Monday, August 29, 2016

Welcome back!

Welcome back, everyone!  I'm so excited to start a new school year, and hope you are too!

Much like your classroom, I'm sure there are many different readers here; some of you might be reading my blog for the first time, others are returning readers.  Welcome, all!

Like many of you I've been actively returning to the hustle and bustle of school, classes, meetings,  rosters, parent e-mails, meetings, lesson plans, and meetings.

Throughout it all, there seems to be something consistent with the first day of school: Building culture. Here is the phrase I see floating around the interwebs:

"Day one is for culture and team building! Save content for day two!"

Unfortunately what this means, intentionally or unintentionally, is "We need to build our culture, but then get on to more important things. One day of team building is plenty!"

Here's my question: Why do team building activities have to be a SEPARATE component from content?  I'd argue that if you are doing true team building and experiential learning these concepts are one and the same.

What do I mean?  Here is one of my day one activities. I introduce the lesson something like this:

OK, I want to get to know each other and for each of you to get to know each other as well.  Many times during the year we will be making a circle with our chairs.  A proficient group can do this in 30 seconds, but this is our first go, so I'm certainly not expecting 30 seconds today.  Let's see what our baseline time is.  Any predictions?"

Generally, I'll get times from 15 seconds to 4 minutes.  I then say time will start when I say go, but we have to be in ready position (a common vocabulary phrase for our school) for me to say go.

This year my first block's time was 1 minute 48 seconds, and my second block's time was 1 minute and 4 seconds.

We do a few other activities (which I will outline in future blogs!) to help build the classroom atmosphere.

The next day I tell them we will make a circle again, and I review and post their time from yesterday on the board.  I have them think and plan in their table groups for a few moments, get them in ready position, and then say go.  Here were the times from day two:

Block one: 49 seconds, block two: 32 seconds

We then process this activity.  I have them turn and talk about why so much time came off the clock.  After some discussion, they share their thoughts. Here are three words that invariably come up in the conversation:

  • Communication
  • Planning
  • Practice

I wrote these words on chart paper and put this in the center of the circle.  We discuss how these words helped us get closer to that 30-second goal.  It leads to a great discussion about what these words mean.

From there I asked them if these words applied to being a math student, then had them turn and talk again.  They were able to make many connections between this activity and the classroom.  Students talked about how they will have to communicate during work time, but also communicate if they are struggling.  They talked about planning out problems instead of just diving in.  They talked about how the more they practice, the better they will get.

These words become the mantra (rules) of our classroom.  When we're struggling, we go back to these words.  This team building activity isn't just a one-and-done; it becomes a central theme of the year.  Team building isn't something to do, but like all of your other lessons requires thought, planning, and purpose.

How do you use team building? How can you integrate it into your curriculum?