Guest post: Social Studies educator finds inspiration to engage students

Today I’m featuring a guest post from educator Kim Leegan @KimberlyALeegan,  a first time contributor to @TeachTec, following her achievement of being invited to the Microsoft’s Partners Learning US Forum for the past two years. Kim is a social studies teacher at Union Catholic Regional High School, Scotch Plains, NJ. You can find out more about her project and the work of 100 amazing educators from the Forum here.

I was so excited to be able to return to the Microsoft Partners in Leaning US Forum in beautiful Redmond, Washington this summer. After such an amazing experience in 2011, I knew I wanted to return. For me, the best part of the forums has been meeting with, sharing and collaborating with so many passionate and creative educators. Last summer, I did not have a Twitter account and thought QR Codes were for grocery store items only. After attending the 2011 conference, I worked to incorporate social media technology in my lessons, extended learning beyond my classroom walls with Twitter and found fun ways to utilize QR Codes and voice thread in many projects, including the one selected for the 2012 forum (includes tips for teachers, may require a log-in to Partners in Learning Network or see the video overview here).

Like last year, after returning from the forum, I couldn’t wait to share what I had learned. I spent several hours with one of my administrators talking about the projects I had seen and the incredible professional development I received. My administrator was so intrigued by our lively discussion of Alan November’s book, that she canceled a previously scheduled appointment and told me that what we were discussing was both “more interesting” and “more important” than her meeting. After discussing his book at length, she immediately downloaded a copy, sent an email to our entire faculty encouraging them to read it and later purchased several copies to pass around our staff. I suggested taking the chapter entitled “Student as Researcher” and turning it into a lesson plan that could be shared with all of the writing and English classes in our high school. She agreed and I have been working on the lesson plan that we hope to make sure that every student in our school receives this coming school year.Kim at AP History Summer Camp

Recently, a colleague and I put on a 2 day AP US History summer camp. Our goal was to review all of the topics and skills covered in the first year of AP US History with those students who were continuing with the second year of the AP course. Inspired by the emphasis on gaming that I saw in the many projects this summer, my partner and I designed a two day review camp that was entirely games based. We played password, used BrainPOP, made student raps on the reform movement of the late 1800s (Thanks Jake Scott!), created a fashion show game and even managed to make S’mores with a game that rewarded students as they moved through a maze of review questions with the pieces to make a S’more! The students loved all of the games and had so much fun. We knew it was a success because we had a packed house of high school students who voluntarily gave up some of their last days of summer vacation to review topics in US History! (at right, Kim and collaborating teacher with her students at AP U.S. History Camp)

With the start of another school year, I am committed more than ever to providing my students with authentic and purposeful learning opportunities. As Anthony Salcito spoke so eloquently at the forum, we are at an incredible moment in education. We can choose to be intimidated and overwhelmed or we can embrace the opportunity that the fall provides to each of us in this profession. We can embrace the opportunity to be better, work harder, collaborate more, extend learning beyond our classroom walls, think globally and create authentic and purposeful learning environments for our students.

I know that the 2012 forum alums and the Microsoft Partners in Learning team will seize this opportunity. Our responsibility is to make sure that all of our colleagues, administrators, parents and students do the same. Happy Fall! Carpe Diem!

Kim Leegan  @KimberlyALeegan

Social Studies Teacher, Union Catholic Regional High School, Scotch Plains, NJ

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