I’m Going to China!

My district just approved a trip for me to travel to China this April vacation. I will travel with a group of education administrators from the Boston, MA area. We will visit schools in Beijing and Xi’an while attempting to learn about the Chinese education system.

I have traveled to several different countries, but other than a brief stay in Turkey, this will be my first trip to Asia. Aside from the articles I read in the news about the political and economic happenings in China, I could use a boost in my understanding of Chinese culture. In an attempt to blitz my brain with Chinese culture studies before April, I have bought a couple books to read. The first of which is Oracle Bones by Peter Hessler. Mother nature granted me a snow day so I’m planning on starting my China investigation today.

Does anyone have other recommendations for reading up on Chinese culture/society? Have you been to China? If so, any advice?


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?

Spanish Public Speaking Unit

Spanish 5 begins with a conversation. On day one, we sit down and discuss the skills that we look to improve upon throughout the year.  I explain to the students that I have a few goals for our class this year. My goals are the following:

1) Push yourself to develop your skills and interests… just try it in Spanish.

2) Push yourself to not need your teacher… work towards being a self-learner of a foreign language.

3) Push yourself to ask how each unit we study can improve your character.

This year, of the many ideas that my students came up with, the first skill they wished to improve upon was public speaking. We built the following unit to improve their public speaking.

Phase 1:

The first phase of the unit was to study what makes a good public speaker. We watched several famous public addresses. After watching the addresses, we reflected on what we noticed as effective ways to communicate ideas.  In addition to watching speeches, we also read articles with tips for how to give effective speeches.  We then discussed the techniques that we wished to focus on to improve our own speech delivery.  The areas that we decided to address were the following:

1) Eye contact
2) Tone/Energy
3) Posture
4) Projection
5) Articulation/Pronunciation

Phase 2:

After establishing what we viewed as areas that we could practice, I then met with our school’s drama teacher to discuss ways to practice these skills.  After bouncing ideas of of him, I then adapted many tongue twisters to Spanish to practice articulation. I adapted several improvisation games to get the students comfortable speaking in front of people.  I also adapted self-evaluation forms that our theater teacher uses in order to get my students to start reflecting on their skills.

Phase 3:

Next we had to begin practicing speeches. We decided to select three types of speeches to practice our essential skills.

1) Presenting a pre-written speech (3 minutes)
2) Presenting a speech for which you only have an outline on a note card (2-3 minutes)
3) Improvising a Speech from themes selected at random from a hat (1minute)

Through speech writing and practice of the various speeches, we were able to review various grammar topics and learn new vocabulary while also practicing our public speaking skills.  When presentation days came about, students would evaluate their peers work. We also video taped the speeches so that students could watch themselves perform.  After reading their classmates critiques and viewing their own speeches, students wrote reflection essays. What did you do well? What did you improve from your previous speech? What can you do better next time?  These reflection pieces posed another opportunity to practice written Spanish skills, while also allowing the students time to reflect on their public speaking skills.

Overall, I think the unit opened my students eyes to a very important skill that they will use throughout their life.  They developed their abilities in public speaking while also practicing their own fluency in Spanish, their Spanish grammar and their Spanish written skills.  Next time, I would like to focus more specifically on one grammar topic. We reviewed the present tense, as well as the preterit versus the imperfect, but I think it would have been more effective to just highlight one topic. I also think this unit would have moved along more quickly.  The unit took about a month.  After running through the unit once, I think that I could probably do the unit in 3 weeks. I felt like it dragged on a bit towards the end.  That said, we ran into many holidays and days that our class cycled out of the school schedule and this also extended the length of the unit.

Do you teach a public speaking unit? Do you have suggestions for how to improve my unit? For those of you who don’t have a specific unit for public speaking, do you give students feedback on their presentation skills when they give a presentation? If so, how?

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!

Second Annual Fantasy Football And Education Address

Sunday afternoon I’m siting in my apartment surrounded by many of my best friends.  We all compete in a fantasy football league that just commenced it’s thirteenth season (for an explanation of what fantasy football is, check out my first annual FF & Edu address from last year). Each year we get seventeen weeks to crunch statistics, talk trash and fight to be the one to come home with the championship belt at the end of the season.

In our free time, we dedicate hours to researching trends, analyzing statistics and navigating through various forms of media to find the players that give our teams the best opportunity to succeed.  As an educator integrating technology into my curriculum in order to enhance my students’ learning experience, I find myself reflecting on how the integration of new technology to my fantasy football league has enhanced my own learning experience.

When we started, many of us did not have Internet at home.  We traveled to the public library every week to update rosters and make transactions.  As the years passed, we soon acquired Internet at home, but we still had to worry about occupying our land-lines at home.

Fast forward another ten years.  We sit here with our laptops and smart phones fired up. We follow live updates of statistics as they play out across the NFL. We follow experts in chat pages on ESPN.com and follow a variety of reporters on twitter.  We know that the person who has the best information the fastest will step ahead of his competitors.

Last year, I believe I knew more about the various web 2.0 tools than most of my friends. This gave me a competitive edge that allowed me to win my league. However, as I began publicly reflecting on the powers of my web 2.0 tools, my competitors caught on to my tricks and have begun implementing the same tools.

As I move forward with fantasy football strategy, I revisit one of the most important lessons that I try to teach to my students.  Acquiring knowledge and information is only the first step. To differentiate yourself from the crowd, you need to analyze your information and make decisions about how to apply it.

The information is out there for everyone to take advantage of.  If you learn how to find it, you will jump ahead of many people.  However, analysis and application of this information is where you make yourself.  Application is what makes you stand out.

As Chris Lehmann proposes in an article posted on February 5th, 2010, my lessons need to come back to the basic question of “What do you think?”. This question will define the leaders of the future.  Every fall, fantasy football reminds me of this.  Good luck to all of you starting a new season and don’t forget that no matter what ESPN tells you, the most important piece to winning your championship will be answering the question: “What do you think?”

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