A big part of teaching a complex work of literature is directly confronting the battlements that students have erected around themselves. Many students have had bad experiences with Shakespeare, having been made to read it too young, too independently, too fast or as a static old text on the page, not a living play. Many students raise the white flag before the broil has even begins. “Why can’t he just say it?” “Why do we have to read that old English?” Anyone who has taught Shakespeare’s plays has heard some version of these refrains. For many students, “present fears are less than horrible imaginings” for real.
Teaching Shakespeare to catalyze deep thinking and authentic student engagement does require us to be resourceful: to be guide, psychologist, theater director, and scholar among other things. In 2015, we have a whole new set of tools at our disposal – tools that help…
ABOUT once a month I run across a person who radiates an inner light. These people can be in any walk of life. They seem deeply good. They listen well. They make you feel funny and valued. You often catch them looking after other people and as they do so their laugh is musical and their manner is infused with gratitude. They are not thinking about what wonderful work they are doing. They are not thinking about themselves at all.
When I meet such a person it brightens my whole day. But I confess I often have a sadder thought: It occurs to me that I’ve achieved a decent level of career success, but I have not achieved that. I have not achieved that generosity of spirit, or that depth of character.
A few years ago I realized that I wanted to be a bit more like those people. I realized that if I wanted to do that I was going to have to work harder to save my own soul. I was going to have to have the sort of moral adventures that produce that kind of goodness. I was going to have to be better at balancing my life.
It occurred to me that there were two sets of virtues, the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?
We all know that the eulogy virtues are more important than the résumé ones. But our culture and our educational systems spend more time teaching the skills and strategies you need for career success than the qualities you need to radiate that sort of inner light. Many of us are clearer on how to build an external career than on how to build inner character.
But if you live for external achievement, years pass and the deepest parts of you go unexplored and unstructured. You lack a moral vocabulary. It is easy to slip into a self-satisfied moral mediocrity. You grade yourself on a forgiving curve. You figure as long as you are not obviously hurting anybody and people seem to like you, you must be O.K. But you live with an unconscious boredom, separated from the deepest meaning of life and the highest moral joys. Gradually, a humiliating gap opens between your actual self and your desired self, between you and those incandescent souls you sometimes meet.
So a few years ago I set out to discover how those deeply good people got that way. I didn’t know if I could follow their road to character (I’m a pundit, more or less paid to appear smarter and better than I really am). But I at least wanted to know what the road looked like.
I came to the conclusion that wonderful people are made, not born — that the people I admired had achieved an unfakeable inner virtue, built slowly from specific moral and spiritual accomplishments.
If we wanted to be gimmicky, we could say these accomplishments amounted to a moral bucket list, the experiences one should have on the way toward the richest possible inner life. Here, quickly, are some of them:
THE HUMILITY SHIFT We live in the culture of the Big Me. The meritocracy wants you to promote yourself. Social media wants you to broadcast a highlight reel of your life. Your parents and teachers were always telling you how wonderful you were.
But all the people I’ve ever deeply admired are profoundly honest about their own weaknesses. They have identified their core sin, whether it is selfishness, the desperate need for approval, cowardice, hardheartedness or whatever. They have traced how that core sin leads to the behavior that makes them feel ashamed. They have achieved a profound humility, which has best been defined as an intense self-awareness from a position of other-centeredness.
SELF-DEFEAT External success is achieved through competition with others. But character is built during the confrontation with your own weakness. Dwight Eisenhower, for example, realized early on that his core sin was his temper. He developed a moderate, cheerful exterior because he knew he needed to project optimism and confidence to lead. He did silly things to tame his anger. He took the names of the people he hated, wrote them down on slips of paper and tore them up and threw them in the garbage. Over a lifetime of self-confrontation, he developed a mature temperament. He made himself strong in his weakest places.
THE DEPENDENCY LEAP Many people give away the book “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” as a graduation gift. This book suggests that life is an autonomous journey. We master certain skills and experience adventures and certain challenges on our way to individual success. This individualist worldview suggests that character is this little iron figure of willpower inside. But people on the road to character understand that no person can achieve self-mastery on his or her own. Individual will, reason and compassion are not strong enough to consistently defeat selfishness, pride and self-deception. We all need redemptive assistance from outside.
People on this road see life as a process of commitment making. Character is defined by how deeply rooted you are. Have you developed deep connections that hold you up in times of challenge and push you toward the good? In the realm of the intellect, a person of character has achieved a settled philosophy about fundamental things. In the realm of emotion, she is embedded in a web of unconditional loves. In the realm of action, she is committed to tasks that can’t be completed in a single lifetime.
ENERGIZING LOVE Dorothy Day led a disorganized life when she was young: drinking, carousing, a suicide attempt or two, following her desires, unable to find direction. But the birth of her daughter changed her. She wrote of that birth, “If I had written the greatest book, composed the greatest symphony, painted the most beautiful painting or carved the most exquisite figure I could not have felt the more exalted creator than I did when they placed my child in my arms.”
That kind of love decenters the self. It reminds you that your true riches are in another. Most of all, this love electrifies. It puts you in a state of need and makes it delightful to serve what you love. Day’s love for her daughter spilled outward and upward. As she wrote, “No human creature could receive or contain so vast a flood of love and joy as I often felt after the birth of my child. With this came the need to worship, to adore.”
She made unshakable commitments in all directions. She became a Catholic, started a radical newspaper, opened settlement houses for the poor and lived among the poor, embracing shared poverty as a way to build community, to not only do good, but be good. This gift of love overcame, sometimes, the natural self-centeredness all of us feel.
THE CALL WITHIN THE CALL We all go into professions for many reasons: money, status, security. But some people have experiences that turn a career into a calling. These experiences quiet the self. All that matters is living up to the standard of excellence inherent in their craft.
Frances Perkins was a young woman who was an activist for progressive causes at the start of the 20th century. She was polite and a bit genteel. But one day she stumbled across the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire, and watched dozens of garment workers hurl themselves to their deaths rather than be burned alive. That experience shamed her moral sense and purified her ambition. It was her call within a call.
After that, she turned herself into an instrument for the cause of workers’ rights. She was willing to work with anybody, compromise with anybody, push through hesitation. She even changed her appearance so she could become a more effective instrument for the movement. She became the first woman in a United States cabinet, under Franklin D. Roosevelt, and emerged as one of the great civic figures of the 20th century.
THE CONSCIENCE LEAP In most lives there’s a moment when people strip away all the branding and status symbols, all the prestige that goes with having gone to a certain school or been born into a certain family. They leap out beyond the utilitarian logic and crash through the barriers of their fears.
The novelist George Eliot (her real name was Mary Ann Evans) was a mess as a young woman, emotionally needy, falling for every man she met and being rejected. Finally, in her mid-30s she met a guy named George Lewes. Lewes was estranged from his wife, but legally he was married. If Eliot went with Lewes she would be labeled an adulterer by society. She’d lose her friends, be cut off by her family. It took her a week to decide, but she went with Lewes. “Light and easily broken ties are what I neither desire theoretically nor could live for practically. Women who are satisfied with such ties do not act as I have done,” she wrote.
She chose well. Her character stabilized. Her capacity for empathetic understanding expanded. She lived in a state of steady, devoted love with Lewes, the kind of second love that comes after a person is older, scarred a bit and enmeshed in responsibilities. He served her and helped her become one of the greatest novelists of any age. Together they turned neediness into constancy.
Commencement speakers are always telling young people to follow their passions. Be true to yourself. This is a vision of life that begins with self and ends with self. But people on the road to inner light do not find their vocations by asking, what do I want from life? They ask, what is life asking of me? How can I match my intrinsic talent with one of the world’s deep needs?
Their lives often follow a pattern of defeat, recognition, redemption. They have moments of pain and suffering. But they turn those moments into occasions of radical self-understanding — by keeping a journal or making art. As Paul Tillich put it, suffering introduces you to yourself and reminds you that you are not the person you thought you were.
The people on this road see the moments of suffering as pieces of a larger narrative. They are not really living for happiness, as it is conventionally defined. They see life as a moral drama and feel fulfilled only when they are enmeshed in a struggle on behalf of some ideal.
This is a philosophy for stumblers. The stumbler scuffs through life, a little off balance. But the stumbler faces her imperfect nature with unvarnished honesty, with the opposite of squeamishness. Recognizing her limitations, the stumbler at least has a serious foe to overcome and transcend. The stumbler has an outstretched arm, ready to receive and offer assistance. Her friends are there for deep conversation, comfort and advice.
External ambitions are never satisfied because there’s always something more to achieve. But the stumblers occasionally experience moments of joy. There’s joy in freely chosen obedience to organizations, ideas and people. There’s joy in mutual stumbling. There’s an aesthetic joy we feel when we see morally good action, when we run across someone who is quiet and humble and good, when we see that however old we are, there’s lots to do ahead.
The stumbler doesn’t build her life by being better than others, but by being better than she used to be. Unexpectedly, there are transcendent moments of deep tranquillity. For most of their lives their inner and outer ambitions are strong and in balance. But eventually, at moments of rare joy, career ambitions pause, the ego rests, the stumbler looks out at a picnic or dinner or a valley and is overwhelmed by a feeling of limitless gratitude, and an acceptance of the fact that life has treated her much better than she deserves.
Ice crystallized on the windshield, then a tire burst on the way to school, making you late. By the time you arrived, the computer (with the video clip and presentation cued up) froze. Minutes later, Jason pulled the fire alarm while you tried to catch up on parent emails. During lunch duty, an honor student was punched in the nose. Your nose is stuffy while you explain to the principal right before an IEP meeting why your plans haven’t been submitted yet. The day trudges along. . . At last, the final bell rings, and in your first quiet moment of the day, thoughts of leaving the teaching profession suddenly seem, well, right.
It’s that moment when you want to say, “I quit!”
We don’t talk about those feelings because we’re supposed to be like those heroic teacher-as-savior figures that permeate popular narratives about our work. And yet. . .
Here’s a secret. Most teachers, at some point, feel like giving up. Most feel the weight of not having done enough, feel the frustrations of negative media attention, and feel challenged by apathetic or disruptive students. Sometimes, the limits and loneliness of the lighthouse keeper are overwhelming. That’s when the enormity of our task feels insurmountable and we despair.
Driving home from such a day, we can be tempted to call in sick and plan for a sub. Sometimes that’s the right call. But there is another opportunity, too. You can take that empathy and understanding normally reserved for students and focus it on yourself. You can consider some strategies for gently accepting your circumstances, reflecting on what is needed, and preparing to return tomorrow. Consider these strategies:
1. Find a Friendly Shoulder
Call a trusted colleague, preferably one who’s been teaching a long time. Vent. Cry. Laugh hysterically and have a glass of beer or wine. Tell them about your struggles and frustrations. All teachers can recount a story of a crazed student or parent. Just ask them. Take this time to break the isolation of our work. No one escapes from teaching — or for that matter, any profession — without wondering if he or she made the right choice. Not even Teachers of the Year. In other words, dear colleague, you are not alone.
This sounds simple, and it is. Sit with the discomfort and notice it. Acknowledge frustrations of the day and then let them go. Listen to your self-talk and try to be kind to yourself. Practice slow breathing. If possible, carry this habit into your workday. It will create space for less reactivity and a more grounded emotional stance.
3. Plan for Community
Consider pausing the scheduled lesson, and instead, take time to engage in team-building activities with your students. An English teacher that I read about, after weeks of essays and test prep, surprised his 12th grade class with a game of kickball out on the blacktop. The sun shone, the kids ran like mad, and everyone came back laughing. It was crazy, unanticipated, and utterly glorious.
Do stacks of papers line your desk? Are parents waiting for your email? Are there field trip permission slips to process? Is the lab set up for tomorrow? Here’s what to do when the onslaught of tasks overwhelms you — write a list of everything that needs to get done in the next two days. (Yes. Write it down. The physical act of writing provides a sense of control.) Look at this list and choose the top three tasks. These three are the must-dos, urgent actions that will help you survive until the next day. After completing the must-dos, cross them off your list and go to sleep early.
5. Get Perspective
Teaching need not consume you. Devoting all of our waking hours to teaching primes us for burnout. And burnout is real. It happens when the demands and expectations of our work drown out our joy. Your other roles are important, too: friend, spouse, sibling, hiker, reader, dancer, joke-teller, or baker — a million other energizing possibilities. These other facets to your personality might need attention. So forget work over the weekend. Go to the forest or to a ball game. Get a massage. Try not to let happiness slip away. We can be good, caring, rigorous teachers, but sacrificing our personal lives is a costly and unsustainable price.
“There are stirrings of life in discontent,” wrote E.M. Forster, meaning that even in frustration and despair, a small flame wants to warm us. Life — ours and those of our students — nudges us. It is not wild or stormy, and chances are that it’s barely a flicker. And on the worst school day, it may not be felt at all. But trust that life is there. And when you open your classroom door tomorrow morning, you will find it.
I take a full shot straight to the chest. I’m a goner. I go face down, limp as a banquet-hall salad.
Some would say all I did was get hit with a wadded up ball of newspaper and sprawl out on a tile classroom floor.
They’d be wrong. This was enemy ammunition that got me, when I dared go to the end of a dank, rat-infested, noisy, scary, zig-zagged trench carved in the French countryside in 1917.
The temptation and the giddiness of this sixth-grade activity at Moores Mill Intermediate School would be, as teacher Jennifer Sticker acknowledges, “to tell everybody you were in a paper-wad fight. That’s not it. This is a trench-warfare simulation.”
Good enough for me.
Except that I don’t make it to the end of the battle.
The sixth-graders are studying World War I. When the teacher greets you wearing a doughboy hat and camo, as Sticker does, you know you’re in for an experience. She and Pam Dean have adjacent classrooms, teaching the same unit on World War I, as borrowed from a teacher at Hampton Cove.
Through a Teaching American History grant through the Madison County schools, Sticker and Dean have been able to travel to key places and acquire extra material. (“Think any of your readers want to donate some tablets?” Sticker asks hopefully.)
Dean even went to National World War I museum in Kansas City “and it was powerful,” particularly the entrance where visitors walk across a glass floor under which a field of red poppies, the symbol of remembrance of World War I, is growing. Says Dean, “It’s a moment to really stop and reflect.”
“The whole program is about hands-on learning, primary sources, making history come to life,” Sticker says.
“It’s changed my teaching,” Dean says. “It’s going to be as hands-on as you possibly can be. Make it come to life. Make it relevant.”
“They memorize for a test and forget it the rest of their lives,” Sticker says. “Maybe this is something they can take with them.”
Both rooms have desks jammed together in long, straight rows. Seemingly acres of black plastic sheeting cover the desks and the floors. Sticker has been especially resourceful, begging the black plastic from a construction site at her church. Serpentine loops of aluminum foil dangle like tinsel across stretches of twine, simulating barbed wire.
Sticker has battle sounds emanating from a speaker and the din spills over us as she gives us instructions in the hallway. Each of us gets on all fours as we enter the room, the better to escape detection. She orders the boys to one trench, the girls in another and begins to share some lessons about the harsh existence of trench warfare.
That leads to a phenomenon about which sociologists and doctoral students write millions of words:
As Sticker pauses to fiddle with a stubborn computer, nearly all the boys eventually pop up like creatures in a Whack-a-Mole game and pretend to fire guns or heave bombs toward the girls’ trench.
“Hey girls,” cries one. “You can have a grenade.”
Meanwhile, nary a girl rises from their trench to fire a shot.
Sticker shows clips from the Brad Pitt movie, “Legends of the Fall” and a Charlie Chaplin short about life in the trenches. That’s not simply for entertainment purposes. Sticker makes the point between hyperbole and fact, “just to tie in a little bit of language.”
A slide presentation illustrates how elaborate trenches could be, and discusses the various unsavory perils, like rats and trench foot, not to mention enemy weapons.
In the next room, Dean plays scenes from “Flyboys,” about the World War I fighter pilots in the air space above the trenches.
There is the subtle lesson of creativity and grammar, as well. Each of the students is assigned to write a “letter back home,” taking on the role of a soldier trying to express the difficulties yet also minimizing worry.
The class climaxes with the intensity of trench warfare simulation. We’re divided into two teams, the eight boys and 10 girls mixed this time. We’re sent to the two most distant trenches, with two sitting empty in no man’s land. We fire away.
It’s fun, it’s chaotic and noisy. And, no, it can never simulate the horrors of what those trenches must have been like a century ago for the soldiers on both sides of the war. But this piques the imagination more than a chapter in a book.
I never had my chance to write a letter home. But if I did, I’d probably put something in there that the best, most relevant education is in showing and doing, not just telling.
About the series: Columnist Mark McCarter goes “back to school” in this 13-week series, visiting and participating in classes from kindergarten through 12th grade, examining extraordinary educational opportunities for area students. Next week: He faces off against seventh-grade chess experts at Liberty Middle School in Madison. Reach Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org
We all agree resilience is a good thing. Essentially a synonym for pluck, grit, stick-to-itiveness, the ability to dust off one’s knees and get back on the horse or the bike or whatever threw you, resilience suggests positive adaptation, coming through a tough time, coping.
There are communities we point to as being particularly resilient — Sandy Hook, Connecticut, for example — and that’s the rub. To be resilient means a child has endured something horrific or, to a lesser degree, difficult. But there are opportunities that do not require suffering or loss or exquisite pain, and practicing the habit of resilience helps children learn to weather the storms that are an inevitable part of growing up.
The path can’t always be smooth; bumps and boulders help us remember that we are stronger than we know, more capable than we imagined. It’s hard to watch children struggle without jumping in to solve the problem. But when we can avoid making that jump, we help them thrive. Here’s my own list of reminders to encourage resilience in our kids and in myself!
Believe kids are capable and can manage without swooping in to “save” them. Communicate that you believe in her ability to solve a problem. Answer when asked for help; don’t offer advice for what hasn’t been asked.
Shut up and listen. Then ask: Do you want me to do something? If the answer is no, don’t do anything. Invoke the 24-hour rule before reacting. (As my mother used to say, things often really do look better in the morning.)
In books and movies that you and your children or students share, talk about resilience — how did that character cope? What would you do? Invite problem solving about practical dilemmas into daily conversations.
Let consequences run their course. As a parent, don’t try to soften the penalty for a daughter’s late assignment. As a teacher, be firm, fair, friendly and consistent applying consequences. Never shame a child for work left incomplete or some other task left undone.
Take lots of opportunities to talk about empathy, saying, “How would you feel if?”
Make the adage that there are at least two sides to every story a mantra in your home and classroom.
Consistently remind children in your care that even grown-ups make mistakes: we can learn from things that didn’t go so well — learn what to do the next time, learn about ourselves, learn that the sun doesn’t fall out of the sky when we mess up. Model making mistakes so that your students or progeny can see your swift, un-martyr-like recovery.
Kids need to dump: A college child calls, miserable; the parents are frantic — the next night Mom calls, worried, fretful — the child is fine. The storm has passed everywhere but at home as the parents nursed their distress. It is hard to remember that late at night.
Things do blow over if we let them — it’s an art to know when to intervene and when not to.
It’s painful for us to bear witness — we don’t like the feeling of “not doing anything,” but by allowing a child to take the time to work things out on her own, we are doing plenty.
Champion risk taking as long as failure/consequences are neither life-threatening nor permanent.
Kids feel good about what they can DO — chores, taking responsibility at home. They feel competent and needed doing laundry, walking the dog, cooking. Don’t let them off the hook.
As much as I want to swoop in and make my son practice his math facts, I must remind myself that HE is the one who must do the work. It doesn’t help him develop resilience if I am more concerned about his homework than he is. When I step back, I help him take charge. If I do things for him, I cut him off at the knees.
We can’t stand by our children’s side and give them everything — it encourages helplessness, at best, and entitlement, at worst. Our superb schools abound in opportunity. Encourage, suggest, wonder, but allow the student to select what activities to pursue. Resist prescribing. Some things will not go well or be enjoyable — make a contract ahead of time about how long a commitment must be sustained.
From time to time, when the stakes are not enormously high, we must allow students to falter while we stay quiet, watching and listening and breathing — we can’t save them from themselves or their actions; they need to find out how consequences work for themselves — we can’t give them a heads-up about every possibility.
Limitations (like those found in music, poetry) can offer opportunities for stretching boundaries and overcoming obstacles. In structure, there is often freedom — limitations encourage problem-solving and creativity. Remind students that the struggle itself has value
You can’t be a hero unless you go beyond yourself.
Creativity, growth mindset, self-care, purpose, relationship are all components that help children cultivate resilience. For more about this, check out Laurel School’s Center for Research on Girls.
Resilience isn’t a race; we all make progress over the course of our lives. When we cultivate resilience in ourselves, we help our students and children do the same. Celebrate success but do not fear failure. It’s not the mistake that matters; it’s what we learn from it as we move forward that counts.
Ann V. Klotz is head of Laurel School in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and the founder of Laurel’s Center for Research on Girls. You can read her blog on the Huffington Post or follow her on Twitter, @AnnKlotz.
As policymakers, administrators, and teachers, we want the children in our classrooms to be happy, of course. But how much does their happiness really matter when it comes to learning? According to a new study by HGSE lecturer Christina Hinton, Ed.D.’12, the answer is clear: It matters a lot.
Hinton examined the interplay of happiness, motivation, and success in a K–12 setting, and she also looked at the school factors that support student happiness.
Using both quantitative and qualitative measures, she found that from elementary school to high school, happiness is positively correlated with motivation and academic achievement. She also found that the culture of the school and the relationships that students form with their teachers and their peers play an influential role in their happiness.
In order to conduct the study, Hinton collaborated with the St. Andrew’s Episcopal School near Washington, D.C., which educates students in grades K–12. “We developed surveys to collect data on students’ happiness and motivation,” Hinton says. “We also collected qualitative data on happiness and motivation to dig more deeply into the construct. In addition, we collected data on students’ grade point averages. We then analyzed this data to explore the relationships among happiness, motivation, and academic achievement.”
Her analysis found several key associations that open the door to further research on how schools can optimize students’ learning experiences. Among them:
Happiness is positively associated with intrinsic motivation (a personal drive to learn) for all students, and also with extrinsic motivation (outside sources like rewards, praise, or avoiding punishment) for students in grades K–3.
Happiness is also positively associated with GPA for students in grades 4–12.
Happiness and standardized test scores did not seem to be related, but further research is needed to confirm this.
Happiness is predicted by students’ satisfaction with school culture and relationships with teachers and peers.
The finding that happiness is positively correlated with GPA is significant, Hinton notes, because GPA provides a broader picture of academic achievement than standardized test scores, encompassing multiple types of abilities and the influence of social dynamics.
Moving past quantitative scores, the study examined the relationship between happiness and achievement from the students’ perspectives, as well as the source of the happiness that students report feeling in the classroom. “We asked the students what supports their learning, and then we coded the responses for themes,” says Hinton. “Students often reported that happiness, or positive feelings like enjoyment or fun, promotes learning.” They cited many reasons for their positive feelings, including feeling safe and comfortable at school and having secure relationships with their teachers and their peers.
These findings set the stage for important future research, Hinton says, as well as for exploring interventions that can successfully boost students’ overall happiness — and their performance in the classroom.
“In this study, we found that a network of supportive relationships is at the heart of happiness,” Hinton says. “If schools want to support student well being and achievement, they should take seriously nurturing positive relationships among teachers and students.”
When I first became an educator, the term “network” had a different connotation for me when I compared it to other professions. In my mind, it implied we were supposed to reach out to other educators within our building, or perhaps at the district level, to exchange both ideas and resources.
After being selected to Honeywell’s Educators @ Space Academy in 2006, my idea of an educator’s network broadened to include educators not only in other states, but around the world. In fact, after realizing the opportunity, a few of us decided to make our own website to stay in touch and collaborate. It worked so well that my students participated in joint science experiments with students from other states, but they also helped set up an “American style” student council in Romania.
After seeing the value of collaboration, I was eager to be part of the initial cohort at the Dayton Regional STEM Center. This cohort included professionals from K-12 education, higher education, and industry, working together to develop STEM curricula for students in all schools. As a STEM Fellow, you participated in training which includes learning about the engineering design process, as well as touring labs at local universities and industry sites. Working alongside passionate individuals and seeing their amazing work environment was very inspiring. As an educator, I knew that I had to find a way for them to become part of my classroom. And that’s when things changed.
I had lived in self-imposed exile for far too long. I used to think that cross-curricular activities within my building were good enough, but when I saw the value that was added through these highly gifted engineers and scientists interacting with students, it forever changed the way I organized my units of instruction. My idea of a professional network was forever changed.
I started using sites such as LinkedIn to keep track of my professional contacts and building an even bigger network. Additionally, I started the practice of sending home a letter at the beginning of the school year outlining my course of study, which also invited parents to sign up as a potential volunteer/site hosts if their profession seemed to fit within the scope of our studies. Finally, I reached out to former students that were either in college or in their young careers for support. The response that I received was phenomenal.
As a result of leveraging my contacts, not only did the number of visitors coming into my classroom sky rocket, but my middle school students have been active participants and earned experiences that have been much more than just “field trips” at the following sites over the past 3 years:
Mad River Township Fire/EMS
Wright State Visualization Laboratory
Schools of Chemistry, Physics, and Engineering
The Ohio State University Aero/Astro Research Center
Ohio State University Schools of Engineering and Architecture
Air Force Institute of Technology
Once your classroom develops the reputation of engaging the community, entities will search you out. As an example, I was contacted by Jason Kruger of Stratostar out of Indianapolis, Indiana. Even though his company is a couple of hours down the road, through reputation he found us. We worked together with my students to create experiments that would be attached to a high altitude weather balloon that launched into near space. Ovular objects (how fluids behave with changes in temperature and pressure), Dancing Confetti (a study in turbulence as well as sound waves at different altitudes), and the ill-fated AstroCrickets, were our way of conducting authentic engineering and scientific investigations for nearly a month. Our school organized a launch day in which all of the students in the building, as well as parents and local media, were invited to attend. We even had a mission control in which everyone could watch as the real time data from the sensors rolled into our classroom.
The day after our successful launch and retrieval, one of my students — a 12-year-old girl who was very quiet — came up to me and said, “You know Mr. J, I had a great moment yesterday. When my dad came home from work, he asked me what I did at school today. I said nothing big. I just helped launch a weather balloon over 62,000 feet into near space. ‘What did you do?’” On that note, we both smiled then chuckled, and I knew that my extra efforts to reach outside of my classroom walls were well worth the time.
Tom Jenkins teaches both middle school science and STEM in Enon, Ohio. He is a NASA SOFIA Airborne Astronomy Ambassador, Manager of Special Projects at the Dayton Regional STEM Center, as well as the Boeing Science Teacher Laureate for Teaching Channel. Connect with Tom via Twitter: @TomJenkinsSTEM.