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Back to school: A peek inside some cool classrooms

We asked some local teachers to describe the most exciting new thing they’re trying in the classroom this year. Here are a few fun submissions. Stay tuned for more later this week. And if you’re a teacher with a cool project to share, write to letters@cmonitor.com.

No more ‘public
speaking butterflies’

With the ever-increasing popularity of iPads, this school year it is my goal to use them for presentations across our third-grade curriculum. The beautiful thing about students presenting their research orknowledge about a given topic via iPads is that it allows them to thoroughly express themselves as individuals while avoiding those “public speaking butterflies” we’ve all felt as former students ourselves.

After having tried iPad presentations last year with my students for our wetlands unit, I can confidently say that the results were magnificent. Students found a sort of comfort in the use of the iPad as both a visual and auditory aid. When my students used the iPads in this manner, the majority of them were far more assertive and articulate with their ideas – whereas with the in-person (public speaking) presentations the majority were more apprehensive in front of their peers, especially in the beginning. In order to establish levels of comfort, students have to be given the correct tools to be successful. The iPad is a vehicle to help do just that. Comfort equals confidence, and once confidence is established we as educators can then scaffold as necessary in order to continue to build that confidence.

When students have the opportunity to listen to themselves on their individual iPads, (a kind of auditory proofread), they have the opportunity to be that much more successful.

ZACHARY CARY (MR.. Z)

Third-grad teacher, Abbot-Downing School, Concord

An American in
the modern world

Sometimes, history teachers become so glued to their curricula that they chase the timeline to that elusively acceptable finish line. The standard question is “How far does your course go?” or “Which event/era do you get up to?” However, the focus should be less concerned with what content is covered and more concerned with “Why does this story matter to me?” In a digital world, students can study these stories whenever they choose with the simple push of a button or voice command. The real key to teaching history is to teach the students to interpret and connect the stories to each other in order to see the present in different ways.

At the beginning of my history courses, I present my students with an over-arching essential question that they will answer at the end of the year. For example, my U.S. history juniors will be asked, “What does it mean to be an American in the modern world?” We’ll spend some time exploring that question at the beginning of the course, and they will keep re-evaluating their answers as the course continues. At the end of the year, each student will present his or her answer and use specific historical references to support their argument. They will play teacher and will use all of the tricks of the trade (including technological know-how) that they have observed and practiced all year to present their lesson to their classmates. What better way to show a true and genuine understanding of the subject than to formulate your own lesson and teach it to others?

JEREMY HALL

World and U.S. history teacher, grades 10 and 11

Bishop Brady High School, Concord

They’ll be getting
their hands dirty

Abbot-Downing students of all grades will be getting their hands dirty this school year as they engage in a school-wide gardening project made possible by a grant I received from Whole Foods Market.

My fourth-graders, in particular, will integrate their reading, math, science and social studies knowledge with our garden project. They will be packing their iPads and bringing them to a local community garden to interview master gardeners, calculate areas of gardens, identify “good” and “bad” plant bugs, and compare and contrast today’s gardens with those in colonial times.

It is quite possible that you will hear Abbot-Downing students singing about fresh veggies or drawing the most delicious-looking garden salad as our music teacher, Ann Junkin, and our art teacher, Nate Shartar-Howe, work to integrate the garden project into their disciplines, as well. If you see students around Concord with dirt under their nails and spinach in their teeth, make sure you ask them about how their garden project is going as they step outside the classroom and connect with the Earth in a meaningful way.

KRISTEN CURREN

Fourth-grade teacher, Abbot-Downing School, Concord

Cell phones are more than just contraband

There are two things that I am eager to do this year. One is a new unit comparing and contrasting a written story to a performed version of that story. So much happens switching between media; I want students to understand what happens when a shift is made from what our mind creates while reading and what the senses observe while viewing a performance.

Another thing I am excited to try is finding a way to make the everyday technology of cell phones useful in the classrooms. Just about every student has a cellphone. Usually schools see them as contraband. Rather than continue that limitation, I want to investigate how my students can use them as a tool in the learning process.

JIM GOCHA

Eighth-grade language arts teacher

Rundlett Middle School, Concord

Great column - great ideas!

I got so excited reading this piece.... especially the piece about the gardening project. I've read pieces about similar programs in other districts.... from eating healthier, to being more connected with our planet... not to mention plenty of opportunities for real life examples of the 3-Rs... I think gardening projects are GREAT ideas.

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