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Pittsburgh Parenting Blog by Sewickley Academy

Sewickley Academy's Private School Blog

Michael-Ann Cerniglia

Michael-Ann is a Senior School history teacher at Sewickley Academy. She blogs at To Risk, Perchance to Learn.
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Recent Posts

The Art of Storytelling with Prezi

As a history teacher, I look for creative ways to communicate stories of people and places. Many mediums tell these narratives such as memoirs, film, art, and music, which add voice and depth to students’ understanding of the past and present.  In the past couple of years, I have discovered that Prezi is a tool that not only allows me to curate many of these sources into one place, but also adds its own artistic dimension to the art of storytelling in history and the humanities.

Three years ago, I worked with a Jordanian teacher, Ms. Noor, and her class over Twitter to compare perspectives on the Middle East and the United States. I was able to sum this experience up visually through a Prezi, “What is the Middle East?”, which combines word clouds, animations, and representative zooms.  The goal of this exercise was to develop perspective and empathy, as well as a broader understanding of how identity, culture, and environment influence each other.  Questions in the Prezi allow for pauses and reflection and the Prezi flips around to represent “thinking another way.”  The assignment was intended to give students and others a glimpse inside the mind of “the other” and the Prezi is designed to take us on a tour of that complex mental process.

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Topics: Technology

A Teacher's Interest in Pinterest

I have seen a lot of articles and blogs talking about Pinterest– why people are using it, how people are using it, and the benefits of it as social media.  Pinterest was one of my first attempts to use social media in my classroom, and I approached it as an experiment to see how I might make these crafty bulletin boards work for my students.

Over the last ten years, I curated a categorized list of content-related resources on my teaching website.  As the years passed, the list grew, many links died, and student traffic slowed dramatically.  I suspect that the latter happened because students gained proficiency with search engines—and search engines improved their ability to target results, even with a poorly-worded query.  I also found that students looked at the first link or two and stopped searching.  Ultimately, students were not as interested in following my suggestions as they were to find it on their own. This pleased me because it showed that students are becoming more independent learners online.  It was also concerning because not all students who explore on their own are prepared to evaluate websites effectively.  In an effort to guide student research, spark interest in the topics, and provide students the opportunity to search and discover, I decided that Pinterest was worth a try.

Below, I describe the goals of my Pinterest boards, as well as some welcomed surprises.

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Topics: Social Media

5 Reasons I Use Graphic Novels to Teach History

Lovers of history know that there are innumerable ways to experience the past. To this end, our history classes at Sewickley Academy engage students in literature, film, speakers, art, music, field trips, and travel to support our curriculum. One of my personal favorite styles of literature, which I find myself leaning into more and more, is the graphic novel.  While many are familiar with Art Spiegelman’s "Maus I: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History," which tells the story of his father’s experience in Nazi-occupied Poland, there are many more stories like it that communicate strong voices of past generations. Here are five reasons why I use graphic novels to teach history.  

1.  Historic Content

A graphic novel would not be worth teaching in a history course if it didn’t have content merit and provoke discussion of historic themes. All of the books I list here in this post connect to the courses in which they are positioned and support the content of those courses. For example, in my Modern Middle East elective, I have used the graphic novel "Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood," a memoir by Marjane Satrapi, which provides historic background to the Islamic Revolution in Iran. This short book, which can be read in only two nights, provides the foundation of historic understanding through a personal narrative, to better understand the many nuances of Iranian society at the time. In class, this framing also allows us to then go beyond the literature and discuss additional historic details absent from the book, to contextualize events. As developments have unfolded in the Middle East, I am looking to try a new book about Iran, one that focuses on more modern challenges the country is facing. Next year, we will read "Zahra's Paradise" (One of Amazon's Top Ten Great Graphic Novels for Teens) by Amir and Khalil, which is a fictional story weaving together real events around Iran’s political upheaval in the summer of 2009. 

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Topics: Education

9 Ways to Use Social Media in Your Classroom

It’s overwhelming to think about packing up the summer, heading back to the classroom, and adding a new instructional strategy to your already overflowing toolbox. Yet, ostensibly, you are a fairly proficient computer user who dabbles in social media (you’re reading this blog, right?), so you are curious about how it might fold into your curriculum. I apply social media in my classroom to help students view it as something that can–and will–influence their academic and professional life, hence the value of its responsible and ethical use. Here are nine strategies–one for each month of school– for incorporating social media into your classroom in ways that can encourage critical thinking through analysis and engagement.

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Topics: Social Media

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