Monday, December 04, 2006

Will's Reflections on the NCSS Conference

This was my 5th year attending the NCSS Social Studies Conference. Each year this conference provides me with a plethora of information about teaching my "World Cultures and Geography" course. This conference also allows us to have several in depth and reflective conversations as a department, soliciting each other's opinions on a wide variety of topics in each other's classes. Having Matt there this year was an added bonus, as we were able to get his thoughts and opinions on integrating technology into our courses in meaningful and age-appropriate ways. I attended many different sessions. Below is a digest of some of the most notable ones that others might find beneficial.

International Education and Resource Network: iEARN.
The iEARN workshop dealt with how to branch out globally to different schools around the world and connect in meaningful ways with other students and teachers. This organization has TONS of ways to make classes more global. The general gist of iEARN is that you pay a subscription fee, either individually or as a school, to be connected to a network of other schools interested in doing global collaborations. Once part of the network, you can search for ongoing projects that meet your classroom's needs, or else post an idea that you'd like to do with another classroom in a different country. One of the examples presented was the Teddy Bear Project . This is a project where a class will exchange a plush toy with another class of the same age students. Each week students the classes will take a picture of the animal doing something relating to the other country and write a little story/blurb about it. I thought this could make for a neat project for 5th grade composition. There were other opportunities that integrated global learning with math, science, English, fine arts, and, of course, social studies. All of these ideas allow students to meet curricular objectives, use technology, and engage in different levels of international service learning. I am excited for all the possibilities!

Teaching Saudi Arabia Through Visual Images:
This workshop was very well done. The presenter was a 6th grade world geography teacher who earned a grant to study in Saudi Arabia. He described his trip and gave out a DVD of footage that he took. The best part about this is that it was all geared at the younger students' interest level (animals, sports, houses, etc.) As an added bonus, the presenter brought in a guest, a man named Zuhair Alsaegh, who is a middle school social studies teacher at the Wisconsin School for the Deaf. Zuhair did a PHENOMENAL job teaching about the Saudi clothing and its significance. After the session I chatted via a translator with Zuhair and we swapped emails. I am not sure where this partnership can or will lead us, but I think that Zuhair could make a great presenter for my class. He was familiar with USM and its reputation as a great school. If anyone does anything with Saudi Arabia or the Middle East, please contact me and I am glad to lend you the DVD or materials.

Using Authentic Literature to Teach Japan:
This is another very worthwhile workshop that could be beneficial to English and social studies teachers alike. The presenter here was a 6th grade teacher who showcased using a myriad of authentic picture books to teach issues dealing with Japan. This workshop was very well-attended and the presenter was passionate about her books! One of the books that she highlighted was called Hachiko Waits. This novel is aimed at 5th graders and ties in elements of Japanese culture along with a story about a dog. I asked Francine to order this for me to check out. It might make for a nice read-out-loud for the kids next year, or something I could use parts of to help infuse more literature into my Japan unit.

Using Paper Sack Puppets to Teach the 5 Themes of Geography:
This was one of those workshops that I was very intrigued to attend. It was aimed at early elementary school grades, but the idea of introducing the 5 Themes of Geography at that age sounded interesting (I have moved away from teaching the 5 Themes as they tend to be a bit nebulous for the concrete 5th grade minds). However, these presenters from the University of Kansas did a great job. They had kids construct animals using paper bags, paper-cut-outs and markers. Once done, the children created habitats for the animals. Then the habitats were assembled to make a make-believe zoo. Kids were then introduced to the 5 Themes by examining the lives of the different animals at the zoo.

While this particular application of this idea would not make good sense for 5th graders, teaching about animals is a great way to integrate ideas of physical geography. Moreover, the idea of puppets intrigues me to stretch creatively in my classroom. I also plan on sharing this workshop with Cheryl Bair and the CARP vertical team committee that I am part of with Lower School. There are lots of interesting tie ins with this idea that could provide valuable cross-divisional integrations.

GeoMath: Integrating Geography with Mathematics:
While I am not sure whether or not this program follows the Singapore Math approach, I received a CD-ROM that you can search on that shows different ways that geography and math are intertwined. This could be fun for enrichment for kids, as each of the problems are presented in a scenario format, often with geographic videos and visual images. This was a jam-packed session and the presenters did a fabulous job highlighting their program. I would be happy to lend the CD to anyone interested.

Other Stuff:
Aside from the conference workshops, I was able to look into new textbooks in the exhibit hall. I also was able to pick up a couple of new books on the Koreas.

As in years past, we try to live out some of the history of the cities we visit. Washington DC is almost "history overload" as there is so much to see and do. I was able to experience DC with our resident US history aficionados, Brian Markwald and Chuck Taft. It was really great to learn about Fredricksburg, the monuments, Robert E. Lee's house, and the Marine Museum from my colleagues. I have not done much with American History since taking JS's course in high school, and now want to learn more and go on the DC trip with the 8th graders. I was truly lucky to have such great tour guides and storytellers. Fredicksburg was perhaps the trip highlight for me. Standing on a civil war battleground hearing Chuck tell the story of the place was really powerful, and an experience I will not soon forget.

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