The Backstory: Jason Robbins teaches Social Studies at Cajon Valley Middle School in El Cajon, California. Just this past December, he was awarded the Veterans of Foreign War (VFW) Teacher of the Year award for California. We found out it had a lot to do with a Medal of Honor curriculum that he teaches through Haiku Learning. With Memorial Day around the corner, we checked in with him to learn about this fantastic honor and curriculum to match.
HL. Congrats on winning the VFW California Teacher of the Year! Can you tell us a little about the award?
JR. You have to show that you’re building the principles of patriotism for our veterans and creating an environment where students can learn patriotism in the classroom. A teacher at the school nominated me for it—I didn’t know she did it. She knew we were doing this Medal of Honor curriculum, and that I've done some memorials for 9-11. She also told them I’m a Boy Scout leader and I started a Washington DC trip at the school.
HL. And what led you to start using Haiku Learning with the Medal of Honor curriculum?
JR. We had been doing the Medal of Honor curriculum for about a year when I ran into a teaching mentor of mine, Mary Kraus (A Project Specialist with the Online and Blended Learning at San Diego County Office of Education, and a Haiku Learning customer).
She said ‘we’re doing this Medal of Honor thing.’ I said ‘Wait, so am I!’ Turns out she had put a bunch of lessons on Haiku Learning, and she said 'Hey, can you try it on Haiku?’ I was timid at first because it was new. But if you spend an hour with the platform, just clicking around, you figure it out pretty quickly. It’s very user friendly. There’s a lot more stuff there than I thought. And my students don’t seem to have any problems with it.
HL. So how are you using Haiku Learning to teach the Medal of Honor curriculum?
JR. One of the points of the curriculum is that the kids learn character education through the stories of these [Medal of Honor] recipients. The kids focus on learning commitment, patriotism, sacrifice, those types of values. So, they come in, turn their laptop on, and I tell them which lesson we’re going to do today, which recipient we’re going to study. They log into Haiku and watch a video vignette that is embedded into Haiku. Then they have to answer different questions about it in the discussion forum.
This is a snippet of a Discussion in Haiku Learning that Jason set up for his students. The student names have been changed to protect privacy. They were sharing stories of how they overcame obstacles in life, part of the character education segment of the Medal of Honor curriculum.
HL. How do you and the students interact in Discussions—do you set them up as class-wide, small groups, or 1:1 with you?
JR. It’s a class-wide discussion, so everyone can see everyone else’s posts. We have rules about how to respond in class. They log in, add their own discussion, and then they have to go and comment on two other students' comments. Once they add their discussion, I can go in and comment on all their stuff. And then I go into the Gradebook in Haiku and assign either 0, 5, or 10 points.
HL. Do you other parts of the platform, like WikiProjects?
JR. We also use WikiProjects. The students add venn diagrams and “I am” poems to WikiProjects. An “I am” poem is a preset format of poems in which the beginning of each sentence has the words “I am” and then you fill in the rest with what you just learned about a particular Medal of Honor recipient. You pretend you’re this [Medal of Honor recipient] and finish the words on each of the lines.
HL. Overall, what has been the biggest impact you’ve noticed on using Haiku Learning with the Medal of Honor curriculum?
JR. The students seem much more willing to express themselves. Before we’d ask these questions in class and some kids just wouldn’t share and put themselves out there, but in Haiku, the kids are much more open. It made the lessons a little more real to all of the kids. It kind of scared me at first because I realized they’re telling me all this stuff and at first, I’m like well how do I respond? Some got very personal, very detailed. But we have a rule: What happens in Haiku, stays in Haiku. You don’t want kids to put themselves out here and then at lunchtime hear them talking about other kids. They’ve been good about that. Overall, I learned a ton more about my kids and my kids learned a ton more about each other.
We're also going to a Medal of Honor ceremony soon. There are only about 80 Medal of Honor recipients alive, and once a year they do a big thing at the Ronald Reagan library. There’s a panel of four of the recipients that the kids have learned about this year. They actually get to meet them sit down and talk with them, so that’s a really cool experience too.
Follow Up: A Colonel's Approval!
After Jason spoke with Haiku Learning, he mentioned that a Medal of Honor recipient, Colonel Jay Vargas, came to speak with them as a bit of a follow up to their Medal of Honor ceremony trip.
About the visit, Jason said, "The visit went very well. Colonel Jay Vargas liked the idea that they can share with each other and those that typically are not open in front of the class really open up in Discussions [in Haiku Learning]."
Well, it sounds like the students are getting a lot out of these real life lessons! Do you teach character education? Would you like to learn more about this curriculum? Find out more here.
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