Published in the local paper!

A class project my students did was published in the paper. In order to teach argument structure, students picked a local issue that they cared about. They then figured out who was a possible change-maker for the issue. Then, they wrote a letter and sent it to that particular change-maker.

Many students received letters back, but even if they didn’t, this was the most engaged that they had been so far this year. It just goes to show you that an authentic audience and purpose really does go a long way.

You can read the article here.



Makerspace for Service Learning: Using Design Thinking to Impact the World

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Since my last time having a makerspace in my classroom, I’ve done some reflecting and planning and tweaking. One of my goals was to integrate the makerspace as a summative assessment in a traditional unit. I had that chance this week.

I teach at an International Baccalaureate school, and as part of that curriculum we encourage our students to engage in service learning. My grade level and content area was assigned a unit dealing with responding to bullying. The unit itself (which I didn’t help create) was pretty blah. There were stories to read from textbooks and just a project at the end which pretty much was a poster. I decided to spice it up with the makerspace. (I also used technology to make the stories much better, but I write about that in another post.)

So, I decided that a makerspace as our summative assessment/service learning creation would be awesome. Instead of just a poster as a choice, I engaged my students in design thinking where the end goal was to create something that would make maximum impact in our school community in regards to responding to and preventing bullying.

I started with explaining the design thinking process to them, and then we got started. Using a Google Presentation, we went through the first 3 stages of the process. They then wrote quick proposals for their creation idea. I approved proposals individually, and then they could start.

We’ve now just finished the creation and iteration stages. We only had 2 days in which to create, get feedback, and iterate. I wish we would have had more time. Students did have to make prototypes or rough drafts and receive feedback from other classmates. I also emphasized to students throughout the process that their job was to make sure every decision they made, including materials and design and even where they posted their products, were to be made following the problem they were trying to solve. Whenever students asked me what to do, I just responded with another question: “What would make maximum impact on your audience to solve your problem?”

We will be reflecting on the whole process tomorrow. I hope that, during this reflection, they will be able to think of better ways to design their solution and perhaps even some students will do this on their own. I wish we had more time to then actually iterate their ideas in class. However, as a public school, we must carry on and keep going in order to “finish” with all the assigned units we must get through. : (

Overall, this was such a great 3 days of class. Students created awesome things like:

  • anti-bullying bookmarks to hand out in the library
  • anti-bullying flags to hang up around school
  • 3-D posters to hang up in the commons
  • Jewelry to hand out to students who are standing up to bullying

I really think that this was a great way for students to learn more autonomy as well. So many times my students want step-by-step directions and feel so uncomfortable with almost any type of autonomy. Answering all their questions with a question and giving them almost complete freedom was such an amazing way for them to learn to be in control of their own learning. It was also a great way to teach the skills of how to target an audience.

Lastly, I really feel that the vast majority of my students enjoyed feeling like they were making an impact in their school community. Middle School can be such a bummer sometimes, and make kids feel so powerless. I think that this service learning project helped them empathize with others and feel like they have some real impact on the world.

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Social Justice Startups in 8th Grade

So, I posted a little while ago about how I was teaching a unit that is essentially a mini-startup incubator or entrepreneurial unit. I was very excited to start it off, and now we’re almost done with it. It has been a great experience for students and teachers throughout the unit. I thought I’d update a little bit here about how it’s going. When the unit’s over I will post the final products and a final reflection as well as all of my teaching materials.

1: Here’s the outline for the whole project, if you want to take all or parts of it. I will post all my teaching materials when the project is over. 

2: Some of the student ideas of organizations and products are here:

Social justice issue          Product/Service

Equal pay/pay equity   Club for young women to support each other being                                              CEOs.

Local Hunger                 App for grocery stores to donate food to foodshelves

Refugee crisis              Headphones pre-loaded with calming music for                                                      children who have PTSD

Pay Equity                     Ride sharing app for women to get to protests more                                              easily


3: Update on what we’ve done so far

Students have figured out their target markets, written a paper identifying that market segmentation, and have just finished creating their two advertisements for those target markets. They had to make one print ad (most used Canva) and then either a podcast commercial, a TV commercial, or a social media profile.

These next three days they will be presenting their whole marketing campaign to local business people, marketing professionals, and other community members.

Like I said, we I will update later with their final ads, the winners, and my whole gamut of teaching materials.

When the real world collides with standardized curriculum

Sometimes we are forced to teach curriculum by decision-makers that are never in our classrooms. Most of the time these decision-makers mean well. And most of the time, we (since teachers are awesome) do our best to make this prescribed curriculum fit our students’ needs.

So, every Tuesday and Wednesday during my homeroom, I sit with a script and some handouts and a DVD to teach my 8th graders a social/emotional curriculum. Now, I have no doubt that they need this information. I also have no doubt that the school board meant well when they mandated that this is taught. Like I said, I do my best to make it engaging and relevant for my students, even when holding a script. However, sometimes even my best efforts fall flat.

However, today reality outside our classroom walls collided easily with this curriculum. Today the text was about stereotypes and how they lead to bullying. Besides pointing this fact out, the lesson was focusing on how important it is a bystander to speak up when someone is stereotyping others.

This immediately hit me to my core. The political climate in the United States and much of Europe is absolutely toxic. Political candidates, not only in our country, but in other countries like France and Sweden are seizing on people’s fears of extremism and the unknown to quite literally bully children, orphans, and the elderly; those running in fear from persecution themselves. Just this past weekend in my town, this happened. This is not to mention all the hateful and inflammatory comments of political candidates, least of all Donald Trump.

This immediately came to my mind when teaching this lesson. I immediately deviated from the prescribed lesson a bit and pulled up the poem “First They Came” by Martin Niemoller. Here is the text:

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me. 

(Courtesy Holocaust Memorial Day Trust)

It is our job as teachers to teach our students so many many things. Sometimes we are prescribed what to teach them. Hopefully, the real world is connected to our lessons as much as possible.

I must also emphasize as much as possible that it is also our jobs to make sure our students are good people. Just as Niemoller states, we cannot stand by why nothing happens and we must teach our students this as well. Yes, we aren’t in charge of our students political beliefs, but we are in charge of teaching them critical thinking and empathy. We MUST do so at any and every chance–even when given a script.