Using interests to prepare for academics, career and community connections

Preparing our students for continued education, a career or to be respectable individuals in their community is a topic frequently discussed in my classroom. As a junior high Spanish teacher, I often address the question, “Why do I have to learn Spanish?” The answer, you don’t. But, think about this…when applying to a competitive university or trade school where most applicants have the same grade, but you have at least two levels of a foreign language and someone else doesn’t. You stand out. You prove to be an individual who has developed communication skills. Or you are joining the workforce and your customers are Spanish-speaking, you have some skills to prepare you for this. Or you are in your community and you see someone pulled over having car problems, and discover they are Spanish-speaking, or you are volunteering at the local food bank and a family comes in only speaking a foreign language, these situations require you to use the skills you developed in your language class and encourage you to communicate in order to help others.

Just this week, my 8th grade students had to present oral presentations (from memory) about their futures. Their first reaction was, “Whoa, we are going to be 18 or 19!” Scary, right? Most of their plans included attending college, getting a job, buying a car AND I WAS SHOCKED…but, also included in the majority of presentations was understanding a second language. We reflected after all of the presentations and a lot of them shared that they want to understand a second language to advance themselves in continued education or a career. But, another observation from me was the realization that so many of them were terrified to speak in front of their peers. So, we started the conversation about our interests and our levels of preparedness.

After reading about Youth Radio and listening to Asha Richardson, it’s exciting to see a young girl able to put all of her interests into action and bring her success. Her interests, which are very different from one another, are actually able to develop and be combined in a way that allows her to share her passion in storytelling. Becoming a member of youth radio has allowed her to develop networking skills. Her experiences are hands-on. All members developing an app contribute different skills and they learn from one another. She has met mentors, who have aided her along her journey, and now she is serving a mentor and role model to other young girls wanting to put their interests into play and create! I’m looking forward to sharing Asha’s story with my own students!

“Learners flourish and realize their potential when they can connect their interests and social engagement to academic studies, civic engagement, and career opportunity” (Ito et al. 2013:8)

Ito’s thoughts above led me to want to create an app called, InterestME. The following questions guided me toward this idea:

  1. How can we help students clarify interests, abilities and values?
  2. How can we encourage students to utilize their interests to exemplify empowerment and help others?
  3. How do we get students more involved to better prepare themselves for academic settings, a career or their community?

So, what does InterestME look like? InterestME would serve as an online communication tool that allows students and other community members to use their interests to help others on a volunteer basis. It would be an app accessible to members in specific communities. What do I mean? Similar to a Craig’s List, meaning searches are available in specific cities, as well as similar to an online yard sale site, members will have access to joining interest-driven networks. The app would be available within individual school districts for safety. So, students are helping and looking for help in their school district only. For example, InterestME, will have networks like math, science, English, world language, childcare, automotive, landscaping, etc. Students can join 1 or some of these networks, depending upon their interests. When someone posts that they are seeking help with Algebra 1 homework or need help changing a windshield wiper blade on their car or the community food bank needs extra help or an individual is wanting more practice batting and pitching, an alert would go out to those willing to volunteer in that specific network and they can respond and help that individual. This app is intended to for use by students in grade 7 and above. Students will be able to use their interests in a meaningful and productive way, while gaining networking and communication skills.

The guidelines allow a user seeking help, in academics, career or in the community, to post what they need and then a member of that specific interest has the opportunity to volunteer their help. The intent is for students to utilize their interests, while helping others, and discover the possibilities their interests can bring.

An app like InterestME, would be successful in the community and district I teach in because all students, in grades 7-12, have a school-issued iPad. And, I would say 90% of my 200 students have a smart phone. Based on my observations this week in my classes, this app would help them face their fears of talking in front of others, allow them to help in ways that interest them and provide a level of comfort and confidence as well as provide them with real-world, hands-on experience!

Interview 3: User research. 3 individuals provided me with feedback to the 3 questions mentioned above.

Interviewee 1: Assistant Principal grades 7-12

Mr. P provided me with information about some course requirements in our district. There is a course required, Futures, of all students in 8th grade. Here they take several personality and career assessments that provide them with results based on their interests. He mentions how much our students love technology. Their eyes and hands are always on their school provided and personal devices. He thinks that we can encourage them to use their interests towards empowerment if technology is meaningful. Now, with flipped classrooms, podcasts, skype and other resources, they can learn more about their interests and see what their peers around the world, with the same interests, are doing. Every year our district has a huge event for the community, modelling what students in the district are doing. Mr. P says we need to get more students involved. By having more students show their work at this event, it would then lead them to meeting community members who are working in their area of interests and give them the chance to communicate with these members.

Interviewee 2: Pennsylvania Army National Guard Recruiter

SFC K informed me about the SASVAB Career Exploration Program. The test itself is an 8 series test. It goes above and beyond what the SATs provide. Students are tested on areas in math, verbal, science and technical skills, allowing students to test their knowledge on careers in the outside world. Once the test is completed and scored, the students will take an interest-finder, based on John Holland’s personality traits and career finder codes. Students are able to search for careers based on their personality types and SASVAB score. He also mentioned what guidance counselors in the districts can provide for our students. He thinks that providing opportunity to apply their skill set is the best form of motivation. And then from there, showing recognition and rewarding them will motivate and encourage them to continue to use their interests to pursue their future goals. One way to get them more involved in the preparation process is to provide work release, where they leave school after their core subjects and work or volunteer in their interest-driven setting.

Interviewee(s) 3: Some of my students 🙂

I have to say..they actually really like the idea of this app! But, it wasn’t until I explained the app, which came after the questioning process. When I asked them question 1, how can we help them clarify their interests, they responded with the career aptitude test that they take in their futures class. But, then a student contributed something more meaningful. Back in November, we had a career day at school. All 7th and 8th grade students had the opportunity to visit 5 different individuals in different careers. They thought that this was a great way to explore their interests and want to see this become a traditional experience in the junior high. My students are always seeking for rewards. They want to be rewarded for their effort and their work. They have the drive to use their interests in areas like sports, science and art to empower themselves and others, but want rewards. So, while the app is on a volunteer basis, they thought extra credit in the classroom could be given when they show their teacher that they are active participants on the app. I am okay with that idea! 😉 And finally, they shared that they want to know their community more. They want to communicate with others who are already continuing or have continued education after high school and those who have pursued jobs in their area of interest. So, it’s time to provide this experience!



Una servilleta del mundo (A world napkin)

map is a representation or reflection of anything. I use several types of maps in life, daily! In class when we are discussing culture facts about the 24 Spanish-speaking countries of the world, or when a student confuses a continent with a country or a country with a city (it happens, hehe), or when my husband is lost (yes, it happens, a lot), or when my children and I document where we have traveled, or when getting ideas down on paper in order to formulate a larger thought or idea, I use a map. This course is truly driving me to reflect and connect. This week when I constructed my map, which yes is actually drawn on a napkin, I could physically see the paths I have taken to get here. I want to connect and stay connected in order to continue my growth, as a wife, as a mother, as a daughter and as a teacher! It is really, really noticeable that my journey to connected learning involves people, lots of people. Socialization is key! “Peer-supported learning absolutely involves having a social connection with others” (Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom 34). Throughout my journey to connected learning I have made several stops to socialize and connect. I started swimming at the age of 4 years old. I made connections with other swimmers and coaches. From this point on my coaches my first year on the swim then connected me with other coaches and I improved my skills. And from here I then became a coach. I taught young and new swimmers to swim. I helped improve skills of already established swimmers. I mentioned earlier, when blogging about my interests, that volunteer work in my community was very important to me. As a mentor in the Big Brother/Big Sister organization, it was my role to create a safe and interest-driven environment for my mentee. I wanted to help this young boy become aware of his potential. I wanted to see him succeed. I wanted to see him enjoy the positives in his life, even when the negatives weighed heavily on him.  And from this organization I developed a relationship with the coordinator who opened the door to even more opportunity. As I went on to college, I used what my peers and mentors taught me about myself. My eagerness to help others grow was an asset. I joined other networks and connected with different groups of people. I joined a sorority, I became an orientation leader, I tutored. These experiences then drove me to expand my networks internationally. I volunteered in orphanages in Mexico. I traveled throughout Europe and got my “volunteer fix.” And now, as a wife, mother and teacher I continue to help. I want my children to be the best they can be. I encourage them to create. I want them to experiment (safely, obviously). I want them to make a difference. In my classroom I strive to create what works best for my students. But sometimes I have to remind myself (and them) that we have to work outside of our comfort zone, but also bring in our expertise, in order to learn. So, join me (or swim with me) through my journey to connected learning! And let’s connect so I can add more to my world napkin!

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Tapping into our interests…


As a kid, I can always remember being asked to write or talk about my interests, which then went hand-in-hand with what I wanted to do when I grow up.  And then that kind of went away. Classes consisted of outlining chapters, memorizing formulas, translating from native language into target language and tests and quizzes. Until recently, I was following these same patterns as an educator. (And of course some of the habits are still steps!) But, now that there is so much research available for educator about unveiling the interests of our students and then creating activities that will benefit them, the lesson planning process has changed. Sometimes when I am presenting a new grammar topic, through lecture, I look around the room at the faces of my students and think I must stop immediately. Their boredom could be contagious!!! I sometimes feel pressured to meet the curriculum requirements. But, just this week I allowed my interests to motivate me to re-invent. I mentioned, a few ago, my interest for service work. Well, another interest of mine was (and still is) swimming.  I have so many students, with so many different interests, ranging from sports, to music, to YouTube channel (including who knows what), to video games, to cooking and so on! Therefore, I have started to create their next, or should I say first “play.” When teaching grammar I either take the traditional path and write their notes on the smartboard OR I implement a flipped classroom and encourage the students to watch a video, created by me, at home so that class time is strictly used for practice. When starting our next chapter, students will watch the grammar- filled video at home and then play in school. They are going to individually or in a group, depending on their interests, create with the new content. They will have choices like a “how-to” video or discuss there future plans. I know I would have really enjoyed a project like this because I would FINALLY learn the Spanish vocabulary for things I am actually interested in! (I plan to share their work here once we get started in the next couple of weeks). I feel like if, as educators, we rely on our own interests to help us create new experiences for ourselves then we can certainly do this for our students. Reflecting on what we would have changed in our own educational experience provides that “ah-ha” moment and drives us to teach what interests our students. Our interests, our students’ interests..they hold power! And that power engages them in their learning and their creation! I came across this blog this week, Learner Interest Matters: Strategies for Empowering Student Choice. The last line of the article says it all! ” If this approach is good for professionals, why not use it for our learners?” It’s so true! When I am interested and engaged, I dig deeper and so will our students. The research says it works so now we just have to do! And then add our positive experiences for all to see!

We are encouraged to motivate ourselves and our students through interests, and after reading some passionate letters from the site Letters to the Next President 2.0, I can identify their passions, their interests, their engagement. I want, I truly want, what is best for my students. I spend a lot of time reflecting on what I can do to make learning fabulous and fun and meaningful. I’m not going to lie here..I do not consider myself a political person at all. At first I thought I would jump on the bandwagon and write about unfair pay, immigration, feminism, etc based on the letters I was reading, but instead I am going to focus on connections I made after reading Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom.

To whom it may concern:

I always wanted to be a teacher. I was driven to become a teacher. My interests drove me to want to become a teacher. I studied to be a teacher. I, now, am a teacher. I want to teach. And I want to teach what I am passionate about. I am struggling right now. I am struggling to teach my students what I think they need to be taught by me. There are many obstacles in my way. Other teachers are facing these obstacles as well. How are we supposed to teach our students when we are told what we need to do in our own classroom? For example, we are told that we need to teach to nationalized standards, including how to approach and answer questions on standardized tests. I don’t want to be told what to teach and how to teach it. Just like in college, I didn’t want to take the class “How to teach Spanish,” but instead how to implement some already-established techniques in the classroom. As well as experiment. I wanted to investigate what would work and not work in MY classroom. And I still feel this way. Another obstacle we face is being placed in meaningless and useless inservices that are thrown together last minutes in order for the district to meet its requirement. My students have a lot to say. I hear them. I want to show them that I hear them and create what is best for them. Teachers are constantly reflecting. Let us reflect. Let us rethink and reinvent. Rather than telling us what to teach and how to teach or mandating that we participate in an inservice that is not relevant, let us connect. Let us reflect, together, in a way that is authentic and efficient, in a way that works for us, in a way that will be best for our students. Encourage and motivate us to implement the interests of our students. Provide us time to reflect. Then, mandate that we share our findings and brainstorm what to keep and what to change. And then, let us get back in the classroom and do it all over again. We are teachers. We are passionate, caring, hard-working, committed, dedicated and want what is best for our students. WE have so much to learn from THEM! Let them show us! “Once a fire is lit under students, they easily pursue further opportunities to support peers, find shared purpose, network and produce with others, and connect their passions to academic achievement” (Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom 11).  It’s time to light this fire, they speak of, under teachers so that we can pursue more opportunities to support colleagues and our students and achieve greatness in our classrooms for our students, the ones we are teaching for.

Antero Garcia, Christina Cantrill, Danielle Filipiak, Bud Hunt, Clifford Lee, Nicole Mirra, Cindy O’Donnell-Allen, Kylie Peppler. “Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom.” (01 Feb 2014).