Sunday, April 27, 2008

Second Annual Encounters and Exchanges Conference

What a great opportunity many of us had the Friday before vacation to participate in the Encounters and Exchanges Annual Conference. It is a very satisfying feeling to participate in a day that you know enriches you both as a classroom teacher and as a professional.

The day began with an excellent presentation by Julie Winch, a professor of History at UMass Boston. Dr. Winch introduced the group to several biographies of Free African-Americans. Dr. Winch used many common primary sources to open up our minds to people who might have been otherwise lost to History. One of the most important goals of this conference/grant is to help improve content knowledge and pedagogy of history teachers. Dr. Winch's presentation did indeed cause me to rethink about my various approaches to teaching. I would love the chance to teach my fifth graders about history through the eyes of more everyday people. (So often I think we as teachers are bogged down with "covering" those famous people that the state of Massachusetts tells us that students must know.)

After Julie's presentation, I had the excellent opportunity to give my own presentation to other elementary colleagues. Over the last couple of years, I have had the chance to give a handful of presentations to adults, which is something that I have found that I really enjoy doing. Although it can be nerve-racking at first, sharing ideas with colleagues in this kind of format has been excellent.

Lunchtime proved to be another great part of the day! The weather was beautiful and I was able to go outside with a handful of other history teachers, some from Reading and some from other places. This kind of informal opportunities can prove to be some of the best times for networking and sharing of resource ideas.

My second session of the day was an excellent presentation by the Museum of Fine Arts. This presentation ended up being rather ironic for me. Last summer, I spent a great deal of time on the Internet attempting to find works of art that could be included in a series of lessons that I was creating for the Content Institute that I was taking through the grant. I found myself totally lost in the MFA website, and unable to get the images that I needed. Low and behold, the MFA has created a fabulous tool for teachers. Not only are you able to get access to almost their entire collection, but they also have a fabulous curriculum called VTS, Visual Thinking Strategies. Check it out! It will be worth your time.

The last section of the day saw a performance by Gwendolyn Quezaire-Presutti as Maria W. Stewart, a female African-American abolitionist from Massachusetts. I always find performers like Ms. Quezaire-Presutti to be fascinating. The amount of time that she has dedicated to perfecting her craft is impressive. Check her out at

If you weren't able to join us last year, I hope that you will consider joining us and encouraging all of your colleagues to do the same!