Tag Archives: ELAteach

More than Monuments: What 8th Graders Learn on the East Coast Trip

Parents are always super nervous dropping their 14-year-old off at the airport and sending him flying across the country. Of course, I will be nervous, too, when I send my own children, but I wanted to take a moment to commend those parents who do. They spend six days watching their phones for text messages and worrying if their kid is getting enough to eat, sleeping well, getting along with roommates, and I’m sure far worse scenarios. To those parents, know you’ve given them far more in those six days than you could ever imagine.

What 8th Graders Learn

1. How to get up on time. If (and when) he sleeps through his alarm, the entire group will be waiting on him. He will hear about it all day.

2. How to be on time. Like when he slept through his alarm, when he doesn’t arrive back at the bus at precisely 3:45, he will hear about it from his peers. Repeatedly.

3. How to Read Street Signs. When she is told to be at 42nd and Broadway and she is at 50th and 7th, her group needs to figure out how to get back.

4. How to live in tight spaces with other people. She needs to figure out how to share a bathroom and two beds with three other girls. Not taking 45 minutes in the bathroom is often a viable solution.

5. Why his parents tell him to get some sleep. He learns that only getting a couple of hours of sleep can be painful the next day. Of course, he might still do it the next night, however, he understands why.

6. Why his parents tell him to eat right. Binging on junk food always seems like a good idea at this age. Inevitably, one of those kids throws up.

7. Good shoes trump fashion. Those cute sandals she brought on the trip that match her new shirt are thrown to the bottom of her suitcase after the blisters of the first day.

8. Sometimes you can’t be goofy, even with your friends. TSA and the Capitol police have little room for horse-play or 8th-grade humor.

9. How to ask for help. Whether from a teacher, a tour guide or even a security guard, sometimes it’s necessary to ask when something is needed. He has to take care of his own needs.

10. How to pay attention. Well, at least the ramifications of not paying attention. When he didn’t hear what time to be back at the bus, he will be late. Again, he will hear about it. Repeatedly.

The best part about these lessons is that they come with a safety net. That kid might be the last one on the bus, but there are many adults making sure he gets on the bus. As a chaperone, my job is to not only to give the kids an educational experience, but also grant them that little bit of freedom. It’s the freedom that teaches them the most. A dear friend of mine commented to me once that after this trip, her daughter came back different. Older. More mature. That’s the bonus of this trip. So, to the parents that choose to send their kid, I tip my glass. You’ve given them far more than a trip of a lifetime. 🙂

I interviewed the kids at the airport. Someday I will learn to turn my phone to landscape when recording.


Navigating the Waves of the Backchannel

I’m a huge fan of the Socratic Seminar, but the drawback is always getting kids involved who don’t like to speak in a large group setting. I’ve tried many different configurations with moderate results. One of my PLN colleagues, Travis Phelps wrote about using Chromebooks to create a backchannel during the discussion. (Read his blog here.)

Like Travis, I used TodaysMeet to create my chat room, projecting it on the board, so all could see. I organized my room: chairs in the inner circle, desks with Chromebooks on the outer. As students came in, I let them choose their spot, but gave them a heads up that we would be switching halfway through the period.

What I learned

  • Assign seats, at least inner or outer circle. Letting students choose which circle they participated in first wasn’t necessarily a good thing. The discussions were sometimes unbalanced. Too many strong personalities in one group, not enough in the other.
  • Give guidelines on the nickname students choose for the chat. I basically told them I couldn’t grade them, (I grade for participating with useful evidence or insight), if I didn’t know who they were. “Farting Burrito” had to fess up to his handle.
  • Talk to them about spamming and set rules. I teach 8th graders. Writing “poop,” 14 times always seems like a good idea. I let them be silly when they first logged in, just to try it out. However, once the discussion started, the chat needed to be on task. The stream moves so quickly, if someone is typing, “Johnny is Bae,” or even, “LOL,” the other stuff is lost. Just talking about it made all the difference.
  • Change the chat room for each period. This is something I did not anticipate. I had students on Chromebooks in other classes, spamming our conversation. It was done in good fun, but became rather annoying.

The Good, the Bad, and the Silly

I asked the kids at the end of each period what they thought of this different Socratic technique. Most really liked it. They liked that the inner circle was smaller, so it was easier to talk. They also mentioned that they could check the chat on the board if they were stuck for something to say. Mostly they liked that in the outer circle, they could look stuff up on the internet to add to the conversation. The biggest drawback was that the board was sometimes distracting. In some classes, the inner circle would stop talking and take to just reading the board. Plus, there was always that one kid who had to try to make everyone laugh.  But I guess, that’s just what makes it an 8th grade classroom.

I’m looking forward to trying it again soon. Hoping Farting Burrito is too.

Genius Hour: Part 1

I don’t think I’ve been this excited about a research assignment, ever. Three weeks ago I introduced Genius Hour to my 8th graders, a concept made famous by Google, where 20% of work time is spent on a project of the employee’s choosing. It’s become a bit of a phenomenon in the educational world with teachers who recognize that choice motivates students. For my class, this means working every Friday until June, approximately 12 weeks. At first, my students were confused, maybe a bit dumbfounded. “We can do anything?”

I only have three rules for our GH project:

  1. You can research it
  2. You can blog about it
  3. You can do a presentation on it

Week 1: The YES Day

My students were still a bit confused on our first Friday. Each time I’d circulate the room, a student would stop me, “Can I do–” “Yes.” It was pretty amazing watching their fingers fly on the Chromebooks, searching for various topics. Still, though, some had no idea where to even begin. I just kept asking, “What do you want to know?”

Week 2: Life Ring

By the next week, most were super excited to continue their research. But definetly not all. I could see the ones drifting off task. I had to give a few stern warnings:  “If you waste 20% of my instruction time, I will give you an alternative assignment.” This extinguished the fires right away. However, I still saw a few flounders. It was time for the life ring. I shared with them a list I had been compiling from various sources of possible Genius Hour projects. Just seeing the possibilities, those who felt they were drowning were able to come up for air. I wouldn’t have done this in the beginning, because I truly believe in the power of discovery, but some kids just needed a helping hand.


Pitch Day: Where the light bulb begins to flicker

Today was pitch day. Students had to get up in front of their peers and give a 30 second pitch on their idea. They had to state their guiding question, explain what they would research, then how they would present in June. After, the other students were encouraged to ask questions and give advice. What a powerful process. Students were able to hear each other’s ideas and learn ways to improve their own process. Plus, I got to hear all the topics. From learning to buy and sell stocks, to practicing different techniques of shooting a basketball properly, to the effects of smoking, to why the brain reacts to music, the topics are not only incredibly varied, they are INTERESTING! So much better than if I would have assigned a topic.

Friday we continue researching. Fridays are truly the best day of the week.