Reflections on Student Council as a Community Builder

This year I took on the duties of Student Council Advisor. Before I started, I knew that this would be a huge undertaking. My school’s Student Council has many responsibilities including the fall Pep Rally, fall and spring government elections, and various fundraisers.  In order to see if this group would be a worthwhile time investment, I did my background research.

First, I learned that an advantage of Student Council over other clubs is that it takes selected leaders from each class at the school.  While the seniors run the club, all members are respected leaders of their class.  However, just because these students get the nod of approval from their peers does not guarantee that they will truly embody the qualities of leadership nor engender the requisite “buy-in” from their peers in the club. I had to dig deeper. Last summer I made several phone calls to various people in our school community. At the very least, I was assured that my senior officers were top notch and folks who really wanted to make a difference in their community.  OK, I was in.

The first meeting with my officers happened last summer, via Skype. I was enjoying one of the last nice days of the summer on the South Shore of Boston and three of my officers got together at one of their homes on the North Shore. BAM! 45 minutes later I knew we had a rockin’ crew. The gist of the meeting was that the students had to take control. It was their club.  They had the experience. I’d do whatever I could to provide extra guidance.  We discussed the potential power that lies in the diverse group of leaders such as Student Council.  I encouraged them to think outside the box. The meeting concluded and we were on to day one of the 2010-2011 school year.

Over the next several months, my officers proved to be reliable, confident, friendly and organized. Fall events such as government elections and the Pep Rally went off without a hitch. As the students began to see the effect that they could have on the community, they started thinking about bigger projects.  It was January when they approached me with the idea for the project that would prove to be the defining school activity for 2011.

“Hey Mr. Springer, what do you think about this?” My officers then played a series of music videos for me (school-wide  music videos to be precise).  If you have been paying attention to high school viral videos on YouTube, then perhaps you’ve come across these. If you haven’t, it’s worth a quick search on YouTube (search: high school lip dub). The project was recommended to my officers by one of our history teachers. The faculty has spent the last few years debating the best way for students to show “school pride”. In past years, seniors marched through the halls as part of the annual end-of-the-year parade.  They threw confetti everywhere, yelled at teachers and underclassmen as they passed rooms, etc.  Many felt that instead of leaving on a high note, the march felt more like a big middle finger to everyone in the community as the seniors walked out the door.  The project that this year’s seniors were promoting would be a way for them to bring together everyone in the school for one last celebration of community before the they graduated.  I told the officers that if they could sell it to the administration then I was in.

The officers then got together with the club and brainstormed their proposal to the administration. As written by the students in the club, here was their mission statement:

“This event will show how much of a community Reading Memorial High School is and the spirit we have for our school. It will promote all of our school groups, clubs, teams, and academics by gathering support from each. It will promote a positive, friendly school environment in which the students appreciate and value their facilities and the bonds they have with each other and faculty members. It will be a great way to show others how great of a school we have at Reading. This video could be showed to future freshmen or to other teachers at the Blue Ribbon Conferences. It could be a great tradition to start at RMHS and truly would bring everyone together.”

The students then gave several mini suggestions as to how the event could affect the following areas:

  • Promote school spirit; create unity, “we are all in this together”
  • Relieve stress
  • Student creativity
  • Student-Teacher-Administration bonding
  • Promoting friendly school environment, anti-bullying
  • Get incoming Freshman excited about RMHS
  • Orientation, show some of the school
  • Promote different clubs
  • Fitness by moving around
  • Show different values of the school (recycling, etc.)
  • Show off facilities
  • Promotion for April sharing conference hosted at our school
  • Recognize leaders as well as those who are not
  • Respect the building

On the morning of March 23rd, the officers showed up to school at 6:50am ready for their big proposal meeting with the administration. They were dressed professionally. Each had a copy of their proposal in hand with extras ready for each administrator.  They rehearsed how they would give their pitch. At 7:00am they walked into the main office and by 7:30am they walked back to my room excited that their idea had been approved.  

May 11th was our day to film. We would have an early release that day, which meant that we would have about an hour and a half from when school ended until sports practices started to film.  The planning evolved in a series of phases:

Phase 1: Research

  • We watched as many YouTube videos as possible and took notes.
  • We contacted other schools who have done similar projects and asked for advice (our principal called one school and one of our officers contacted another school’s student leader through Facebook).

Phase 2: Networking

  • We assembled a tech team consisting of several of the most talented student tech gurus at our school. These folks would be an essential piece to our success as we moved forward with logisitics.
  • We recruited teacher consultants to help advise our planning. Being a relatively new teacher to the district, the advice and support from the more experienced staff members helped us forsee several of the issues and complications that were to arise when trying to plan an event of this magnitude at the school.
  • We also recruited and sold our idea to club and team leaders.  If we could get the upperclassmen interested and committed, then the underclassmen would join too.

Phase 3: Logistics

  • We drew a detailed map of school with all details of walking route (ie. what rooms/halls we pass, what doors need to be accounted for, what thresholds to doors needed to be accounted for, etc).
  • We created a master script for the filming.
        – Where do soloists enter and exit?
        – When do soloists enter and exit?
        – Who will sing which lyrics?
        – At what second of the song does door 3 need to be opened?
        – At what second do the track girls get cued to begin their hurdle run in order to coordinate their hurdling with the camera coming out of the main office?
  • We assigned zones for each Student Council member to monitor on the day of filming with specific duties for each person in each zone. (ie. Zack will be in charge of zone 6 where he needs to ensure that teachers are in the right place.  He will also hand off a guitar to Jared as Jared slides down railing).
  • Our tech team built a lighting rig that would ensure that we could see people’s faces in the film.

*This is just the tip of the iceberg… in order to ensure success and efficiency, we tried to think through every little thing that we possible could before the day of recording.

Phase 4: Rehearsal

  • We had a two hour dress rehearsal and a three hour dress rehearsal.  This time was used to show everyone involved exactly what needed to happen on the day of recording.
  • The rehearsals were essential to both work out kinks in our logistical planning and communicate to everyone in the project that their participation was crucial to the success of the event.
  • These meetings consisted of Student Council members, soloists, club/team leaders, the tech team and a few faculty consultants. We figured that if the leaders of each group at school knew what to do, they could rally their peers to take care of business.
  • We also recorded one of our run-throughs, uploaded it to YouTube, and used this video to promote the activity to other students.

Phase 5: Day of Recording

  • When school ended at 1:11pm we sent our upperclassmen leaders to the halls to recruit participants and send them to the field house. Meanwhile, underclassmen worked to make sure the walking route was set up appropriately (ie. unlocking doors and turning on lights).
  • We filmed the last scene first with all the students in the bleachers.  While in the bleachers, we explained the time crunch and procedure for the filming.
  • We dismissed clubs one by one and they were escorted by student council members to their positions.
  • Once everyone was settled and understood their role, we did three takes. Each take was one shot.  We were done by 2:20pm and dismissed everyone to their respective extracurricular activities ten minutes ahead of schedule.

Phase 6: Post-Production Work

  • Our tech team dedicated the next couple weeks to editing the final versions of our video.
  • After bouncing around various ideas with the editing and getting approval from the administration, we posted the final product to YouTube.
  • The video was shown for the first time publicly at our school’s Class Day Ceremony.

Phase 7: Reflection

After each of our events this year, we spent time as a club reflecting on the process.  The final product was never perfect and we constantly looked for ways to improve for the potential “next time.”  That said, here I’ll focus on the positives.

My students thought outside the box.  They rallied their community in the name of celebration of one another.  So many different skills came out that highlighted the great diversity that our school has to offer. Students learned leadership, organization, communication, and technical skills.  Those who participated made friendships with people through our project that they might not have made otherwise.  Faculty members had the opportunity to laugh with other teachers that they might not have had a conversations with prior to this event.  

To summarize, this project was about community building.  The final product, however it came out, was not the quintessence of this project, but rather the representation of the hard work and good people that went into pulling it together. I’m proud to have been a part of Student Council this year. I’m proud of the learning that came from taking on all of our projects this year.  I’m proud of the relationships that were built along the way.  We hope you enjoy our video.


China Immersion Plan

Over the next several months I will attempt to learn as much as possible about China in preparation for my trip to Beijing and Xi’an in April.  The learning adventure I will embark on will hopefully provide another way to show my students the power that one has to learn on his/her own.

Itemized below are some of the tools that I’ll be using to start this study. Have any other suggestions for research? I hope to post summaries and reflections along the way to share what I learn. If you would like to join me on my 3 month quest to improve my understanding of everything China, reach out to me on Twitter or through posts here on this blog. Let’s see how much we can teach ourselves!

1) Books: I’m hoping to read a few books over the next few months that relate to Chinese history and culture. As I read, I will facilitate my understanding by following up on ideas via research using the following Web 2.0 skills.

Oracle Bones: A Journey Through Time in China by Peter Hessler
In China’s Shadow by Reed Hundt

2) Blogs by educators in Asia: (Does anyone have suggestions?) I’m hoping to find a series of writers/thinkers to follow who work with/in China. Here are some folks who have been recommended to me.

Pair-a-dimes for Your Thoughts by David Truss
E-Learning Journeys by Julie Lindsay
– One Percent Yellow by Leslie Lindballe

3) Podcasts: (Any other suggestions?) As I drive to school, work out at the gym, do dishes, folding laundry, etc. I’ll be listening to various Podcasts on anything I can find that has to do with China. Filling fluff time around the house with China will help to maximize my learning opportunities throughout the next few months. (All the following podcasts can be found on iTunes)

– China on the Rise Series by The News Hour with Jim Lehrer
– The China in Africa Podcast
– The China History Podcast
– The China Business Blog Podcast

4) Twitter: (Suggestions of people or organizations to follow?) There are several experts, and expert organizations, that deal with China that also happen to work actively on Twitter. The more groups that I can network with, the closer I’ll be to information that I want to find.

– David Truss @datruss – Educator in Dalian, China

– Julie Lindsay @julielindsay –  E-Learning Coordinator at Beijing (BISS) International School

– Asia Society @AsiaSociety – As described by its website, “Asia Society is the leading global and pan-Asian organization working to strengthen relationships and promote understanding among the people, leaders, and institutions of the United States and Asia.”

5) Interviews with Students/Teachers: (Do you know anyone who has been to China or is familiar with China?) I’m hoping to conduct interviews with those that I know who have experience with anything Chinese. I’m hoping to reflect on those interviews on my blog and see what I can learn from talking to these folks.

– Elizabeth
– Francesca
– Sharon

6) Participation in Chinese Exchange Program at School: I’m fortunate that my district will host a group of Chinese students and educators  next month. I’m looking into taking a leadership role with this exchange with the hopes of learning as much as I can.

7) General Website Reading: (Does anyone have trusted sites for information they’d like to share?) What are trusted sites that I can use to help beef up my understanding of the various topics that I read/hear about.

China Internet Information Center

United Nations in China

– Lonely

– General link hopping on Wikipedia

8 ) TED Talks: (Anybody seen other interesting presentations on China they can share?) Watching presentations given via TED Talks can greatly enhance one’s understanding/curiosity of a subject. I have found three interesting videos so far. Does anyone have any other suggestions for online videos to watch (even if not through TED Talks)?

Joseph Nye on global power shifts
* As described by, “Historian and diplomat Joseph Nye gives us the 30,000-foot view of the shifts in power between China and the US, and the global implications as economic, political and “soft” power shifts and moves around the globe.”

Hans Rosling: Asia’s rise — how and when
* As described by, “Hans Rosling was a young guest student in India when he first realized that Asia had all the capacities to reclaim its place as the world’s dominant economic force. At TEDIndia, he graphs global economic growth since 1858 and predicts the exact date that India and China will outstrip the US.”

Hans Rosling: Let my dataset change your mindset
* As described by, “Talking at the US State Department this summer, Hans Rosling uses his fascinating data-bubble software to burst myths about the developing world. Look for new analysis on China and the post-bailout world, mixed with classic data shows.”

9) Documentaries: (Does anyone have suggestions for documentaries/movies to watch before my trip?) I’m looking to rent various documentaries about China in order to get yet another perspective on important Chinese issues.

Wild China” – Trailer * This documentary chronicles the story of Chinese wild life. As described by, “An exotic fusion of natural history and Oriental adventure, “Wild China” is a series of journeys through four startlingly different landscapes, each based around the travels of a real historical character.

What is the Relationship Between Pop Culture and a Community?

This week my Spanish 5 Honors class began organizing their next learning adventure. They decided that they wanted to do a unit on Spanish Pop Culture. I told them that I was looking to address the following Spanish Speaking skills:

1) Reading

2) Writing

3) Listening

4) Speaking

5) Feeling

I asked the students to build a project that used Pop Culture to enhance our Spanish skills. The students came up with the following ways to learn about Pop Culture in Spanish-speaking communities while also enhancing our skills. This is what they came up with:

1) Reading: Analyz lyrics or script to a show/movie

2) Writing: Essays on background of subject chosen and analysis of a specific work

3) Listening: Watch/listen a movie, episode of a show or a song by subject

4) Speaking: Present information to class that explains the relationship between Pop Culture and Community using their subject as a case study

5) Feeling: Creative Activity – using your understanding of your subject and its relationship to community, create what will be your subjects next famous work — for example, their next famous song (write the lyrics), episode of their show (write a summary of the plot) , or their next movie (write a summary of the plot). Also write an explanation for why you think this work reflects their relationship to community.

After talking out their ideas with them, I then proposed the following learning adventure:

Central Question: What is the relationship between Pop Culture and a Community?

Overview: Over the next couple weeks, students will research an aspect of pop culture from the Spanish-speaking world. They will choose a musician, actor/actress or television show that comes from a Spanish-speaking origin. They will study their selection and use it as a case study to help them answer the question: What is the relationship between Pop Culture and a Community?

Phase 1: Select a Subject to research from Spanish speaking Pop Culture

– Spend time in computer lab researching potential subjects to study

– Select a subject

– Get approval from teacher for subject

Phase 2: Background Information

– Use the Internet to research your subject

– Discover where you subject originates, how it became famous, what they do in their industry, etc.

– Submit a written report on the background information for your subject

Phase 3: Analyze a selected work by your subject

– Select a song, movie or episode produced by your subject

– Annotate this work – Look for colloquial vocabulary, phrasing, dress etc.

– What is the message that your subject tries to communicate?

– Answer the question: What does this work say about the relationship between Pop Culture and Community? Does the community determine how/what the subject conveys its message? Why/how? Do you think the subject manipulates how the community functions? Why/how? How else does this work relate to the central question of this unit? Write up your analysis in essay form and submit to teacher.

Phase 4: Creation – Using what you have learned from the background of your subject and what you have learned from the analysis of the specific work, create what you think would be your subject’s next work. Take into account what you know about how your subject works and how it typically relates to communities based on the case studies that you have seen.

– If you chose an artist = write the next song by your artist

– If you chose an actor = write a summary of the plot of his next movie

– If you chose a TV show = write a summary of what the next episode might be about After your summary/song

– You will also write a brief essay explaining why you think this will be your artists next work and why you think this will resonate with a community.

Phase 5: Presentation

– The final activity of this unit will be your presentation to the class. You will create a multimedia presentation that will be given to the class in Spanish. This presentation will summarize how you think Pop Culture relates to Community. You will use your subject as your evidence.

Concluding Thoughts: Obviously there is no correct answer to the central question. The class is also limited by our two week time restraint leading up to the end of the semester. The goal of the unit though was not to “correctly answer the question”, but to get students reflecting on some of these ideas. I hope that after my students finish with this unit they will revisit this question in the future. When a new single comes out, will they wonder why it became popular? Will they wonder how this song reflects or projects on society?

Do you have any suggestions for how to improve this unit? What do YOU think is the relationship between Pop Culture and Community?

Learning Spanish With El Internado

This year my department is piloting a new Spanish TV series called El Internado La Laguna Negra. Have you seen it in Spain? Are you using it in your class? Have you never heard of it?

El Internado chronicles the tale of several Spanish high school students who live at a boarding school in Spain. For a summary of the plot, click here.  The Internado incorporates drama, action, mystery, horror and comedy. The cast consists of adventurous, devious, and humorous high school students to whom your students will be able to relate. Throughout the year, my department and I will collaborate to develop a curriculum for the first season. Our students will learn modern slang, phrasing and a variety of cultural motifs that pertain to their age group.

If you would like to check out some of the first episodes, you can view them for free at this website. If you are interested in buying the DVD’s, you can buy them online at FNAC online . If you would like to collaborate with us on this curriculum, please visit our department’s wiki  and upload activities, assignments, projects, etc. that you use in your class. As you contribute, feel free to use any of our work!

Social Revolution Through Dance

Last week the class of 2010 finished high school. How did my seniors elect to spend their final classes? Trying to initiate social change through dance of course! After a heated discussion about the lack of creativity with regards to the student dancing at our school’s junior prom, and with senior prom looming in the near future, we decided that the seniors needed some alternatives.  

For a couple weeks leading up to their last three classes, students researched the origins of Flamenco, Salsa, Bachata, Merengue and Salsa. After presentations to the class on the background of these dances, students divided into dance teams. They then waded through their various Web 2.0 resources in order to learn the basic steps to their assigned dance. During the last week of classes, we put their efforts to the test by inviting other D-period senior classes to come dance with us.

Our various dance teams hosted a dance conference. Seniors from all over the school had the opportunity to learn about the history of these dances and the basic steps. We held training sessions Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. The goal for my students? Sneak Latin dance music to the DJ at their prom and have a hundred seniors whip out their brand new latin dance skills…

Check out this video clip of my students sharing their new Tango knowledge…

Prom has since come and gone. Although my students didn’t sneak any music to the DJ, a latin hip hop song came on and a few of my students tried their new skills. We might not have reached our original goal, but the process itself presented many learning opportunities. Several classes came together to participate in student-centered learning. Students enjoyed teaching their peers and showed their research, presentation and leadership skills.  All in all, a fun learning activity that brought their community together to close out their high school experience.

Cinematography Unit

Over the past few weeks my Spanish 5 class has studied cinematography.  We first used the works of Spanish-speaking directors/producers to analyze the film techniques that these directors use to communicate a message.  We watched scenes from Mujeres al Borde de un Ataque de Nervios by Pedro Almodovar, La Lengua de las Mariposas by José Luis Cuerda, and El Orfanato by Guillermo del Toro. We looked at how these artists used lighting, movement of the camera and special effects to portray the feeling of comedy, drama and horror.  I selected clips of each film that we then analyzed as a class.  We discussed the films in Spanish and prepped students for their unit project.  

After reviewing the various techniques in these films, we divided the class into 4 teams.  Each team selected a film genre.  We then brainstormed a storyboard as a class for the movies that each team would create.  I told the students that they could choose whatever topic they wanted as long as all four teams made a film about the same topic.  I wanted the same general events, characters and certain props in each team’s film.  By forcing all the teams to use these similar elements, I hoped that each group would see how the employment of the different cinematography techniques that we studied can create the different feelings of a comedy, drama and horror film.
The class decided they would use the simple topic of cleaning a house.  
The actions needed in each scene are the following:

1. Present scene (clean house before guests arrive)

2. Clean the living room: vacuum, dust, tidy up

3. Clean the kitchen: dishes, moping, take out the trash

4. Clean the bathroom: toilet, mirror, shower

5. Clean the bedroom, make bed, tidy up, clean closet (actors will not actually get to this in the film…)

6. Doorbell rings – someone is there

Characters needed in the film:

– protagonist – age of students in class

– someone at the door

Props to be included in each scene:

– living room: vacuum, pillow, blanket, magazine

– kitchen: knife, trash barrel, banana peel, mop, dishes

– bathroom: toothbrush, toilet cleaner, mirror, towels

Students will be graded based on whether or not they meet these requirements.  The success of portraying the feeling of “horror”, for example, will not be graded, thus allowing the students more room for creativity. In addition to making the film, students had to divide their movie amongst the members of the group and write essays justifying how they used cinematography tricks to create the feeling of horror while sticking to the structure we agreed upon.

This week, we will show the films and discuss as a class the successes/failures of their attempts to create their genre.  Students will have to defend their artistic decisions and explain why they chose those particular techniques.
I have attached three of the films below. The first film is the comedy/action group, the second group is the horror group, and the third is the drama group. These students had limited knowledge about making and editing movies before this assignment. For a first attempt, I think they did a nice job and I’m looking forward to our discussion. If you have a moment, check out the clips and let us know what you think!

La Bomba – Proyecto de Espanol

La Muerte De Los Quehaceres

Pelicula de Drama

Using Google Presentation with Our Dance Unit

This year google docs provided the backbone for all of our projects in my Spanish 5 class. Once we developed our central questions, we broke into research teams and divided the research necessary to answer our central question. In order to explain how this process works in action, I will show how this year’s dance unit is different from last year’s.

Last year, my seniors ended the year with a dance unit. I created power point presentations to outline the Salsa, Merengue, Bachata and the Tango. After I spent a class lecturing on the history/evolution of Salsa, for example, I would spend a few class days teaching the basic dance steps. Dance provided a fun, and useful, unit to serve as the last high school Spanish experience for these students.

This year, I redesigned the unit to integrate 21st Century and Web 2.0 skills. Students divided into dance teams for Salsa, Merengue, Bachata, Tango and flamenco. Each team will research their topic and present their dance to the class. The first phase of the project is research. The teams have divided their members among the following topics:

1) Information about the country in which the dance oriented

2) Evolution of the dance within that country (style, music, role in pop culture, etc)

3) A popular music group that plays their type of music (name of group, popular songs, etc)

4) Important vocabulary for understanding the dance

In order to combine all this information into a presentation to the class, the dance teams have created Google Presentations. As seniors in their final Spring in high school, these students have a very difficult time coordinating schedules in order to meet outside of school. Google Presentations allows my students to follow each other’s progress although they might not be able to physically meet after school. Students will present their dance’s history to the class on Monday.

As students research, they can include links, pictures, videos, etc. that their team members can view. Students can also leave each other notes in the comments section. This will help them stay organized as the get closer to their presentation to the class. As a teacher, I can also comment on their progress. I can give them grammar/organization feedback as they go so that their final product is more professional. I also can track which students do which edits and make sure that everyone participates.

We have used Google Docs to help organize all of our projects this year. It provides a great way for students to get around scheduling conflicts, collaborate on research and allow me to get more involved in the early stages of their work. We will continue to use Google Docs in future projects and I know my students will use Google Docs in other classes in the future as well.