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Posts Tagged ‘community-building

The First Days of School: Setting the Climate for Year

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I have written before about the beginning of the school year, Beginning the School Year: It’s About Connections Not Content.

I begin all classes focusing on having the students make connections between each other and with me.  I want students to learn about one another in a personal way. I want to learn about my students so my instructional strategies can be more personalized and tailored to their needs and interests.

As we begin this new school year, I want to share my own ideas for what I believe represent best practices for doing so. I have the following goals for beginning the school year:

  • To have the learners get to know one another and if they do know one another, to deepen that understanding.
  • To have the learners get to know me as an educator.
  • To set the climate that the classroom will experiential, engaging, fun, and student-centric.
  • To begin the process of having learners learn to solve problems as a group and work cooperatively with one another.
  • To begin creating a supportive climate – where learners support one another and I support their learning efforts.
  • To give the message that social-emotional learning is important.
  • To have the learners take ownership of their classroom.

What should also be obvious from this list is what is not on it – namely a focus on content-driven instruction during the first days of school.

These are the activities I used on the first day of school with my gifted class of 2nd to 6th grade students:

Morning Check-In

I believe in including classroom activities that build emotional intelligence and social emotional learning. I begin my mornings throughout the school year with emotional check-ins, a way for each learner to check in with how they are doing that day. I use props such as feeling cards to do so. On this first day, I used Stones Have Feelings, Too.

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For more ideas on the types of check-ins I have used, see Morning Meetings, Check-Ins, and Social-Emotional Learning.

Thumball Ice Breaker

For the second activity, the learners were asked to form a circle to participate in a Thumball Ice Breaker.

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A learner tosses it to another learner. The catcher then responds to the prompt closest to her or his left them. After doing so, the learner throws it to another learner. I typically do two to three rounds where each learner gets the ball during a round. Example prompts include:

  • Three Wishes
  • Happiest Memory
  • Three Yummy Foods
  • Three Gross Foods
  • Favorite TV Show or Movie
  • Best Book or Author
  • Great Vacation Place
  • Funniest Cartoon

Warp Speed

As a former adventure educator, I have a fondness for team building and group problem solving activities, and regularly incorporate them into my classroom. A good list of these types of activities can be found on Teampedia.

During on first day together, I facilitated Warp Speed with the learners.

Toss the ball around the circle until everyone has caught it once and it is returned to the leader. For Warp Speed, you need to establish a pattern of tossing one object around the group. Once the pattern has been established, ask the group to see how quickly they can move the object through the pattern with each person touching it in the order that has been established. Time this, and give the group several opportunities to improve their time (http://www.lifeway.com/studentministry/2014/07/07/game-warp-speed/).

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As each effort was timed with the 3 second penalties per drop, I had them practice mental math. I showed them their times as recorded via my iPhone, asked them to multiple the number of drops times 3 and then add this total to their time. On subsequent efforts, I asked them to subtract the difference. Later they compared their improvements.

LED Enhanced All About Me Posters

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I like using the All About Me posters at the beginning of the school year as it lets me know a lot about the learners in a very short time. I also use them to decorate my classroom walls. Since I have been involved in maker education running a maker summer camp, I showed the kids how to use LED lights creating circuits with copper tape. They used these materials to created LED enhanced All About me Posters.

Autobiographical Activities

The All About Me Poster was actually the beginning of their autobiographical activity unit. The learners were provided with a Google Doc with the following:

Required:

Choose Three:

  • Magnetic Poetry – refrigerator magnet words to write a 5 line poem or a Haiku about yourself.
  • Get Anagrams for Your Name – http://www.wordsmith.org/anagram/index.html (list 15 of them)
  • Do an A-Z book – each letter needs a word and an picture to describe you.
  • Write out 10 equations about you represented by number.
  • Make a T-shirt tote – http://www.mommypotamus.com/no-sew-t-shirt-tote-bag-tutorial/ and bring three objects from home in your tote for a show and tell.
  • Do I Am Poem on notepaper add to a decorated self portrait.

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The learners began these activities at the end of our day by starting their magnetic poems, A-Z books, and Word Clouds.

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Final Thoughts

There were three things that happened during this first day that especially made me so grateful and excited about being a teacher.

First, one of the girls has a twice exceptional label – gifted and autistic. I was told that she might take weeks to start talking in class. Also, given her attributes, peers relationships, at times, at strained or even nonexistent. She loved all of the hands on activities especially the LED lights. After a bit of quietness during the beginning of the morning, she talked throughout our time together. What was especially cool was that a few of her classmates from her regular classroom came to get her for a visit to the school nurse. When they came into my classroom and saw her LED enhanced poster, they got very excited. Another teacher noticed the kids going down the hall and heard the them talking about the project – asking this girl all about. The other teacher knows that girl from past years and told me it warmed her heart to see her excitedly share her learning . . . and the other kids listening to her. I smile ever time I picture it.

Second, one of the boys worked very hard at creating his magnetic poem – see above. He read it several times to different students as he created it. I loved the pride and joy I saw in his face when saw and heard his peers’ reactions. It was definitely priceless.

Finally, there was a boy in the class who is new to the school. I met his mom during the morning prior to coming to my gifted class (it meets a full day per week) and she told me that he was not at all happy at this new school, that he wanted to go back to his old school but that was happy about coming to the gifted program. His total excitement and engagement as well as his connections to the other students in the program throughout the day brings a tear to my eye. It really seemed as though he found his tribe; a place where he belongs.

I wholeheartedly believe that the only reason these events occurred was due to my focus on the learners and on establishing our community during on first day together.

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 27, 2016 at 1:44 am

Facilitating Learner Voice and Presence in the Classroom Using Mobile Devices

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I recently started another face-to-face class with undergraduates – about 3/4 of them in the 18-20 age group.  I work towards a learner-centric classroom based on the following principles:

  1. Give learners multiple opportunities to be heard and seen through multiple modalities – verbal, written, visual.
  2. Get to know each learner as an individual – this is in line with my belief of the educator as an ethnographer.  Really see every learner in the room.
  3. Insure that the learners see one another as much as (or better yet more than) the content and the teacher.
  4. Provide ongoing opportunities to connect with the learners and for them to connect with each other.
  5. Use strategies, tools, and materials that the learners use outside of the school
  6. Make sure learners know that they are significant, important, that they matter- see Angela Maiers You Matter.
  7. Use learning activities that are engaging and authentic with the knowledge that the learners are giving their time (and sometimes money) to be in the learning environment.  (I feel an obligation not to “steal” my learners time with activities that are boring, useless – painful for them.)

As such, my first classes are always focused on having the students get to know one another and building a sense of community.  The only content-related activity during the first class is going over the syllabus which occurs during hour 3 or 4 of the class – not the first activity.

Another one of my driving principles is continual improvement.  I have been an educator for a few decades but I am always looking for ways to improve my courses.  Mobile technologies have evolved to a point where they can be leveraged in the class.   What follows are the mobile activities I used in this course to get to know the learners, have them get to know one another, and build a sense of community.

About Me

Students located a photo, song, or video from their mobile devices that best represented them. Learners then shared their media and the reasons for their selections.

Every student had a mobile device with personal content on it.  Even though the majority of students were under 21, a few were in their 20s and two were over 40 years old.  Most students selected a photo to share, two selected videos, and two shared a favorite song.

Values Photos

Students were asked to choose their most important 10 values from  a list of values. They were then asked to narrow their list to three values, their core values.  This was followed up with giving them the task of finding objects around the school that symbolized these values.  Once found, they took pictures of the objects using their mobile devices and emailed the photos directly to a Flickr page set up for this purpose.  Lisa Nielson describes this process in her blog entry, Using Flickr to Collect Images Captured on Cell Phones.

I can unequivocally say that there was close to 100% engagement by 100% of the 16 students the entire 3 hours of this first class.

Guess Whose Eyes

My goal is to continue this engagement and connection outside of the classroom.  A Facebook page has been established to have them post their class reflections and for addition community building activities.  For example, I took photos of each student’s eyes during the first class.  These were posted on Facebook as Guess Whose Eyes – students are already making their guesses.

Facebook for Class Reflection

. . .  and the reviews have begun to come in via their class reflections on the course Facebook page.

. . .  a response.

This significance of this post cannot be understated.  The young woman who posted this is extremely shy and reserved (possibly has Asperger’s syndrome).  She told me at a break that she is not a people person.

Watching the magic occur during these learner-centric activities cannot be understated.  Seeing the engagement, smiles, connections happen during class is why I am an educator.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

October 15, 2011 at 3:23 pm

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