The IWitness Challenge: Make the World Stronger than Hate

I don’t usually post from one blog to another, but today is the exception. This is such a good learning opportunity for students and educators I just had to put my Discovery Education post on this blog. If you are an educator, I really encourage you to examine this creative opportunity.

Educators have a powerful opportunity to educate and inspire students to make change now.

The 2018 IWitness Video Challenge, created by USC Shoah Foundation and in partnership with Discovery Education, provides an actionable way to promote equality, challenge bias, discuss tolerance, and engage students in a service-learning project that inspires action.

I Witness Viseo Challenge

The people in charge of developing partnerships for Discovery education are to be applauded. At a time where hate and divisiveness are part of our daily dialogue, Discovery Education is showing true leadership by encouraging the opposite – hope. They are doing this in the best way possible, by putting out a challenge to young people, the ones who will create a better world sometime soon.

This is not a partnership I know anything about.  All the more reason to write about it here and learn with all of you.

The USC Shoah Foundation is an incredible organization and they offer a wonderful teaching tool for students and educators. The Foundation is linked to the Institute for Visual History and Education which is dedicated to making audio-visual interviews with survivors and other witnesses of the Holocaust and other genocides. It is the perfect partner for Discovery Education.

The contest calls for community action in a similar way to the newly launched STEM Connectseries. Discovery Education is again showing their unique ability to go beyond their own walls to reach out and link the classroom with the outside world.

In this contest, students will listen to testimonies of survivors and witnesses of genocide and become inspired to counter hate. They will complete research-based and standards-aligned activities, culminating in a community action project. To compete in the Video Challenge, students will document their work in a video essay, which will share their message with the world.

I Witness Video Challenge

When I see things like this I truly wish I was back in the classroom!

There is more being written recently about banning cell phones from classrooms and the addictive effects of social media. I can see how this will go, with more calls from people who really don’t understand social media for its banning in schools.

Incredible contests and partnerships like this really need to be promoted so that we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Social media using curated resources like Discovery Education can empower and transform our students and then, hopefully, transform a society that is suffering from way too much distrust and negativity.

Prizes for students reach as high as $5000 scholarships and participating schools are eligible for grants up to $2500.

It is really easy to sign up for the video challenge. The steps are outlined here. As always with Discovery Education partnership projects, there is an excellent teacher’s guide that you can see and download here.

I hope you can sign up your class for this unique challenge. We need more hope and we need to push back and create beautiful things!

 

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Building Stronger Communities – School Boards Should be More Involved

Last week there was a great announcement in our school neighbourhood. The City of Ottawa, Ottawa Community Housing and surprisingly, the French Public School Board of Eastern Ontario have joined together to develop a 7-acre piece of land right in the heart of Ottawa. The project will include affordable housing, a new French public school, single-family homes, and businesses to support the new community. The development has the potential to stretch into a 15-acre project if an additional piece of land adjacent to this section can be brought in.

The new development is called Gladstone Village and it has the potential to transform this neighbourhood in some really important ways. In my opinion, the most significant aspect will be the addition of good, affordable housing for families that live in this community.

I have worked in this community for three years as a principal of a local school and now as a community volunteer.

One of the saddest parts of my job as a principal was to say goodbye to families who could no longer afford to live in this wonderful community. Housing prices have been going up steadily in the area, forcing lower income families to move to other parts of the city that generally are not as well set up to offer important social services to these families.

Hopefully, with the building of Gladstone Villiage, this trend can be reversed.

What is especially gratifying is to see a public school board take an active role in the partnership that will construct the new village. This is unusual. School boards traditionally do not get overly involved in community development. As traditional institutions, they see their primary role as educators of children, not community developers.

The French Public Board is showing that things can change and school boards can take an active role in developing and enriching the communities that surround them. What school boards will find once they start looking to get more involved is that there are lots of organizations out there that would love to work with them.

While I was principal of St. Anthony School – close to the new village – we developed some incredible partnerships with organizations like the Aviva Community Fund, TD Friends of the Environment, (@TDFEF), Evergreen Canada, the City of Ottawa and the wonderful local Italian community. Together, these groups helped us to raise over $165,000.00 in less than two years to transform our dilapidated school yard.

the new yard – the shrubs, fencing, grass and stone paving are all part of the renovation 

Evergreen consulted all the students and developed the first plan for the yard. The Italian community got interested and held a huge fundraising dinner for the school – over 400 people attended and we made over $20,000 in one night. We entered the Aviva Community Fund competition and with the help of a huge on-line community, won $100,000. The Ottawa Community Foundation also made a very significant contribution allowing us to complete the renovation of the yard.

Along with Gladstone Village, this is a great example of partners coming together to reshape and build a new community.

Education institutions like our school and the Eastern Ontario French Public Board illustrate the importance of reaching out into the community to create something better for our families.

It is no longer acceptable to sit back and wait for the students to show up. This passive approach misses many opportunities to engage actively in the community.

We could have done more. We could have opened adult literacy classes for parents at night or during the day so that they could stay close to their children. We could have constructed a computer room with free wifi so that parents could access the internet – something many of them could not do from their homes. We could have offered space in our building for community agencies to connect more readily with the families they served.

All of these ideas were discussed and unfortunately, none were ever implemented.

That is too bad. This has to change.

School Boards need to start to realize that their buildings do not belong to them, they are community assets that need to be shared. The community can not be blocked out of these spaces, they need to be welcomed in. Education really needs to become public in a much wider sense. To ignore our larger public responsibility is to retreat back into the 19th century – we simply can’t do that.

Congratulations to the Conseil des écoles publiques de l’Est de l’Ontario.

 

Creating a makerspace – what are the next steps?

We are working our way through the steps we will need to create a makerspace or innovation center at our school.  This week, I was asked to respond to a number of questions that may allow us to get some funding for this project.  I am adapting my responses into a blog post to keep a record of the steps we will need to complete to come up with a successful model.

What you are trying to accomplish

We want to develop a center for innovation at St. Anthony School.

Every day more is written about makerspaces and the benefits these centers offer students. We have experimented with Makey Makey kits and littleBits in the past, but now we want to take a more comprehensive approach.

Our idea is to create a center for innovation in our school for the use of our students and the wider community. The components of this center are certainly up for discussion, but the important idea is to create a space for creativity and innovation in our school and a concept that can be shared with other schools in the years to come.

 

How will  integrating “making” into the classroom contribute to developing a new culture of learning?

This is a segment from the first blog post I read on Maker Spaces written by Eric Sheninger, the author of Digital Leadership.  This is the post that got me first thinking about how to develop a makerspace in the school.

Over the past couple of months, the staff at New Milford High School has been diligently creating our own unique learning environments for our students. Building on the success of our Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) initiative and with the addition of a new, innovative staff member two noteworthy advancements have been made since September 2013. That new staff member is Laura Fleming and she has done nothing less than blaze a trail since joining the NMHS team. She embraced the autonomy that she was given in a position that functions as a librarian, media specialist, and educational technology integrator to push the envelop. Lucky for her, NMHS already had many innovative teachers on staff and students yearning for changes in how and where they can learn since NMHS is an ancient building (i.e. 1928).

LED stools at the Little Bits bar at NMHS
LED stools at the Little Bits bar at NMHS

Creating Our Own Unique Learning Environments

One of the most amazing transformations that has taken place at NMHS is the creation of the Makerspace in what was our traditional library. A space that could once be compared to a barren wasteland is now a thriving learning metropolis where students flock to tinker, invent, create, collaborate, work, and most importantly, learn. When I hired Laura I basically told her what her budget was and that she had complete control of how she wanted to use the money. I could never have imagined how quickly she could radically transform this outdated space, using money that in the past had always been spent on books, magazines, and electronic databases. Some quick highlights include the following:

 

For a comprehensive listing of important articles on Makerspaces, Luc Lalande from the University of Ottawa – one of our partners – has provided these reference articles:

 The Maker Movement and the Rebirth of Constructionism

Meet the Makers

The DIY ethos has spilled into schools, reminding educators how much students can learn when they use their hands.

The maker empowered student: Activating agency with a sensitivity to design

What can educators learn from the maker movement?

Innovation Spaces: Supporting individual actionmaker 2

Maker Education: A “Good” 2013-14 Educational Trend

Why the Maker Movement matters to educators

3D Printing Will Be Adopted by K-12 in 5 Years

I would add another article that I read today:

 How to Turn Your School Into a Maker Haven

one quote from the article:

 

Kids want to make an impact on the world and very often they are more motivated by contributing to the common good than to anything else. Many kids will design and build incredible things, but then put their templates online so someone else can improve on it. Those are the qualities educators should try to nurture in students. “All we have to do is open up the classroom doors a little bit and let them change the world,” Martinez said. “Because they want to.”

 

 What is the value of the project to kids & community?

The most important idea is empowerment, this is expressed best in the Mind/Shift article:

“Perhaps one of the most inspiring results of the Maker Movement is the creative confidence young people are developing. “The best thing that happens is a student completely exceeds your expectations,” Martinez said. And when students do things they didn’t realize they could do, they feel empowered.”

Who are your  partners?

This is one of the great joys of this project – we are bringing people together from many different sectors – there is a great creative synergy within this group!

Luc Lalande – Director of University of Ottawa Entrepreneurship Hub

Tracy Crowe – Assistant Director, University of Ottawa Faculty of Education

Marlaina Loveys – Blockheads Learning

Allison Burnett – Algonquin College

Rick Alexanderson – St. Peter High School Personal Robot Teaching Environment

 

The link to the University of Ottawa Faculty of Education is especially important as we are expecting to recruit student teachers who want to work on and develop the innovation center at St. Anthony.

One important idea – we feel we will need a Maker Week to introduce this concept to teachers and students. Our partners will help us to develop a ‘Maker Week’ where various aspects of maker culture are introduced to students and staff over a five-day period.

One of our partners, Marlaina Loveys has come up with a wonderful way to jump start our Maker Week:

I have been giving some thought to what type of fun event we could do to get everyone excited about the Innovation Centre.  I would like to propose that we select a theme – LEGO Stop Action Movies.

I am envisioning each class have the opportunity to be inspired by previewing some LEGO stop action movies (I can pull together a bunch from You Tube) then the teachers/students (I would love to be there too 🙂 brainstorm to decide on a theme or ideas for their Stop Action Movies.  I would provide all the LEGO for a hands on activity where they build the scenes and we could use the school IPads and either the LEGO movies, Stop Motion or Windows Movie Maker software (all free) to create the movies.

watching lego movies?
watching lego movies?

Then, we could have a school movie “night” where the whole school could watch the movies.  We could incorporate a lot of other maker/entrepreneurial activities into the movie night event.  For example:

  • Students create posters and tickets for the event
  • Make it a drive in theatre theme and use cardboard boxes for students to create cars.  Goes with the idea Allison had about cardboard creation.  I will send a separate e-mail with some pics I found on Pinterest of these types of creations others have made.
  • Maker Junior – maybe she could come up with some sort of wiring/lighting maker project to add to the movie night
  • Concession stand to sell popcorn/juice, etc. which could be an entrepreneurial project for the older students which links back with Luc

These are the kind of ideas that will make this such a special project!

I will continue to use this blog to record the progress we are making towards the innovation center.  What, I wonder will be the next step?