Saturday, September 7, 2013

Highlights: A Beginning of the Year Reflection

(Photo by Richard Shaw)

As we finish up our second week of school, I cannot help but be filled with joy and gratitude. Every day has been full of new experiences, joy, support, and laughter.  My students are amazing, creative, and so much fun to teach.  My colleagues have really banded together this year and we are such a strong and supportive team.  The administration, as always, has been the constant foundation of support for us all and has helped ensure the first couple weeks flowed smoothly.  Overall, it is the best beginning of a year I have had as a teacher.

Most of what I did with students over the past two weeks has been completely new to both me as a teacher and them as students.  I did not reuse material from previous years, and the tasks I helped students complete asked them to move outside the normal scope of skill-based learning.

All in all, I found so much success in these activities that I wanted to make sure I shared what was happening in my classroom.  In the spirit of sharing, I believe it is important for all of us as teachers to showcase our classroom.  In any given day I can only be in my classroom with my students.  But, it is more likely than not that you are doing something in your classroom that my students and I can benefit from.  If we don't share than nothing is shared, and we all lose.


Kid President and #Awesomeyear
In the past, I have always taken time at the beginning of year to help students create goals. This year my approach was a little different, as I wanted to make sure that students got a chance to explore what it would take to make this year awesome.  We watch Kid President's Pep Talk and the kids worked in small groups to brainstorm how they could apply some of the quotes from this video to their own life.

After sharing their personal connections, students took time to create their own #awsomeyear quote. The only requirement was it it had to be 140 characters.  As a sat late one night reading what they believed would make this year awesome for them, I was brought to tears by their raw honesty and genuine display of hope for themselves and others.  They provided me inspiration and I wish I could have them all tweeting them out instead of posting them only on my back wall.

Live Wire
Our school has been working hard to adopt the Tribes character education program, and during our staff training we engaged in a community building activity called Live Wire.  I adapted this activity to use with my kids as it was really powerful when I completed it with my colleagues.

Each student received a pipe cleaner and a blank note card.  They were asked to twist, bend, and shape their pipe cleaner into a shape or design that described themselves.  They then used the note card to write a short description of what the pipe cleaner represented about themselves.

Again, I was beside myself with joy as my students so honestly shared themselves with me and the class.  Some were very simple and straightforward, while others reached a depth that greatly surpassed these kids' twelve-years of age.  If you are looking for a powerful and fun way to get to know your students, I would highly recommend this activity!

Digital Footprint
I have a 1:1 Chromebook classroom and this will be the first year that many of my students are engaged in technology integration during instruction.  To help students begin understanding how the concept of a Digital Footprint applies to their activity online, I adapted a lesson from Common Sense Media called "The Trillion Dollar Footprint."

The lesson and activities offered here are amazing in helping students understand what happens when they post information online.  These activities allow students to track what happens when you are not honest online or when you are reckless with your online behavior.  This lesson set the foundation for reflection upon our own work online and how we will craft and control our digital footprints this year.

Innovation Notebooks & Genius Hour
In an effort to cultivate innovative thinking and student voice, our middle schoolers will be engaging in Genius Hour once a week.  This is a huge shift in practice for both teachers and students, and we decided to help students get started by giving them a place to record their ideas.  This was the gift of the innovation notebooks.  We gave these to students and introduced Genius Hour by asking this question:

Students responded with a collective gasp.  They were excited and nervous.  They could not believe this was happening.  I could not believe we had waited so long to fuel this kind of passion.

Weekly Learning Blogs
During the reworking of our middle school humanities curriculum this summer, our staff spent a great deal of time brainstorming how we could make reflective learning a part of our instructional practice. We decided that blogging was a powerful way to encourage reflective thinking, so we developed the Weekly Learning Blogs.

Each week, students will get a chance to write about something they learned during the week. There is no requirement on subject matter or content, the post just has to describe and reflect upon something from the previous week.  Students jumped right in as if they had been doing this forever.  They loved the chance to reflect upon a topic of their choice, and many expressed how it was helpful in thinking about their own strengths and weaknesses.  I also got an opportunity to learn about what they learned in each class, which is a very powerful perspective that we are sometimes shielded from as classroom teachers.  I think this practice will prove to be extremely powerful in the lives of our students' learning throughout the year, as well as an incredible opportunity for us as teachers to assess and reflect upon on our own practices through the help of our students' voices.

Art Carts
This has been, hands-down, the most fun I have had with my students in a long time!  The Art Cart Derby is a local community event that partners with a number of organizations to help students build and race derby carts.  Along with a few other adults in my building, we have been building these carts with a group of fifth and eighth graders.  We have been meeting after school to help the students construct and decorate their carts, which are made from 100% reused and recycled materials.

This week our students got a chance to travel to a local building-consignment shop to gather additional materials and design T-Shirts for race day.  We also got to meet Bud Norris, pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles. Our eighth-graders stood in front of adults and other students to explain the building process of their carts and answered questions afterwards. We ended our day with a pizza picnic in the park. It was a beautiful day in every way possible.


Tell me how you really feel...
I don't think this would be a truly reflective post if I did not take a minute to think about where I can improve myself.  I will offer this image from a student, as it probably speaks more honestly than I am capable of when referring to myself.

Final Thoughts

As I move through this year, I will sincerely work to become a better teacher each day through positive actions, hope, and reflective thinking. I will work to see the strengths in all people around me, students and adults alike, and support these people through their weaknesses.  I will open and close every day with an attitude of love, laughter, and joy.  In times of struggle I will be honest with myself and others, and I will ask for help.  In times of accomplishment, I will be humble and show appreciation to those around me, for what we can accomplish together is so much greater than what I can achieve on my own.

As this year unfolds, what practices will you put in place to ensure the success of your students and yourself? How will you make sure that you are sharing the greatness of your students and learning community outside of your classroom? In this new year, how will you work towards and encourage others to achieve the most #awesomeyear yet?

1 comment:

  1. I like the #AwesomeYear idea... Might use that for my yearlong classes and do it once a month for them to create monthly goals during the school year. We have Chromebooks also and I've been having students keep an "Evidence of Learning" journal on there for Genius Hour. I like your Innovation Notebook idea - might have them create a separate doc for that to add to throughout the year.