Group Work as Practice for “Reality”

Before a long post, a few succint points –

  • We’re doing excellent work so far.
  • Every group has problems.
  • Those problems serve as teachable moments.
  • I have solutions for those problems!
  • No knives or cutting utensils in school.
  • Room 104 is open from 3-4 after school next week.  Sign up.
  • Ask me if you have any questions!

We’ve got 32 groups constructing 35 different buildings right now.  Generally speaking, progress is very good.  We do notice – both teacher and students –  problems some groups have.  Perhaps your group is one of these (read only what you need):

  1. One person is doing all the work.  Some people have  a high standard and/or ambitions on this project.  While they may think they are doing the group a favor by taking it home and doing it better there, they are excluding members from the group.  An excellent student with a high expectation is a great example for his/her peers.  Get together at someone’s house and do this together so we can learn from one another.  COLLABORATION is a goal of this project as much as the actual product is.
  2. One or two people aren’t doing their share.  I sit with each group everyday.  People who have not brought their materials, done their jobs, or worked are academically penalized.  Students who ARE doing their jobs should be sure they’re including everyone in the work, even those unwilling to work.  If I don’t see something, students need to communicate with me so I can address the problem.  That’s my job, and a valuable lesson of this project.  Ignoring it or hoping it goes away are foolish decisions that only lead to more problems in the future.  (please see #4 for more bout this)
  3. Some people are unhappy with (what’s looking like) the finished project.  Part of group work/collaboration is compromise.  If a student insists that their idea be implemented, then others will do the same and no collaboration exists.  We won’t always get our way.  Instead, making suggestions asking “What if we did this?” or “Do you think this would look better?”  or “I think that this could look better, can we do this instead?”  One person’s idea of a bad job is another’s idea of excellence.  Be careful not to insult one another.  And I’M here, too!  Ask me – I’ll tell you what grade you will get if turned in as-is.  I could put your worries at ease with a good review, or help your peers understand your perspective with a critical one.
  4. My mistake: too much time between workdays. Some groups lost touch with each other, worked out of sync with one another, and lost momentum.  For this reason, I will allow kids to now work in class on this until the 10/2 deadline.  I will also allow them work on this in my room after school until 4:00.  Students must sign up outside my classroom.  I’ll take the first 20 who do so.  Additionally, we’ll be grading the kids on their production each day.  Since we’re spending so much time on this in class now, we need to hold them accountable.  Students working hard all period receive a 10 out of 10, those not will get the appropriate grade.

Tomorrow, I’ll post some construction pictures.  As I’ve stated before, you would be impressed with how well 90% of our students are working with one another, sharing ideas, delegating work, and developing a harmonious team.  I’ll post some pictures since you can’t be here to see it for yourself.

I sit with each group/individual nearly every day.  I know what each group is doing, how they are progressing, and solve problems with all of them.  Feel free to ask me for an update, clarification on what your child (or you) perceives as a problem, or to help solve a problem.  I check my mail often, so feel free to bug me!  Some groups have big problems, some have no problems, and some groups just can’t get along!  These are parts of this project, and any group work.  I wish they didn’t happen, of course, but they provide for critical experiences to improve their collaboration skills.  As we near the deadline and anxiety increases over the project I will give them all the time I can to work on this and ease their minds.

And students – don’t forget our goals and objectives with this project, too!  While learning about Chicago is important, so is learning how to work with one another.

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Urban Planning Simulation

As we build our knowledge of Chicago’s history, we must first build Chicago.  One of the most stressful issues is one of urban planning – what to build, and where to put it.  It’s not nearly as simple as that, especially in Chicago.  Since our unit is inspired by Burnham and Bennett’s Plan of 1909, we’ll simulate what they did: design a harmonious city.  Below are the two worksheets that we’ll use to do that today.

This is what our students did with this activity today:

Also, I added a new item to the Links at the right.  Look at “City Planning Games” for fun, mostly free, sims-like games that allow you to build a city.  My childhood favorite was Caesar, and my college obsession was Age of Empires.  I don’t think AOE is free, but Casesar is.  Enjoy!

Power of Children

Last night at home, I prepared an awesome lesson.  I was very excited about it.  When I got to school, the software didn’t work as I planned.  Entire lesson was ruined.  But that’s cool, because the more I thought, the more the closed door opened another.

We’re participating the the Memory Walk on 9/26, and lots of kids are interested, but many teachers (myself included) fear that they didn’t quite know what they were supposed to do.  Or what Alzheimer’s (not OLDtimers) is.  Today’s failed lesson allowed me to do another.  It’s both a lesson in civics, in our nation’s principles, and our 6 pillars of character; motivating our students to do good for others.

We began class with a newspaper article about children raising $50,000 for a cause.  Middle school kids.  $50 grand.  That’s powerful stuff.  We discussed our reactions, and discussed what kids can do to for others.  Kids have great powers of persuasion (with iPods, cell phones, clothes and such as evidence!)

We then watched a video about Alzheimer’s  (below).  We outlined 5 clear facts that we can use in our “persuasions” to possible donors.  Tons are in this video.

Next we discussed who we can raise the money from, and methods to get donations (below). These ideas are also on the “Memory Walk 2009” portion of the page.

And finally, we watched another video about a 13 year old girl with a mother suffering with Alzheimer’s.  It’s perhaps the most emotionally compelling as aspect of the lesson, and students were moved by it.  Just a great video.

It’s a pretty simple lesson – here is an example of your potential.  Here is a cause.  Go make a difference.  It’s what responsible citizens need to do for one another.  Empowering students to be organized, have faith in themselves, and become passionate about a cause is a lesson no textbook can do.  Hopefully this is the beginning of a year (and lifetime) full of doing good for others.

9/16 Project Checkpoint

I received an e-mail today regarding a student’s concern with finishing the project on time.  Is this happening with more students?  Hopefully, some of this information (as I shared with the concerned party) can help ease some anxious young minds.

  1. We have 5 more work days.  5 days x 40 minutes = 200 minutes.
  2. Final Project is not due until 10/2.  That includes 2 more weekends.
  3. Checkpoints (9/16 & 9/23) and designed to assess progress.  Projects do not have to be done, but just have progress towards completion shown.
  4. Individuals are accountable.  If students do not complete their work, they are penalized in the gradebook, their parents are notified, and placed on the “strike” schedule.  Students who strike out are removed from their group and work alone, with no penalty to their group.

As you can see, we have a good amount of work time remaining.  When we work on Wednesday, I’ll sit with each group, as I have every other work day, and monitor their progress.  I work with the students, so rest assured they’re not doing this alone!

Please e-mail or comment on this post if you have any questions!