When the world comes to you

A few weeks ago my principal asked if I would host some visitors in my class. This is a frequent occurrence, because our school is part of several networks of schools and visiting one another is normal. We also have relationships with sister schools in Germany, South Korea, China, and Japan.


SACIV visitors

Friday, eleven people came to my 7th period. One was a former student who now works for the San Antonio Council for International Visitors, a nonprofit that aims to “build international friendships, facilitate the exchange of ideas, foster cultural understanding, and promote San Antonio as an international city.” One was an interpreter from the U.S. State Department, and another was a facilitator of this particular exchange. The other eight were important people from other countries hoping to learn about cybersecurity and digital communications in the United States. They were coming to our school to see how we teach young people to communicate digitally, so Digital Media class was a good fit.

Due to the time frame of their visit, they were only going to spend time with my 7th period, but I wanted to get the other classes involved. So in periods 1-6, I passed out the one-page biographies of each visitor and asked groups of 3 or 4 students to write questions for that person on an index card. I was curious to see what they would ask of an Ethical Hacker from Slovakia, the Chief Analyst for fighting human trafficking in Macedonia, or the person who headed up the cyber crime division in Hungary’s version of the FBI.

Fortunately, I have two periods off (lunch and conference) right before 7th period, so I had time to rearrange the furniture into larger groups. I made placards for the official guests, and seated two at each table, along with 6 to 8 of my freshmen. The students had just designed business cards in a graphic design unit, and Friday was the day I printed them out. I placed the business cards in certain seats, with certain items. The person sitting to the right of a guest was given that person’s bio, and the task of introducing them to the group by reading the three most interesting things (in their opinion) on the piece of paper. The student in the middle had a computer, and was tasked with showing their digital portfolio to the group. The others received the index cards with the questions from the other class periods, and chose which ones to ask.

At first, the students were intimidated, but very quickly they felt at ease. Every student got to interact with each visitor, because the adults rotated from group to group after ten minutes. The structure, which was necessary at first, was less needed after the second rotation, so I gave them permission to just talk. That’s when the walls really came down.

One of my favorite moments was when the lawyer from Tajikistan gave her business card to one of the students, and I encouraged the student to give her business card in return. She was so excited! Several students got in a spirited discussion with their experts on the Area 51 Raid, which was happening that day. The guests encouraged the students to look up images of their countries and they were impressed by the beauty of a place like Macedonia.

For the last 5 minutes of class, I invited people to share something they learned or appreciated about the experience. Several students hopped to their feet to say what they enjoyed. When class ended, the local tour guide told me the visitors asked if they could just keep visiting high schools for the rest of their itinerary.


Penciling things in

For many years, I have done an assignment in my class in which students work in groups to draw a picture of a Global Citizen and then present it to their class. It’s fun, it gets them talking to one another, and it gets them up in front of the class to present, but with the safety of others alongside them. We usually do this during the second week of school.

This year, we moved up a field trip, so I skipped this activity. There came a time, however, when students really needed to understand the concept of Global Citizenship as it applies to our high school’s Graduate Profile. Students are writing their first blog posts (a.k.a. digital portfolio entries) and the reflection section requires them to answer the question, “How did this work help you become a Globie?” Globie is our school mascot, and what we call each other. The question really means, “How did this work help you work towards the criteria of the Graduate Profile?”

drawing of an out line of head and shoulders

head and shoulders penciled in

So I brought the activity back, with certain parameters. Instead of spending a day and a half drawing, I only gave my students 15 minutes. But it worked! In the past, students spent a very long time debating how much of a person’s body to illustrate, but this time I gave each group a piece of paper with a head and shoulders already penciled in. This one change in strategy meant they could get right on task.

Another thing I did differently was give the groups a printout of the Graduate Profile:  one group had Science, one had Social Studies, one had English, one had Math, and in my larger classes, a 5th group had Art. I allowed them to use words on their drawing this year for the first time, but limited them to only 15 words. I encouraged them to pay special attention to the bold words (which were largely the same for each group).

After each group presented, I asked them what they noticed. I wanted them to notice that certain aspects of the Graduate Profile were repeated across all the subject areas. These aspects (the bolded words on each handout) are the domains of Global Citizenship that we want them to reference when they write reflections on their blog posts. I saved the activity for the moment they were writing their first blog post, and expected to tie their projects to standards. Immediately after the presentations, students opened up their blogs and wrote the last part of their post:  the reflection.

This year, drawing Global Citizen Portraits was more meaningful and way more efficient. Drawing the outline of a person and forcing groups to create a picture in only 15 minutes resulted in some very creative outcomes.

My 2017-2018 Service

This year I completed at least 35 hours of service to my community. Most of these hours happened through Interact Club:  I worked 8 hours at the Freshman Garage Sale, 4 hours at Chalk it Up, 4 hours at the MLK March, 4 hours at the Holiday River Parade 3 hours planting trees and picking up trash at McAlister Park, and an hour helping prepare for Lee-esta even though the parade was rained out. Interact has lots of fun projects and I enjoy being involved in school and city events. In addition to this, I taught Sunday School at my church for the months of January and April for a total of 8 hours; I taught the 3 to 6-year -old class. The main reason I wanted to teach this class is so that my grandson and granddaughter would come with me. On Global Youth Service Day, I traveled to Ronald McDonald House with my advisory and we cooked and cleaned for 4 hours. I volunteered to help with the Lee Prom–for 3 hours I sat at the check-in table and highlighted the names of students when they came in and showed their tickets. During Fiesta, I always volunteer 2 hours at NIOSA in the crazy hat booth; all the money raised goes to the San Antonio Conservation Society to protect historic places in our city. In the fall, I helped with the German Exchange by taking teachers and students to places and events around the city so they could learn about America.

The essential question for the freshman year is, “Why do Globies do service?” I believe Globies do service because ISA aims to create Global Citizens. An important aspect of becoming a Global Citizen is contributing to your community. In fact, the Graduate Profile, a list of standards all ISA students are supposed to meet before graduating, says, at the top, “Students and teachers are asked to use their education to improve themselves, their school, and the local and global community.” In each subject-area section, there is a subdomain called “Take Action.” Globies don’t just learn about the world. They make it better. The things I have done this year in service to my community made the world better. The Freshman Garage Sale raised over $3200 for scholarship so every freshman could go to Heifer; since it was such a great learning experience, we wanted everyone to go. Helping at the prom allowed the attendees to avoid standing in a long line waiting to be admitted. The MLK March was a stand against racism. Chalk it Up was to support the Arts. The Holiday River Parade is a long-standing San Antonio tradition: I passed out programs and ushered people to their seats. Planting trees at the park helped fight Climate Change. Sunday School is a learning experience that transmits important values to the next generation of humans.



In summary, this year I performed a variety of service activities. The most impactful was my Interact Club service, because each of these activities was done in conjunction with other people:  sometimes just a few, and other times more than a hundred. By joining together, individuals can have a greater impact than by only working alone. In fact, as the sponsor of Interact, I am mostly responsible for setting up all the projects for the club, or supervising the officers as they make plans. Almost 700 hours have been done by 156 people this year, and we still have our largest activity of the year, Relay for Life, in May.  Sometimes the work we do seems inconsequential:  passing out programs at a parade, but without people to do this, the sponsoring organizations would have to hire people and spend a lot of money. Usually when I do service, I get something out of it:  this year I learned the proper way to plant a tree (with the root flare above ground level), and I got a free Chalk It Up T-shirt for volunteering. The best part of doing service with Interact, though, is the chance to get to know other people better and form stronger relationships. Next year, I will continue to sponsor Interact, perhaps teach more Sunday School, but I will probably not do another German Exchange because they only come in odd-numbered years.


Getting from “what” to “so what”: Reflecting on Travel Experiences

It’s time for another blog post, since I had my students post to their blogs last week. Their posts were a reflection on our class trip to Arkansas, where we spent 48 hours in a poverty simulation at Heifer Ranch. Processing this experience was important, yet we did not have class until ten days after our return, as our week-long Thanksgiving Break occurred in the interim. Last Monday, the students arrived to my class expecting to work on a blog post. But I had other plans first.

We met in my classroom–not the computer lab–and no laptops, tablets, or other technology was in view. I had moved the desks to the outskirts of the classroom and left just 8 desk in the center, with three chairs around each one. As the students arrived, they drew a slip of paper from a cup and sat at the desk with that color. We did a microlab protocol in those groups of three, with three questions.

  1. What was your favorite part about the trip?
  2. What was your least favorite part?
  3. What was your best “AHA” moment or powerful learning experience?

Only the third question was really important, but the first two were designed to get kids talking, and to get certain topics out of the way. Then I asked them to write down their powerful learning experience on a piece of paper. Finally, I introduced their next mini-project, with an example I had created myself in 2014.

In my project, I included text of a standard from our Graduate Profile, which is a list of performance outcomes we hope to see in all students by the time they graduate. I asked students to look at their own papers and decide which of three performance outcomes best matched their work, then they went and stood next to the part of the classroom where that standard was posted. They told their story to the others in that section to confirm that they were in the correct part of the room. I made a mistake then. I should have read every single story to make sure they were on the right track. But the bell rang and the next day they started work.

Choosing photos to create their narrated slide show was time-consuming. Ideally, I would have shown them the photos in advance, or assigned this step for homework, but I had not yet received all the photos from the photographers. I told students to write a script, but I did not grade or read the scripts. Another mistake. I could have corrected the few students who went off in the wrong direction had I read their scripts. On the other hand, it would have slowed down the process significantly. Since every student went through the same travel experience, it was important to focus this project on what they had learned–the “so what”–rather than merely what they did–the “what.”

On day 3, students completed their work and had time to make comments on each other’s work. Google Classroom was handy for sharing links so classmates could comment. One frequently asked question was how long to make the whole thing (there were no requirements, but perhaps suggesting 10-15 seconds per slide–excluding comments from others–might be useful in the future).

As I graded the work, I was slightly disappointed. Many students neglected sections of the rubric. However, I did not emphasize the rubric as I have in past projects; I pointed it out, but did not go through it step by step. Several students did a stellar job, though, and with their permission, I have linked to their work below. Please enjoy.


Andrew Heifer Ranch: The School of Appreciation
Anya Heifer Refugee vs. Reality
Dana Private Consumption vs. Population
Ella Heifer’s Culture Cuisine
Elias The Relationship of Friends, Family, and Food
Katy Food Insecurity in Zambia
Parker Hungry and Impoverished
Pierrette We’re All In This Together
Sophie Swiper No Swiping
William Our Own Friend’s Hunger


S.A.G.E. Learning

SAGE is an acronym for the type of project-based learning we want to do at ISA. It stands for:

  • Student choice
  • Authentic work
  • Global significance
  • Exhibition to a real world audience

Here is a chart in which all my major projects are analyzed according to SAGE.

Student choice Authentic work Global Significance Exhibition of work

choose story,

costumes, lessons

perform a play

communication in groups,

and to audience, stories are

from another culture

perform to 1st graders,

at elementary schools

C-SPAN choose topic make a documentary global current events

submit to StudentCam


Make a 


submit potential topics,

choose a volunteer group,

plan a service project,

organize presentation

work in groups to

design and implement

a service project

developing empathy,

learning how NGOs work

presentations at