Is Going to a Cemetery a Valuable Field Trip Experience?

My only memories of cemeteries are ones associated with death and sadness.  When my grandparents passed away, I attended the burial services in tears.  Thinking back on those moments even now is emotional for me.  When I think of a cemetery, pictures of death, flowers, and tears form in my mind.  For places created to remember and pay homage to our deceased community members, they sure do evoke a lot of negative thoughts.  Why?  As teachers, can we change that for our students?

Today during Humanities class, we ventured off campus for another community place-based writing experience.  We took the boys to the Canaan Street Cemetery, which is across the street from one of our previous field trip locations, the Old North Church.  We provided the students with a bit of history regarding the place and discussed the purpose of cemeteries for a community.  The students had some insightful ideas on why communities build cemeteries.  Prior to departing for our field trip we talked about cemetery etiquette with the students.  We want them to understand how to behave in a cemetery but also to understand our expectations for today’s class.  The boys then wandered about the cemetery making observations and noticings.  They were careful not to step on areas where bodies may be buried.  They were also very careful with the volume of their voices.  The boys were serious yet engaged, thus, making our discussions fruitful and open.  The boys shared personal experiences regarding cemeteries and also discussed cemeteries in the regions from which they come.  One student from China told me that children under the age of 15 are not allowed to be in a cemetery or graveyard unless they are visiting a funeral or family plot.  He had never been to a cemetery before because of that law.  I found this so interesting.  I wonder why this is the case.  I feel so fortunate to be at a school which allows me to learn much about other cultures.  Another student shared how in the southern United States, mausoleums are used to naturally cremate bodies because of the intense heat created within them.  Wow, what a creative way to use the natural resources produced in an area.  On some days I feel very selfish because I seem to learn more from my students than they do from me.  We also talked about the type of rocks used for gravestones and costs associated with cemeteries.  Hopefully, the students learned about why communities build cemeteries and their place in a community.

The students also had the opportunity to complete some place-based writing using the cemetery as inspiration.  While a few wrote about their thoughts and observations, some of the boys began fiction stories set in a cemetery.  They seemed to enjoy today’s writing experience as they had learned a lot and gained some new ideas.  I was impressed with their ability to stay focused and respect the place in which we were.  Today was just another example of how mature and thoughtful our sixth grade class is when the bar is held high.  We expect great things from them and so they act with brilliance and compassion.  I can’t wait until we go on our first overnight class trip to the CORE House this weekend.  It is sure to be a rewarding experience filled with joy and learning.

While a cemetery is simply a burial place for dead bodies, it taught us a lot about life and our part in it.  So, although we associate cemeteries with death and sadness, we hope that today’s experience taught our students that cemeteries are so much more than just places we go when someone we know dies.  Cemeteries are places to go when learning about a community and its inhabitants.

The Power of Video Feedback

In college I took a class on Children’s Literature as part of my elementary education degree program.  It was one of my favorite classes.  I learned all about literature, books, and reading for children and young adults.  I was also a reading buddy to a second grader at the local elementary school as a practicum for the class.  It was such a great experience.  The final examine involved videotaping myself reading a self-selected children’s book aloud as if I was reading it to a class of children.  It was a difficult task as I was nervous in front of the camera, but I accomplished it in the end and received a stellar score for the task.  It also allowed me the opportunity to reflect on my practice of reading aloud to children.  I was able to see me doing something and really study my actions.  It was a great opportunity, which has lead me to this blog as a way to reflect daily on my teaching practice and effectiveness.

Today in my STEM Class, the students continued working on the Group Project portion of the Astronomy Unit.  Before they began working, we reviewed the due dates and the number of in-class work periods that remained.  Once they got working, my Pink Caped co-teacher went around to each group and reminded them what they needed to finish prior to Parents’ Weekend in October in order to be able to participate in the testing phase of the project.  This seemed to help motivate the groups to work more efficiently and effectively.  At the close of the class, we debriefed the work period by asking the students what went well in their groups.  Some responses included, “I was stressed because of the due dates and so I worked hard with my group to try and accomplish what we needed to finish,” “We communicated well,” and “We all had jobs to do and did them well.”  The students had one of the best Group Project work periods yet.  It was awesome.  Did things go so well because we lit a fire under them to help motivate the groups to get things done?  Was it because the students had been working on effective group work strategies in PEAKS class and so they knew how to troubleshoot issues that arose within their groups?  Whatever it was, helped the students to be productive and work like connected parts in an intricate machine.  Amazing!

While the students worked like busy carpenter ants, I meandered about with my iPhone, recording a minute segment of each group.  I then used that as a quick discussion point with the students.  I said, “If I were to grade you on your effectiveness as a group from this one minute clip, you would receive a…”  I then went over what I saw and what that told me about their ability to function as a cohesive whole.  Most groups were highly successful and were clearly working very well together.  One group, however, struggled at first to stay focused and work together effectively.  My first video of them showed several off-task behaviors and actions.  I reviewed these facts with the boys and told them that they need to effectively function as a whole group in order to complete the task at hand.  After visiting with the other groups and giving this first group a chance to solve their lack of focus issues, I revisited that first group and recorded another minute of their work.  This time they nailed it.  They were on task and working together.  It was awesome.  So, I then debriefed with the group what caused this change to come about.  They seemed committed to working well and staying focused.  I told them that if they can sustain this effort throughout the next five work periods, they will find much success with this portion of the unit.

The reflective act of recording someone or a group of someones and then using it as a means to provide feedback was highly successful today in my classroom.  The students employed the feedback offered and were able to have an amazing class filled with work and great effort.  My next goal, is to record myself teaching and then reflect upon that.  I still haven’t gone there quite yet.  I’m hoping to do this prior to the end of this academic year.  Reflection is such a huge part of genuine growth and development.

How Can I Help a Non-Writer?

In my early elementary school days I used to despise writing.  It was a laborious task that did not interest me in any way shape or form.  I did the minimum amount of work required by my teacher.  I was always the student to ask, “How many sentences do you want us to write?”  Yes, how irritating.  I just wanted to know how much to write before I could stop.  It wasn’t until high school that I actually grew to enjoy writing.  I started to really love crafting poetry.  I wasn’t a phenomenal poet by any means, but I liked doing it.  So, I wrote and wrote.  To this day, I still enjoy writing and find it very fulfilling and relaxing.  So, how can I take my love of writing and transform it into help for my students struggling to write?

Today during Humanities class, the students completed a Quick Write activity in which they had to write for 10 minutes on a specific prompt.  Today, a painting of an old overalls factory that once used to be in Canaan was our inspiration.  There were lots of details and colors the students could use as a springboard for their piece.  Almost every student was able to craft some sort of story.  One student even tried his hand at advertising by creating a fun little jungle for the company.  So creative.  Even those international students in the class whose native language is not English were able to get some ideas and words down regarding today’s prompt.  So, what prevented that one student in the classroom from writing even a word in 10 minutes.  He would put his hands on his keyboard occasionally, but nothing came out.  English is his first language.  He knows how to write.  He writes in STEM class.  I’ve seen him write.  However, in Humanities, writing is a difficult task for him.  During previous classes when writing was the task at hand, without one-on-one support from the teacher he would not have written anything.  Even with our help he is only able to write a sentence or two in about 30 minutes.  I asked him today if he thought it was about generating ideas or the act of typing them out.  He said, “It’s both.”  I’ve had conversations with him before during which time he has talked a lot and shared unique ideas with little thought or hesitation.  I’ve also heard him converse with his peers in an effective manner.  So why is writing such a daunting task for him?

In my years of teaching I’ve never encountered a student so unable or unwilling to write as is this particular student.  What can I do to help him?  I’ve tried having conversations and brainstorming sessions with him.  At one point two weeks ago when he failed to reflect on three questions at the end of our STEM class, I had him see me during the afternoon study hall.  I asked him one question at a time and had him answer it verbally.  It still took him about 10-15 minutes to brainstorm or generate an idea or answer to each question.  Once we had discussed it verbally though, translating it to paper was quite easy for him.  So, perhaps his issue is about ideas and starting.  I wonder if he has a processing disorder when it comes to writing.  He seems to get stuck and will stare off into space for long periods of time.  I wish I could jump inside his head to figure out how to best help him.  I want to support him and help him grow.  In fact, today when I was working with him I told him just that.  I said, “We want to help you figure out how to make writing an easier task for you.”  I just don’t know what to do.  Perhaps there is some information in his file about this issue, but he doesn’t have a special IEP or 504 Plan in place because we would have already known about that.  So what is the problem and how can I help him?  I feel helpless.  I want to support him, but have tried everything I know.  I wonder if having him draw out answers to the questions would make a difference.  Perhaps I’ll try that.  What about recording his ideas and then listening to them and transcribing them onto his computer?  Maybe that would work.  I’m open to any and all ideas.

My goal is to figure out how best to help this one student conquer his writing issue by the end of the fall term.  I will do whatever it takes.  I want to help him.  He’s a kind young soul who clearly wants to write but just can’t seem to make it happen.  In math he’s a whiz.  So, what about writing?

The Power of Reflection

While Huey Lewis and the News sang about The Power of Love, what they should have been focusing on is the power of reflection.  Through reflection and deep thought, one is able to become more versed in the language of self and thus be able to love more deeply and openly.  Thinking about one’s actions and deeds regularly allows for growth and maturity.  It is difficult to notice your own mistakes unless you contemplate what happened and try to determine the root of the issue.  Through reflection comes the power of love.

To help prepare the students for our future visits to our town’s historical museum and the work they will do while there, today during our Humanities Class, the students worked in pairs to create three questions as part of a campus-wide scavenger hunt.  Following a discussion on what a scavenger hunt is and the various type of questions found on scavenger hunts, the students ventured out to various locations around campus and created scavenger hunt clues and questions.  They then exchanged their scavenger hunts with their peers and tested them out.  Were the questions accurate?  Was the writing legible?  Did you understand the clues?  Were the questions specific and descriptive?  Were the questions tricky and difficult?  Once each group had a chance to complete their scavenger hunt, we drew the class back together as a whole.  We then split them into groups so that they could offer feedback to the pair that created the scavenger hunt they used.  This created small group discussions on what makes an effective scavenger hunt.  Following this five-minute activity, we brought the students back together for a final discussion.  We asked the students to share their thoughts on what makes an effective scavenger hunt.  The students had some great answers.  They said, “Questions need to be difficult,” “Clues need to be descriptive and specific,” “The questions need to teach something to the user,” and “The scavenger hunt needs to allow the user to explore the entire space.”  Wow!  They got it.  Without having to be told by us, the teachers, they understood what we wanted them to take away from this practice activity.  Was it because they took time to reflect and think back on the process they used to create their questions?  Was it because understanding scavenger hunts is an easy idea?  Was it because they challenged themselves to process the experience?  Whatever it was, the boys were able to grasp the concepts we need them to know in order to create a larger-scale scavenger hunt in the coming weeks.

As a teaching tool, reflection is a powerful thing.  While students struggle with reflecting and thinking back on an experience, with practice they are able to do it effectively.  It can be done independently, in small groups, or has a whole class.  No matter how you choose to do it, reflection is a great way to help students grow and mature as individuals, thinkers, and doers.

Science Discussion or Religious Debate?

In the early 1900s in the United States, the idea of Church vs. State was a hot debate topic in many educational institutions.  While many teachers kept religion out of the classroom, some public schools allowed religion to permeate its curriculum.  In 1947, the Supreme Court voted to keep religion out of public schools.  This wasn’t severely enforced until years later.  In the politically correct world in which we now reside, parents, schools, and public officials work diligently to be sure that religion and schools remain separate.  Teachers doesn’t discuss religious ideas unless they are in the context of history or some other content area.  With the intense debates around religion in the past several years and wars being fought over religion, it’s hard to keep religion out of the classroom.  Religion is in our current events and our textbooks.  So, what do we do?  Well, as teachers, we need to be aware and careful.  We can’t take sides and we need to be sure any discussion of religious ideas are done so diplomatically and compassionately.  However, this may be easier said than done.

Today in my STEM Class, the students continued working on the Science phase of our Astronomy Unit.  As it is very individual work, the students were progressing at their own pace.  Some students were finishing their vocabulary definitions based on the e-book while others were beginning to answer the critical thinking questions based on the concepts covered in the online textbook.  The boys asked each other questions when problems arose and were mostly focused throughout the double-period block.  A few students were so far ahead that they had gotten to the discussion section of the Science phase.  The discussion section required the students to participate in an online discussion with their fellow classmates.  They need to make at least three posts that demonstrate their ability to effectively participate in an online debate.  The boys needed to address the following questions: How did our solar system come into existence?  and If matter can not be created or destroyed, from where did the matter for our solar system come?  When I crafted these questions months ago, I imagined high-level conversations being manifested through the discussion.  I wanted the students to debate and argue the science they had learned.  The problem was, I didn’t see the other side of the question.

One of the first students to jump into the conversation responded with, “God created the universe and everything in it.”  While I should have been able to predict this side of the argument, I hadn’t.  Fortunately, this group of sixth graders is compassionate and kind.  So, the next student to jump into the discussion appropriately responded with, “How do you know it was God?  How did the big bang begin?”  This kept the conversation open while both sides felt respected.  Great!  So, at this point, I had a quick conversation with the student who began the religious side of the debate.  I reminded him that not everyone may agree with him or possess his beliefs.  I wanted him to understand that it was important for him to stand by his convictions appropriately while also being aware of and accepting of the other side of the coin.  I was very careful when addressing him as I didn’t want him to think that I thought his ideas and thoughts are wrong.  I just wanted him to be aware that other students will challenge him and prove the scientific side of the story.  He seemed to understand this.  The online discussion continued as more students jumped in and continued the debate.  The scientific side of the issue included many supported comments and facts.  The religious side of the conversation continued but was hard to prove with facts.  Most of what was said was conjecture based on prior knowledge.

So, while the debate definitely tackled some difficult and sensitive issues, the boys approached it very carefully and appropriately.   They learned a lot about each other and how to effectively argue and debate a question or topic.  It was also an enlightening experience for me as the teacher.  I need to be aware of all different sides of big issues when thinking about my curriculum so that I create learning opportunities and not uncomfortable situations for my students.

The Totally Redeemable Field Trip Experience

One of my favorite movies is Dumb and Dumber with Jim Carrey.  It’s hilarious.  One of the highlights from the film is when Jeff Daniels’ character is walking towards Denver and Carrey’s character comes riding up on a moped.  Daniels’ character said, “Just when I thought you couldn’t possibly be any dumber, you go and do something like this.. and totally redeem yourself!”  I’m cracking up just thinking about it.  It’s hard to imagine how trading in a toasty and warm enclosed car for a slow moped in the cold Rocky Mountains would allow someone to redeem himself, but it did.  Just the idea of being able to have the opportunity to redeem oneself is pretty cool.  It creates hope in a time of bad happenings.

Following Monday’s field trip experience to the Old North Church, I was leery of how today’s walking field trip to Canaan Street would go.  Would the boys be focused enough to effectively and actively write and participate in various discussions?  Who knows.  However, I wanted to go in with an open mind and not let my memories cloud today’s experience.  After a stern talk about the expectations for field trip experiences and how today’s field trip was a barometer to help decide the fate of future field trip experiences for the foreseeable future, we ventured outside.  As the sun brightly shone down on the auburn-colored Maple Trees lining Canaan Street, we began our adventure.

We stopped at various places to discuss architecture, details, noticings, observations, and questions.  The boys all had great insight to add to our discussion.  They picked up on things like the black rim around the chimneys of some houses.  This tells us that these were safe houses and a part of the Underground Railroad.  They noticed how most houses on the street had shutters and were close to the road.  This tells us that these houses are old and needed to be accessible by horse and buggy.  We discussed what they observed while I fed them bits of information about the history of Canaan.  We talked about the Noyes Academy, located in Canaan, which was the first integrated school in this area back in 1835.  The boys seemed shocked by this.  They couldn’t believe that things like schools were separate back then.  We also talked about the old Cardigan Lodge on Canaan Street that housed our school when it first opened in 1946.  The boys seemed engaged and had lots of great ideas and thoughts to share.  The boys also did some place-based writing about their noticings and observations.  They were focused and diligent while writing and jotting down thoughts in their Writer’s Notebook.  I was so pleased by their phenomenal effort and focus.  They were on fire like the trees on Canaan Street appear to be in their autumnal dress.

So, what happened between Monday and today?  Was it that they now know what to expect from place-based writing experiences?  Did they not realize that we would be assessing and grading their effort and ability to complete place-based writing?  Was it that we were outside and not in a creepy church?  Did the sunny weather influence their behavior today?  What was it that made the difference and allowed today’s field trip experience to go so well?  Who knows.  Maybe it was a combination of the weather, grades, expectations, and location.  Whatever it was, we were pleased that today went so well and the boys seemed to buy right into what we were doing.  They seemed to be having fun learning about Canaan’s rich history.  After a difficult field trip experience on Monday, it was nice to see our students go and totally redeem themselves today.

My Awakening: Is Race an Issue When Discussing Characters in a Text?

Having a black son who is often considered African American, I face racial issues daily.  Luckily, my community and school embraces the differences my family brings to the table.  We have been supported and helped in so many ways.  My wife and I have done lots of learning, reading, and talking about race so that we can prepare our son for the sometimes cruel world he will face on his own.  For me, race is a topic always on my mind.  There is much racial tension in our world today.  We are bombarded with it daily.  Bombings in other countries, shootings in Florida, executions, prejudice…  The list goes on and on.  However, does race always need to be a topic for discussion in the classroom?  Is there a time and place for a discussion on race?

Today in Humanities, we began our class with a read aloud from our current mentor text Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman.  Through various vignettes, the novel tells the story of a community coming together to build a garden in a vacant lot filled with junk.  It’s a brilliant story that is tying our community unit together very well.  In today’s story, we learned about a new character named Sam.  After a brief description of him from the text, I asked the students some comprehension questions.  As I asked them these questions, I had planned to ask them about his race and ethnicity as it was discussed in the story.  Then I started to think about that question.  Is knowing a character’s race important?  Does it tell us anything about him?  So, I wrapped up my comprehension questions with a share.  I told the students, “My next question was going to be about Sam’s race.  But then I started thinking, is knowing his race important?  Does it tell us anything about him?”  Some students shared their thoughts on what I said and we came to a consensus that race doesn’t matter in this instance.  While sometimes race may play a role in a text or situation, in this case, it doesn’t really matter what color Sam’s skin is.  We know he is kind and helpful.  If he’s black and kind should that change the way we look at him?  If he’s white and kind would we question him differently?  My students helped me realize what I’ve always tried to get others to think about, race doesn’t determine one’s character.  While people are often judged by the color of their skin, it doesn’t make a person better or worse.  At least, it shouldn’t.  We all know the current affairs of things in our world, but when it comes to educating future generations of leaders and thinkers, I want my students to see race differently.  Today, my boys reminded me of that.  It was a pretty cool moment for me.  My grandmother was so right, You do learn something new every day?

Academic Field Trip or Fun Trip?

One of my favorite trips as a student was when my fourth grade class went to Old Fort No. 4 in Charlestown, NH. It was an old fort from the Revolutionary War era. Everything was staged like it would have been way back in the 1700s. It was awesome. There was a working blacksmith, ladies spinning yarn and weaving, and fun games to play. It was a cool experience. Did I learn anything from that field trip? Sure, I learned a lot, but was it all academic stuff I learned? Probably not. Is that a negative drawback? I’d say most of what I really learned in school was not related to the content or curriculum but about socializing and survival.

Today, as part of our unit on community, we took our students on a walking field trip to the Old North Church on Canaan Street. It was one of the first churches built in the town of Canaan. It’s very old and rustic with a lot of character. If its walls could talk, they would weave some great yarns. To help the students understand the town of Canaan and its diverse history, we traveled to this great landmark. The architecture alone makes it stand out. Our goal was to provide the students with an opportunity to observe some Canaan history while writing about place. It was another in a series of activities regarding place-based writing.

After a festive walk to the Old North Church, the students meandered through the building making observations and noticings while talking with their peers about their findings. We then spilt the boys into two small groups and led them in a discussion regarding what they had discovered. They picked up on some very interesting features of the old church including doors on the pews used to contain the heat in the cold winter months. They all noted its old age and decay. They seemed very intrigued by this antique structure only a stone’s throw from our school’s campus. We then provided the students with a little history on the Old North Church. This was followed by some quiet place-based writing using the actual place as inspiration for some writing the students completed in their Writer’s Notebooks. I was excited for this portion of the activity as I had some great ideas sputtering about in my mind. However, I was unable to stay focused throughout the short period because the students were so unfocused, creating many distractions. They were talking with peers, opening the pew doors, and playing with other items in their pews. Others were just not writing at all. while we were disappointed by this behavior and addressed it with the students in terms of their effort, we also realize this was our first off-campus experience with place-based writing. They didn’t know what to expect and were nervous. Was there anything we could have done differently to set them up for success? What if we had split them into two smaller sections? Would that have altered the result? What if we visited the space and then had them write outside. Some of the students seemed bothered by the smells and antiquity of the space. Perhaps they were scared or uncomfortable about being inside. One student was very upset that we were desecrating the church by being so loud and moving about in an unholy manner. Perhaps, all of these issues combined to make today’s activity less then phenomenal.

We want to be able to offer our students off-campus opportunities to help them learn about and gain a better understanding of the community in which they live and our school resides. We want these field experiences to enhance the learning and not be a recess period for the boys. How can we help them understand this? If they struggle in the future we can always complete the writing in the classroom without a field trip. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. We want our classroom to be engaging and fun for our students, but we also want it to be rigorous and focused too. Hopefully, when we go out and about later this week, the boys will be able to stay focused and take the place-based writing seriously.

Perception vs. Reality in the Classroom

When my son was younger, he often struggled with the idea of what really happened with what he perceived to have happened.  He didn’t push that student, he was walking by him, tripped over a pencil, and bumped into him accidentally.  Of course, the bystanders saw a different version of his truth.  It was very hard for him to see that no matter what he thought happened, it was what the adults saw happen, otherwise known as the reality, that mattered.

In Humanities class on Saturday, we spent the first period discussing current events.  We began with an activity we call Newspaper Nook.  As a member of the Newspapers in Education program, our local newspaper delivers class copies of the newspaper to our school for us daily.  So, on Saturdays, the students read the newspaper as a way to stay current on local and world events.  It also gives us a common ground on which to start our class discussion of current events.  Following the reading of the newspaper, we discussed the news worthy articles the boys had read about.  At the time, I thought this portion of the class was epic.  The discussion was rich and full.  It started with a student sharing an article he had read about another shooting in Florida.  He explained what had happened.  I asked him, “Why is this news worthy?”  He explained, “Because people like to know the bad stuff that is going on.”  At that point, a quiet KABOOM! went off in my head.  Here we go, I thought.  Let’s run with this idea.  So then we started discussing why people like to read about bad things in the news.  Why is it that when we see a car accident on the side of the road we like to know what happened and if anyone died?  We are not curious about the two people who risked their lives to help pull the lifeless bodies out of the car; we are drawn to the carnage, as one of my students called it.  Another student talked about how these kinds of events are part of our human nature.  We need to be aware of bad things happening around us so that we can avoid them, he said.  It’s built into our DNA through evolution, he added.  Wow!  This discussion is going so well.  These sixth graders are brilliant.  We are having an intellectual conversation about news and current events.  This is high level stuff, I thought.  The discussion continued with one student talking about needing to survive and finding food anyway possible even if it means killing or hurting someone.  Then I drew a little diagram to explain Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need pyramid.  I focused in on how humans need to have their basic needs met before they are able to move on mentally or physically.  Another student then shared a different news story about a former NBA player being accused of stealing from a store.  A student then related that to Maslow’s theory by adding entertainment needs to the list.  Fantastic.  These students are thinking critically about the world around them.  Awesome sauce.  Another student brought up the idea of how perhaps that famous person had seen other people steal or had been taught to steal by his family.  This linked into the idea of Nature vs. Nurture, which I brought up quickly.  The students kept running with it, adding new ideas and thoughts to the discussion.  Before I knew it, our first period of time together was over.  So, I wrapped things up and praised them for their great work and thinking.  I reminded them that we will do this each and every Saturday.  They seemed excited by this prospect.  I was so fired up as I headed to the faculty room with my co-teacher who had observed the 20-minute discussion.

At this point, I needed to be flexible in my thinking and open to constructive feedback.  Luckily, at that moment, I was able to utilize a growth mindset because the reality of the discussion was very different from what I had seen.  Only about 7 out of our 16 students participated in the discussion.  She observed that the other students looked bored.  One student had been raising his hand for a very long time before I finally called on him.  She also felt disengaged from the discussion.  It seemed very one-sided to her.  So, even though I was having a fine conversation with less than half of the class, I was isolating the other students.  They were not engaged.  She also felt like I was driving the discussion and not allowing the students to direct the conversation.  I so appreciated this input because I was unable to see this as I was leading the discussion.  So, while my perception of the activity was that it rocked the house, the reality was that it was a bit of a flop.  However, this experience allowed us to brainstorm some new ways to discuss current events with the class in a more engaging manner.  We talked about having students share what they read with a table partner.  We also discussed having the students share the news topics they read about with the class and listing them on a board.  Then we could break the students up into small groups based on their interest level in a particular story.  This would allow for choice and engagement, which are the keys to great teaching.  So, next Saturday is sure to really rock in reality.

The Art of Community Building

I’ve never been one for community events.  Maybe it’s because my family never went to the town picnics or special events in our town.  Or maybe it’s because I tend to be an introvert and get shy around groups of people.  Either way, I’ve always been much more of a loner guy who loves spending time with his family and no more.  I don’t like large gatherings or events.  Community things are just not for me.  But then I realized that it wasn’t that the community idea wasn’t for me, it was what happened at the events that I didn’t like.  I was defining community in too broad a sense.  As my students said when generating their class definition, a community is a group of people coming together for a common goal.  It could be any group of people.  A family is a community.  So, it turns out that I do like community things when they pertain to the community of which I want to be a part.

Today in Humanities class, we invited our school’s headmaster to come and speak with our boys about the Cardigan community and the school’s rich history.  After a brief introduction about the school, he fielded the many questions our students asked.  Boy did they have some good ones: When did the School move to the new campus where we are today?  Who is Clark-Morgan Hall named after?  Who funded the school when it first opened?  When did team sports come to Cardigan?  How has the school changed since you were a student?  Our headmaster was very impressed by the questions the boys asked and the excitement they seemed to possess while learning about our great school community.  At the end of his time with us, he asked the boys for their suggestions on how to improve the school.  The boys had some brilliant ideas: A new academic building, naming the new dorm after Coach Marrion, and adding new sports.  They seemed to really enjoy being part of the decision making process for Cardigan.

While this experience required very little work on our end as the teachers, it did a lot to build a sense of community within the class.  The students gained a stronger understanding of our school’s rich history.  Thus, the boys feel tied to a community they can really believe in.  They are no longer just sixth grade students, they are Cardigan students.  They are connected to the history our headmaster spoke about.  They are rungs in the ladder of our school’s history.  They are a part of something bigger than themselves and for that they are forever connected.  This opportunity allowed the students to build a stronger sense of community and understanding for the place in which we live and grow.