Launching our Year, Part 1

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This year brings some firsts to me and my school:

  • First year with 6th grade (and everything that now having middle school means for our eventually K-8 school)
  • First year departmentalized, which means
  • First year for me teaching humanities and
  • First year for my partner, Melissa, teaching only math
  • First year for my students following their own individual schedules
  • First time I’ve had more than one class, and 66 students to know (I know this isn’t many in the grand scheme of things)
  • First time I’ve had an advisory group (11 students)

As part of this, Melissa and I, the two main core teachers for this grade, wanted to start our year in a completely new way, both for us and for the students. I’ll be writing here about our first couple of weeks, mostly copying what we’re sending to parents (sorry, I just don’t want to write these entries twice for two different audiences, but I wanted to have it here to get feedback from the larger world).

At the start of a new year, and a new page in the BSI story, we (Stephanie and Melissa) were excited to find out what students felt they needed and wanted to get out of 6th grade. We spent a few class periods developing a vision of our ideal learning environment. Along the way, we’ve gotten to know each other better and have welcomed our new BSIers into the community.

We started by asking students to share about themselves as learners. First they reflected on all of the factors that support a positive learning experience.

Next we asked them to think about less successful or positive learning memories. These were especially important to us as teachers, and they turned into some fascinating conversations among the kids.

The next time we met, we showed them part of our inspiration for this work, this TedX talk by Charlie Kouns, of Imagining Learning.
Next we invited them to discuss some important questions in small groups. We asked:

  • What do you think makes a successful learner?
  • What do you need adults to know about you as a learner?
  • What are the rights of all learners?

Here are some ideas that came out of these conversations:

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All of this talk led to the big question, If anything were possible, what would be an ideal learning environment that you would be excited to join?
Kids worked in groups of three or four to discuss this question and create visual representations of their ideas.
We’ll be sharing these very soon!

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