While life for kids today is much more challenging and difficult than when we all grew up, beating a video game in these difficult times is as easy as making Oobleck. You simply go online to some website such as Youtube and learn from others how to defeat the mega boss in the last level. Or, you can find cheat codes to enter that will allow you to circumvent numerous levels so that you need only to pass the final stage to win the game. That’s so easy, like taking full-size candy bars from innocent adults on Halloween. Plus, on top of all the resources available to kids in the twenty-first century to learn how to easily win a video game, these games are made with oodles of helpful tools and hints such as navigational maps showing your location relative to the location of the evil villains or other bad guys in the game. How is that at all fair?
I read a study recently that shows how playing old-school video games, such as Super Mario Brothers, that lack directional maps, actually helps to increase grey matter in important parts of the brain. Kids have it so easy playing video games today. Back in the day, it took days, weeks, or even months to beat the newest Legend of Zelda or Mario game, as we didn’t have easy access to cheat codes or helpful hints. We had to rely on our problem solving skills, and the limited time that we had to play video games. Growing up with only one television to which I could connect the game console, greatly reduced my game playing opportunities. I couldn’t game in the evenings or when my parents wanted to watch TV. So, when I did play my video games, I had to be very strategic about it. I often set goals for myself. “Today I will work on beating the next level in Marble Madness while tomorrow I will get to the next world in Super Mario Bros 2.” Setting specific goals for myself helped me to advance through my video games at a much faster pace. As a mature adult, I use the skill of goal setting in more meaningful and effective ways. “I am going to spend my birthday money on buying an original Nintendo Gameboy system, and then ask for a Nintendo 64 system for Christmas.” Now that I don’t have to worry about my television time being rationed, I can focus on bigger and better goals.
As a teacher, I use goal setting with my students and for myself. I cannot expect to grow and improve as an educator if I don’t have goals toward which I am working. So, each year, I set a few professional goals for myself to help keep me focused on moving up and to the right. As I have just finished the first month of the new academic year, I feel as though it is time to set some goals for the 2019-2020 school year. What am I going to focus on this year? How will I grow and develop as a teacher during the current school year? What should I strive for this year?
- I want to help my students learn to see themselves as Math students. I want the students to find the fun and excitement in Math. I want them to get excited for Math class because they welcome the challenge. Using more games in Math class while also altering the way I began the year in Math, I believe, will help to cultivate this change within my students. In a recent entry, I went into much more detail on my early success with this new approach to Math. I also saw signs of awesomeness in class on Friday when I taught my students how to play the phenomenal game Prime Climb created by the brains behind the Math For Love website and program. They really got into the strategies behind the game. I also had several students ask insightful questions about the way the board is designed. “Why do some of the numbers have different colors around them? Why do some numbers have tiny numbers written beneath them?” Yes, I thought, they are thinking critically and asking questions. Success. They are seeing Math as a quest for knowledge and understanding in the world. I love it! One student in my class, who made it very clear to me in the first week of school that she hates Math and is not a Math student, asked me in front of the whole class while we played Prime Climb, “Where did you get this game? I love it and totally want to get it.” Wait, what? A student who did not see herself as a Math student at the start of the school year is now finding enjoyment in playing a Math game? What’s going on? Again, another success. Working toward my first new goal of the year is already beginning to pay huge dividends. I feel like a kid again, defeating Bowser in the final level of Super Mario Bros to rescue the Princess. So cool! I’m hoping I will be able to maintain this progress and continue to foster a love of Math within my students.
- I want to make the final project in our Social Studies unit on community more engaging, relevant, and fun for my students. After completing this unit last year, the students provided me with much feedback on how they didn’t really like the final project on the unit, which had each student create an oral presentation on something they enjoyed learning about during the unit. They found it to be a bit boring. While they liked making the final presentation at our local Historical Society, they did not like all the boring research work that went into preparing for the presentations. They would have preferred something more hands on and relevant, they shared with me last year. So, I decided to incorporate their feedback into our unit on community this year. Instead of having the students create a final presentation, I am having the class complete a community project. I want to empower my students to see solutions to problems facing our community. The students brainstormed a list of ways we, as a class, could give back to our community. Some of their suggestions included collecting items for the local food pantry, helping serve food at the local senior center, and setting up a free Halloween party for the families in our community. The students voted to take on the Halloween party. Starting next week, we are going to dig into what that will look like and how we can make it happen. This project will get the students designing, collaborating, and seeing first hand the benefits of kindness and compassion. They were so excited last week when I introduced this project. I can’t wait to see their engagement level increase as we plan it all out and then make it happen in a few short weeks. My hope is that the students will remember the big ideas learned in this unit because of this new and more engaging final project.
- I want to be sure I take the time to address the social-emotional issues that arise in class on a regular basis. Caring over content, is going to be my big push this year. I need to take the time to allow my students to learn how to self-regulate themselves while coming to terms with their emotional identity. I want my students to feel and be safe and cared for. I want them to become comfortable sharing their feelings with each other. I don’t want my students leaving the fifth grade, afraid to be their true selves. If social-emotional issues or problems arise in the classroom, I want to provide the students with time to learn how to address and solve them effectively. Rather than burying their feelings deep with themselves, I want my students to understand the power of “I Feel” statements, emotional check-ins, mindfulness, square breathing, caring, and sharing. While subject area content is important, and will not be forgotten throughout the year, the skill of managing their emotions and being kind and empathetic classmates is equally important. If students are feeling sad, angry, mad, or anxious in anyway, their reptilian brain will take over and hijack the thinking parts of their brain. I want my students to learn how to prevent themselves from being emotionally hijacked in and out of school, as it will have immense benefits. Case and point occurred this past Friday in the classroom. As the students were having fun playing the Math game Prime Climb, I realized that a student was in emotional distress. When one student used an “I Feel” statement to share how he was feeling about what another student was doing, that student responded in a negative manner. So, we paused the game and dug into this issue as a class. I asked the student to share what was causing her to respond in such a negative manner. She then shared how upset she felt about a negative interaction she had with a different student during recess on Thursday. The student continued talking about their feelings. As a class, we then discussed the importance of not keeping one’s feelings bottled up inside. It was an incredibly beneficial and necessary activity and discussion that needed to happen. That afternoon, the student who was feeling upset, was able to change her thinking and end the day on a very positive note. Allowing time for her to share her feelings made the difference in that outcome. I want to continue to provide my class with time to address the social-emotional issues that will inevitably come up in our fifth grade classroom.
While I have but three goals to focus on this year, I want to be sure that I have ample time and energy to focus on accomplishing them this year. When I take on too much, I find it difficult to come to terms with being unsuccessful in meeting any of the goals I set for myself yearly. These three aforementioned goals will give me plenty to work on this year, as I continue to grow and develop as an educator. The Math goal by itself could keep me busy and focused all year long. Just like the middle school video gamer me, I am going to spend all the time I have working on accomplishing my goals in the classroom this year. Who knows, maybe I’ll collect enough coins to earn an extra life or find a portal to another dimension. The possibilities are infinite when I work towards meeting goals I set for myself.