Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Classroom "Branches"

Lately we've been exploring US Government and the Constitution.  Today I decided to try a classbuilding activity mixed in with some content about the separation of powers and our three branches of government.  I think the kids totally enjoyed this activity--especially being up and moving!--and I think it definitely gave them a visual element to the branches of government.

Here's what we did:
  1. Laid out the rules: no "peeking" at your "branch" element and no talking.
  2. Gave each student a "branch" element on a string, put it around their neck so that their element was on their back so that their classmates could see it but they couldn't
  3. Instructed the students that they needed to form the branches of government without talking or looking at their own element as well as figuring out which element in the branches they were
  4. Let the students GO!  They are to use their own intuition and ideas (with NO talking!) to form the branches and figure out what each person "is"
  5. When completed, debrief activity and the branches activity: What was the point?  What did you learn?  How was everyone held accountable?  What did this teach you about the make-up of our government?  ...and so on!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Rubric Makers

A great idea for any classroom is to put the evaluation and assessment task of a project in the students' hands.

Students thrive when they take ownership, especially with how they will be assessed and graded.

For a project we are doing with the Constitution, students got to create their own rubric/scoring guide for how they will be evaluated. They each had 4 squares they cut out and wrote one element they thought was important to include in their project (& be graded upon). Then collectively as a class they came together to "attach" (staple) similar ideas and areas. After a discussion, they came to a consensus on several areas that they felt were essential to include in the project and the assessment. All of a sudden, without anything but guidance from the teacher, the rubric/scoring guide was made...& it was 100% student generated.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, November 10, 2011

November Dog Club

For club day in November, the Dog Club decided to focus on dog fighting.  We explored everything about dog fighting, who does it, what their motivation is, and what happens to the dogs who are the fighters.  Almost everything we looked at was very disheartening, and we came to the conclusion that we must STEP UP and help spread the word about stopping dog fighting from happening in our community and around the country.

After watching a few video clips and public service announcements, the members of Dog Club jumped right in to create posters to hang around MRH and to give to our friends at the APA to display at their location.  The more information we can get out there about reporting dog fighting and putting an end to this "sport" the better.  Dog Club members are really stepping up their support against dog fighting and we hope to continue to do more in the community to alert people about the dangers of dog fighting.

Check out our Dog Club video from this day and see how students are taking the first step against dog fighting.

Monday, November 7, 2011

More Teambuilding!

Lately in social studies we've been really focused and working really hard on our Valley Forge essays.  Before we dove back into working on our rough drafts and peer editing today, we decided to start off the day with a fun teambuilding game.

For any skeptics out there, let me be the one to reassure you that a quick, engaging 5-minute game at the beginning of the class set up the rest of the period for a hard working, focused class time.  Using a little balloon game to jump-start the brain is exactly what the students needed to be able to power through and write some amazing essays.

Here's how the game is played:
  • take several balloons and inflate them (use different sizes for different difficulty levels)
  • have students stand in a circle holding hands (or holding wrists)
  • students have 3 rules: they cannot break the circle link (so cannot drop hands), they can only use their linked hands to hit the balloon (no kicking, no head butts, etc...), and they cannot let the balloon hit the ground
  • start off with one balloon in the circle...add more balloons to increase the challenge for the group
  • enjoy the game! can last for a few minutes to as long as you want!  feel free to add challenges (counting hits, etc...) to increase difficulty

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

South Tech Expedition

This past week we got a chance to take our 8th graders to tour South Tech High School in Sunset Hills.  First off, let me just say WOW, the opportunities that are available out there for students today is incredible!  Students can be a certified Firefighter and EMT by the time they're 18 and graduate from high school!  That's incredible!  The opportunities South Tech has to offer high school juniors and seniors is amazing, especially if a technical field is something that you're interested in.

South Tech has so many different opportunities available for its students, and we got to tour several of these on this expedition.  We got to be car mechanics, vet techs, graphic designers, carpenters, and firefighters--and these were just some of the many opportunities they have for students at South Tech.

What MRHMS students got to see is that South Tech is a very hands-on high school; everything is done in a practical setting--it's not something that's just "talked" or "read" about but is taken to the next level and actually "done" or "performed."  Students don't just read about how to put out a fire, they actually do it.  They don't just give stuffed animals medical attention, they give live animals the medical attention they really need.

It was a great day of learning and exploring the various opportunities that are out there for students at MRH.  I think all of the students learned a lot and got to see another option for them when it's time to enter their final years of high school.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Cooperative Learning in Action

Lately in social studies--and throughout the entire middle school--we've been doing a lot of cooperative learning activities.  Today we did one that the students really enjoyed and did really well: instead of having everyone do this by themselves, they instead did it at as a group where the others who weren't writing acted as checkers and coaches for the one who was writing.

Everyone got their own colored pencil so you'd know who was writing what.  Students, when it was their turn, were then given a minute to write on their team's sheet how the document from their document packet both could be an argument for quitting Washington's army (at Valley Forge) and staying.  The others in the team who were not writing acted as coaches and checkers; making sure what their teammate was writing was correct and what the group wanted to put down.

Instead of taking 10+ minutes for everyone to do this individually, the students were able to get this entire sheet done PLUS a class discussion in less than that time, and still covered all of the details that needed to be covered.  Students got to do part of it individually (write the answer), part of it collaboratively with their group (checking answers, discussing), and then go over the entire sheet as a "recheck" with the entire class.

Cooperative learning and collaboration really is enhancing the learning environment that's happening here at MRH.  To all my teacher friends: give it a try!  It's amazing how much more learning, interaction, and engagement takes place in the classroom!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Teamwork & Collaborating Project

After we got back from our service project in Forest Park, we gave the students a challenge: create a new MRH building that included all of the following:
Each of the students were partnered with one other person.  Before they started building, they were given time to brainstorm individually and then with their partner using this sheet:
Once the plans were erected, the construction began.  Students worked frivolously to try and have their structure meet all of the requirements stated on the artists' sheet.

They had to work together with their partner in the short time frame given to try and create a structure that included ALL of the elements required.  I was AMAZED by the hard work these students and teams exhibited; they were so determined and committed to their design that they seemed to pull out all stops to get theirs built and make sure it's the best.

All in all these students worked incredibly well on this project; it really demonstrated how they can work with another person to achieve a common goal.  We worked all morning in collaboration with our friends at Forest Park Forever and then came back to school and got to demonstrate that same great teamwork and collaboration with each other.  These students continue to impress me every single day.

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