Scrabble, Operation Beautiful and Reflection

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This week has been a whirlwind and I think I just need to reflect on all that happened. I have an amazing school librarian. He is more than just a source for books. He is thoughtful, sarcastic and his heart is in the right place- with the students. He and I were chatting a few weeks ago about classroom expectations and assessments and I told him about one of my middle school teachers who used to do vocabulary study with Scrabble. We would draw teams and tiles and he would give us a few days to plot on the words we could make and how we were going to approach strategy for the game. I remember it as a highlight of my 7th grade year, along with Capture the Flag for and Debate. He was just an amazing teacher who did PBL before it was PBL. As Page, my librarian- ironic but actually his name, and I were reminiscing, I thought about how I could bring that Scrabble idea into my classroom and what the results would be. Page is a crossword puzzle lover so we plotted a day for Scrabble tourney and Crossword Puzzle Race. There would be vocabulary, trivia, team-building and competition- all great things for today’s classroom.

On Monday, I announced the game day and allowed students to form their teams. The competition that ensued for certain members of the class who read a lot and have good vocabularies was hilarious. We even got to the point in one class where a student who was hotly sought after told me the team he would be on privately so we could do a surprise reveal on Game Day. When Wednesday arrived, I even had a student come to my room with dictionary in hand before school. She had been studying it the night before- you can’t pay for this kind of engagement! Before class started, Page and I explained the rules of Scrabble and drew numbers for turn order. The teams then put their heads together to come up with team names. We had the Winter Wordsmiths, the Cocklydoodledoos, Team Buddy, the Scramblin’ Scrabblers, Team Panda and many more. The energy in my room was electric. The teams played their first round of words and you could see each team strategizing based on the board. They would walk up to the table and then run back to their teams to confer about their next moves. We even had some word challenges! As the letters dwindled, the competition rose. Students were jumping up and down in celebration as they finished their letters, crowd-surfing- or as much as you can do that in a classroom- as they won challenges and talking smack to each other as the point totals edged closer. Page and I laughed the entire time! It was one of the single-most fun activities I have ever run in my classroom. There were many requests for a repeat next nine weeks! We ran out of time for the Crossword Race so next time I will structure it so there is a time limit for each team as they place words. I could see this working with vocabulary lists for novels, history units, science units etc. It would take a little more structuring as far as letter drawing, but it could be done and the team-building/collaboration skills the students gain would make the extra work worth it. As a bonus, activities like this would be a good mini-lesson for the type of teamwork necessary for the 20 Time projects my students participate in.

Wednesday was a big day. In addition to the rousing Scrabble tournament, students also turned in their Operation Beautiful projects. I asked students to commit a random act of kindness that would brighten someone’s day between Thanksgiving and December holidays. Their only restriction was they had to document it in some way to show myself and their classmates. The activities they chose were just amazing. Many stayed with the post-it note idea but put them in unique spots, while others baked and still others “Paid it Forward” at a local McDonalds. Below is some of their “evidence” they submitted. The results of this assignment reinforced for me the importance of incorporating character-building and humanity into curriculum. We aren’t just teaching students; we are teaching human beings. Enjoy!

Doug 1

 

Courtney Martin Operation Beauitful

Howard and Sean 2

Lauren Carla Hannah 2

 

Lindsei Hamilton2

Hannah Jackie and Haley 5

Martha 2

Josh and Claudia 6Josh and Claudia 2

Martha 1

Josh and Claudia 1

It all started with a post-it note….

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The fat flakes of snow are falling outside my classroom window and many students stayed home today. It feels like a good time to reflect on what happened in the classroom this week. It seems cliche but when the holidays come around I feel a need to get my students in touch with what we should appreciate but maybe don’t always take the time to. I did this personally with my daughter this week. I slipped a note in her lunchbox letting her know how beautiful I think she is and how lucky I am to have her as a daughter. She one-upped me by leaving the above note in my lunchbox. As I read it my heart warmed and I realized we don’t do this kind of thing enough- appreciating each other. Not just myself, but everybody. It made me think about how I could take this idea to my students. I started researching on the TED site and came across a talk that drew me in.   Candy Chang’s TED talk about discourse in public spaces caught my eye and then held my captivation. I knew after watching it I wanted my students to be inspired by it as well. Chang focuses her art on public spaces that have been neglected or abandoned. She invites the communities surrounding those structures to come together and share their thoughts and feelings in a public way.  Below is a picture from her website “Before I Die” depicting one of her public art spaces in New Orleans.

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We watched Chang’s TED talk in class and then created or own public art piece to hang in the classroom for all my students to see. I was impressed by how much time each student took to decide what they wanted to write. I shared my sentiment on the board as well- to visit the 10 most unique bookstores in the world.

IMG_1164When we finished the students lamented how much they wished we could do this like the original and create a chalkboard space for the whole school to add to. I told them I would talk to administration and see what they say about creating a public art space for aspirations and dreams. So often we keep much of our internal thoughts and dreams to ourselves. I think projects like this can be unifiers. I saw that with my students as they read eachother’s private hopes. It brought us closer as a classroom community and sparked some great discussion about gap years and what we really want out of life.

Chang’s TED talk was a great segway into the other activity I wanted to introduce to my classes- Operation Beautiful. Our nation has experienced deep tragedy at schools across the nation over the last few years and much of it is attributable to bullying. Our school has experienced some of this tragedy first hand and we seem to always be asking the question “What can we do to help our students?” As I was planning this week’s activities, I came across the below news story about a girl from Calgary, Canada who was bullied and found a different answer for her bullies:

I love the message of this video and subsequent campaign and I wanted my students to think about how they treat each other and those people they encounter outside of my classroom. Sunday I went to my local Staples and bought all of the motivational post-its they had. The motivational post-it line has a quote on each note that imparts some sort of thoughtful message. After we watched the video and explored the Operation Beautiful website, I brought out the post-its and explained the task I charged my students with. Their assignment is to find some way to perform an act of decency for another human being between now and December 15th. I offered them the option of the post-its, suggested venues and talked about the different types of activities they could initiate to fulfill their task. Some planned to hand out inspirational messages outside of our local Rescue Mission, others have plans to go to the public library and leave notes in books and others went immediately out to start their acts. It was inspirational to see the conversations about the great things they could accomplish between now and December. Part of their assignment is to document their random acts of kindness in some way. On December 15th we will have a Humanity Showcase. I will make some goodies and the students will share all the beautiful things they have done over the month. I can’t wait to see what they come up with. So often as teachers we get caught up in the curriculum and the skills that we forget we are teaching humans. It is not part of the standards, but the greatest thing we can impart to our students is how to be humane.