If a student asks a question in a classroom, how many people hear it?

Lone Backlit TreeAfter a busy weekend I finally have a minute to share an experience with the sheer logistical aid offered by social networks – chiefly blogs and Twitter – during one student’s journey in writing her eminent person speech on Margret Rey, author of the Curious George books.

During our conference last week concerning her plans for both Night of the Notables address, as well as her ideas for a learning centre on Margaret Rey, Katie expressed an interest in using her speech to focus on a particular aspect of Rey’s life. After discussing ways to frame both the evening’s performance aspects and learning center, Katie set out to brainstorm ideas for each, and blogged a modest request to aid in the writing of her speech:

What people don’t know is that Margret Rey was Jewish and born in Germany in the early 1900’s. By the late 1930’s she was living and producing books in Paris with her husband. In 1941, Paris was proclaimed an open city, just waiting for German invasion. Margret and H.A Rey needed to get out of France fast.

They set out on what would became the biggest adventure of their life, carrying only some food, clothes, money, and the manuscripts for their books. Riding a couple of used bikes, the two rode South through France, eventually getting on a train to Lisbon, Portugal, then boarding a steamship across the Atlantic to Rio, Brazil. After four long months of travel, they reached New York where they began getting their childrens’ stories published.

I want to zero in on the moment when the couple realized they had to leave their home in France and journey to New York with their few possessions. I am looking for input on what this moment would be like. Escaping the Nazis, pedaling into the distance, not sure what you will find… I live in Vancouver and have no idea what it would be like to realize that you have to flee your home to escape war.

That same afternoon I sent a link to Katie’s post out to my Twitter followers, asking that they retweet the message to anyone who might help (in all fairness, I zeroed in on three particular Twitterers I believed to live and work in Germany, and sent the request specifically to them (again asking that the message be retweeted)).

Now, I have approximately 230 Twitter followers, which is perhaps above average for teachers new to Twitter, but the result of being an active member of a community of educators that encircles the globe.  I RT content from the people I follow, comment on their blogs, and link to them in my own blogging; if their classes are involved in projects, I “point” to them on Twitter or the blog. In short, I try to Pay It Forward, in some small way, every day. So when I come to ask, on behalf of a student like Katie, as I did last week, for people to help send a message to aid in someone’s learning, a few people do. In fact, three people do.

Out of more than 200, maybe not so impressive. But to add in the prospective audience of those four people brings another 4000 eyes into the fold.

And in the end, Ms. Anne Hodgson was able to join our class’ discussion (as were a few others), and lend a personal touch to Katie’s research of the Holocaust:

My mom was born In Germany in 1922, my dad, an American, came over in 1945. My (anti-Nazi) German family went into what is called “inner immigration” during the Nazi era, an option simply not open to the Reys and the millions and millions of Jews throughout Europe.

I don’t think we can really imagine what it means to have your entire life pulled from under you as the country that was your only home slowly but surely turns into a hostile environment. At first you know who is out to get you, those men and women in uniform with a clear directive. But later it all becomes very precarious, as people get “infected” by the apathy or opportunism that a totalitarian regime causes in those not strong enough to take a stand.

The timeline on this development was less than twenty four hours, involved five people doing something that took each of them a matter of minutes – once Katie had written the original post – and carried a message which introduced a student in Coquitlam, British Columbia with a personal connection to World War Two and the research of a children’s author in Munich, Germany.

Thanks to Anne for adding to our classroom last week, and to Karenne SylvesterDaniel Eisenmenger for helping to spread the Word!