Today is Easter Sunday, and the last day of my April Vacation week (because I'm in Massachusetts). Tomorrow is the beginning of the Descent Into Madness: eight weeks of eighth grade, with a group that thinks they're already done. Oh no, darlings, I'm not finished with you yet! However, off-and-on standardized testing days throughout our middle school will disrupt the schedule in various ways until Memorial Day. About half my students are members of a spring sports team, so that also distracts them. The warming weather will spread spring fever, senioritis, and other contagious diseases. And honestly I melt mentally and physically in the heat* because I am made of Viking/Saxon blood. Nevertheless, I shall persevere as long as possible to keep teaching these students. I am a bad babysitter; I'm not a camp counselor.
* anything above 70 degrees
At the beginning of March, we started an "action civics" project. I have never done anything like this before. It's like PBL on Twitter-infused steroids. <--terrible analogy Following the Generation Citizen curriculum, I am supposed to guide students toward making systemic change on a community issue. That usually means each class is trying to advocate for a specific legislation bill, or pushing the city/town government to provide better services. It's truly authentic work .... but it is also truly exhausting and authentically frustrating.
Here's the flipping part: I got things started a couple days after February Vacation with this video lesson. Instead of assessing for understanding, I used the video assignment to introduce the concept of the project, preview a timeline for the new unit**, and direct them how to perform a few specific tasks in their booklet. I'd say this was about 90% successful: a handful of students (the usual suspects) forgot / neglected / avoided the assignment, but overall I got very good results to start this unit. I will definitely use this strategy again.
**which turned out to be completely false
Section 1: low-income families
Section 2: affordable housing
Section 3: homelessness
Section 4: underage vaping
Looking back, I wish that I had flipped the next steps, but since this is my first attempt at a civics project, I didn't yet know enough about what students needed to know and do. (That is a crucial element for flipping instruction: you gotta know what essential knowledge/skills the students need to learn. And flip that.) They spent a couple weeks in small groups researching articles, calling & emailing people, and conducting surveys. All that work still left us with some important informational deficits, so I assigned pairs to research answers to some specific questions about their issues. That also ended up with variably successful results. [I am skipping over a lot of details here.] Before the vacation, we were basically at the end of Step 03 in the picture above: they have made a plan for what to do about those issues.
Section 1: encourage for the city government to improve its food distribution services
Section 2: push the city to provide more units of affordable rental housing
Section 3: advocate for a state legislature bill to guarantee rights for all persons experiencing homelessness***
Section 4: advocate a bill in the state legislature that restricts access to flavored vapes (and possibly also a ban on nicotine-salt vaping pods like Juuls)
*** We all learned together that is a more appropriate term than "homeless people"
This has been a challenging project for me for many reasons. The ***item that I indicated above is just one of dozens of things that I have needed to learn, along with my students. Ugh, sometimes it feels like my first year of teaching To Kill a Mockingbird (in 2005), when I was reading the book just a couple chapters ahead of the students. I didn't know how the book ends before we started, so I missed lots of clues and allusions. Not quite as egregiously, but still significant, I didn't know until just a few days ago that our local state representative is the Chair of a major joint committee on children and families. Oops!! Next year, I will know this and so many other things that can streamline the process. Also, since I have never personally advocated for legislation or worked for a civic organization, there are legislative deadlines and protocols that I didn't know beforehand. Nope, sorry kids: it is much too late in the session to write and submit a new piece of legislation! That deadline passed in January. Lots of stories to improve my instruction next year .... but right now it just sucks. I have mild hopes for their success, but must act positive and keep cheerleading for victory. We can reflect and evaluate later....
I decided to deviate a bit from the prescribed curriculum for the next few weeks. We gotta wrap this up at the end of May, because there is a citywide Civics Night on May 28. Additionally, my content partner and I want to provide a similar showcase during the school day, in which all students can participate (since not everyone can join a 6-8pm event). However, we have a minefield of standardized test dates that pockmark the middle school's schedule most days between April 23 and May 24. I must be realistic about what students can (and can't) get done during class time and as homework.