Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Story of Hope!

Working with the children and adults at Van Meter is rewarding and never ceases to amaze me. There isn't a day that goes by that I am not moved and changed by something that happens here.

On Friday, I took the Van Meter National Honor Society members to Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary in the inner city of Des Moines. We have become mentors and friends to the King Dreamers. The Dreamers are part of the I Have a Dream Foundation which adopts classrooms of inner-city, high risk kids in first grade, provides tutoring & mentoring along with personal support along the way and upon successful completion of high school, financial assistance for college is guaranteed.

On this day we wanted to share a special project with the Dreamers and create books for the Books of Hope program. For the last three years, students in Van Meter have created over 500 books for the Books of Hope program. These books are sent to children in Uganda and other countries in Africa and India. The children love receiving handmade books from all over the world and seeing the pictures every year of the delivery is an emotional moment for all of us.

This year though it wasn't just the experience of creating books for children in Uganda. And it wasn't just an ordinary trip to King.

When I looked around the large, colorful classroom at King I was moved by what was happening. As I took a picture of Jake, a tall senior football player, and his three King friends, they put their arms around each other and showed off the informational book about the Hawkeyes they were creating.

When I passed by a table Janine and her friend showed me that they were using iPhoto to create a book about planets. I asked if they wanted to use my smartphone to research planets on the internet. Her King friend said "I have the internet on my phone too. I will get it." Janine and I smiled and I loved the fact they could both share the resources that were given to them.

Then I walked by Nicole and her King friend. They had asked to look at some nonfiction and picture books about Martin Luther King Jr. The sweet little 4th grader was using Nicole's MacBook to type these words:

Martin Luther King Jr. was a person of character. He worked for fairness. And he helped the black and white people get along with one another.

He spoke to a lot of people. He told them that he had a dream and he wanted all of the people to stop fighting. He wanted the black and white people to ride the bus together and be happy together. He wanted them to also go to school together and learn together.

His dream is still here and because of him things have changed. Blacks and whites can do things together like go to school and restaurants.

The friendship and connection that was happening between Nicole, her King friend, and the others in the classroom brought tears to my eyes and a hope for all of the children involved. To see our kids handing their MacBooks to their new friends was one of the greatest uses of the laptops that I had seen all year. And seeing the King children handing their phones and books to our kids was priceless because they were using the tools they had too.

But once again, it wasn't about the tools or resources. It was about the relationships, connections, and experiences that were given to them on this day. They were teaching one another lessons that we cannot teach from a text book, laptop, or by an application from the internet. On this day, they learned to share, love, accept differences, and learn from one another.

I hope this was one of the most inspiring lessons they will take with them when they leave Van Meter and King.

I know that this is one day I will never forget.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Van Meter is Going Someplace Special!

To celebrate Black History Month, I share a lot of books and resources about the history and lives of African Americans in the United States and around the world with our students and teachers at Van Meter. Being a small school in rural Iowa, we do not have a lot of cultural differences so this is something very important to me to bring inside of our school. Our students love embracing the history and stories from other cultures and books are one way to accomplish this.

One book that I always read is Goin' Someplace Special by Patricia McKissak and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. Goin' Someplace Special is the story of Tricia Ann (who McKissak tailored after herself) growing up in the 1950's at the time of segregation in the south. Tricia Ann took a journey by herself through several tough situations while going to her someplace special. At the end, we find that it is a big white stone building with "Public Library: Everyone Welcome" chiseled on the outside of the library above the welcoming doorway.

I love the message in the book, because not only is this a true story from the life of an African American growing up as a child in the south, it also shows that libraries are a place for everyone to feel welcome and safe. I read this book every year during Black History Month, because I want all of our students at Van Meter to know how much they are always able to come to the library to feel safe, wanted, and especially to have a VOICE and be heard. This is true with our entire school.

This year Staci Braun and I thought it would be fun to incorporate a fun technology into the lesson. I read the book over Skype (a teleconferencing tool) from my office in the secondary library and it was watched by the 4th graders in their classroom downstairs. Not only did I share the book, we also had a nice conversation about Black History month, segregation, and McKissak herself through this Skype experience. It really made me think about how lucky kids are now. I hope that our students have dozens of experiences such as this by connecting with people all over the world. This is a great way to bring various cultures and experiences into our school. Something that we would not have been as easy to do in the past.

And a powerful way for their VOICES to be heard all over the world....Van Meter is going someplace special!

You can watch Patricia McKissak read the book from the Scholastic Book website here.

Also, here is a list of resources to use and share for Black History Month from my Diigo Library.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Look What We Learned From Across the World...and right here in Iowa!

My 7th graders in Technology and Information Literacy had an amazing learning experience last week. They learned about the wonderful Web 2.0 tool YouTellYou from its creator Ruggero Domenichine! YouTellYou is an amazing web 2.0 tool that lets you create photo stories about your life and share them with others through Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and other places.

A little before 1:00pm on January 28th we had a Skype conference with Ruggero who lives across the world in New Zealand. The Van Meter students smiled as they listened and interacted with Ruggero as he told them how and why he developed YouTellYou. They even learned about the time difference, seasons, and that kiwi birds use to be as big as an ostrich!

Ruggero walked the students through the steps of creating a YouTellYou and has conferenced with them through email as they get their stories online. The 7th graders were very excited for this learning experience and cannot wait to share their own YouTellYou stories through their blogs with the world.

This wasn't the only AWESOME event at Van Meter on January 28th! Deron Durflinger, Van Meter secondary principal did a great job documenting the additional excitement on his blog #vanmeter Schools Transforming the Educational System:

Friday, January 29, 2010

I Witnessed History Today

On Thursday, January 28, 2010, members of the Van Meter School community participated in a testimonial to the Iowa House/Senate Education Appropriations Committee. It was an eye opening experience for many of the members of the committee as well as the other members of the audience that day. As Sandra Dop from the Iowa Department of Education said, "I witnessed history today." Powerful words from someone that had been exposed to what schools should be like for learners of the 21st century.
What she witnessed that day, was a diverse group of Van Meter students displaying how they learn best and describing what they think school can and should become. She saw and heard testimonials from seven students ranging in grades 5-12. These students were a microcosm of students from most Iowa schools with varying degrees of "ability", from various socio-economic backgrounds, and households. This group of students was not selected because they were the "best" students, they were selected because they had shown a passion for learning in a new modality, and they wanted to share it with the world. They are students that fit our mantra of creating global citizens, who canTHINK, LEAD & SERVE.
What she witnessed was hundreds of people participating in a backchannel discussion via Twitter and the #vanmeter hashtag. It was a great display of how connected we are with other learners throughout the world. Over 600 tweets were made with the #vanmeter hashtag that day, and it opened the eyes of our policy makers to the possibilities technology can provide for students in the state of Iowa.
What she witnessed was our students live streaming the entire presentation via JustinTV. Be patient the audio and video get better. It is worth watching!

Watch live video from derondurflinger on
Watch live video from derondurflinger on
Watch live video from derondurflinger on Justin.tvThe opportunity for the rest of the world to share in this event was very powerful and again supports our belief that our students now have the opportunity to learn with, and from learners everywhere.
It truly was a great chance for #vanmeter students to share how teaching and learning has changed for them. Hopefully, our visit to the Capitol will lead to policy changes needed to make our educational system more sensitive to the needs of students in the rest of the state as well.
However, the magic didn't stop at the Capitol. Upon arriving back at the school, Shannon Miller, our district librarian asked me to come to the library so we could see what was going on.What we saw was Ruggero Domenichine from New Zealand teaching our students how to share photos on his Not only was this a cool learning opportunity for our students, this was also more verification for us that learning is not restricted to our own classrooms and buildings.
Our learning did not stop there. Later that afternoon, Shannon Miller, John Carver, and I were able to share our experience from the day with Tom Whitby and Steven Anderson. Great leaders whom have expanded my learning via Twitter and other means. It was nice to finally put voices with the tweets, and the enriching conversation put a wonderful cap on an eventful day.
Sandra Dop hopes that what she witnessed on 1/28/10 was the beginning of the beginning for educational transformation in the state of Iowa. I can tell you that the lead-learners of Van Meter Schools believe we have positioned ourselves to help lead the transformation needed in the state of Iowa to improve schools and increase meaningful learning for students everywhere. For all of those who helped make 1/28/10 a great day, your help is appreciated. For those who missed out, hopefully by reading through some of the tweets and watching some of our students' presentations, you can share in the experience we had the day educational transformation began in the state of Iowa.
Also read Van Meter superintendent John Carver's blog entry about the day at Van Meter Think, Lead, and Serve.
And a few others wrote about our great day too...
Shelly Terrell wrote What Did They Tweet!