Yesterday was my first day back to school. Summer break was great, but it’s time to get back to school\work and a regular schedule. I’ve been busy all summer getting ready for today.
I know it looked like I was having fun at the lake, but I was really thinking and planning about how to begin the new year with my brand new 8th graders. AND, this year I have a bonus, I have my very own 8th grader at home – so I can experience 8th grade 24/7 without interruption.
I vaguely remember my own 8th grade experience. I struggled all year, and if it weren’t for an amazing teacher – Mrs. Atlee in RWS (reading, writing, and spelling) reaching out and giving me a hand when I needed it – the year might have turned out differently. I am grateful for her help and continually try to pay back her assistance by paying it forward to my students.
The key to getting a great start to a school year is how the first few days of school are organized and set up. My most successful years have been the years when I spent the first few days creating a climate in the classroom that fostered learning and curiosity.
In the 41 years since I was in 8th grade (the first time), the classroom has changed significantly. It’s changed because as educators, we better understand how students learn and grow, and technology has had a hand in changing how students learn as well.
I am going to sound old, but let’s face it, I AM old – relative to my students. When I was in 8th grade, television had seven or eight channels, tops. Television, books, and movies – that was it for media, oh and radio. We had the major networks CBS, ABC, NBC, and PBS as well as three or four independent channels. Today, television has hundreds of channels and comes in all sorts of flavors, and then there is the internet and the media programming available online. What is available to my students is overwhelming, but the reality is my 8th graders are still 8th graders with 13-14 year-old’s brains still developing like my brain was developing 41 years ago. Today’s students are exposed to more content, but in reality, they learn it differently.
So, because they learn differently, I have to teach differently. I learned with desks in rows and learned by working by myself. We had an occasional group or partner project, but most of my learning was accomplished alone. It was considered cheating if I had help from someone else. Today, my students learn best in groups, small groups when they can work together and talk about what they are learning and develop important skills of collaboration and communication.
So instead of rows of desks and chairs, I have groups of tables.
Last year, I had six groups with six seats – it fit the classroom better, but the groups were too big and my students didn’t learn as well because there were too many people in the group. The larger the group, the greater distractions at the table, and in the room.
This year I have nine groups of tables with four at each group. The table arrangement makes the floor layout crowded, but I think the students will benefit. It’s a tradeoff I can live with, for now. I still have 36 seats in the room – too many for the space.
Last year, I wanted a clever way to organize my groups. I decided to use famous Americans, significant Americans, Americans who had a significant impact on the American experience. I chose the six people below. How many do you recognize? Be honest. Most of my students could recognize four, maybe five of the six.
At the end of the year, I reorganized my room into nine groups of four students, but by then the rocky start was difficult to undo. Before the year ended, I shared my ideas about the new groupings with my students and asked them for feedback and suggestions of new Americans to name the three new groups or if I should retire any of the present Americans. They were all over the place with their suggestions. Finally, I settled on the three Americans below.
Do you recognize any of them?
So this year, I’ll begin the year a bit differently. I’ll have nine groups, but in reality, I’ll only have eight groups in three classes, seven groups in one class, and in only one class will I push the limit and use all nine table groups.
I’ve been hard at work in my classroom the past three days organizing and unpacking boxes, wondering where to begin. I’ve got the first week planned and ready to go. I’ll be back in the classroom this afternoon and all day Monday getting the room ready.
It’s gonna be a great year. So, Tuesday we’ll begin working on communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity – the four C’s – 21st century Learning.
It’s gonna be a great year. I know it and I can feel it. But the year, as with any endeavor, begins with one day, a small step, then another, and another. One great day after another. Today is gonna be a great day – day two. Two more days, counting today, and kids are here Tuesday. Making the Days Count, one day at a time, one day after the next.
What famous American or Americans do you remember from your 8th grade history class?
NOTE: The answers and my rationale will be posted next week. Enjoy the weekend. Peace.