While I’m in the midst of my school’s March Break vacation, I’m stuck here on my couch recovering from the flu. Yes, that’s right. Despite all of my incessant handwashing, healthy eating habits, and attempts to stay hydrated over the past week as the flu epidemic hit my school prior to our vacation, I fell victim to the flu virus. Being sick is no picnic, but it’s allowed me the opportunity to reflect on my teaching and life: I’m so blessed to have an amazing wife who is helping nurse me back to health, despite my sometimes negative demeanor towards her; I am lucky to have a talented son who is putting forth great effort to achieve his goals even when life gets complicated; I am fortunate to work at a school filled with dedicated and committed colleagues who truly care about the students; I am inspired daily by my sixth grade class that is overflowing with young men who strive for excellence in life and academics. Although my throat is still quite sore and I’m so congested that I can barely hear the beeping of the microwave oven, I’m feeling mentally amazing. Life is Beautiful, is not just the name of an Oscar-winning movie, oh no. It’s also my mantra that keeps me going. While the great weather prognosticators of our time have predicted a huge snowstorm for the New England area tomorrow and Thursday, the weather outside gives no indication of this impending doom. It’s sunny and beautiful outside, just as it was in my classroom Saturday morning, on the final day of classes before the big March Break.
As my body was in the beginning stages of breaking down from the flu virus on Saturday morning, my mental facilities were fully intact as my students participated in the Learning Exposition that took place in our classroom. The boys had been preparing and planning for this since early February. They chose their topics, became experts on them, and then created engaging and informative presentations to convey what they learned to others. I crafted this project as a way to engage my students in our unit of study, Africa, review some of the foundational study skills introduced to the students earlier in the academic year, and to help prepare them for meaningful lives in a global society. While I want my students to enjoy what we are learning and doing in the classroom, I also want my students to understand how to be professional, engage in complex and serious conversations, field difficult questions, and prepare for the unknown. The research project that the students completed in my Humanities class forced them to create an engaging visual aide, know their self-selected topic as well as they know how to play their favorite video game, and then share what they learned and know with others in a real-world manner. They dressed for success and presented their knowledge learned to other teachers from our school. This was a challenge for some of the students as they have never had to complete a task like this before. Some of my students come from schools where this was not an assessed skill, and so they were very nervous and anxious about having to do it. As the real-world demands that all people tackle problems and solve them, I want to be sure that my students know how to do so in appropriate, creative, and professional ways. While sixth grade boys are far from professional adults, they need to learn what professional looks and feels like so that they can one day be ready to live meaningful and professional lives.
This project allowed my students to learn how to solve problems regarding topics that engaged them. As they researched their topics, some of them ran into roadblocks such as not enough information or lack of interest. I helped my students troubleshoot these issues as they occurred. Some students ran into different types of problems that seemed very advantageous such as too much information or interest in another aspect of the topic. The students learned how to navigate this crazy world of research. They then had to prepare a meaningful way to showcase or “publish” their knowledge. This was probably the most important yet most difficult part of the entire project for the students. While some of them wanted to take the easy way out by creating a slideshow presentation, I challenged them to think about their topics. Is a slideshow the best tool for you to convey the information learned in a meaningful way? For most students, this forced them to step outside of their comfort zone and take a risk. They tried new things and put together relevant presentations. Although this challenging task proved difficult for all of the students, they preserved, devised innovative and unique solutions to their problems, employed a growth mindset, and got the job done. Saturday’s Learning Exposition was a remarkable success. The students nicely highlighted their learning and ability to be professional as they shared what they learned with other teachers and faculty members. The teachers in attendance were amazed by the quality of the student presentations. The boys knew their topics very well and shared what they learned in engaging ways.
While my students are far from joining the workforce and going off into the real-world any time soon, I do need be sure they are aptly prepared for their future before tomorrow becomes today. Helping students learn how to address adults professionally, convey their thoughts in meaningful and relevant ways, and share what they learned in engaging ways, is simply one way I can be sure my students will be well-equipped to live meaningful lives in a global society upon completion of their academic careers. Projects like the one we just completed allow students the chance to practice what it’s like to be an adult who is in charge. As I told them, they were the teachers in the classroom on Saturday. They were the adults who had to navigate the sometimes uneasy waters of life. What if your computer malfunctions? What if someone asks a question you can’t answer? What if the unexpected happens? This unique and special experience the students went through in my Humanities class over the past three weeks allowed them to think like an adult and be prepared to tackle real-world problems. It was awe-inspiring to watch my students talk to my fellow colleagues in exciting and professional ways. They were polite and in charge. Mission, accomplished.
As my body begins to heal itself with the aid of modern medicine, I’m left pondering all the beauty that life has to offer. How did I get to be so lucky? How is it that I am able to work with such a fine class of sixth grade boys who are constantly growing and developing on a daily basis? I’ll chock it up to good Karma. Yeah, that’s it.