Welcome back to The “Traditional” Classroom, friends! It has been a wonderful few days with my first graders, and we are all fired up…fresh off a trip to Quarry Hill, Rochester Schools’ nature center. The students all had time to explore the phenomenal resources, displays, taxidermied animals, and live fish, salamanders, snakes, turtles and more! To tell you the truth, I had almost as much fun as they did in the ‘Exploration Room!’ (chuckle)… In all seriousness, though, this trip and exploring these spaces really caused me to think a little bit about the purpose of this blog and the idea of being a catalyst for change in the 21st century classroom. In an era defined by budget cuts and deficits, field trips are often the first thing cut from districts…but seeing the way these kids behaved and ‘lit up’ at this nature center is something that cannot be denied.
I specifically had a student, whom I work one-on-one with in math, get more animated and excited than I’ve ever seen him at the sight of a Tyrannosaurus Rex skull. He had never expressed his love of dinosaurs to me before, but could rattle off facts and scientific names for countless dinos, given the chance. This has completely changed my approach to helping him through math. As I’ve touched on countless times before, we must make the learning meaningful and exciting for our students. For this boy, it was dinosaurs. What does this have to do with a paradigm shift in education? Plain and simply, children need to explore and we need to foster their passions.
I can hear you through my keys saying, “Andrew, I agree with you, but I can’t change my school’s budget…we just can’t do field trips anymore.” I hear you, and I agree with you. This is not easy…yet, it’s not the physical travel and the nature center that matter in this case. Rather, it’s the idea that we, as effective educators, must take the initiative to give our students opportunities to explore, chances to get fired up, and time to foster what they are passionate about. The learning that comes from these experiences is invaluable. I challenge you to be the difference. As cliche as the old “be the change you want to see in this world” sounds, it applies so well to the world of education. Students must be involved in their learning in the “NEW “Traditional” Classroom,” and they must have a chance to take things they are passionate about and run with them. After seeing this with middle schoolers often, I was so pumped up to see this firsthand in the eyes of a first grader and watch what happens when younger students hit that sense of passion.
We returned to school just in time for lunch and a transition in to the teaching of my unit for the week on telling time to the quarter hour. After thinking so much about student involvement and interaction, I had decided to create a character to ‘hang out’ with my students throughout the week. Being the “Riverside Otters” at this elementary school, and being passionate about baseball as I am, I decided on a baseball-playing otter to build my week’s lessons around… Enter: this guy.
After drawing them in by telling the students that I wanted to play a game with them I usually reserve for middle schoolers (but I thought they could handle), I knew I had them engaged, excited, and ready to follow whatever rules would allow them to participate in a “middle school” activity. Finding ways like this to engage and excite learners is always such fun. We proceeded to attack telling time to the hour, half hour, and quarter hour, by practicing through my game, titled “3 Strikes, 3 Steps.” Students were given a clock on the board, then asked to follow 3 steps: 1) Think about the answer in your head. 2) Whisper to your group (pods of 4 desks each) to ensure you all have the same answer. …and 3) Write the answer you agree on on a whiteboard and hold it up to be checked. This is adapted from a game created by Jason Groth from Waverly-Shell Rock Junior High and can be used with essentially any content (AND made in to competitive game if students can handle it.) Feel free to drop me an e-mail or comment below, and I am more than happy to send you the slides to the game… Students then spent the rest of the time playing a matching game, like “Memory,” with times and clock faces. I continued with this instruction today, expanding on the idea of quarter hour.
Ultimately, I have been making a focused effort to foster students’ passions this month… Making these relational connections and helping students get truly fired up is paramount. Is this necessarily “new” in education? Absolutely not. Yet, the importance of this element of the classroom experience is more important than it has ever been before.