Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Amazing Race

In an effort to get to know the kiddos as soon as possible, Melissa (@melissahellwig4) and I do a variety of team-building activities, introduce the kids to the team culture we've built, and make sure that the kids know that their seventh grade school year, if done right, will be different from any year they've ever had in school. It's a tall order but we want them thinking about school differently. When they walk into our rooms, we want them to feel a completely different vibe than they were expecting. We love seeing the looks on their faces when they walk through our doors and take it all in.

The very first project that we do in social studies is our version of The Amazing Race. Each group of kids (we only have tables in class - no desks) becomes a team that will compete in the race. Every group is given one envelope and two resources (atlas and textbook). Inside each envelope is a list of clues and puzzles that, when solved, will take the kids to different places in the world. Kids find out quickly that they must do the tasks in order; being in the correct place after Question 1 is imperative because that location serves as the starting point for Question 2. Each group races around the world as quickly as they can, making sure that, as a group, they solve each puzzle or task correctly.

One reason I like to do this activity early on is that the kiddos are forced into a collaborative situation right off the bat. They learn cooperation and the interdependence of good group collaboration. They cannot be shy with each other anymore after spending three days thinking and solving together in a fun and competitive environment.

I wondered how our new Dry Erase table tops would be used during this activity. The Amazing Race is a paper/pencil activity and I didn't say anything about the table tops. As I walked around the room asking clarifying questions and making sure the kids were deciphering the tasks correctly, I noticed that nearly every group was using their table as a place to jot down thoughts, page numbers, pictures of where something might be geographically and random doodles. Kids were finding their own way to use the tabletops to help in their learning. They needed no instruction from me.

Having Dry Erase tabletops has been eye-opening for me. I watch the kids use them constantly (not always for learning, of course). I also see adults come into my room and after a few seconds, grab a marker and begin to doodle, express some of their ideas or otherwise use the space. I think this is one of those "If you build it, they will come" cases where having the tool there for everyday use encourages its everyday use. Kids and adults don't have to stop what they're doing and get out a tool to show their table mates something; they just grab a marker and go for it. It's been an interesting first few days in our learning space and I'm interested to see how learning evolves over the course of the year with all of the tools we'll have available to the kiddos. Here's to the promise of a new year!

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