I’m often asked what I like best about my job. I have think about what I would do if no one told me I was required to teach something. (Who would this not be true of?) Thankfully, we have state standards and now national standards to help teachers see outside the classroom into education for a nation, not just a school. To determine what I like best about my job, I started thinking about my favorite units, environmental science and aviation. Finally I realized it was not my favorite content determining my preferences but how my students engaged and learned from the content that became my favorite.
My answer would be community based learning. I have worked hard over the years to get adults into my classroom to work with my students. The last two weeks I have been continuing my work with the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning.
The back story….
I started my authentic learning after a problem based project called Newton’s Laws at Park Junior High School. My gifted kids learned ten times more than I had taught the previous year, and my special education students amazed me with their learning. The grades were fantastic, the kids were excited, and what did we do next? We trashed the projects and went on to the next standard. It was such a let down.
Initially threatened, I decided to invite parents to the presentations the next year. I had the parents fill out a worksheet with a reflection. I had the kids show parents the projects. The difference of energy in the room was palatable. Knowing parents were coming helped the kids work towards an authentic audience. They were worried about spelling and grammar! As I shared the parents comments, kids were proud and excited about their projects. At the end, I was asked if it was okay to save the project on a flash drive to take home!
This experience changed my approach. I planned more activities in which the parents could view and assess the work of their own kids. Parents were amazed, kids were proud.
I decided to go outside the classroom and Skype with two scientists I had worked with from the Gulf of Mexico Foundation. It was just after the BP oil crisis and my students and I had the opportunity to discuss the clean up efforts with scientists working in Texas. It was so exciting.
I wanted to create a more community-based relationship and contacted Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP). They are a seven county planning agency. Erin Aleman, one of their directors, and I worked to create three projects for my students. She came to my school, gave a presentation to my students and introduced the problems. The kids decided they wanted to help CMAP promote local foods. Using a problem based unit design, kids developed posters, brochures, handouts, and then invited local mayors to our school. We had 5 local mayors show up to hear the presentations! My students walked away knowing how their work had an impact on their community.
We followed up the next trimester promoting alternative transportation. This time the students planned and executed a Wheel-In at school, persuading students to ride their bikes or walk to school. Forty students had the opportunity to ride around the city in a bike rally. The newspapers covered our efforts. Again, my student walked away knowing how their work had an impact on their community.
This is my favorite part of my job.