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?

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