Author Archives: Elisa

The First “C”

Communication, collaboration, and creativity are three major elements that the Online School for Girls has built its philosophy of educating young women on.

Today I explored the power of that first “C” in an awesome way. Now I have to say, blogging is simply incredible because it can lead to very meaningful connections with people you’d probably never come across otherwise. For a while now this AP Gov blog has gathered a following of educators, other government students, and people who love the idea of online learning (Kudos to all of you; we love hearing your thoughts on our posts!). A small group of these people are teachers who are pursuing a master’s at St. Joseph’s College, CT and are taking a course called “Integrating Technology and Literacy”. On my first post a couple weeks ago their teacher asked if my teacher and classmates could Skype with her students about our thoughts on online learning; lo and behold, an exciting connection was born! We finally had our Skype today and the teachers asked us many intriguing questions such as the following:

“What are the advantages of maintaining a blog throughout this course? Any disadvantages?”

I said that blogging allows me to enjoy seeing how things I learned previously truly apply to my life at the moment and how I’ve seen them play out in current events. Sometimes blogging can be tough when you don’t accurately convey your thoughts to your readers both in your posts and in your comments.

“What recommendations would my classmates and I have for these teachers who want to implement blogging with their students?”

Anyone can blog, even 1st graders! I was thinking to myself that younger students could write short reflections on classwork or books they’ve been reading. It turns out that many teachers in the blogosphere have their kids do this, which I think is awesome.

“How has implementing technology helped me as a learner?”

I’ve definitely been able to collaborate on projects more efficiently. In today’s fast-paced world, efficiency is key to success. Using tools like Google Docs, Voicethread, and Google Hangout has also allowed me to communicate with students who come from different parts of the country with different approaches to projects and definitely different opinions on issues that I’ve never thought of. It’s kind of like having pen pals in the digital age…you learn so much about different environments and in the meantime help each other to grow as students.

“And what about online research — does the Internet contribute to academic dishonesty and how can students of all ages become better online researchers?”

I think the internet does contribute to academic dishonesty, so it’s important for teachers to crack down on plagiarism and cheating. At my school for example, we upload our essays to to see what percent of the words come from academic and internet sources. It’s a very effective tool for catching plagiarism. As for online researching, I personally wish I was a better database researcher. My school librarian certainly teaches us how to use our online databases, but I often find myself resorting to Google searches for assignments. If students are taught to use databases by habit, the research they put into their work will definitely be more accurate and legitimate.

For over an hour we answered these and many other questions and had a great conversation going. I realize now that the Skype chat combined a bit of the second “C” as well –collaboration. (It’s tough to be a learner without using more than one of those C’s!) We collaborated on giving this fabulous group of teachers some ideas for how to implement online learning into their classroom; in return, my classmates and I had a peek into the direction that elementary and secondary education in our country is taking. The future is definitely bright for our students!



Posted by on April 12, 2012 in 21st Century Skills, Learning, Technology


Tags: , , ,

Killing a National Symbol v. Religious Freedom

A long while ago in our unit on civil liberties and civil rights, we touched on the situation of American Indian tribes and how they are treated today.

Created in 1936, the Northern Arapaho flag has much meaning and symbolism to it. Something pretty cool: the circle in the middle of the triangle is black on the left to represent where the heart is and red on the right to represent the human side -- "our happiness, strength, and sorrowful ways." - Northern Arapaho Tribe website

Yesterday I read in the news about how the Northern Arapaho tribe, who share a reservation with the Eastern Shoshone in Wyoming, was given a rare federal permit to kill two bald eagles off of their land for religious purposes. Last year they filed a lawsuit when they were refused such a permit because they felt their religious freedom was being violated.


This story brings up a lot of issues regarding both civil liberties and rights – shouldn’t there be little issue respecting this tribe’s liberties under the free exercise clause of the 1st amendment in the Constitution? And what’s with the seemingly racist backlash seen already from people commenting on news articles about this issue? Well of course it is justified for Americans to feel upset over the killing of a national symbol. Conservationists have been working so hard on bringing the once endangered bald eagle’s population back to healthy numbers. So yes, I can see why there is some outrage over this. However, most opinions I’ve seen on this in the past couple hours suggest the basis for the granting of this permit being religious exercise—and not for food or other purposes—is wrong. I feel that such an opinion is baseless if people don’t understand the spirituality of tribal religions.

I also learned that many other tribes have chosen to apply for eagle feathers and carcasses from a federal repository, which makes the granting of this permit very rare. Before our Gov class’s unit on civil liberties/rights I would’ve jumped to questioning why the Northern Arapaho can’t just go along with what all other tribes have been doing and play it safe. But now that I am more enlightened on the history and current standing of American Indians, I support the kind of stand the Northern Arapaho are taking – they are a sovereign, separate tribe with their own unique cultural background and don’t deserve to be thrown in with “every other tribe”.

This story really spoke to me because I realize that although most Americans have learned about our country’s harsh treatment of native tribes in the past, we actually don’t know enough about how they are faring now. The fact that treaty after treaty between our government and American Indian tribes has been broken shows that we still have a long way to go before we show true respect for these approximately 2.5 million people. Here’s a TED presentation that I really, really, really encourage you to watch.

The Native Americans in our country have long been subjected to discrimination and now seem to have been forgotten or at least hidden on their reservations. I didn’t REALLY know what these people have gone through and I’m happy that Aaron Huey from the TED talk showed the experiences of a particular group, the Lakota living on the Pine Ridge reservation, who live in extreme poverty.

Well, overall I have to say that I support the government’s move to grant this permit. I may not understand the whole background to all opinions on this story, but I do think our government is right to show more respect for this discriminated group.


Posted by on March 15, 2012 in Law and Policy, Rights and Liberties


An Equal Society Starts in the Classroom

In our previous unit about civil liberties and civil rights, we watched a classic Frontline report called “A Class Divided” that deals with racism and prejudice in America.

I think it’s safe to generalize that we’ve all experienced discrimination in some form. Some have had it worse than others and many people have damaged psyches from years of being treated with no dignity.  This documentary restored my confidence in the likeliness of a more equal society. What we can learn from this report doesn’t just affect race relations, but also our treatment of various undermined groups in this country like disabled persons, gays and lesbians, Native Americans, Muslims, etc.

About the documentary:

In the years following Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination, a schoolteacher named Mrs. Jane Elliott wanted her 3rd graders to understand discrimination through first-hand experience. In a two-day lesson, she’d divide her class between those with blue eyes and those with brown eyes. On the first day, the “blue eyes” were superior and the next day the “brown eyes” were considered superior. It was fascinating and horrible to see how children who were friends their entire lives suddenly turn on each other in a single day. Fed with mostly baseless ‘facts’ about how one group was better than the other by their teacher, a respected figure of authority, the students didn’t resist the inherently wrong things they were told to avoid getting in trouble.

A student comforts a fellow brown-eyed girl on the playground whose blue-eyed friends turned away from her.

By the end of these lessons, the students came out with a firm belief in their self-worth. Twenty years later, many of these students came back to say that this lesson made a profound impact on their lives and that from then on they had always rebuked discrimination. Mrs. Elliott also sent off her students’ test scores to Stanford University; they showed how on the one day a child was ‘inferior’, he didn’t do well but after the whole lesson was over he did remarkably well for the rest of the year compared to performance on tests before the lesson. There isn’t a physical barrier that prevents us from accepting others, but merely the fact that we haven’t walked in their shoes. Once we’ve come to a deeper understanding, we are freed from the negative constraints that are imposed by prejudice.

Like Mrs. Elliott said herself, I don’t think every teacher should give this lesson because there shouldn’t be a need for it. Also, I think it’d lose its effectiveness if it is overused. This kind of lesson has been taught to elementary students, employees of corrections facilities, and workers in corporations. It is a truly valuable lesson because it changes individuals’ perceptions about prejudices completely and teaches the values of kindness and tolerance. If we realize our self-worth and the fact that society can be truly equal if we decide it can be, then we will become healthier individuals that are empowered by self-initiative to work for justice and equality. If everyone could get something out of watching this documentary, I think our government would run smoother and civil rights activists from different groups would see more positive results.


Posted by on February 28, 2012 in Rights and Liberties


I should have worn a powdered wig to that Skype session…

The Founding Fathers and the age of computer technology really do go together. It took a bit of a journey for me to find that out…

My first week of Mr. Gwaltney’s AP Gov class was frightening to say the least. Now, I’m a senior at a school that has a laptop program and likes to uphold an image of tech savvy-ness, but alas, I wasn’t prepared for this. During the first week, we signed up for online accounts through numerous websites like Vimeo, Twitter, Voicethread, WordPress, Skype, Google, etc. My first tweet ever was a Bushism (“They misunderestimated me”) and my first Vimeo video was a nice “about me” that looked grainier than images produced by cell phone cameras circa early 2000’s. Now that I’ve conquered most of these technologies, I’ve noticed how much easier and how much more fun it is to convey my ideas.

Vimeo screenshot

Grainy video!

A little tangent: my actual school announced that our students will now document community service online through a nifty program. One of my friends thought that a paperless system would be a complete failure, but I praised the merits of Web 2.0 and convinced her that the future is everything.

Back to AP Gov – One of our assignments a few weeks ago was to write a discussion board post/respond to our classmate’s posts on Haiku about the federal government’s response to Hurricane Katrina, as documented on Frontline. Back at school, we rarely watch documentaries because there isn’t enough classroom time to do so. I’m a fan of watching documentaries of most any nature, so was excited to learn about the Katrina response in depth. I was maybe only ten years old at the time and remember the footage I’d seen on CNN, but I never ever knew that the tragedy was made so extensive because of a lack of efficient decision making and much pointing of fingers at the city, state, and national levels. I enjoyed this assignment because I read reactions from girls all over the country with different opinions and backgrounds. One response in particular that struck me was Amber’s, whose dad went to Biloxi, MS shortly after the storm and described how new federally-funded houses for victims hadn’t been built to code. The things we get to talk about in this class are so real and make it a lot easier to make connections through history to the ideas of the Founding Fathers.

My Voicethread presentation on Engel v. Vitale

What I really love about this class is that the questions posed in our assignments are taken as jumping off points for all kinds of directions in our conversations. Also, I really enjoy creating Voicethread presentations on landmark Supreme Court cases (this week I get Brown v. Board of Education, yes!!) and mixing in other forms of project-based learning. Back at school, AP Government is already offered, but my friends who take it seem to only be getting the AP side of it. It’s pretty cool telling your friends at lunch about the realities of Katrina or how you Skyped people all over the country after the State of the Union. I used to be a stickler for the paper and pen system of learning, but this class has really changed my mind. (Whoa, I just had a thought: what if we could type the AP exam or take it online? That’d make things easier on the essay/free response graders!) I’m excited to see what kinds of discussions we’ll have in the next few weeks.

See you in my next post on Leap Day!


Posted by on February 13, 2012 in Learning, Technology