While summer has just started here in San Francisco (it's 80 degrees and sunny today), this week is the start of my 16th school year. Refreshed from an amazing summer of family, friends and travel (see my professional adventures page to learn more about my amazing summer) , I am ready to take on my 55 new students and discover not only mathematical algorithms, concepts and challenges, but also how we can apply them to make us and the world a better place.
In my 6th and 7th grade classrooms this first week, we discussed team work. In my early days of teaching I simply thought kids should just work together, know how to communicate effectively while doing so and be able to self regulate. However, the more I study alongside my students and peers, incorporate practices of Developmental Designs and learn more about 21st Century Skills (which by the way we all needed in the 20th Century) I understand that we need to teach our students what being part of a team, partnership, community, really is.
Given that I have some background in outdoor education-thanks to a solid few summers at Sanborn Western Camps and Wilderness Ventures , I decided an activity that was less academic but could provide a physical representation of our TEAM would be a good place to start.
Bring on the learning web. Using a ball of string, I started by throwing the ball to a person in our group while holding the end of the string. The student then used one hand to hold the string and then throw the ball to the next person. This went on until all students were a part of the web. Our learning WEB. During this process a few things occurred. Students held their part of the web in different ways. From wrapping their finger til it turned blue, to using two hands, to experimenting with putting it behind their head, each student experimented with being a part of the web in different ways. With this creativity came some judgement. Students commented that it wasn't safe, or that it wasn't a good way to do it etc... and others just learned on their own whether it was working or not. I let the conversation go. In fact, the kid that was using his head to hold the string commented, "hey it may not be for everyone, but it's working for me".
And... so we engaged in conversation right alongside that comment. We talked about how this web represented our community, and by asking one of the students to drop their part of the web we then discussed what happens when someone in the community lets us down. And another... and another... the boys discussed that if one students lets us down or is having a bad day we can likely get him back up and going. What happens if three or four let us down? I asked. It becomes more difficult, they quickly responded. We discussed that sometimes it will hurt and be hard, just like when someone yanks at the string of our web and the others are effected. The different learning styles of our community were related to all the different ways we were holding onto our string-our web. Respect each of them, I reminded them, differences are to be appreciated in our classroom.
In conclusion, we talked about the times we try something new and it doesn't work (the blue finger), and the multiple approaches to solving our problems, doing our work, and communicating with others. We are certainly not planning on being a one size fits all community. Interested in how our learning web works it way through mathematical concepts in the coming months? Follow us here. Lucky Number 16 is bound to be an interesting one.