Beyond the Brick-and-Mortar


"Beyond the brick-and-mortar" by Marianne Green (CatholicTeacher.com)

Image credit: Pixabay.com (2018), CC0/PD

Lessons learned from real-world connections

By Marianne Green

Living in a digitalized and socially engaged culture affords teachers endless possibilities to leverage specific methods when designing units and lesson plans. “What if?” “Dream big and consider what you would love to do within this classroom this year.” These two thoughts have helped this K-12 educator move beyond the brick-and-mortar to engage classrooms with the world. Here are a few lessons I have learned along this amazing journey.

The first lesson is the importance of collaboration. Collaboration may be a buzzword; however, just read Matthew 18:20 and remind yourself that Jesus stressed “where two or three are gathered.” Review your unit plans for the year. Then, highlight those points that would be optimum for an interdisciplinary connection or for conversations with industry experts, missionaries, or artists. Consider with whom could you collaborate toward designing a project. Your collaborators can be from within your school, church, or professional network. Keep in mind, that this collaboration can also be for a specific part of an overall project. An example from my seventh-grade English literature class would be hosting US Paralympic bobsled champion and CrossFit coach Jason Sturm. He took the time to show and discuss different types of prosthetics when the students were concluding a unit featuring Wendelin Van Draanen’s The Running Dream. Pre-planning and working with my school’s administrative team were keys to the success of this collaboration.

Communication is the second lesson. Writing down my ideas and presenting them to my collaborators always yields wonderful results. When working with someone within the school, we would schedule 30 minutes of focused planning time. An example from my second-grade classroom would be working with the science teacher on a project featuring simple machines and chemical transformations. Our second-grade group loved hands-on activities and learning about real-world applications. Brainstorming led to contacting my professional network. One of my former high-school colleagues suggested that we collaborate on designing Raku pottery. Both the science teacher and I were excited about this possibility; however, the schools were more than twp hours away from each other. Thinking about how to work around this challenge meant revisiting “What if?”. The answers amaze oe to this day. First, the high-school art teacher would ship us the correct type of clay. The science teacher and I would help the students design a simple cup. While in the process of working the clay, I would read the passage from Isaiah 64:8, “you are our father; / we are the clay and you our potter.” All sorts of wonderful connections began to happen. The next challenge was figuring out how to return the cups to have them fired in the Raku process. At this point, the administrative team knew about the project and supported my traveling to the other school to interview my former students and colleagues for the second graders. We ultimately produced a video on the Raku Glaze Process.

The final lesson I learned is the importance of timing. Any teacher will tell you that time is limited, especially when trying to include something new. Here the video conferencing platforms of Skype and YouTube come to the rescue. One of my dreams was to connect my eighth-grade religion and freshmen undergraduate theology classes with overseas missions. The most significant challenge was time zones. Mission communities surprisingly work around time-zone restrictions. When this option was not available, they would often leave a video message for a class on Skype. Interacting in this way promoted strong classroom engagement and curiosity. YouTube has also been a platform affording this type of interaction. While working abroad in Israel and Iceland, I would post videos for classes to view and engage via direct messaging. Examples of this style of asynchronous learning are The Artists of Bethlehem, The Marvels of Mother of Pearl Artwork, Olive Wood Carving from Bethlehem, The Challenge of the Icelandic Language, and Basic Icelandic Words from Fr. Cabana.

Pope Francis notes that “It is no longer merely a question of ‘using’ instruments of communication, but of living in a highly digitalized culture that has had a profound impact on ideas of time and space” (Christus Vivit, 86). Do not be afraid to be a part of this impact. Collaboration, communication, and timing may be approached differently in your classroom; but it is my hope that you try something new that moves you beyond the brick-and-mortar.

Marianne T. Green, MA, a Golden Apple recipient and independent consultant for the Catholic Apostolate Center, is an adjunct faculty member of St. Joseph’s College. Her recent collaboration with Diocese of Reykjavik is featured on Instagram @Virtual_Disciple.

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