Category Archives: student choice

MiddSouth Innovates Issue #2 2018-2019

This school year is whizzing by. I can’t believe we are already halfway through November and Winter Break is so close you can see it on the horizon. I have been amazed at how many teachers are taking this year to add technology integration goals into their professional plans and innovating their classroom practices.

In this issue of the MiddSouth Innovates, we take a look at a Math teacher who is looking to  integrate more Social Media into her classroom, taking the first steps toward a student-centered learning environment by adding student choice assignments, and our October 3D printing challenge in the Media Center.

MiddSouth Innovates 2


Best. Meeting. Ever.

We had another TED Ed Club meeting this afternoon.  These meetings always have 3 parts:  evaluation of our recent project, discussion about the newest TED Talk, and setting an agenda for the next meeting.  After school meetings are tough because so many students are involved in extra-curricular activities that they just can’t find time for everything.  But, in the end, we had about 15 attend with a few of those arriving late.

Our latest project involved what we were calling the “Thank You Wall.”  Using the TED Talk by Drew Dudley as our inspiration, we decided to create a space for anyone in the building to say thank you to someone who had a positive impact on their life.  It was extremely well received as you can see from the pictures below.  The columns we created were 6ft tall by 2 feet wide so between the 2 of them there was 96 square feet of whiteboards filled with nearly 400 messages of thanks.

The project was headed up by one of our seniors.  He commented in the meeting that on one day he saw a girl glance up at the board, see a message that was written to her, and a huge smile broke out on her face.  He said right then it made all the planning and time worth it.

But what I really wanted to share was the discussion that ensued for the next hour.  The talk we chose was by Shawn Achor about what makes us happy.  There have been a lot of changes in our school/district, not all of which have been well received by the students.  I thought this video would be a chance for the students to get refocused on the important things in their life.

This discussion was intense!  I decided to try a new system and had the students write down their comments on post-it notes and stick them to their faces whenever they had something to say.  We have a tendency to get very passionate and talk over each other so this was a way for us to stay organized and keep track of our next comments.  Students had 3 and 4 notes stuck to their face, they are standing on desks trying to be recognized next.  Two girls who are best friends got into a huge argument over the ability to have selfless acts.  It was amazing!!!  I have never seen students debate so adamantly before over something that was, in reality, so trivial.

In this whole discussion, the students decided that we needed to have a better focus, a mission statement to guide us in our future meetings.  Here is what they came up with (I had no part in this at all!):

Objectives of the MiddSouth TED Ed Club:
1. Make a positive impact on the school community
2. Do something to benefit others
3. Change the way people treat each other.
4. Create a bonded community.
5. Make a change in ourselves.
6. Do something that other schools don’t.
7. Provide a forum for unique ideas that have nothing to do with what happens in the classroom.
8. Put ideas into action.
9. Bring our ideas to younger kids.

In all the years I have been an advisor, I have never seen a group of students so excited at a meeting. I can’t wait until next week’s meeting and I wish it wasn’t only 30 minutes long.

Keep kids busy or they might start thinking

While reading Teacher Man, Frank McCourt makes the comment “Keep kids busy or they might start thinking.”  He is talking about how too many teachers are just assigning work, yet they have little meaning for the students and rarely makes them think.

I had a conversation with a former supervisor over mandating summer assignments in all Honors science classes. The reason he gave me was: 1) we need to reduce the number of students who are dropping out of the honors program after school starts; this will hopefully scare a few of them off, 2) we need to provide assignments that keep the kids busy for the summer, and 3) we need to eliminate the summer slide that so many of them experience.  You can imagine my reaction.

Now, I am not opposed to summer assignments, but the kids need to find meaning in them.  Give them articles to read and perform research on or give them experiments to do in their kitchen so they can explain the science behind them (or food is always a great experiment) or let them pick their own book to read to demonstrate their understanding of theme or character development.  Don’t give them copies of a textbook (which is what came out of my colleagues) and have them mindlessly complete exercises.  If the teachers don’t want to grade it because it is so boring, what makes you think the students will want to do it?

One of my goals this year (a formal list will be coming later this week) is to have the students develop 1 assignment in each unit.  I will give them the requirements and the learning objectives and let them run with it.  If one of my classroom rules is going to be “Think Critically” then I need to give my students the opportunity to do so.

Am I wrong?