Wednesday, July 17, 2013

How do we know our students?

We have a group of students in our classrooms.  Who are they?  How do we get to know them and continue to know them?
How do we get started?
We all have icebreakers, but do they do more than break the ice?  Ice breaking is important as we want students to begin to feel comfortable, but if we don't begin getting to know our students from the outset of our class, we're going to lose valuable time that will need to be recovered later.
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, we used Google Earth at the summer program I'm working at to break the ice and learn who the students are as they come from all over the world.  We had them say their names and hometowns and then I plugged their hometowns into Google Earth and we watched the globe turn until it settled on their hometown.  From there they had to tell us their school and something about their school or neighborhood.  Within about 20 minutes, we had traveled the globe and saw where the kids were from and learned something about them and their homes.  We didn't need to break the ice.  The ice had been broken as all the students had spoken to the entire class and had shared something about their homes and we also knew all their names and had some context in which to place them.
In my psychology class at Minarets, we have students present "collages" from the second day on.  They have to create a visual with a number of images that "represent" themselves and then they have two minutes to "present" themselves in front of the class.  This collage project is something I have used for at least 15 years from before the time of technology.  The students explain themselves, have to use visuals to do that, and they have to get up in front of the class and talk about all sorts of different subjects that they don't normally talk about in class.  I make sure that I stay intentionally vague on the assignment and there is no rubric.  I merely say that I'm looking for effort.  I want them to produce their "own" project and with any effort, it should be an easy A.  From the beginning, we've started psychology with the focus on the students.  They have started from their own perspective and we go from there.  However, from a "get to know" perspective.  I have a ton of information to work with as I find a way to teach them.
In my economics/government classes, our students are assigned to complete an interview project.  They are asked to complete the following assignment, Interview Project

Once again, we get to know some of the student's life context right from the start of the class and each student presents something from their life that connects to the class.  Obviously, it's not as intimate as the collage project, but the focus is on the student and the student's perspective is where each student starts.
This is how I start my "regular lane" classes and I do similar, but more academically taxing intro projects in my AP Econ/Government and AP US History classes.  I'll get into those tomorrow.
How do you start your classes in a manner that helps you learn who your students are?  Let me know.  I'd love to hear about you start your classes.

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