Posted by: Heather Durnin | November 2, 2012

Pop Art Shoes

One of my favourite go-to blogs for grade 8 art lesson ideas is Mrs. Art Teacher! Recently I came across an art teaching community, The Smart Teacher, and found an activity I knew my students would love where they Create their own dream shoes at Converse, Nike, Vans or Adidas sites. I combined the later lesson with the Pop Art Shoe lesson as listed below.

Steps:

-students created their own dream shoe online (45 min.)
-drew the enlarged version using contour lines, colour with tool of choice (90 min.)
-created a background using lines and patterns as described in the Pop Art Shoe lesson
-painted their background using tints and shades (1 ½ – 2 hrs.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am not an “artist”, but in spite of my ability, I think my students did a great job.

Posted by: Heather Durnin | July 3, 2012

Strengthening Compassion via Half Brother & Project Nim

This year the Idea Hive read aloud featured the book, Half Brother by Canadian author Kenneth Oppel. The Idea Hive is two grade  7/8 classrooms located 2 700 km. apart in Wingham, Ontario and Snow Lake, Manitoba.  The story which was included in this year’s Red Maple selection (and the resulting winner) centres around 13 yr. old Ben and his relationship with a baby chimp Zan. Ben’s scientist parents are trying to prove that chimps can communicate with humans by teaching them sign language. Oppel’s synopsis:

“Ben Tomlin was an only child for thirteen years. Then his parents brought home a baby chimp. It isn’t long before Ben is Zan’s favourite, and Ben starts to see Zan as more than just an experiment. His father disagrees. Soon Ben is forced to make a critical choice between what he is told to believe and what he knows to be true — between obeying his father or protecting his brother from an unimaginable fate.”

Similar to our read aloud last year, my teaching partner Clarence Fisher or I read the novel to the students via Skype or on our radio station, 105theHive. One of us interacted with the students in the chat room while they listened. At the end of each reading, students posted their comments and reflections on an online sticky note. You can find links to all the chats and reflections on the Idea Hive site. Throughout the readings, students were asked a variety of thought-provoking questions including whether or not they agreed with the researcher’s distant approach to Zan, or life lessons that emerged as the characters developed. Some questions dealt with the humourous sections of the story as Ben attempted to win a girlfriend and so they provided relationship advice for Ben.

Once we were finished the book, Clarence and I planned to have our students watch the documentary Project Nim which mirrors the storyline in Half Brother. Before doing so, I posted the following on the Idea Hive website:

Summary from NPR article:

“In 1973, an infant chimpanzee was taken from his mother’s arms and sent to live with a human family as part of a Columbia University psychology experiment. The goal of the project was to see if the animal, named Nim Chimpsky, could be conditioned to communicate with humans if he was raised like a human child in a human household. He learned some very basic words in American Sign Language, but Nim continued to act like a chimp — he bit the children in the house and didn’t understand how to behave like a human child. It was decided that the family could no longer care for Nim, and he was shuffled from caretaker to caretaker for several years.”

Sound familiar?

We will be watching this recently released documentary, Project Nim, over two class periods. Afterwards you’ll be asked to write a blog post addressing the following issues:

What similarities and differences do you notice between Half Brother and Project Nim (characters, story line, setting etc.) ? What surprised you most in the documentary? What were you most disturbed about? What were you happiest about? What did you learn from the documentary that you hadn’t thought of before?

Students noticed a number of similarities, particularly the traits between the two key researchers. They were shocked at the differences portrayed between the chimps’ behaviour. In the novel, Zan was portrayed as a cute and intelligent chimp with a tendency for mischief and the odd bite. In the documentary, the dangerous, aggressive nature of mature chimps was much more evident. Students were disturbed by the scene showing chimpanzees being strapped onto a table for injections. Chimps who were raised as humans were stripped of their comforting toys and surroundings once the research trials had been disbanded. Frank and honest comments were posted on some of their blogs. “They made a huge commitment to Nim, treating him like a human,  and then they left. That’s animal cruelty.”

“We learned about how much of a traumatic change it was for Nim to go from living with humans to living with other chimps.  He wasn’t comfortable with them, and he suffered a lot.” Alyssa

After students had commented on each others’ blogs, they had questions surrounding the ethics of animal testing, so we asked a local veterinarian, Dr. Suzanne Baird, to address these. Dr. Baird visited our Wingham classroom and both classes listened to her either live or via 105thehive and a chat room. Dr. Baird provided a very balanced approach to the topic. Students learned not only about regulations regarding animal testing as well as the advances in human health that have come as a result. You can listen to the entire broadcast: Interview with Veterinarian, Dr. Suzanne Baird. Following her visit, students raised money by selling freezies at their annual ball tournament. This money was donated to Dr. Baird with the students’ request that it be used for the treatment of an animal where finances were limited.

Half Brother paired with Project Nim not only engaged our students, this project forced them to address some powerful, challenging questions regarding issues of animal testing. It strengthened their compassion for others.

Posted by: Heather Durnin | May 18, 2012

Little Bees on #105theHive

Today the grade 1 students at Turnberry Central made their first appearance on #105theHive as they presented the radio play, “Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type“.  Following their presentation, the Gr. 7/8′s followed up with sports rants and recent happenings at the school. The Gr. 7/8′s were patient and quiet as they shared their expertise and supported their young schoolmates in their first radio adventure. Intermediate and primary students collaborating in online spaces. Listen in…Click Clack Moo and Sports Rants

Posted by: Heather Durnin | March 4, 2012

#105theHive: Live Student Broadcasting Begins

(Give the files some time to load)

Turnberry 1st Broadcast Feb. 28    Turnberry 2nd Broadcast Feb. 29

Turnberry 3rd Broadcast Mar. 2

This week in the Turnberry Gr. 7/8 classroom, 32 students began their journey into a new learning space, an internet student radio station, 105thehive. In my previous post, I described the purpose of using this new media layer in the classroom, a space brought about by a handful of educators working together. Create a different online space for students to share, develop and support each other’s passions and learning in a safe and supervised place. Our latest idea emerged from the #ds106radio community and focuses on creating a similar internet radio learning space for our students to create live broadcasts and programming.

Prior to their first broad, students had completed a music project which would be the basis of their show. Several volunteered to be the first, along with two radio hosts, Kori and Ethan, who wrote their own programming script. Two student, Brad and Dylan, needed only a few lessons using the software, Nicecast, before feeling confident enough to organize the playlists and transition between itunes and voice during broadcasts.

Using Twitter to communicate the schedule, many supportive people tweeted in during the live broadcast. With the Twitter stream the #105thehive hash tag posted in full view on the smartboard, students began to experience “community”. There were familiar faces they knew dropping by (their Idea Hive teacher, Clarence Fisher, Andy McKiel) and others I’d told them about (Andy Forgrave, Alan Levine, Grant Potter, Jim Groom). Teachers and their students cheered them on from across North America via twitter. Other classes in the school were tuned in. When I took a moment to step out of the classroom, the school halls were literally buzzing with Metallica. Thanks to the ds106radio folks who cross-cast the show on their stream, students had truly gone global. Alan Levine blogged about the event.

Our web host, CentovaCast, allows the user to view current listeners, providing the number and map.

By the second broadcast, students demonstrated confidence in their voice. New hosts, new presenters, and they were realizing the power of twitter. Several who had accounts asked if they could join in the conversation, and so a very quick lesson on hashtags and protocol took place. Our principal, Suzanne Irwin, asked one of the students to teach her how to tweet in. How cool is that?

By end of the week, the students were onto their third broadcast, expanded now to include additions they wanted: a Leaf’s rant, school sports and jokes. They owned the process. And just as we hoped, another class took the stream. After our show, Bryan Jackson, a seasoned ds106radio performer, streamed in his B.C. high school guitar students from GleneagleMusic as they performed their projects. Bryan even created this video intro the previous day so our students could see his students in their classroom space. I love this idea. While the live broadcast was scheduled over our lunch break, several students stayed in to listen and tweet encouragement to students 3 time zones away. The community was growing. Parents and grandparents!! were listening in. One grandparent, listening in from Hawaii, even commented on Alan’s blog.

After the first live broadcasts (and their exuberance had somewhat settled), I asked the students to briefly write their thoughts on the experience. After the third broadcast, I had them add next steps. After all, they were now experienced radio broadcasters, programmers and writers.

Their thoughts… Besides being a ton of fun…

Things we loved:

- monitoring the map to see where the listeners are tuning in from
- amazed how everyone stayed quiet when we were broadcasting
- I was really nervous to go up and talk, but it’s not that bad. No eyes on you, only       ears.
- the hosts wrote good questions for the presenters, which made them feel more   relaxed
- loved listening to the different types of music. It was interesting how diverse we are    (rock, classic rock, techo, pop, classical).
- everyone was organized
- now my parents can hear how smart we are
- we made history today
- reading the twitter stream thoughout the broadcast made me feel a little less nervous

Challenges

- a lot of people were tweeting in, and it was hard for Mrs. D. to keep up and reply
- there’s a 30 s or so delay between the live person speaking and the broadcast

What we improved on:

- spoke with more personality and enthusiasm
- we got better with our timing
- added more segments to keep everyone hooked
- students writing and supporting each other through twitter (and helping me keep up!)
- on the 3rd day, we turned our classroom into the sound booth, and those listening    sat in an another room

Next Steps

- always do a sound check using the built-in server before each broadcast
- rehearse our lines more so we don’t stumble
- speak up when talking into the Snowball (the microphone)
- bring in more guests (teacher, principal, community members)
- create a wider variety of segments (there’s a 105thehive group in the Idea Hive    where students will be posting their ideas)
- convince other teachers from around the world to let their students broadcast here

While I knew the students would take to this new learning space, I hadn’t predicted their level of excitement, engagement and sidebar learning. This was demonstrated by a Friday night tweet from one of my gr. 7 boys:

@105theHive Unfortunately it’s the weekend so no more music projects… But I can’t wait for Monday!!!

or the tweet from another student home sick during the week: “Hey Mrs. D, this is Isaac. Can you broadcast the Idea Hive reading over 105thehive? Brad and I are going to tune in.”

The engagement and learning my students have demonstrated this week is evident. By giving them a place to practice their knowledge on a new oral platform, students become the programmers, experimenting with their peers and interacting with others while developing a new global community. Their enthusiasm is contagious. There’s room for more participants, whether that’s as a listener or student broadcaster. Andy and Clarence’s students will be broadcasting very soon. Consider having your students join in. We’ll help you get set up. Follow 105thehive on twitter for programming details.

Today while channel surfing, I came across, and watched a Marshall McLuhan biography. I think Mr. McLuhan would have approved of 105thehive.

#Radio4Learning

Posted by: Heather Durnin | February 26, 2012

#105theHive Student Radio: A New Learning Space

My Idea Hive teaching partner, Clarence Fisher, and I had an idea.  Our classroom stretches 2 700 km from Wingham, Ontario to Snow Lake, Manitoba. We use a number of online learning spaces (WordPress, TodaysMeet, Google Apps to name a few) where our students connect and create together. Online spaces support the growth and development of global student communities. Depending on how they are used, they provide opportunities for students to share, develop and support each other’s passions and learning in a safe and supervised place. Our latest idea emerged from the #ds106radio community and focuses on creating a similar internet radio learning space for our students to create live broadcasts and programming. Trouble is, we both knew little about how to use it, let alone set it up. But we knew others who did!  With that in mind, my goal over Christmas break was to learn how to broadcast a radio show from my laptop.  With the help of Andy Forgrave, my sons, and a host of other #ds106radio friends, it happened something like this…

Pre-Show Prep: Nicecast Setup
Nicecast provides a way for users to “broadcast music from your Mac. Broadcast to listeners around the world. Nicecast can help you create your own internet radio station or allow you to listen to your iTunes Music Library from anywhere in the world!”

Ten minutes to show time. Fiddles are tuned, music is organized, and Andy is there via Twitter to walk us to the stage.

Living in the country means we deal with bandwidth issues, which meant streaming without losing the connection became an issue. And so when the music cut out numerous times, Bryan Jackson jumped in to help.

 “Although we’ve played in front of audiences many times, there was something unique about this experience; we’re performing for people we couldn’t see.  We were nervous at the start, but after awhile, we just played like the computer wasn’t even there.” Ethan Durnin

     cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo shared by hdurnin

By relying on the support of friends and the generous #ds106radio community, I took, what for me was, an enormous and uncomfortable leap into an online space I knew little about.  What motivated me was knowing my students would also love to someday have the same opportunity in a space they previously didn’t know existed.

After taking the first steps, we were directed to Grant Potter by Alan Levine and Jim Groom (all ds106radio gurus). Grant laid out various options for developing a student radio station. Most importantly, he showed us it is possible and very affordable. Andy, also an intermediate teacher, and I worked together to move the project forward. We decided on the $20/month package on MyAutoDJ. Chatting via Skype, we had the station up and running by the end of the first day. And so began the life of 105thehive student internet radio. Andy took things a step further by setting up a Twitter account  and the beginnings of the web page. We had lots of fun sorting out the details of playlists, station identifications, and streaming URLs, and we were so exited when 105thehive was online!

Last week, my students worked on a music project identifying the elements of music on a piece of their choice. I’ve used a similar assignment in previous years, but there was a noticeable difference in engagement this year. My students know they will be sharing their projects on the radio. On Friday they created radio bumpers together using Myna, part of their Aviary package in Google Apps. The student teacher working in my classroom couldn’t believe it. Twice that day when the bell rang, no one moved – every student kept on working.  They’re excited and together, we’ve come up with many more meaningful ways to connect and share their passions with others in this space.

Live internet radio supports the strengths of our oral learners. It provides a new type of online learning space with an authentic audience where our students can collaborate and connect in various roles. But we don’t intend this to be a space just for Idea Hive students. Next steps involves bringing other classrooms into this community. There’s space for many. In fact, Andy’s students will be broadcasting in the very near future. The ideas are limitless: interviews, radio plays, commentaries, Rich Mercer style rants, public service announcements…  As 105theHive evolves, we’ll be sorting out the protocols such that other interested groups can join in and contribute. In the meantime, we’re just excited to get our experiment up and running, and look forward to hearing our students’ voices grow as they explore this new medium. And the students are excited too. Friday night, one of my students posted this comment on our class wiki: “I’m so exited to get started with this radio station. I hope everything goes well at 105 the hive. I’m also quite excited to hear our final bumper.”

Tune in Tuesday, February 28, 12:00 noon to #105thehive for the first student broadcast. To tune in to 105thehive, point your browser at http://www.105thehive.org, and click on the “Listen to the Stream” link. If you want to go fancy and use a streaming client like FStream or Tunein Radio on an iDevice (or Tunein Radio for Android), simply use the URL 105thehive.org/stream/ to listen in.

Posted by: Heather Durnin | February 16, 2012

Steering our Students Towards Poetry

Graphic organizers, templates, frameworks, checklists. Sometimes they really fit the need. Most of my intermediate students and I appreciate the guidance when it comes to connecting, creating, and, most importantly, falling in love with poetry. The latter was missing when I was in school, and so teaching poetry is out of my comfort zone.

Poetry prompts are my salvation.  Last year it was “Where I’m From”. Today @HeidiSiwak tweeted this bentlily site. So while it’s not completely original, models help our students taste the beauty of poetry, embedded with their own voice. We model for our students. So here’s my version:

The Art of Noticing My Life

I used to worry I was too candid
I used to believe life was frenetic
I used to wish I was linguistic
insightful
more observant.

Then one day
I looked out my window
and saw a cat
a silky-soft
crying
perfect cat.

I nearly choked
on the epiphany

we arrive inside
an envelope
of bones

there is nothing to be done
about this
so fill it with confidence
let it brim
with empathy.

I was literally looking out the window while writing this. Here’s Luna, the silky-soft cat. My students are going to love this. Thanks, Heidi.


cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo shared by hdurnin

Luna

Posted by: Heather Durnin | December 16, 2011

A Long Journey is Finally Complete

Last year the Idea Hive students spent a considerable amount of time studying Markus Zusak’s award winning novel, The Book Thief. As a follow-up activity to our read aloud, the students wrote their own novel, A Field Guide to Molching, based on the story’s fictional town. After Markus read the online version of their novel, he agreed to Skype simultaneously from Australia with my students in Wingham, Ontario and Clarence’s students in Snow Lake, Manitoba. Unfortunately, the Skype connection from Manitoba was a fail. While the experience was wonderful for those of us in Ontario, we felt saddened for the opportunity missed by the rest of the Idea Hive classroom.

The students from Ontario and Manitoba signed and sent copies of their book to Markus, who shared his plans to give a copy to his father as a Father’s Day gift.  He also told our students they were to expect something in the mail from him.

Several weeks into our summer break, two autographed promotional posters of The Book Thief arrived from Australia – one for each of the Idea Hive classrooms. Markus, who had been saving these special double-sided posters, knew our students would appreciate what they meant to him.

After Clarence and I decided to laminate the posters, I took them to Carman’s Foto Source, located in the centre of my closest town, Goderich.

The next day, an F3 tornado moved through the main part of town, leaving a trail of destruction in its path.  Our community was shocked as news of the devastation unfolded, and it wasn’t until the following day that I realized the posters were likely lost as well.  While this was nothing compared to what others in the community had suffered, I couldn’t believe that once again, the events for our students had taken another disappointing turn.

Unexpectedly, I received a phone call 3 weeks later – “We have your posters”.  The town engineers and police had allowed owners of the many damaged buildings 15 minutes to gather what items they safely could. Instead of taking expensive equipment, the employees of Carman’s saved their customer’s belongings – including the posters.

Since the store in Goderich was (and still is) closed, the posters were laminated and returned to the head office in another town.  Imagining the chaos involved with a sudden merger of the damaged goods, it’s not surprising that the posters again went missing.  I wondered if our students would ever see them.  However, three weeks ago, once again, the posters turned up, and so the next day, after driving to Stratford and collecting them, I breathed a sigh of relief – and sent Clarence a tweet. “I have the posters!!”

After shipping Clarence’s poster off to Snow Lake (registered of course!), Clarence and I agreed to wait until he received it and we could present the posters together to our students. Today was the day.

We started the Skype call by sharing the journey that we all took last year with this year’s new gr. 7’s, and then shared a picture I’d taken of the posters before being dropped of  in Goderich. In order for the students from Snow Lake to visualize the impact of the tornado, we played the first half of this video showing the town before and after.  It was a sobering reminder for all of us so close to the community.

When we finally finished the story and produced the recovered posters, there were smiles of relief and clapping from everyone as the students realized the posters were safe.

While Clarence can tell the news to his former gr. 8 students, who are still attending school in the same building, I’ll be sending an email with a link to this post to my former gr. 8 students.  I can already imagine the smiles on their faces.

The Idea Hive students are thrilled and appreciative of Markus’ gift. After travelling over 15,000 km and surviving an F3 tornado, we are thankful the posters’ long journey is finally complete.

Posted by: Heather Durnin | November 30, 2011

Polar Bears & Student Action with @amckiel

A few weeks ago, on a Sunday night, I was putting together the final touches for a geography assignment I’d planned to present to the students the next morning.  While it was similar to an outline I’d used a few years ago, I decided to scratch it after I read two tweets from  Andy McKiel.

And so I read his blog, Chillin’ with Nanuq for more details.  After travelling to Churchill, Manitoba, Andy was embarking on a life-changing experience – the polar bear migration. In the fall each year, the polar bears congregate along the shores of Hudson Bay so they can go out on the sea ice and hunt seals.  Due to global warming, this freeze-up is happening later in the fall, and the ice is breaking up earlier each spring. The situation has become so severe, that polar bears are now listed on Canada’s Species at Risk Act.

Working with Edmodo and scientists from Polar Bears International, Andy would be sharing his experiences from the windows of Tundra Buggy One, via daily live video broadcasts. While this area outside of Churchill is isolated geographically, Andy would bring this issue into our rural classroom outside of Wingham, Ontario, via Edmodo’s webcast. This was a compelling story that aligned with the original project criteria.

And so…project re-write.

The next morning, I started class with one of Andy’s images – a polar bear dangling from a helicopter as it’s being brought to D-20 (Polar Bear jail) in Churchill before being taken to a more suitable habitat.

amckiel

The students were shocked and disturbed.  They were ready to learn.

amckiel

After spending a few days reading Andy’s blog and the excellent educational resources at Polar Bears International, the students soon discovered they could help the polar bears by adopting one – symbolically!  As a class of 31, they unanimously agreed to reach the top fundraising goal of $250 on their own.  Due date: November 30.

The following week, when Andy returned to Winnipeg, he Skyped into our classroom to answer many unanswered questions the students had prepared for him.  They were also keen to share their “adoption” plan with Andy, whose blog posts and images had inspired them.

While we know the importance of planning a project outline and success criteria ahead of time, sometimes, however inconvenient it may be, changing those plans leads to an even greater learning opportunity. When we connect our students to narratives shared by inspirational people outside of our classroom walls, our students develop a deeper understanding.

As Andy recently voiced in his K-12 Keynote presentation, “Use your experiences to connect with other people in other places to share learning in meaningful ways. The learning becomes an event.”

“The things that motivate our students, and the things that they remember are the things that are most important to them.”  

We don’t always know how the story will end. Go with your instincts and let the story, with its unknown ending, guide the learning and inquiry as our students connect and learn.

And the proof? Today is November 30, and this group of grade 7/8 students met their goal of raising $250. In fact, they raised $293 on their own. Most importantly, every student participated. Andy skyped in once again to participate in their celebration while my students drank Coke from white cans and ate white donuts. While my students may not remember the themes of geography, they will remember what they did, on their own, to make a difference.  Thanks, Andy, for turning their learning into an event.

SueLecatsas

Posted by: Heather Durnin | November 26, 2011

Achievements in the Idea Hive

It’s year two in the Idea Hive, and the learning continues for our students. The seasoned gr. 8 students (our 7’s from last year) seemed to pick right up from where we left off in June. As my teaching partner, Clarence Fisher, wrote in a previous post, these students have got “Skillz”. Similar to last year, we continued to foster the connections between our students through an Interest Survey and Flickr photo contest.

As we move towards a shared read aloud of the novel Half Brother, by Canadian author, Kenneth Oppel, our students have begun researching topics covered in the novel in order to better relate to the context: animal research, sign language, chimpanzees, and life in the 70’s, to name a few. Working in groups, two from Wingham, two from Snow Lake, they’re moving onto creating a shared Google Presentation, complete with the updated chat feature, which they’ll present to both classes via Skype.

While our students have become quite skilled at working together in a shared Google Doc, the skills required to create a shared Google Presentation needed some focus. Students struggled to agree on a number of issues including types of images, background themes, and the amount of text on a slide. New to this collaborative process, there were hick-ups and bumps, so we took some time to regroup as a class of 59. That included a shared class writing activity which we call the Knowledge Care document. Via Skype, our students shared their insight on what they need to consider and practice as they write and create together. We ended the call with guidance on how to apply these skills as they create their collaborative Google Presentation.

Clarence then spoke about the “Achievements” points that the Idea Hive students could earn through their activity in the Idea Hive site. The goal is to have our students strengthen their connections in this community. The more time our students interact with each other in this learning space, the more points they earn.  After our call, I had my kids spend the last few minutes of the day adding a comment to the Passions forum where some of Clarence’s students had previously posted on their interest: music, pets, sports, hunting, and more. And once again, I had to beg my students to log off and head out for the bus home. However, this time it wasn’t just a few – it was the entire class.

And the day ended….or so I thought.

Two hours after the school day ended, one of my students began to write about his passion – hunting. He shared the doc with me, and after dinner when I discovered it, he was still writing. While this might not be unusual to some, it was particularly moving for me. This student struggles with writing, and has never seen himself as a writer. Yet clearly, he wants to share; he has a voice.

I wondered if the “Achievements” had something to do with this. And so I asked my student, “Can I share this doc with Mr. Fisher?”. He responded with the same drive that lead me to his doc in the first place, “What’s his email? I’ll share it with him myself”.

Within minutes, both Clarence and I, the Idea Hive teachers, were in the Google doc chat room with my student, guiding him as he looked for feedback.

Teaching in a collaborative classroom helps support our students in unexpected ways and in learning spaces and lesson times driven by our students. “Achievements” came in several different forms today. Are the mindsets of educators ready to recognize and value these different forms?

It’s year two in the Idea Hive, and the learning continues for me.

Posted by: Heather Durnin | November 12, 2011

Powerful Holocaust Learning Experiences & Connections

My class recently finished reading the non-fiction novel, Ten Marks and a Train Ticket: Benno’s Escape to Freedom. It’s the story of Benno (9) and Heinz (13), two brothers who were put on a train in 1939 Berlin, by their parents, as a desperate gesture to send them to safety, away from Nazi Germany. This first-person narrative, told by Benno, chronicles their heartbreaking struggle to survive their travels across a continent on the brink of war, and the pain they confronted when learning of the loss of their parents and young brother, Charlie, at Aushwitz. Benno eventually moved to Toronto, Ontario, a few hours drive from where my students live.

The story is written by Benno’s three daughters, Susy Goldstein, Gina Hamilton and Wendy Share. After watching this video interview with the authors and their father, we learn how important they felt it was to have a story about the Holocaust told from a boy’s perspective, since so many stories feature female protagonists. Please take the 9 min. needed to view this video – you will understand why my students were so moved by Benno’s story.

As a follow-up activity, students blogged about the most powerful moments for them. They used Timetoast to create a timeline, and included images with the appropriate Creative Commons license. One student, Brad, found a very relevant photo on flickr which did not fit in the “free to use” guidelines. The image showed the interior of a German train from that era, the same type of train that Benno took to escape Germany. In the book, there is a harrowing scene where Benno and his brother hide under the wooden seats as the Nazi soldiers search the cars. With my help, we contacted the owner of the image and asked for permission. Not only did Brad receive permission from Henry Law, but Henry posted a comment on Brad’s blog with more information about the Kindertransport. From Sweden to Ontario, a student connected and the sharing continued.

When I showed the students the video interview with Benno and his daughters, you could have heard a pin drop. They were clearly relieved that Benno was still living, and amazed at how young he looked for someone in their 80’s. Afterwards, I told them I’d been in contact with Benno’s daughter, Susy Goldstein. Their eyes widened even more when I explained that any questions we had for Benno would be forwarded onto him by Susy. We would make a connection. In groups, students created and presented their questions to the class, and the class chose the ones they felt were the best.

Within in a week, we had a response back from Benno.

Dear Heather,

I was delighted to receive your email and of course somewhat taken aback by the apparent interest of your class. I will try and answer the questions as best as I can.

1) Are you still connected to some of the friends you made in Birmingham and London?

Yes I am still in touch with a few of the friends I made in Birmingham and in London, however many have already passed away.

2) What were your daughters’ reactions to your story when you told them at age 9?

I think my daughters couldn’t imagine having to go through what I did when I told them that the last time I saw my parents and little brother Charlie was when I was 9 years old. I know that they all have told their children when they were 9 years old as well my story.

3) How hard was it on you, and on your friends (Jewish and non-Jewish), when Hitler enforced his unfair laws?

The non-Jews of course were not affected. My school was closed as were many Jewish schools and we had a temporary school that I had to go to. It was awful not being able to play outside or go swimming in the local pool All because I was Jewish. I didn’t really understand why but I remember that my parents were really worried at the time.

4) We were shocked to see the swastika on your car in Toronto so many years after WW II. Why do you think people would still feel that way?

I was most certainly shocked to find a swastika on my car. To this day I don’t know who did it. Unfortunately, there has been a lot of graffitti found in Toronto aon buildings and I cannot believe that it is still happening.

5) There are so many important messages in your story. What is the key one you wanted to get across to adults and students?

I think that bullying and hatred for any other religion or group can lead to the terrible things which happened in Germany. We must make sure that this never happens again and if you ever see anyone being bullied you should try and stop it so it never gets to such a terrible situation.

6) If you could go back and say one thing to yourself when you started this journey, what would it be?

When we left to go on our journey I don’t think I ever really said goodbye to my parents and little brother because I believed that we would all be together very soon. I feel awful when I think about what happened to my brother and that we never said a proper good-bye.

Finally, my students knew this may be too private of a question, and so they asked me if it would be all right to ask. I said I’d pass it on, and let Susy decide. They’ve grown close to Benno and Heinz, and so they wondered,

How did Heinz pass away?

My brother passed away from natural causes, but I am sure the incidents described in the book were a contributory factor.

Today is November 9th, while I am writing this, and it is the day that I will always remember, when our home and shop were ransacked and severely damaged by the Nazis in 1938. Please remind your class that I hope my story will allow them to learn that to hate anybody because of their religion or because they are part of any group can create a world of horror.

Benno

I now wish I’d waited for them to post their blogs after they had received these comments back from Benno. Based on their reactions when I shared the email response from Benno, I can only imagine how much voice and passion would have been added as they wrote.

I’m grateful for the willingness of people to share their experiences in authentic ways with my students. I’ve learned that I just need to ask. As a result, our small, rural and remote student community continues to connect far beyond our classroom walls. Our students experience rich and powerful learning.

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