Today my students had the privilege and honor of Skyping with Senator Kimberly Yee from Arizona.
We just recently finished a persuasive speech unit. During the unit we read "The Gettysburg Address" and "I Have a Dream." I also add a third speech, and it's usually something very recent, like President Obama's inauguration speech. It obviously varies depending on the year we're in. As we studied the speeches, my students learned about the rhetorical strategies used by these dynamic orators - allusion, simile, metaphor, symbolism, and so on. Then, students were instructed to write a speech that would enact positive change in the world. They spend a couple of weeks researching facts that will support their idea (a great opportunity here to teach how to discern valid sources). Afterwards, they write a speech incorporating three facts and numerous rhetorical strategies.
In line with this idea of changing the world, I thought, "What better way for students to understand this than to video conference with an elected official?"
Fortunately for me, I met Senator Yee last summer at the Partner's in Learning U.S. Forum in Redmond, Washington -- an all-expense paid trip, courtesy of Microsoft. Each year, Microsoft selects educators from all over the country to showcase the innovative ways we are using technology in our classroom. It was a wonderful experience, and all the participants shared their projects in a science fair setting. On the second day, Microsoft hosted professional development sessions and gave us the opportunity to also network and collaborate with other educators.
Senator Yee was one of the judges at the event and the only elected official. Immediately, I realized that she'd be a great guest to have in my classroom, considering the speech unit that I usually taught in the spring.
As my class got ready for our video conference session this morning, my students were excited and awed at the idea of being able to speak to a state senator. We had a list of questions ready, and no shortages of students who volunteered to read them. In fact, many students were arguing over who will get to ask the questions. They had to battle for this role, rock-paper-scissors style.
When the call came through, the whole room was silent and attentive. My students were polite and respectful, and they came up eagerly to the camera when it was their turn to ask a question. I was especially impressed by one student who prefaced his question with a "Good morning, Senator Yee," something I had not prompted him to say.
Here are the list of the questions we had.
1. How did you get started in public service?
2. What is the campaign process like?
3. What is the lawmaking process like?
4. What does a typical day look like for you?
5. What is the best part of your job?
6. What are some fun things you get to do?
7. What are some challenges of your job?
8. Do you travel a lot?
9. Do you get to meet famous people?
10. What advice do you have for us?
Senator Yee did a fabulous job of praising my students for their thoughtful questions, and she answered them with energy and enthusiasm. One especially memorable part was when she shared that as a high school senior, she introduced a bill, which eventually passed into law. I thought that was such a great message for my students to hear - that we do have the power to affect our futures, regardless of age.
It was such a great experience, and I hope to invite more guests into my classroom. If you use video conferencing with your students, please share below.