Gnome Houses & Place Based Learning

Gnome HouseJuneau Community Charter School (JCCS) does a great job of incorporating place-based education into the classroom. In the first week of school, we took students or on a walk through downtown to get them oriented in where we are. The second week of school, we went to Echo Ranch for three days of camping. Students could choose classes like: canoeing, making campfires and cooking on them, knot tying (for boating), trail running, and various other outdoor Alaskan skills. The students’ favorite activity was building “gnome houses” (photo left) out of only natural materials that they found in the forest. About every other week students take either a walking field trip, or go on a hike in gym. One of the most popular exploratory classes is photography, where students have been documenting downtown Juneau through photographs. Another popular exploratory class is working with a naturalist from Discovery Southeast to take field notes on various hikes throughout Juneau.

Another way that JCCS incorporates place-based learning is through the community service focus. JCCS has three different community service courses broken up by grade. The 6th graders plan a menu and prepare a meal for the Glory Hole once a month and use class time to prepare, which means getting donations from families and local businesses. The 7th graders volunteer to help in lower grades in the fall and in the spring they volunteer at Discovery Preschool. The 8th graders design their own community service project that includes working with a mentor for the year.

As far as culturally-responsive teaching, I see some gaps within the curriculum. In Social Studies and Language Arts we have been working on a lesson on reading portraits as biographies, we examined portraits of many diverse historical figures as well as portraits of “regular” people from around the world. I liked the way students had a chance to look at art created by and depicting people from all different cultures. We also have book groups and mine is currently reading “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie. However, in a curriculum that is so project-based and where students get a lot of choice in their learning, many of them do not “choose” to learn about other cultures. I see an many opportunities to incorporate studies specifically on Tlingit culture and the active Tlingit community here in Juneau. When I begin my Social Studies unit on the Civil Rights Movement I plan to show the film Jerry was in about Elizabeth Peratrovich and hopefully invite some guest speakers in to class to speak more about social justice issues here in Juneau. I would also like to take students on trip to the Alaska State Museum and to the Sealaska Heritage Center during our unit on developing biographies of historical figures. I’m also really looking forward to the exploratory class that will take place in the spring with Abel Ryan who is a Tsimshian carver and metal worker. Again though, if students do not choose the certain book group or exploratory class, they could miss various opportunities for more culturally-responsive lessons. I hope to incorporate more culturally-responsive lessons into classes that everyone will take.

Self-Care & the Heart of Teaching

“We need to open a new frontier in our exploration of good teaching: the inner landscape of a teacher’s life. To chart that landscape fully, three important paths must be taken–intellectual, emotional, and spiritual–and none can be ignored.” (Palmer, pg. 1)

This quote stood out to me because I noticed a connection between how Palmer defines a good teacher and how many social workers define a self-care plan. Self-care plans typically include a focus on the mind, body, spirit, and emotional parts of us. Professionals in “helping” fields like: health care, law enforcement, advocacy, teaching, etc.; are taught self-care practices because they are exposed to trauma, sometimes primary and sometimes secondary. I used to work with domestic violence and sexual assault advocates to remind them about the importance of self-care and to discuss their own strengths and coping skills. During workshops on the topic, advocates would be asked to think about the different parts of their lives that uplifted them, nurtured them, or simply made them feel happy and healthy. What does that look like in education?

I found it really interesting that Palmer identified good teaching as someone who, in essence, practices self-care. Someone who knows themselves well. Palmer stresses that we must find balance both inside and outside of the classroom and that the best teachers remain present, engaged and curious.

The challenges we face as teachers are sometimes amplified by the many challenges our students face everyday before, during and after school. For me, my biggest fear is that I will care too much. This essay helped remind me that I will care too much and that it will be okay. My teaching does not have to be stagnant, but it does have to inspire my students and make them feel confident. Creating an engaging classroom requires me to be excited about teaching and interested in my student’s learning process. To do all that, I have to take care of myself.

By choosing integrity, I become more whole, but wholeness does not mean perfection. It means becoming more real by acknowledging the whole of who I am. (Palmer, pg. 4)

(More info on self-care: Webinar slides from the Native Wellness Institute on Self-Care and self-care tools and information visit the University at Buffalo School of Social Work.)

Final Reflection: Giving Power

How does understanding culture and power impact your teaching? Describe your plans to teach in culturally responsive ways… 

“One of the common reasons to for becoming a teacher is to pursue a power-giving vocation.” (Kohl, I Won’t Learn From You, pg. 76)

When I enter the room as a white, middle-class teacher, able-bodied, straight teacher… I carry with me a lot of privilege. While I cannot give my own privilege away, I can acknowledge it, I can be an ally, and I can work through my own barriers to ensure that every student has a place in my classroom. Like Kohl suggests, a good teacher is one who empowers her students, not one who judges or shames them. I have taken many classes in the past where the topics the topic of oppression and power have been discussed, but many of these past discussions have remained academic and theoretical, not practical. I truly appreciate the many practical tools we learned about to incorporate multi-cultural education into our classroom. I can help students who do not usually talk in class gain confidence, by giving longer wait times, encouraging group discussions, teaching active listening skills, and doing reflections through sharing partners (dyads). I can help students gain common background knowledge by creating word-walls, doing pre-tests to evaluate knowledge, and differentiating instruction. I can help myself be the best teacher possible by continuing to learn about the students I’m teaching and about the cultures within our classrooms, communities and world.

This year, I will have the opportunity to teach in an inter-disciplinary classroom teaching social studies and language arts. In the first semester my host teacher wants to look at the process of elections in the United States. Throughout this course, I have thought about  how I can overcome my own personal challenge of teaching about “democracy” when I feel that so many people are failed by the system. I am really looking forward to creating a multi-cultural lesson on the elections by examining the tough questions of: Who is served by the US government? Who is included? Who is excluded? What does political engagement look like? And not just who has been elected, but who has been politically engaged in issues throughout history?  I have thought a lot about how I always learned about white men in my social studies classes and how today, of course we have seen positive shifts to more inclusive representation in government, there are still many gaps that exist. I want to look not just at the history of the United States and how democracy functions as a whole, but look within our own state too. For instance: How do tribal organization come to decisions? What is the political purpose of large gatherings like Alaska Federation of Natives Convention? What impact do decisions made by the federal government have on our own state? I also want to teach students how they can be active participants in democracy in order to create change within their own communities. I am excited to take everything I have learned from this course to teach more dynamic, engaging and culturally relevant lessons for my students.

Word Wall:  There are a couple of words that I think we missed on our word wall, but all the words in bold are ones we worked to define together in class.

equityEquity didn’t make it onto our word wall, but I think it should have. Whenever I think of equity, I think of this image. Creating an equitable classroom does not mean that we give the same instruction to each students… instead it means we differentiate our instruction to meet the needs of ALL our students. It means that each student should be given the tools and instruction they need to be successful. It means we compare our students less to one another, and challenge them individually instead. When we are teaching, we should present information differently for students with different learning styles, for students from different cultures, or for students with different sets of background knowledge.

Transformation: Herbert Kohl wrote “teachers are transformers, that can help people transform their lives in decent ways and in that manner contribute to the transformation of society.” (I Won’t Learn From You, pg. 76) I really liked that we focused so much on the positive ways in which we can influence our students. We examined tough topics like inter-generational trauma, institutional racism, gaps and disparities… but at the end of each discussion I was always able to come back to hope. To me transformation is the ability to work backwards, to allow our students to shape our schools, to disrupt oppression, to build creative curriculum, and above all, to build positive relationships and learning environments for our students.

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“You just experienced project-based learning.
What did the teacher in you learn?”

The teacher in me learned that project-based learning can be both frustrating and brilliant. The student in me was reminded how challenging it can be to be patient. The teacher in me was reminded about the importance of scaffolding.

Use of technology: In this course, I gained new tech tools and ideas on how to build technology into the classroom and curriculum. Understanding technology is a current “gate-keeper,” so I appreciate us being pushed to both learn it and teach it to one another. I think it is critical to use technology in the classroom to connect with students in a digital era, but also to help them succeed in it.

The iBooks project helped me gain insight into what it will be like to teach at a constructivist charter school. As a group member, I had to step back and recognize that everyone works differently and at their own pace. I will have to do the same as a teacher, so this was an important lesson.

In my own classroom, I will have more time to help students learn about the technology they are using before we begin a project. If I were to do an iBook project with my class, I would have them work in pairs and I would let students start out with a narrow, specific topic of their choice (within a given theme). I would give them a sort-of “starter” project before jumping into a more complex research project or book. Students will need to have a common understanding of what iBooks can do and how to effectively write for a digital publication. During my student teaching I will be teaching the same groups of students language arts and social studies, so it’s important for me to be thinking about interdisciplinary teaching. I would do a unit on how to write for digital publications and how to conduct online research in language arts, simultaneously with a social studies unit on any given historical topic.

libraryslamA quick note on place-based learning & using our community resources wisely… It was so exciting to get to spend time in the new museum and archives! This gave a real authenticity to what we were learning about, especially for those of us who couldn’t visit our region. I will absolutely use this space since I’ll be teaching within walking distance of the SLAM building.

Alaska Studies: For my own chapters, I learned a lot about my individual region and learned a little more about commonalities and differences between regions. Through reading other groups’ work, I gained a bit more information about other regions, but not as much about Alaska as a whole. At times, the learning seemed fragmented. Even within my own region, I focused so much on my own sections, that I did not get to really dive deep into others. This is a challenge with project-based learning, it takes time and students miss details when they are focused on their own interests. I appreciated that the course was taught in combination with Angie’s course so we could continue to gain a deeper, cohesive understanding of multi-cultural ed. while working on the iBook. I think before teaching Alaska Studies to my students, I have a lot more learning to do on the big picture, historical timelines, and cultures in each region… but now I’ll have the tools I need to gain a broader and deeper understanding, including an iBook to use in my classroom!

Lesson Plan: Ethnobotany

This lesson plan intended to be used in combination with my iBook lesson “Ethnobotany.” LessonPlanEthnobotany (1)

This lesson meets various cultural standards, but the ones I focused on are as follows: 

Curriculum Standard B: A culturally-responsive curriculum recognizes cultural knowledge as part of a living and constantly adapting system that is grounded in the past, but continues to grow through the present and into the future.

  1. Recognizes the contemporary validity of much of the traditional cultural knowledge, values and beliefs, and grounds students learning in the principles and practices associated with that knowledge. 

Student Cultural Standard C: Culturally-knowledgeable students are able to actively participate in various cultural environments.

  1. Perform subsistence activities in ways that are appropriate to local cultural traditions.

2. Attain a healthy lifestyle through which they are able to maintain their own social, emotional, physical, intellectual and spiritual well-being.

I wanted to create a lesson that emphasized that Alaska Native (specifically Athabascan) knowledge of plants. Within the lesson, I tried to emphasize the “contemporary validity” of plants in Alaska. Plants were used for medicinal and subsistence purposes and they are STILL used this way today by many Alaska Native people and others who have learned techniques from them throughout the years. I wanted students, regardless of their own cultural background, to be reminded that the plants of Alaska are also a part of a healthy diet and lifestyle. I also wanted students to be introduced to the wealth of resources available written by Alaska Native people and various tribal organizations, sharing recipes, translations, and uses for plants.

CRT- Scott’s Lesson

There were so many parts of the inquiry based learning article and lesson that I appreciated. Scott talked about how proud his students felt to be authors and in the article he writes “our students acted as historians, scientists, statisticians, and writers.” Instead of just reading other people’s research, students were encouraged to actively engage in the research themselves. This idea not only builds knowledge and critical thinking skills, but also self-esteem… each of these topics are themes that have come up within this course.

The book the students created was rooted in place, it was all about Nikiski. Scott mentioned that many students got to interview their grandparents as part of the project. This whole part of the unit helped students meet the student Cultural Standard A. “Culturally-knowledgeable students are well grounded in the cultural heritage and traditions of their community.” (60) I really like projects that give students a chance to connect with family and view their own family members as experts in their culture, traditions, and history.

Within the article, I really appreciated the way students were given a chance to reflect on the process of building the book about Nikiski. It’s great to hear the student’s voice come out in their descriptions of how they completed each section. Having students write about the process could act as an assessment tool and give an educator the chance to refine the process for future projects.

Culturally Responsive Curriculum: Standard C

Culturally Responsive Curriculum Standard C: A culturally-responsive curriculum uses the local language and cultural knowledge as a foundation for the rest of the curriculum.

There are seven parts of this cultural standard, but I’m going to focus my reflection on the following two parts. A curriculum that meets this cultural standard: 1. utilizes the local language as a base from which to learn the deeper meanings of the local cultural knowledge, values, beliefs and practices; and 2. recognizes the depth of knowledge that is associated with the long inhabitation of a particular place and utilizes the study of “place” as a basis for the comparative analysis of contemporary social, political and economic systems.

  1. I really appreciate how much Tlingit language we have been exposed to through this class. We have listened to expert speakers, we have watched young people use the language, and we have learned about the connections between language and culture. We have seen that this language is vibrant and very much alive. During our group project David mentioned how he would like to do a Tlingit word of the day to teach us as a class and I really like that idea! I also think it’s something we could easily incorporate into a classroom throughout the year, especially since there are recordings of Tlingit available online, dictionaries, and even these cool videos with puppets from 1969. It would be great to have an Elder join the classroom and help us work on Tlingit language, but that might not be an option daily. knotweed
  2. Thinking about rooting a lesson in place makes me think of Paula’s lesson on Japanese Knotweed. You could teach a lesson on invasive plants simply by reading about them in a text book, but would it really be memorable? I grew up in Douglas and when Paula showed us the map of where the invasive plant grew, I could picture the patches in my former neighbors’ yards. My best friend and I used to build tunnels through the knotweed by lashing the tops of it together with grass. Some of the most important meetings about the latest elementary school drama were held within the walls of this invasive plant. This lesson helped me reexamine something that I thought I already understood. I was encouraged to reconsider it, examine it, and think critically about this plant and how it arrived in Alaska. Paula’s students got to observe the plant in the wild, record data about it, and learn (or solve the mystery!) of how it got to Douglas. Through interdisciplinary lesson “place” seemed to be the glue that held science, math, history and language arts together. I have learned so much in this course about how we we can meet curriculum standard C and teach many complex topics using the resources and knowledge right here in Juneau (or whatever community you’re working in!)