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Fostering Growth in the Classroom

Back in college, I used to work out in the weightroom a lot.  In fact, at my peak, I would go almost every day for at least an hour or two.  I wanted to be healthy and build muscles.  At first, I started off slowly.  I would use some of the weight machines before jumping on the treadmill for about 15 minutes.  I eventually built up to 30 minutes on the treadmill.  It took time and commitment.  My body needed to get regulated and used to the exercise.  I gradually progressed at a level that worked best for me.

Much like me, my students need to slowly build up their academic stamina.  As their teacher, I need to foster growth within them throughout the year.  I can’t jump in expecting them to act like seventh graders at the start of their sixth grade year.  They need to learn how to be sixth graders first.  We start slowly and then step on the gas as November nears.  By now, at the midpoint of the year, they are much stronger academically and thus able to accomplish work and tasks more effectively than earlier in the year.  This growth will continue through the end of the year so they will be completely prepared for the challenges they will face in the seventh grade.

Today in STEM class, the students worked in small groups of four to continue assembling a working wind turbine.  They were provided a set of materials and simple directions to complete the task.  They started working together on Tuesday.  Each student has a role in his group as assigned by the group.  While the goals of the project are many, there is but one single graded objective: Work effectively in a group to successfully accomplish a task.

The boys worked diligently in their groups today.  They may only ask the teachers questions regarding materials and nothing else.  All other problems need to be solved as a group.  They researched blade designs and how to use a circuit board.  With no instructions or guidance from the teachers, both groups that chose to experiment with a circuit board were able to successfully utilize them with their wind turbine.  While I’m not the most handy individual in the world, I couldn’t figure out how to use the circuit boards, but my students were able to use them to produce sound in about 15 minutes.  Amazing!  When the groups encountered social problems within the group, which rarely happened, they worked through them in an efficient and mature manner.  They were focused and engaged throughout the work period.  The facilitator in each group really ran the show, helping keep their group focused and on task.  Every student in each group was involved in the building process throughout the double-block today.  Sure, building a working wind turbine with a generator can be super fun, but maybe not for everyone.  However, that wasn’t the case in our classroom today.  Every student was excited and working diligently to accomplish their team goal.

At the start of the year, the students worked on a group project building an egg drop vehicle.  This proved challenging for most every student and group at some point during the month-long building process.  We helped the students troubleshoot issues and helped them learn teamwork skills.  By the end, each group had completed the assigned task effectively.  They learned how to be effective group members, solve their own social problems, deal with difficult individuals, and use their peers as resources.  Because of this, our current group project for the wind unit is blowing along nicely.  Had we not set the stage for them earlier in the year, I do believe that the wind turbine building project would not be as successful as it currently is.

Effective teaching involves scaffolding and setting the students up for success.  We spent the first month of STEM class working on teamwork and problem solving.  At this point in the year, every student understands and knows how to be an effective group member and solve their own problems.  My co-teacher and I watched and observed the groups today.  We offered no assistance except for guiding them to materials.  Starting the year with skill development and time to practice those skills is crucial to the students’ success later in the year.  In order to best help our students, we need to foster growth within them.  We can lead our students to water, but unless they know what to do with it once they arrive at the lake, it’s futile.

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Author:

I teach sixth grade at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, NH. I'm currently ensconced in my fourteenth year at this small, independent boys' school. I love engaging students in relevant and hands-on learning. I was nominated for the NH Teacher of the Year Award in 2016 by a parent. While I love education and guiding students, my first passion is my family. I have a wonderful son, Jeffrey, and a beautiful and intelligent wife, Kim. I couldn't be happier. Every day is the best day of my life.

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