Monday, September 29, 2014

The Future is Now!

For the past twenty four hours, my mind has been a whirlwind of ideas.  I've thought about and researched TONS of different ways that I can make my classroom a more fun, meaningful place to be, and I think I've finally come up with what I'm going to do.

On Friday in the PD, we heard a lot about the students having their sights set on the future.  If there's no "end game", there's really no focus.  They've got to have something they're working towards.  It could be as minor as preparing for 5th grade, more in-depth like preparing for high school, or it could be the ultimate end game:  What are they going to do as a career?

I definitely see myself as an "end game" thinker.  I make long term plans, and then think about all the little steps I need to get there.  I mean, hello, I was planning my future career at the ripe old age of five. Even then, I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up, and throughout my school life I prepared for that career.  OK, so things didn't turn out exactly how I planned, but the end game still came out the same.  I just managed to get some more life experience under my belt before my plans all worked out.

I teach 4th grade, so I have a class full of nine and ten year olds.  They're still at that age where the thought of a career is a tiny blip in their radar, but their curiosity is at its peak.  They can imagine themselves as any career they've thought about.  They may not have set their sights on one particular career, but they have interest in the professional world.  People like doctors, lawyers, teachers, football players, fireman, and police officers are exciting people.  They are careers my kiddos show interest in, yet they don't really know enough about any career to make a solid decision about what they want to be when they grow up.  And that's OK.  Very few kids have their futures laid out in 4th grade.  

But, as my mind was in the whirlwind state yesterday, I realized that there's nothing wrong with starting to infuse some career goals and inspiration in to their young minds.  While they are excited about the future, and curious about what they are doing today and how it will affect tomorrow.  I can start to open their eyes about the possibilities that are out there, and give them some motivation about where their lives are heading.

So, that brought me to the idea I plan on using for the rest of the school year (if it goes as well as I hope).  That would be The Future is NOW!  The name of the project I plan on starting with my kids this very week.

This morning, when my little darlings come in to start their day, they will find a short questionnaire waiting for them at their desks.  Each student will select three careers they are interested in.  They will write those jobs down, and then write a short list of things they already know about the job and a short list of what they'd like to learn about the job.  Once I've collected all the answers, I will compile the answers and use them to plan and prepare for each week.

This week, my students will discuss going to Jr. High, high school, and college.  I plan on having a few kids come down from the Jr. High to talk to my kiddos and explain to them some of the things they wish they'd paid more attention to in 4th grade, and the stuff they are still using that they learned in 4th grade.  I also hope to have a high school kid come in to, but that requires some more logistics.  

Anywho, this week will focus on school.  Then, on Friday, each kid is going to put on a cap and gown and take a high school graduation picture.  I want them to have something to envision, something that they can look at for motivation, and I'll display them in the classroom.  

Starting next week, the fun will begin in full force.  Each and every week (maybe every two weeks if we need more time) the kids are going to learn about the careers they wrote on that paper.  Everything we do in the classroom will have some connection to the careers that they selected.  All of the work they do, and the assignments I give will put them in to a career-minded scenario.  Because, I figure, if I want them to understand why they're learning what they're learning... what better way than to make them learn it through a way that's used by adults in careers?

The fun part will be the fact that they won't know what the next career will be until they come to school on Monday morning and find me dressed up as that career.  My hope is that they'll go home each Friday dying to come back on Monday just so they know what their next job assignment is.

My hope is that each Monday I'll get to dress up like a doctor, a lawyer, a police officer, a nurse, a vet, a football player, etc.  Then, for the rest of the week, I'll encourage the kids to dress up somehow.  To get in the spirit of what's going on.

Last night, Peanut and I hashed out some ideas.  She loves stuff like this, so I knew she'd be a great resource.  We discussed how I can bring some of the careers in to the classroom while still focusing on all the skills we're learning.  

She wants to be a lawyer when she's older, so she said the best way for kids to experience what a lawyer does is by having a mock trial.  Having them investigate and prepare evidence, interview people, etc.  Then, maybe another week the students can be police officers and investigate a crime.  Look for evidence, interview suspects, write up reports of their findings, etc.  For the medical field, I can have students study vets and bring their favorite stuffed animal to class each day and discuss the care for those animals.  We can discuss ecosystems, habitats, perform math problems related to medicine their animals may need.  For doctors and nurses, we can discuss some health issues and discuss the human body, preventative care, and how doctors and nurses make people better. 

In reading, we're currently reading Charlotte's Web, and in science we're currently studying ecosystems.  I think a great way to get started with the careers is by picking something like a vet or a farmer.  I know that at least one of the students in my class wants to be a vet when she's older.  So, I think that will be my starting point for next week.  Once I get the kids graduated from high school and had plenty of time to explain what we're going to be doing for the rest of the year.  

I plan on infusing technology in to all this by having the students blog about their experiences each Friday.  They can share what they've learned, what they liked about the job, and any concerns they might have.  Plus, the best part is, the students may only have interest in a few jobs but after we're all said and done, they'd have been exposed to at least a dozen different professions.  My hope is that some kids will get excited about careers they hadn't even thought about.  Then, I plan on having some people from those careers respond to their blogs, answer questions, etc.  I also plan on inviting some professionals in to the class to speak to them, as well.  Plus, there's computer research and Minecraft that I can pull in as well.

I have no idea how this will all play out, and if it will be as successful as I want it to be.  I may get in to it and find that the students just aren't that interested, or they don't jump on board with the same level of excitement that I have.  And that's OK.  I at least want to try.  It will require some serious work and creativity on my part, but I'm willing to put the work in if it means upping the effort and ability levels of my students.  

One of my most favorite projects I did in college was a GRASPS project.  That's basically a two-week themed project where all the learning occurs around a centralized topic.  My topic was The Laws of Motion.  I had to create a two-week curriculum based on the laws of motion, and was given 2nd graders to do it for.  For the entire two weeks, they students were given the role of undercover secret agents that had been hired by the President to uncover the secret of learning Newton's Laws of Motion.  They learned about it in math through measurement, they learned about it in reading and writing by reading about Newton and writing stories as if they were super heroes given the super powers of defying friction or gravity.  They performed science experiments to test the laws.  And, then at the end of the two weeks, they had to work in groups to present their findings.  They were given free reign on how they could present.  I had some kids act out a football game, with an announcer, a football player, and a cheerleader all explaining the three laws.  I had another group that presented as if they were on a talk show interviewing Friction and Gravity, as if they were famous people.  I had a group write a reader's theater.  If was AMAZING.  A topic that usually doesn't get much interest from 2nd graders became a full-fledged project that the kids absolutely LOVED.  

I can do the same with my project.  I can get these kids excited and pumped about different careers.  I can show them how their learning impacts those jobs.  I can prove to them that school is important, and everything they do connects to their futures somehow.  

I'm so excited to see how it goes, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that they love it as much as I hope they do.  And, at the end of the day, if they're still no closer to figuring out what they want to be when they grow up, yet they have some fun and enjoy what they're learning... I'm OK with that.  Because, really, that's all I want.  I want them to enjoy their 4th grade experience.  I want them to find the relevance in their learning.  I want to motivate them to put in the effort and increase their abilities.  And, maybe one day, I can have a few kids come back to me and tell me that they chose the career they ended up choosing because they learned about it in my class.  How awesome would that be?

This morning, I have the feelings inside me that I've missed.  That fire of getting up and being excited and ready to get my day started.  I'm excited, once again.  I'm determined.  And I can't wait to have some fun with my kiddos.

Let's get this day started!!


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