04/10/2009
My Voice My Community
Exhibiting new found knowledge

Smoke gets in your eyes...

The 3rd graders in Lisa Hantman’s class at the McCall School could teach us all a thing or two about smoking. For instance, Brandon explains how the “nicotine is the addictive stuff, but it’s the other things in cigarettes that are bad for your health.” It’s a pretty personal issue for the students; many have a family member who smokes. For Siqi, it’s an uncle, for Xue Ting, her father.

The class’ understanding of the issue has grown enormously with the help of knowledgeable community partners, such as a cessation counselor, a respiratory nurse and a drug addiction counselor. They have listened intently as others, including the school janitor, related their struggles with smoking. Soon the students will meet with a sociologist who will talk with them about the impact of tobacco industry advertising on the public.

To share the wealth of information they’re gathering and absorbing, the students plan to create a museum exhibit. While they’re still in the formative stages with this, ideas abound. Jacob suggests a maze might be incorporated where visitors would learn some fact at points along the way. For Felicia, it’s important “there be a section for both sides” – a balance between cessation for those who do smoke, and preventive information to discourage others from starting. As the students design and construct their exhibit, they will benefit from the expertise of a curator from the National Constitution Center.

We can’t wait to see the exhibit. And we’d be truly surprised if any of these students take up cigarette smoking when they get older.

Teachers and students learning together

Action research could be described as learning by doing. In the classroom, action research fosters a teacher’s ability to reflect on and learn from their teaching practices.

For Lisa Hantman, a 3rd grade teacher at the McCall School, it provides an opportunity to explore how a strategy like service-learning can make active learners of students who can sometimes be marginalized by traditional classroom activities.

Pulling heavily from the nearby Chinatown community, many McCall students are English Language Learners. Lisa feels it’s important to create a classroom setting that inspires imagination and creativity for all her students, “while also encouraging self confidence and empowerment and fostering community awareness, kindness and activism.” Using NID’s service-learning framework, she says, allows for discussions that cultivate growth and learning. “Because of the project every child, no matter their skills, finds a hook somewhere in the process.”

“My students who are shy, those just learning English, the children struggling with the written word -- all are able to partake in this project, whether it be presenting a viewpoint, designing a poster or any number of possibilities. Eventually all get included, all have the opportunity to experience activism, and all leave feeling a sense of alliance and accomplishment.”

“There’s a point in the project – I’ve seen it several times now – when the classroom just opens up.” Ms. Hantman comments, arms opening widely. “It usually happens after 3 or 4 community partner visits. The students have done some research and are grounded in the question, and they’ve begun to brainstorm and visualize what their project will be like. All of a sudden there’s this unbelievable energy. I say to myself, ‘Is this where we’re taking this? Wow!’ It’s like that right now. I feel that fervor in the classroom now, like bees swarming around.

Lisa is conducting her action research project in conjunction with NID’s Teacher Network inquiry group, and plans to submit a proposal to present her findings at next year’s Urban Ethnography Conference, sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education.