Guest post by Jodie Deinhammer, 7th grade Science teacher from Coppell Middle School East and former Region 10 Teacher of the Year.
Even after almost 20 years in the classroom, I still LOVE back to school. I love all the excitement and positive energy seen in both the students and teachers. This year I encourage you to mix it up and try something new as you start your new year. Maybe you are already doing these things. If you are what other ways can you challenge yourself to step it up and try something different? Change is good!
7 Ideas to Mix Up Your School Year
- Ask your kids what they want to learn. “What questions have your always wondered about?” “What would the syllabus look like if you could design it?” Let students generate the guiding questions for your class. Use their guiding questions to drive the learning in your room. Keep their questions posted in the room to allow for more questions to be added throughout the year. Give them the state objectives and let them make connections to their interest and then try to tie those interests into your routine.
- Don’t give them a list of class rules.Instead of going over all the things that they can’t do this year in your room, develop a list of class goals and post those instead. “We will make a positive impact on our community.” “We will encourage each other to take risks and not be afraid of being wrong.” See what they come up with when you ask what CAN we do?
- Be present.Get to know your kids and who they are. Try to attend events like a volleyball game or art show. My own kids get so excited when their teachers show up at their little league games. It truly makes their day when you are present. Simply make an effort to recognize that your kids are more than just students in your classroom.
- Try Genius Hour.Last year we did a genius hour type project for our final exam and kids presented their ideas to our community. This year I plan to do this for the full year. Students will choose a topic they are interested in during the first month of school and we will devote every Friday to working on it. Students will be required to connect our objectives to their topic as we move through the year. They will have a folder in their digital portfolio to keep up with their work and creations. At the end of the first semester they will create a documentary explaining why their topic is important and we will do an Oscar type screening of the documentaries to decide which projects we can implement the following semester.
- Don’t give your kids homework. I know a lot of people would have a hard time with this, but think it through. When you get home from work, the last thing you want to do is more work. Our kids need a break just like we do. They need to play outside, they need to hang out with their families or just chill out. Instead of homework, can you give your kids a warm up problem or question each day to determine where they are? Can you incorporate 10 minutes of “practice time” in class each day so you are there to help if they don’t understand? Can you better utilize or rearrange your class time to avoid outside of class work?
- Connect and borrow from your PLN. We learn best when we share and connect with other teachers. Use your PLN to help you improve or change up a lesson or idea. For example, this past year I was able to present with the great Katie Morrow. She mentioned that she had her students run a class blog. She had a blogger of the day that wrote about what was going on in class that day. I am going to try to replicate that in my classroom this year. Katie sharing this stratagy allows me to implement her idea in my own room, giving my kids a chance to share their voice and practice their writing skills for an authentic audience. Share your ideas and borrow from others. Don’t monetize your work, sharing is caring! We make each other better.
- Let your kids create something for an authentic audience. Have students write a book, create a tutorial or teach someone else. Connect with a local elementary school and have your kids teach them about something in your content area. Nothing is better than watching your kids become the teacher. We had a kindergarten class teach high school seniors how to use a Makey-Makey one year. The littles were so proud to know something that the bigger kids were so impressed with. You could also have your kids create helpful information for next years class, for example an “in 60 seconds” of a topic that you could use to introduce something next year.
Try something new this year and let me know how it goes. I would also love to hear about other challenges that you take to improve your classroom.