Friday, August 30, 2019

Final Fridays: Discussions, Community, and Coffee!

Last fall I attended our Kansas State Social Studies Conference, like I always do.  This is my FAVORITE conference to go to each year. Why? Because Kansas has some Kick-Ass Social Studies teachers who like to share their stuff. This conference is awesome. I always walk away smarter and I always walk away with ideas to implement into my classroom right away.

Except last year.

Last year I walked away with an awesome idea... but struggled to see how it would fit into my middle school classroom.

If only I taught high school - I thought.

That thought, this activity, that moment is when I seriously started to consider looking for a change. It seems funny now, that something as simple as an idea that was sparked at a conference led me to make some really big decisions.

The idea. Classroom discussions in the form of "coffee shop" themed classroom. The idea came from a session presented by Hers and History dynamic duo, Ty and Kaitlyn Unrau. (Follow them on Instagram @HersandHistory and on Twitter @KDoubleU13 and @CoachTyUnrau)

So when I was hired at MHS I knew I could put this into motion and add a few things to it as well. Here's what I came up with... 

The Name: I wanted a cool title for the activity that students could associate it with me and my classroom whenever they heard it. I also knew that I wanted this to be more than just a "one and done" activity. I wanted it to be something they looked forward to and possibly even want a hand in helping plan in the future. Once a month sounded good to Final Friday was born. Each Final Friday of the month that we are in school, our coffee shop discussion would occur.

The Menu: I knew that I wouldn't be able to just throw the kids into groups and say "talk about ____".  Even high school kids need a little direction. And this summer, my principal helped put the last bits into place with his "BrewedPD" sessions he would have every Wednesday at local coffee shops. We would come in and he'd hand us a "menu" of topics which he just compiled over the summer as he read interesting things over the summer. Someone would choose something from the menu and we'd discuss it. I loved it! And that's what I did. I created menus which had topic questions or starters for students to know what to talk about. I decided on three different menus, each with a different "theme" for discussion. 1.) Current Unit of Study - - 2.) Current Events and Digital Literacy - - 3.) School culture and climate. This would allow for me, not only to hit standards, but also incorporate student voice in the current world as well. In my classroom I have a seating design that allows me to move students to different teams quickly and easily. This allows me to have kids in three different groups.

Want a copy of my first menu.... Click HERE for the entire Menu I used for August (and will use again next semester). Each month the menus will change.

The Coffee: I can brew coffee. Sure. BUT I wanted to find a way to involve the community in what we are doing. A way to bring the community into our school. So I started with a little local coffee shop, Moxi Junction. I stopped by one Saturday and talked to the owner. I was hoping she would be willing to "sponsor" our August Final Friday by providing some coffee, in exchange for a little "social media advertising." She was all in! And not just for the month of August. She wants to sponsor each month...AND we're working out a way to have our final, Final Friday (in December) on location at her coffee shop. Awesome! BONUS....the kids were super excited to see "Moxi Coffee" in the room when they walked in. :)

The Results. The conversation was AWESOME. Not only do these kids enjoy having the opportunity to talk with each other, but they have great ideas. Seriously great ideas. They also have concerns. Those concerns should be heard and really considered.

What are those concerns? The same things came up in all groups and all classes across multiple age groups.
  • Homework. They have a lot. Too much. It stresses them out. Over and over again I heard kids say that they have too much homework. 
  • Grace. They want to be treated with grace and understanding. They have insanely busy lives. Much busier than I had in high school, let alone teachers who have been teaching for 25 years or more. They want teachers to understand their unique situations and consider that life is more than just school.
  • Kindness. They want kindness from both teachers and peers. 
  • The future. They want to be successful. They want classes to be relevant to their success. 
  • They want active learning, hands on classes. They hate "sit and get." 

As with many new things that I try in the classroom, I wanted the student's opinions on how they felt the day went. What they would like to see in the future and what topics they want to talk about. Again, they make great points. Overwhelmingly they want to talk about difficult topics that are controversial. They WANT to have these conversations, they want to learn how to disagree and how to respectfully argue. And that's something I can, and will do.

My Final Thoughts:
This was, hands down, one of the best days of my teaching career. Administrators came by to have conversations with kids, engagement was 100% on task. Relevancy was easily apparent. And relationships were built. I can't think of another activity that I have done that allowed me to grow in more of an understanding of my students than this Final Friday activity. I could go on and on about all the things the kids learned and how many skills they began to develop today. But I'm going to stop for now and leave you with this thought...

Kids today are going to change the world in one way or another. What can we do to help them develop the skills necessary to make a strong, positive change?

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Teaching Self-Regulation

I feel like my posts of late on falling into a little trend of teaching students skills that aren't content related, but more "working world" skills. Last week was organization, checking emails and to-do lists (click HERE). This week I'm tackling a whole new skill that I've been wanting to write about it for awhile now, and even though I have a million other things I could be doing. I need to get this out there.

Today's topic that keeps going through my mind is... Cell Phones and Self Regulation.

Students having cell phones has never been an issue for me. When I was teaching middle school, most kids kept their phones in their locker (if they even had one). Occasionally one would go off in class and I'd ignore it. No biggie. HS kids weren't allowed to have them at all.

But things are different this year. I have high school kids coming into my classroom in two weeks armed with a cell phone...that they are very comfortable using. I have gone back and forth on what my 'policy" will be. Most teachers classrooms have one of those calculator hanger things for kids to put their phones in at the start of class. And it's a good policy to have...


(You sensed a but coming, right??)

There's a larger reality to kids having their cell phones than just playing Angry Birds during a teacher lecture. (Dated myself there didn't I...does anyone even play Angry Birds anymore?) The truth is...that cell phones will be (and are) a part of the working world. How many of you, reading this blog have your phone within 2 feet from you? How many people working their jobs right now have their phones on them, in their purse, on their desk or even have it connected to their watches?

I bet it's an overwhelming majority.

The REALITY of cell phones, is that they're here to stay. They are part of the lives of our high school kids and will be when they go off to college and start their first job (although they may look/act different).

Just taking away student's phones doesn't help prepare them for the world out there. The world that is going to expect them to be able to complete tasks, attend meetings, and flat out function while having their phones with them.

They need to learn to self-regulate! 

It is a HUGE and NECESSARY skill, and one that we MUST TEACH! As all of this has been running in my head, I came across this Tweet from Glenn Weibe. Which just gave me even more motivation.

So...I'm going to use my cell phone policy to teach kids how to self regulate. I will have one of those calculator pouches to hang phones in...but it will be voluntary (for the most part). Explaining to students that being able to function with a cell phone on them or right next to them is a skill that they must have in order to be successful in today (and tomorrow's?) world. If they have their phone, they are expected to...
  • Focus on the work at hand 
  • Listen respectfully 
  • Participate in class 
  • Be a good person
If they can't do that (at the ages of 14-17) then, THEY need to recognize the problem and regulate it by placing the phone in the pouches. If they can't recognize the problem...that's where I come in and give them a simple nudge in the right direction. 

Here's the next part... This goes for ME TOO. They will see my phone in there too. Sometimes I struggle to stay focused, when I just want to watch the cute video I took of my kids the previous day. What's good for them is good for me too...I will MODEL self-regulation with the cell phone as much as possible. They need to see that it is possible. And a great way for me to show them the same respect I ask of them in return. 

Author's Note: I am fully aware that this will be a BIG learning year for me. I know that I will be doing a lot of reflecting and adjusting as time goes by. This may be a big flop...but when the need for student self regulation is so great...this is the best way for me to teach it from day one. Stay tuned to see how this plays out!