We’re Being Invaded!!

Last week, one of the schools I work with put on an Invasive Species Conference. The conference was the culmination of a 6 week long PBL the 4th grade students were working on. Fourth graders have been studying about ecosystems and focused on invasive species in Michigan and their impact on Michigan’s ecosystem. Students were tasked with presenting at a conference whose attendees were 3rd grade students from the feeder school for Sheridan Road. The fourth grade students spent many weeks and countless hours working on their conference. They researched, created informational brochures, made presentation boards, found links to videos and and pictures, made giveaways for the 3rd graders, and practiced their presentations.

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All of this hard work culminated in an awesome event that had everyone excited and engaged!

The event started just like a real conference, with the attendees checking in, getting a name badge, and a tote bag.

photo 2 (1)The event kicked off with a welcome video and introduction of the principal. Then, the students were off to explore. Several 6th grade students were docents, leading the groups of 3rd graders to various presentation boards. To make sure no group was without someone to present to, we created a schedule that all the docents and groups had, so everyone knew when it was time to move to the next group. It went really smoothly, the 4th graders did a great job, and the 3rd grade students were really engaged – taking notes, asking questions, and actively listening. It was a HUGE success!

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The conference ended with a Kahoot game as a fun way to wrap up and check how much the 3rd graders learned. Everyone involved had a spectacular time! Later, parents were invited to come see what the students had done, which was a great way to increase our community involvement. What a fantastic way to wrap up before winter break!

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The first project I got to work on this year was part of a school-wide Project Based Learning (PBL) unit that centered around the creation of a mini-mall. Sheridan Road STEM is a brand-new school in many senses of the word. There are new staff, new furniture, shiny fun new paint on the wall, new technology, and a whole new way of thinking about what school looks like. While there are all these changes, the school playground is dismal. There are not many things for students to do, the equipment is old and rusted. The “entry event” for this PBL was to show a video on Octoball. The goal was to use the money raised from the Sheridan Road Mini-Mall to purchase the materials to build their very own Octoball court.

This project involved the entire school as well as the wider community. Students began by researching products they could make themselves and then sell. They then had to decide on a list of materials, a budget, write and present their business proposal to local community leaders like the Superintendent and School Board members, and decide how much to charge for their product in order to pay back their initial loan and make a profit. Read more about their business plan meetings here. 

Once students began to make their products, I worked with them to help them film commercials to market and sell their products. It began with a brief overview tutorial of iMovie on the iPad. The majority of students used the trailer templates so they spent the majority of their time working on making the video and not on learning all the ins and outs of iMovie. The trailers are so easy! They are pre-set templates with transitions, music, and cast shots built right in! Kids had a lot of choices – from a Horror theme to Action Adventure, to Bollywood themed trailer templates.


Photo courtesy of J. Benavides http://www.srstem.edublogs.org

To help the students create their commercials, we had them look at the storyboard template, make a list of photos they would need, the text of their message, and the order things would go in. Students practiced, edited, and, when they were finished we made a YouTube playlist where we uploaded the commercials and used the playlist the night of the event to show all the commercials to the visitors to the mini mall.

The culmination of this event was a shopping mall. Each group set up their table with their products for sale. They had signage displaying their prices, many of the workers were wearing their products, and they were very excited to sell what they had made. The entire night was an awesome success. Aside from the sense of ownership all the students felt over their products, they learned so much throughout the process. Students used math to figure out their budget and inventory, they had to work together to create their products and marketing plans, they used their public speaking skills to present their business plans, and they successfully sold products they made. At the end of the unit, students wrote reflections on the experience.

Students were able to raise over $1200 toward their new playground! More importantly, they were able to take complete control of their learning and make it meaningful for themselves. What an awesome experience for everyone involved!

Community Connections – ENTH and the RDC

Yesterday, I had the opportunity work with 8th grade students who are in the midst of a project researching immigration in the United States. Rooted in the 8th grade Social Studies content standards, students work in small groups to research the reasons for immigrants to emigrate to America. In addition to looking at the reasons for the movement, students also analyze the cultural, political, economic, and social impacts that the immigrant groups experienced. They also look at ways immigrant groups impacted the United States’ politics, culture, society, and economy.

Later, students will take a look at a local organization, the Refugee Development Center. According to their website, “the Refugee Development Center was started in 2002 in an effort to provide the educational and social support refugees need to become self sufficient.” Since its beginnings, the RDC has grown tremendously, which speaks to both its need in the community and its ability to assist refugees. Part of the New Tech model that 7th and 8th grade students are engaged in at Everett New Tech High (ENTH) includes building connections to the community. Students had the opportunity to listen to a guest speaker from the RDC to learn a bit more about what the organization does. Many students attend school side by side with students from a variety of countries, so the connection is very real for them.

While the immigration to our country as a historical event is interesting and its impacts can be seen in our culture and society today, it is still somewhat distant and abstract. Learning about the difficulties and hardships that happened “back then” doesn’t always resonate with students today. By connecting the experiences of immigrants in the past to the experiences of refugees who come to Lansing and utilize the RDC, students will have a deeper understanding of the types of challenges immigrants experience when moving to a new place. As a way to support the work the RDC does, students will work on creating materials to help improve awareness of the RDC and its programs.

It is so inspiring and refreshing to see kids connected to their learning! There are so many awesome things happening in our local schools. I am excited to be a part of it, to support students, to work on harnessing technology’s powers to improve student achievement and to increase the awareness of what our brilliant students are doing.