An End of the Year Project that ALL Classrooms Should Commit to Implementing

The school year is winding down. Standardized testing season is over (unless you are finishing up your AP exams this week). Summer is upon us. Thus, it is the perfect time to implement an authentic learning experience, a project based learning unit, or a learner led challenge. Whatever you want to call it, makes no difference to me. What does a make a difference, and what can make a huge difference in the lives of your learners, is my pitch to you for implementation during the last week or two of school.

The Impetus for My Idea:

I am the mother of two elementary school aged daughters. You may have read my references to them in past posts. I am also the friend to countless other women who have daughters and sons. Over the course of the last several weeks, one prominent theme has emerged from conversations with my friends and with my own girls. Kids, this age, can be very mean and excluding of their peers. It certainly isn’t a new phenomena. I remember those days, vividly. I’m sure you do, too. Were you the one who was excluded or were you the one doing the excluding? In any case, we know that these formative years can have a lasting impact on the future “me.”

This Mother’s Day morning included a heartbreaking conversation. My first grader revealed to me that kids call her “weird” and that she feels “invisible.” (She is different from the other kids in her class. She spends her afternoons in second grade and in her gifted class. She’s more mature than her first grade peers and outperforms her second grade classmates.) Similarly, my fifth graders told me that the kids on the playground tell her she can’t play with them because she is too nice and that she’s weird for spending too much time in the horse barn.

I’m not sharing this story to gain sympathy. I’m sharing this, because I know those of you reading this know of a kid in your classroom that has experienced this same feeling of loneliness. Maybe it has been your own son or daughter that has shared a similar secret. Many of my friends have expressed identical concerns about their own children. Next year, we start middle school and I don’t know what to expect.

Last year, my former district, Central York, gained the national spotlight for the Buddy Bench Project that was spearheaded by a first grade student.  It is an amazing example of an authentic learning experience that was learner initiated. It is also an example of what most schools don’t allow to occur within the context of the school day; the opportunity to allow kids to direct their own learning. It is something that I advocate for on a daily basis.

While I would love to see Buddy Benches across the nation, I don’t know that a Buddy Bench is right for every school. Maybe at the middle school or high school level, we need something different. Perhaps, at the elementary level, the Buddy Bench is only one example of the power that learner led solutions to problems can create. Imagine the “what if….” What if you asked your learners: “How can we become a more accepting classroom/school/or community?” Think about the possibilities in their responses! Think about the “invisible” learners that may not feel so invisible anymore.

Ensuring Your Content and Standards are Addressed:

Here are just a few ideas of where you might allow learners to uncover the connections to content and standards. Of course, it will depend on the grade level. You may even decide to make this a whole school authentic learning experience to end the school year or begin the 2015-16 year.

ELA: Writing and Literacy

Social Studies: Citizenship, Discrimination, and Psychology

Math: Measuring (if you create a Buddy Bench)

Art: How could you not include this???!!!

In reflection: 

I know that during my classroom tenure I had countless learners that could have benefitted from this type of an experience. The sad thing is that I didn’t think that I had enough of time or that it was my responsibility to promote something of this magnitude. I wonder, if I had, how many of my lost teenagers would have been found.


Posted in Authenticity, Learners.

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