Thinking outside the box and outside the classroom

My report cards are more or less done. They’re signed and photocopied and sitting on my desk next to the envelopes that already have names on them I just have to put them in the envelopes and I have to make an insert to go with them with some information about them and the parent teacher interview time. So now I get to breathe a little this weekend and think about something other than report cards.

I have a few students who are disconnected from school. There are a few who miss a lot of time or are chronically late and when they are at school, getting them to do actual work is a major chore. Getting them to follow simple rules actually can be frustrating at times. But I’m trying to make connections and get to know them as people so I can help them to feel connected to our school. I know I can’t win them all over but I’m certainly going to try.

When I woke up this morning I had a bit of a brainstorm that is still not quite fully formed so I’m looking for some ideas about how to do this. I want my students to be creative thinkers and I want them to feel like they can make a difference in their own lives and in the lives of others. I want them to feel like they matter and that they are the ones in charge of their own learning.

I was listening to the radio last weekend and they were talking about these creative people coming up with these amazing ideas to help combat climate change. There was one story about someone who lived near a glacier that was melting too quickly and not reforming any more in the winter. The towns around were drying up and people had to move away because nothing would grow. So this person decided to re-form the glacier. He dug deep into the earth on a side of a mountain where the sun didn’t shine in the winter and trucked in tons of snow. Over time, the glacier started to re-form and then in the summer, the sun would melt some of the ice and irrigate the land. Another story talked about people painting the sides of mountains white because the black rocks were absorbing the sun’s heat and melting the ice too quickly, so if the rocks were white, they would reflect the heat and the ice could melt slower.

This is the kind of thinking that I feel we need; people who can come up with new and creative solutions to problems, not just follow what we’ve always done in the past. We’re living in a world of rapid change and we’re going to have to adapt quickly. I feel that we also need people who care about what’s going on in the world and care about what’s happening with other people so that they’ll want to help them and want to come up with solutions.

So my brainstorm this morning was to have some sort of “problem of the week” board, probably on my flip chart and also on Edmodo where I post a problem up at the beginning of the week. All week long they can write down questions or ideas and then we look at what they came up with as a class at the end of the week. I’m not talking closed answer problems or silly math problems like “If Bill had 20 watermelons and John took 15, how many does BIll have? (Better question, why is John taking watermelons?)” – though some I’d like to involve math, but also questions involving science, art, philosophy, real world problems, real school problems and real classroom problems that could have many solutions. I think this is a really cool idea. But here’s my problem, what problems should I put up? What is a realistic problem to ask 9 – 11 year olds to think about? Any ideas?

My other big idea, and it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot, in fact it’s in my professional growth plan for the year, is getting out into the community and having my students volunteer and do more field trips. Again, this is a great idea and I think it will help with my students feeling involved in their learning and all that great stuff but I’m a little stumped for ideas of where to go and what to do. I’ve been thinking about the Syrian refugees though and I’ve been toying with the idea of partnering with the Multicultural Association somehow to have my students help out in some way. They’ve talked about a desire to help and I think, especially with the very multicultural group that I have, that they could be very helpful in some ways, some could even act as interpreters. But again, these are just vague ideas and I need something more concrete. So I’m looking for some help.

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