Sunday, April 22, 2018

When In The Midst of Teaching You Know The Learning is Big

Friday I was working with my elective group- 8 students...7 from fourth grade and 1 from fifth grade all wanting to be on the CCS Lower School Tech Team. These 8 kids are awesome. They are smart, witty, creative, and self-motivated. It's an easy group to be with and enjoy.

Friday brought a smile to my face that hasn't gone away (despite the fact I whacked out my back getting out of the floor when working with 2 of them and haven't recovered yet)! You know that moment as a teacher when you are working with a group but you are also listening in and scanning the room to make sure everything is going as planned? It's an innate teacher sense...that ability to know what is going on even when you are fully immersed in the conversation at hand. I had 4 different things going on in the room at one time. One student was creating an instructional video on how to use Ozobots, two young ladies were creating a maze out of cardboard to look like the Titanic, I was introducing two other gentlemen to the Sphero SPRK+ robot, while I overheard three other gentlemen troubleshooting a Makey Makey to turn it into a piano. It was in that moment that I found the smile that I can't let go of. Each group was gleefully working together to create an Ocean-themed Escape Room experience for their teachers using STEM tools. Students were on task, active learning was happening and leaders were emerging.

As a rule, I tend to be a "finish what you started" type teacher. If a student picks something to learn, do, read, etc I encourage them to give it a complete chance. I don't force it, but I strongly suggest it (and this might even look like guilting them but that isn't my intention and I try not to push it that far).

We meet for 45 minutes on Friday afternoon for one quarter. Friday, we all had our plans we had been working on and all of a sudden some kids wanted to switch what they were doing. I let them. I was even surprised at myself. One student even said, "but what about the Scratch thing? Who is going to do that?" My answer was, "We will get to it if we get to it." (If there had been a mirror I probably would have looked into it to see who that was speaking). But here is what I learned from being flexible on Friday...

This is an elective. There is no grade and no sense of WE HAVE TO COMPLETE THIS IN ORDER TO GET THROUGH THE PACING GUIDE. These students chose to be with me. I don't take that lightly. I want them to enjoy this process. In fact, the lone fifth grader really didn't want to be in there after he realized he was the only fifth grader but since he had an injured foot, none of the other electives were really a good fit for him. He stuck with it, and I chose to empower him because of that.  In fact, I just sent an email to him and cc'd his mom because of what happened Friday. I'm even going to leave his name in here for you because I'm just so stinking proud of him:

I want to thank you for sticking it out on the tech team elective. I know you were a bit disappointed because you were the only fifth grader that got that elective but I want you to see what I see because of you...

You are a leader. Friday when you were working with those other fourth grade boys they were listening to you intently and you were teaching them about the Makey Makey. It was an amazing moment for me. I love seeing students teaching other students! Because those fourth grade boys look up to you, they were 100% into learning more about the Makey Makey. I couldn't be everywhere in the room at one time but I tend to listen in to everyone's conversation. At one point I heard you troubleshooting and saying "Oh wait, she said we could use the metal on a pencil." Your hands-on approach to figuring the issue out without a teacher's help is just what I like education to be like. You have an inquisitive nature that will serve you well in life...especially since you have such a teachable spirit. 

Thank you Noah for being you. You have risen to become my "right hand man" in this group and I appreciate that about you. I've sent this to your mom as well because mommas always like to know that other people see how amazing their kids are too!

Mrs. Davis 

So I guess I am sharing this for 3 reasons:
  1. To suggest that you get out of your own way at times. Who I am as a person and teacher often thinks that one of the most important things to teach is perseverance. Friday, I let that part of me take second place and what I saw caused smiles. You are never too old to learn. Here I am at age 49 and I decided because this was an elective I would be more flexible in the plan. 
  2. When students get to choose their learning, they are engaged. I had a plan and we will still get there but the truth is, allowing my students to adjust and switch made for one of the biggest edu-smiles I've had in a long time. 
  3. Know your students. I have some really strong-willed guys in this group but instead of forcing them into a box to finish this process, I've let them each flourish in a way that they both enjoy and are successful at doing. For one kid, it's allowing him to do his thing by himself. For another, it's letting him become a leader, for two girls it's allowing them to be together, for other students it's pairing them based on their skills. That can't happen if you don't know your students gifts and talents. It often takes a while to see what they are. Once you do, don't stick to your grouping guns just because that's where you started, be willing to help each student shine!