Posted in Challenges, Education, Learning, STEM, Teaching

Passing the Teaching Baton onto my Students

While I never trained for a relay race, nor did I ever run a relay race, I remember my gym teacher in elementary school showing us how to pass a baton onto the next runner in a sequence for a relay race.  I also recall watching movies that showcased this same process.  It seemed easy enough.  In my first year of teaching here many years ago, I was the head track coach.  Now you may be asking yourself, how can you coach track if you’ve never run a relay race?  Great question, and no I am not or have ever been a runner.  In fact, I knew very little about the sport prior to coaching it.  Despite this lack of preparation, my team had an awesome season.  We had so much fun together.  When we went to competitions, the runners on my team would ask if they could participate in the javelin or pole vaulting events and of course my response was, “Sure, just watch how they do it and then jump right in.”  Practice and learn through doing.  In retrospect, that was probably a bad call on my part.  Luckily, no one ever got hurt and my team grew a lot throughout the season.

One of the most difficult parts for me as a coach was to teach the boys how to pass the baton during a relay race.  Having no genuine prior knowledge of this act, I did a lot of research and rewatched lots of movies about running.  I still don’t understand Chariots of Fire.  Where was the chariot and how could it roll if it was on fire?  Anyway, before I digress too much, I’ll get back on track.  So, I demonstrated, for my team, how to pass the baton during a relay.  They seemed to get it and executed the skill quite well in races.  Wow, I thought, maybe I do know how to pass the baton.

Today in Humanities class, as a closing activity, I had the students brainstorm metaphorical phrases or images for the main character in the book they read during Reader’s Workshop today.  The boys did a fine job figuratively describing their characters.  “The survivor,” “The mysterious one,” and “Thin Chocolate.”  So cool!  Like I asked my students to do in class today, I often think metaphorically about the world.  While I may not know much about running and perhaps didn’t really teach my track team how to successfully pass an actual baton, I love the idea of thinking about passing a metaphorical baton to my students.

The culminating project for our STEM unit on Geology has the students researching a self-chosen guiding question regarding a geology topic that interests them.  They then need to find a unique, creative, and engaging way to teach the information learned to their peers.  I often get sick of having all of the fun in the classroom.  I want to empower the students to be the teacher for once.  As I’m sure they are getting tired of hearing my voice drone on and on about geology, I wanted to allow them the chance to hear from their classmates on various topics.  It’s time I pass on the metaphorical baton of teaching to my students.  It’s their time to run and have all of the fun while I sit back in awe of their amazing talents and abilities.  On Thursday, they will perform their presentations to their peers, and today was the final opportunity for the students to work on their presentations in class.

To help set the students up for a successful work period, I handed out a checklist I had created for them, highlighting and detailing the work that needs to be done by them to effectively prepare for Thursday’s big show.  The boys need to be sure their lesson includes some sort of active learning piece for the audience members so that they will be engaged and learn from their presentation.  They also need to be sure it is at least two minutes but no more than six minutes in length.  They also need to rehearse their presentation and check to be sure the technology tools they are using work with the projector and interactive whiteboard in the classroom.  They need to be sure they convey enough information regarding their guiding question to the students so that the audience members could succinctly answer the guiding question following the presentation.  I reviewed this checklist with the students before they got to work.  I wanted them to know what was expected of them in a clear and concise manner.

The students then got right to the task at hand.  I was so impressed.  They seemed to be having fun planning an engaging an interesting presentation regarding their researched topic of interest.  Some of the students crafted an interactive and online assessment using Socrative and Kahoot while one student created a note taking and assessment worksheet for the students to use during his presentation.  Other boys created fun quizzes using the iPad application Keynote.  They will reward correct students with candy, they told me today.  Other students were making their own fossils to use for observations and activities in their presentations.  Another student froze water, sediment, and rocks to represent a glacier.  He’s going to melt the glacier and record it using the Time-Lapse feature on his iPad.  He will then insert the movie into his presentation and have the students make observations from it.  So cool.  These ideas were all self-created by the students.  They’ve been brainstorming these creative and ingenious ideas to engage their classmates.  They were so focused all period.  I was amazed.  I can’t wait to see their final presentations on Thursday.  As I told them in class on Friday of last week, I’m sure they will be better teachers than I am.  They all chuckled at my remark, but I think that it also motivated several of them to rise to the occasion.  They’ve been thinking about the aspects of good teaching they’ve seen and are incorporating them into their presentations.  That’s pretty awesome.

I’m not sure exactly what helped them to stay so focused and motivated throughout today’s work period, but I was impressed by their diligence and strong work ethic.  They put together some top-notch presentations today.  How?  They weren’t nearly as focused during our previous work period on Friday.  What happened today?  Were they positively utilizing the stress of today being the last day to prepare, and so they worked better than ever before?  Was that it?  Was it the worksheet checklist I created?  Did that help keep them focused on the task at hand?  Or was it because I reminded the class that if they are able to work effectively throughout the period as a group, they could earn the last handful of marbles needed to fill the Marble Jar, thus earning a class Marble Party?  Maybe that did the trick?  Regardless of the why, I was completely impressed by the level of work and the creative presentations the students crafted in class today.  They seemed excited to be taking on the role of teacher.  Perhaps that was the motivation.  Maybe they just want to be the teacher for once, which is why they worked so hard in class today.  All I can say is that I can’t wait for Thursday’s presentations.  I’m sure they are going to knock the mismatched socks right off of my feet.

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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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