Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A couple of loved lessons

Here's one from assistant principal Ashby Johnson:

Mrs. Thomas’ creative writing class has been working on creating a blog and literary
magazine to share their writing online. The site is called the J.T. Henley Middle
School Daily Buzz. The 7th and 8th grade students have created the site to inform you
about the happenings at Henley. The blog is written by students with a focus on gaining
knowledge about events, fundraisers, and a wide variety of other topics. The literary
magazine, or Lit Mag, is where our Henley students can share their writing in an online
space for people to read and comment on. All the students have signed up for jobs like
publisher, writer, designer, tech support, editor, etc...so it is truly a team effort. The
students write through Writer’s Workshop in class, peer and self edit, then are able to
publish their writing online. It’s exciting to see how hard the students work in class and
how proud they are when their work gets published. Check out the blog posts and the
first posting in the Lit Mag at this address: http://henleybuzz.weebly.com

And one I saw a little while ago:

Last week I had a chance to stop by Adam Kuchta’s room to check out the work he was
doing with his sixth graders. In case you didn’t know, Adam and the rest of the CTE
teachers in the division are working hard to transform their programs so that they have
a stronger focus on things like engineering and programming. He had a great example
of this change taking place with a challenge for his sixth graders. The students have
been learning how to build and program Lego NXT robots. Last week they were given
a task to program their robots (which had been rigged with a magic marker on one of the
robotic arms) to draw a three and a half inch line on a paper, move seven inches forward
without drawing a line, and then repeat the cycle. Students had previously learned the
basics of the NXT programming software and worked first on their computers to build
a program they thought would meet the parameters of their challenge. In pairs, they
would load the program into their robots, give them a command to start and watch to see
if their program created the hoped for results. Most students that I saw did not get their
robots to perform in the way they had hoped on their first attempt, and this was really
a positive for the kids. They had to analyze the results of their program, problem solve
to figure out how to rewrite their program, and then try again to see if they were getting
closer to their goal. These kids were challenged with an authentic task, worked together
to solve it, and realized that failure is a key part of the learning process. A great lesson
all around!

Building Confidence

One of the best decisions I’ve made in recent years is to volunteer to work as an assistant
coach on some of my kids' Peachtree baseball teams. I started out with them in “blastball”
where a bunch of four year olds hit a big rubber ball off of a tee, run to the one base
that is one the field and jump on it to make a horn blow, moved on to t-ball, where you
keep swinging until you get a hit, everyone runs one base, and the final hitter each inning
runs as if he or she hit a homerun, and to our latest league—rookie ball, which has a machine
pitching to kids and all of the regular baseball rules in place, including runs that count
and winners and losers at the end of the game. I’ve quickly found that baseball is a game
of confidence, and that was certainly on display this past weekend. We have a kid on the
team who has struggled all year to get a hit as we came into our second to last
game. With two strikes during his first at bat, he hit the ball—once the look of
complete shock left his face and he realized what had happened, he took off for first. He
was thrown out by a few inches, but something special happened after that. He got a hit
in each of his next three at bats that day. He felt success, and it was contagious and he
was incredibly proud of how hard he had worked to get there.

When I got home from the game and was reflecting on what had happened, I quickly
began drawing some parallels to the work we do with kids. I think school is a confidence
game in many ways as well. We’ve got some kids who have been “striking out”
at school for a long time—by being in intervention classes since first grade, by failing
SOL tests year after year, by trying their best, but being told that sometimes its just not
good enough. I believe that success can be just as contagious in school as it was on
the baseball field the other day. One of our jobs as educators is to figure out how to create
opportunities for challenge and success for all of our kids—from those who struggle with
grade level material, to those who are right in the middle of the road, to those who are our
among our highest achievers. Getting those kids to see that they can do the challenging
work that we put in front of them can start that snowball of success that can lead to a
brighter future. And we can’t do it by letting up on our standards—that baseball wasn’t
moving any slower when things finally started turning around for our player.
Keeping a positive attitude with our kids, letting them know we’ll never give up on them,
and building their perseverance in the face of challenge will help them immeasurably as
they go through middle school and throughout life.