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081: Empowering Students with Project-Based Learning

Project-based learning is one of the most powerful creative strategies available to teachers. It's the triple chocolate layer cake with strawberry cream of the education bakery.

But there's not an easy and exact road map for putting it into action. Every group of kids is different. Every school structure. Every teacher.

Ideally, a project-based-learning unit will fit the school structure, the teacher, and the kids well. It'll lead to a real-world learning experience that makes a difference in your students' lives. But of course, there will be bumps along the way. You'll have to figure out how to structure your projects, how to tap into your students' gifts and motivation, and how to keep track of it all.

Will it be worth it though? YES.

In this episode of the podcast, we're learning with Marynn Dause and Cathleen Beachboard, English teachers and authors of a new book, 10 Keys to Student Empowerment: Unlocking the Hero in Each Child. 

Celebrating Voices from Indigenous Nations in our ELA Classrooms

Think back to the way indigenous people were represented to you when you were a kid. Maybe you watched Pocahantas and Peter Pan, digesting the Disney version of American Indians without question. Maybe someone you knew loved the Cleveland Indians and cheered for Chief Wahoo, their mascot. Maybe you celebrated Columbus Day without a second thought. Maybe you had a headdress in your costume closet that someone gifted you.

Probably your education didn't teach you to question any of that. You might have learned briefly about the relocation of Native peoples, skimming over the accompanying genocide. Perhaps a teacher or two guided you in creating Pilgrim hats and feathered headbands for a beautiful "reenactment" of a Thanksgiving feast that never really happened.

Today, we can do better. We know more. We are empowered to make a difference in the crisis of how the Indigenous nations of the Americas are viewed and talked about. We can help fight stereotyping and misinformation by including many voices from native Nations in our curriculum.

10 Podcast Episodes to Help you Innovate in Class

I don't know about you, but I've got a lot of car and plane hours coming up in the next six weeks. Of course, the age of my children dictates that I'll spend most of those hours serving up bags of pizza-flavored Goldfish and baby carrots while playing travel Bingo and listening to Laurie Berkner sing "There's a Song in my Tummy," but travel CAN be a great time to get inspired by listening to podcasts.

Whether you need a playlist for a long car ride or a few good options for long post-turkey-and-pie walks, I thought now would be a good time to share ten of my favorite podcast episodes for sparking innovation in your classroom. After all, the show is almost up to one hundred episodes (can you believe it? My aspirational placement of the double zero before episode one is finally going to pay off!), and you might have missed some gold along the way.

I've embedded all the episodes here if you want to bookmark this post and play them right off the web, but you can also listen now on Spotify (for those who have asked) and as usual, on Apple Podcasts, Sticher, Blubrry, Google Air Play, etc. If it's not yet available wherever you prefer to listen, just let me know and I'll do my best to get it onto your platform of choice.

The Busy Teacher's Guide to Stitchfix

Perhaps, at some point, you loved to shop. To swish through the racks with your friends, trying things on, matching jewel tones, layering completer pieces over basics, adding statement jewelry and colorful, not-so-comfortable shoes. Maybe you had a lovely Pinterest board with ideas for what to wear to work, like me. 

Then life got more complicated. Your chosen career began to dictate parts of your outfit, and sap a lot of the time you used to spend at your favorite shops. Shoe comfort ruled the day. 

Maybe you had kids. Kids who'd rather climb to the top of everything in sight and eat Superman ice cream with you than watch you shop. 

Somewhere along the way, buying clothes became a hassle, even though looking put together still mattered to you. 

Let's face it, teaching in "the outfit," something awesome that feels really comfortable and looks good and doesn't get in the way, is kind of a big deal. But it's not easy to accomplish. 

079: Goodbye Data Hawks, Hello Innovation, with Ted Dintersmith

Last year I discovered the documentary produced by Ted Dintersmith, Most Likely to Succeed, which asked the big question: is it better for our schools to focus on coverage, breadth, and testable skills, or to focus on creativity, critical thinking, and depth? In my review, I applauded the amazing questions and stories of the documentary while at the same time wishing that the film had answered its own question.

Imagine my delight when Ted Dintersmith read the review and sent me his book, What Schools Could Be, documenting his next project after the film, to crisscross every state in America and discover the answers to the film's questions. Over the course of one year he met with teachers, administrators, parents, politicians and students in every single state. He learned so much about what's working in education today (hint - it's not breadth of coverage and standardized testing), and he shared all the highlights in his wonderful book.

Tips for Successful First Chapter Fridays

First Chapter Friday is an easy, fun way to get students excited about reading the books in your   library.  Simply set aside time to read out loud - you guessed it - the first chapter of a popular book each Friday. This works best as part of an independent reading program, so you can simply pass the book off to one of the many interested readers you'll have by the end. (Don't have an independent reading program? This is a great place to start). 

In this post, I'm going to share some quick, doable ideas to help you make your first chapter Fridays series a success. 

077: Integrating the Arts & ELA, with Eileen Landay

Years ago I stumbled into my first arts integration units. I was trying to figure out how to get my students interested in classic poetry and theater, and it wasn't easy. 

So during our poetry unit we studied performance artists, did choral readings of famous American poets, did a workshop with a guest writer, and eventually had our own slam. The kids shone. Quiet students became leaders. Classic poetry took on a new life. 

During the theater unit I was able to bring in my cousin, a theater professional, to do theater games and warm-ups, teaching the kids to create silhouettes and themed statues, to warm up their bodies and voices, to explain the symbolic nature of movements and facial expressions. When we began to read Death of a Salesman, we started work on group performances of various scenes at the same time. Again, the kids shone. The play began to matter to them. 
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