Educational Collaborations: Gate Key Chronicles and Ms. M. from Outschool
Hello readers. J.G. Blodgett here, hoping you had an awesome February! As promised, it is time for some new and meaningful content to come your way from Gate Key Publishing.
As some of you may know, if you are following me on Facebook, I was recently approached by a totally inspiring person, Ms. Kristen Mercurio, and offered the privilege of having my latest fantasy novel, The Dark Light, be the focus for one of Ms. M.'s upcoming reading classes, starting March 7th (click the image below, or click HERE to be taken to the site for more information). Obviously, I jumped at the opportunity. I mean, as an author, it is one thing to have your stories read by - well, by anyone - let alone have it read by young humans as part of a learning process!
Ms. M. is an educator - and so much more, as you will see - over at Outschool.com, an online learning platform founded in 2015 in San Francisco, which "connect(s) learners, parents and teachers to create interest-based, small-group learning experiences that take place over video chat" (outschool.com/about). I've checked the website, and this platform/marketplace for learning is super impressive, and I actually get to work with one of their educators! I feel super blessed and honored to be working with Ms. M., who I sat down for a little Q&A with, so we all can get to know her a little better, so let's get to know Ms. M., shall we!
J.G.: Ms. M., please tell us a little about what you do over at Outschool? What is Outschool?
Ms. M.: I teach students ages 3-18 everything from science-related classes, to reading/ELA, and social skills, and I am always adding new classes based on student and parent interests and requests.
Outschool is an online platform or marketplace for students ages 3-18. Students can take academic classes, engage in social clubs, participate in virtual extracurricular activities, or receive 1:1 or small group tutoring. Whatever subject or idea sparks an interest in a students mind or heart, I am positive Outschool teachers have a class for it (and if we don’t, teachers are always willing to create new classes!)
J.G.: Wow! Outschool sounds like a great place for parents and kids to access some very innovative learning resources, and some very relevant courses overall. I would love to know more about your position in the program and how you came to work with Outschool. What positions in education have you held before? What grade levels do you teach/have you taught in? And, with Outschool being an online platform, what regions, if any, have you taught in outside the US?
Ms. M.: I have taught grades K-12 in public and charter schools. I have also provided homeschool curriculum and teaching services to homeschool families through my personal business. I am certified to teach in Florida and Kentucky but I have taught in Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky, and New York. I have also taught English to children and adults living in Asia.
However, on Outschool I teach students living on EVERY continent (except Antarctica!) which I find to be such an amazing experience. I love meeting students and their families from across the globe!
J.G.: That is awesome. To think that you get to have a positive influence on so many young humans around the world! Thank you for sharing that with us.
What would you say inspires your lessons for students?
Ms. M.: My students inspire my lessons. Of course, my background is important as I prefer to choose subjects I am familiar with and certified to teach but every lesson I create, I create the activities and choose the content with my students in mind. My goal is to not only provide opportunities for students to learn academic material but also tap into educating and empowering the learner as a whole person by including social/personal skills, critical thinking, and try to inspire their curiosity, innovation, and excitement for learning.
As a reading teacher, every lesson I teach includes elements of reading comprehension, introduces new vocabulary words, and aims to spark the students’ interest in a subject. Even in my science classes, I want my students to not only LEARN new vocabulary words but be able to feel confident enough that they could explain the words or concepts to someone else. In my reading classes, I want students to fall in love with reading, with storytelling, with the messages the books reveal, and inspire them to read more.
Many of my classes featured on Outschool were created by student or parent requests. I also have short classes where students vote for their favorite animals. When a particular animal receives more than five votes, I create a longer class dedicated to their favorite animal. My social club, science inventors’ fair, and reading classes were all created after students and parents specifically requested them.
The beauty of Outschool is that I am not regulated by State mandated tests. I can tailor my lessons to grade-level material but meet each student where they’re at academically and I do not have to follow a strict curriculum, limited resources, nor flood students with grades, quizzes, and tests. My students demonstrate what they learned in more authentic and valuable ways…. through talking, through projects, and through their eagerness to learn more.. not a one-time paper and pencil test.
J.G.: I think anyone reading this can appreciate the break from standardized testing, and standardized teaching, in an effort to meet our young humans where they are at in their lives. And it sounds like you do just that, nice work!
Next question: In your opinion, what is the most important quality that an educator like yourself can/should have?
Ms. M.: Authenticity. Not only should educators remain true to themselves, they should remain true to the parents and students they serve. Students know instantly if a teacher loves what they do, if they love what they teach, and if they feel loved and valued by the teacher.
In fact, I say this so much one of my colleagues bought me a bracelet that reads: BE AUTHENTIC. It serves as a reminder to myself and to anyone that sees it that we should always be genuine, real, and celebrate our true selves.
Educators should authentically love what they do, who they are as an educator, and all of the children and families they serve.
J.G.: Well, in our conversations leading up to this interview, and throughout this interview as well, I have found you to be one of the most authentic humans I have ever met, and I am sure our readers will feel this way as well.
Now, you have accomplished a lot in your life so far, things you've shared with me: you're an educator with more degrees than I can count on one hand; you're an entrepreneur; a community social advocate; a life coach - just to name a few things. Being someone who has achieved so much in life, what advice do you have for a young person with a dream that might seem bigger than they are?
Ms. M.: To my big dreamers: our dreams can be big... they can be HUGE... it’s a matter of how we plan to get there. Sometimes when we dream SO big, it seems out of reach. However, when we make a goal with manageable steps to get there... each step we take brings us that much closer. Big dreams are amazing and taking little steps helps us inch our way there. DREAM big and then plan the steps to make it happen. No dream is TOO big. We can do anything we set our minds to (if we plan accordingly and believe in ourselves)
J.G.: That's some sound advice, since I think most people tend to give up on their dreams, or even fail to start reaching for them, because reaching their goal seems so overwhelming. Thank you for that.
What are some of your latest educational projects/lessons that you’ve been working on? I am sure our readers will want to know what type of course you have built around The Dark Light.
Ms. M.: I have recently started adding reading lessons to my offerings on Outschool. I am so excited to be able to share Gate Key Chronicles series with my learners. There are many middle/high school parents requesting classes on the platform and, prior to this, most of my students have been younger. I do have a creative thinking class for older students but I wanted to be able to bring FUN reading classes to middle and high school students so that they can read without the thought of being FORCED to read a book mandated by a curriculum but rather a book that truly sparks their interest.
For right now, I have this class featuring Book 1 in the Gate Key Chronicles series as a Flex class. This is a class that does not meet LIVE on the platform, but rather students read at their own pace. They are assigned weekly discussion questions pertaining to the chapters, a Kahoot game, and we respond to each other on the platform. After they’ve read the book, students will create a final project such as a book trailer or book poster to share with their peers.
I will be creating other classes that meet live where we will read the book aloud, discuss vocabulary, literary elements, and writing prompts. The live classes are coming soon!
J.G.: I am equally excited about this collaboration, and I cannot tell you how blessed I feel to have my book read by some eager young minds. I am very eager to engage with the students about my story, so please, let them know that I encourage them to send me any questions, comments, or critique they may have, as I am sure they will have some fantastic input that will only help the series grow!
Ms. M.: Will do!
J.G.: Awesome, thank you for that. And thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us over here at Gate Key Publishing. Is there anything else you would like to say before we wrap this up? This is your chance for some shameless-self-promo!
Ms. M.: I am truly honored and humbled to be able to work with J.G. Blodgett and not only bring new reading materials into the hands of students, but also give young readers the opportunity to truly connect with the author. As a young kid who used to sneak off to the library on my bicycle or hide under the sheets reading when I was supposed to be sleeping... I can say that I could have only dreamt of a day I would be able to ask authors questions and possibly get a response! Authors were almost untouchable, in my young mind, they were these wondrous story-creators and I couldn’t even imagine ever being able to have the opportunity to ask them questions! So I am excited not only for my students but also for this opportunity.
Aside from teaching on Outschool, I do own my own business- Promising Futures.
On Instagram: @PromsingFutures (only one i)
On Facebook: https://promising-futures.webnode.com/
Outschool on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Ms-M-Outschool-Teacher-105497188119227
I also contract privately as a life/health coach and will be contracting with Teacup Wellness again soon. I previously contracted with Teacup Wellness and they have recently begun the process of obtaining their 501c3 status to serve others.
I am also the founder of a local social group- Pinups for Positivity
I began the social group as a way to encourage and inspire others to give back to the community while showing our youth that you can be active in the community, beautiful, and confident while sticking to our values, morals, and dignity.
We are now a group of over 40 women that embrace the style and fashion throughout the ages (1920s-1970s), attend volunteer events, and provide a sisterhood of support and encouragement to one another and
On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Pinupsforpositivity
J.G.: Too cool! I think you just created what we writers call an 'open ending' for us to do a sequel interview real soon, as I am sure we have some readers that would love to know a little more about your business. And I know we have some readers that would want to know more about Pinups for Positivity, as there can never be enough movements in our world that help women to have a positive self-image, while empowering them to help others as well - and throwback fashion is huge right now, right!
J.G.: Thank you again, Ms. M., for joining me for this interview. It has been a real privilege.
Ms. M.: Well, thank you for having me.
Well readers, there you have it, the amazing, super accomplished Ms. Kristen Mercurio! I really hope you enjoyed this post as much as I enjoyed interviewing Ms. M. and putting it together for you. Don't forget to go and follow Kristen on all of her social media accounts!
Parents with teens ages 12-16, don't forget to click the course description image at the beginning of this post, or just click HERE, to be taken to the For the Love of Reading: Gate Key Chronicles course. It's only $20!
Thank you for taking the time, and please like and comment. And remember, if you SUBSCRIBE to www.jgblodgett.com you will be the first to hear about awesome content like this post, as well as get free content that no one else has, including: a digital copy of my original screenplay, The Gate Key - the feature script that inspired the entire Gate Key Chronicles book series - which will be illustrated with original artwork by Sharon Martin!
Until next time...
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