Misleading Graph,” by Lea Gaslowitz. We haven’t used this with our students yet, but we plan to this fall. Graphs can aid us in grasping complex data; that does not mean they always tell the correct story. With the so many visible software resources available today, it’s easy to design graphs, charts and tables for all types of media.


This video makes for a perfect mini-lesson to reinforce visual literacy, one of the core skills of graphicacy. Just because a graph looks good doesn’t mean it’s accurate. We want our students to look beyond the sleekness of design and not be swayed by colors, shapes, lines, and curves. Instead, they should question the labels, numbers, scale, and content. In other words, ask what the graph is trying to convey and not take it at face value.

Source: TED Ed
Graphs should represent data, not an opinion. By distorting the scale on either axis, they can be intentionally manipulated. The video provides straightforward examples of “cherry picking” the data points to skew the scale for the purposes of persuasion or bias. As we’ve stated in our previous post, our students are growing up in a data-rich world that increasing relies on the design of information. It’s for this reason that they need to be more discerning about misleading content. Visually literacy is a necessity now more than ever.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Building Data Fluency - Visually And Literally

ASIDE 2017
In this data-rich world, our students face growing amounts of statistical content. That's why we believe  teaching graphicacy is vital to the modern classroom. We develop ways to incorporate visual literacy and visual thinking in some capacity in most assignments and consistently look for ways that students can transfer content from a linear to visual format. This process enables them to connect more deeply with the material. The graphs in this post represent statistics on immigration that our students used to build graphs for a project-based learning unit on immigration.

ASIDE 2017
Each student studied a particular immigrant group for the project. For the graph assignment, they gathered the data for their group’s country of origin, as well as immigration data for two other countries. They recorded the information in a table format for five consecutive decades. While the organization of the data gave them a quick overview, the disparity in size of immigration over the course of 50 years was not immediately evident.

ASIDE 2017
Giving the students the opportunity to literally construct the graphs allowed them to experience visual data firsthand. Using the decades along the horizontal axis was easy; however, the vertical axis required a bit more intellectual work to determine the coordinates for plotting the data. Some had to revise their decisions several times by reexamining the numbers to adjust the coordinate values.

ASIDE 2017
The process of using statistics to construct meaning regarding immigration to the United States as visual data reinforced their understanding from both a historical and mathematical perspective. The students could visually see the highs and lows by group over time in addition to the places where immigration intersected or overlapped.

ASIDE 2017

Using statistics is an effective tool for learning. Since we know that our students will encounter numbers on a daily basis, the more we can do to build in data analysis, the better they will be able to make choices based on evidence and authenticity. Visual data is used in everything from household products to political campaigns. Without the proper skills, learners, like any other consumer, can be misled. Interpreting the pictorial representation of information is an essential skill of graphicacy; all students must master this proficiency.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Social Studies, Advertising, And Persuasion: Student Travel Magazines Sell Tourism

ASIDE 2017
Over ten years ago, we heard a presentation entitled “Ban the Bird Units” by librarian and educator David V. Loertscher. Essentially, it encouraged teachers and students to get away from the mundane use of facts as reporting mechanisms. This especially holds true today in the age of Google. At the time, Loertscher used the typical biographical research report as an example of a “bird unit” in which students responded to a series of questions that followed a timeline.

The state project is another example of the typical “bird unit” in which students have to find the state motto, bird, flower, etc. Ugh! Our question is who cares? Sure, it’s good to know your state particulars, but all that can easily be found on 50States.com.

ASIDE 2017
For us, it's the “so what” or remix of research to deliver content that demonstrates a higher-order thinking process with other skills that go beyond mere facts. The state magazine covers in this post required research, creative writing, and media literacy to do just that.

The students were challenged to develop clever ways to entice readers to visit their states, including titles that used alliteration for the magazine masthead and catchy sales lines just below the masthead with one of the state’s main marketing points.

They looked at the design and layout of real travel magazines. We discussed the different techniques that advertisers used to attract attention, and we critiqued covers based on design, color, and layout to see which ones were most effective in creating visual appeal. The students also observed the conventions for writing the story taglines as ways to hint at the content inside.

ASIDE 2017
The kids had a ball bringing their states to life, and they willingly helped each other out to create clever promotional ideas. The process seamlessly integrated social studies content with media literacy skills. Their finished designs became the focal points to attract visitors to their booths at the school's annual State Fair.

As for the birds, they left the nest!

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Sketchnotes: Pushing Linear To Visual

ASIDE 2017
It’s been a hectic spring, and as we approach the end of school in fewer than 8 days, we are busier than ever. Of late, we’ve had a tendency to overthink what to post, instead of just sharing the many good things that we do with our students to promote making thinking visual. To that end, we thought we’d share in this post some of the sketchnotes that our students completed this year.

ASIDE 2017

One of the things we try to do is steer clear of just filling in worksheets and graphic organizers; instead, we want our learners to design their own organizational structures of information. We did this with our digital citizenship pledge this year. The students visually designed their own pledges. This approach let them focus on the content and create a graphic display of what it means to be a good digital citizen.

ASIDE 2017
Since our students routinely use sketchnotes in a variety of subjects and on multiple grade levels, many of them include visual annotations, or doodles if you will, on their own as reference points. We see it in their notes and sometimes in the margins on an assessment.

A few other unique examples we wanted to share were completed in a lesson about the different types of primary sources. Ask any student about where they can find primary source information, and most will say books and the Internet.


ASIDE 2017
This sketchnote activity opens their eyes to the vast array of places to locate primary documentation and firsthand accounts of information. The examples in this post represent some of the unique ways our learners visually organize how they think about content.

Sketchnotes are used to give context to content, and this design process helps with comprehension and retention of material. It’s one more tool for helping students to make thinking visible.

ASIDE 2017
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