As some of you may know I (Travis Armstrong) left the middle school three years ago to teach at one of our three High Schools. Though I enjoyed the experience there, I am really excited to come back to the middle school. I am especially excited to be able to work closer with Garth, and JC by connecting our students between the two middle schools. Well we wasted no time in finding a way to get the two schools connected early on in the school year. Last Friday (August 23rd) we connected four of our classes to play a current event Kahoot. This is something that we plan to do once a week for the entire school year. We plan on keeping track of which class has three out of the top 5 and awarding that school with the “point”. At the end of the year we are going to have a trophy made and the winning school will get to house the trophy for the following school year. Below are a few images of our first current event kahoot of the year. Please feel free to leave a comment with any questions/suggestions as we go through the 2019/20 school year.
The first week of school, especially in a new school, can be really intimidating and we all know that it’s supposed to set the tone for the rest of the year. When I realized I was entering my 12th year of teaching, I began to reflect a lot on what I was doing, what I was about and what I want my students to take away from my class. Here’s what I came up with: I want my students to look forward to spending 45 minutes a day in my space and I want them to enjoy the experience of 6th grade Social Studies. I want my focus to be more on the experience than the learning.
Now, I will admit, it is easier for me to take this approach as I do not have a state mandated test like most of us do. Today’s 11 or 12 year old have a ton going on. Basketball practice after school, ice-skating before school, private violin lessons and the list goes on. They place quite a bit of pressure on themselves, and they want to perform well on the state mandated tests, so there’s that stress also. I do not want to add more to their plates, they are already full. I took this same approach a few years ago when my course did have a state mandated test and many students said they felt more at ease taking the Social Studies tests versus the other ones. Even before I realized it, I was more focused on the experience than the learning.
I am a firm believer that if you want your students to enjoy the experience, that we must do the same. I enjoy learning about and trying new things. Before school even starts, already know a great deal of my students and their interests before ever really meeting them thanks to FlipGrid. I send them a “grid” while they are in fifth grade to get to know them and to also get them excited for next year. Middle school is a big step in their young lives, they are nervous, scared, anxious; but when I know their name and say something about their interests during orientation, you can see much of their nerves go away. It doesn’t take me that long to watch a 30 second video that a student made and remember them. I guess I have a gift for remembering them, this year it took me one day to remember 133 students’ names. That seems to impress them and also make them feel special that I actually know them so quickly. Their experience is off to a great start.
For those of us who are concerned about test scores and value added, I get it, it’s easy to get wrapped up in that but we also need to put ourselves in our student’s shoes once in a while. While their plates are already full, they need to enjoy the experience as well. And I will argue, that as I take the focus off of learning and key in on the experience, my students learn more and more importantly, remember more.
I hope everyone’s school year has gotten off to as good of a start as mine has. Enjoy the experience everybody.
Last summer I (Travis) read a book titled "Inevitable: Mass Customized Learning: Learning in the Age of Empowerment" the book revolves around the entire education system and how it can be changed to fit the needs of our "new" society. Though I had many takeaways from the book I am going to focus on one for this post. One part that has stuck with me from the book is how schools could increase the focus on the skills that students need in order to be successful in life. This isn't a new concept, after all we have all heard the term 21st century skills, soft skills, life skills etc... However, how many of us have a class at our school titled "Collaboration, or Communication skills" I assume not many if any at all. So where are all of these skills being taught? The immediate answer to that question is on a daily basis in everyone's classroom, they are skills that just come with good teaching. But, to paraphrase from Inevitable, if something is important for students to learn ie good communication skills, it should be an intentional part of our curriculum. This led me to try and come up with an intentional way to focus on these skills in my classroom, since this is going to be a little different for my students I know it is really important to get student by in. So below are the next steps I am taking in order to try and get student by in.
The first thing I needed to do was identify the skills that I believe are important for success in all aspects of life. Luckily for me our district did some research by surveying local businesses, universities, and people in the work place and had already identified a number of the skills needed. Secondly, I need to ask the students where they see themselves in 10-15 years. Hopefully they say things like being a doctor, or owning my own business, being an engineer, and so on. After I get their responses, I will send a survey out to those professions asking them to rank the importance of each skill identified in step one. After the survey's are completed I will share the results with students and talk with them about though my class may be titled Ancient World History it is really an opportunity for them to practice the skills that they will need for the rest of their life. For example, if you are handed a primary source about the Julius Caesar the real long term benefit of interacting with that primary source is to practice reading something that is difficult to understand as you will likely encounter that problem later in life while you may never be asked to remember the specific content about Julius Caesar.
Click here for the link to the survey mentioned in the post, please feel free to share it with anyone who might be interested in completing the survey.