Top 10 Lessons of 14-15

Post date: May 31, 2015 2:36:00 AM

Every website in the universe does a Top 10 list at the end of the year. Well, my year doesn't end in December so it never made much sense. My year is ending now and this seems like a great way to reflect back on it. I'll be doing a few at a time counting down. I want to start a couple honorable mentions, however. These are not necessarily history lessons (though one of them I plan to do next year) but I feel they deserve to be discussed. So, here we go!

Honorable Mention #1: Kindness Assassins

One of my favorite books is Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal. In it she discusses how games can make us better people. One activity in particular, Cruel 2B Kind she called it, really stuck out to me as something we could do. I took her basic idea and changed it up to work for my class.

My Elective class was randomly assigned a "target" in class - myself included. The goal was to be so kind to your target that they would write your name down as their assassin at the end of the week. Too easy right? You just tell them who you are and bam - done. Well, not quite. Students earned 3 points if their target guessed them correctly but they also earned one point for everyone in class who guessed them as well. That means if you were nicer to a random person than their assassin was then you would get extra points while denying them from the assassin. It also meant that if you told anyone who your target was you wouldn't get any additional votes. I really wanted to push them to do amazing things so I made the winning stakes pretty high. Our winner would take home $50 with second place taking home $20.

We started the week by doing some brainstorming on how to be kind. Here's the list my kids came up with. I kicked off the next day by placing candy and personal notes on 8 or 9 random desks around the room. Of course all the students immediately thought I must be their assassin - but I couldn't be for all of them. This was very important to model to them how this would work. I then introduced the Kindness Logs that they would keep. I did 8 or 9 more the next day - this time including my target. I did this until each student had gotten a personal note from me. While I was doing this they were doing great things for me and for each other. I was given Skittles, a couple Slim Jims and plenty of hugs. Many kids offered to tie my shoes - even when they were tied! They got even more elaborate with each other. By the end of the week desks were laden with huge gift baskets and compliments on literally everything imaginable were flying around the room.

After our logs were done we did a final vote as a class using this form. (It may be a bit dark but I adore the logo!) I went around the room and had each student announce their number 1 candidate for their assassin. At that time the assassin would reveal him/herself and points were awarded. Since I didn't know who each target was this was the right way to do it. This opened up some great discussions as I regularly asked what the person did to earn the vote. A few times when the assassin was revealed the targets were notably shocked as that person hadn't done anything for them. Lesson learned.

I did not win our competition though I came a strong second. I was also wrong about my assassin. I was absolutely sure I was right but nope. Our winner was a quiet, unassuming boy who honestly few of the kids in class had interacted with previously. I'm glad I didn't win. I'm far more glad with the energy and joy it brought to my classroom for the duration. It went so well that my neighboring teacher decided to run the game with his Elective class as well. He reported equally compelling results.

This lesson taught the kids a ton about the little things they could do to be kind. Sure, it was motivated by a reward but once they got going that honestly faded into the background. I'm excited to build on it further with my next Elective class and may even find myself sneaking it into a history period or two depending on the kids. It took very little time out of class but left them with long-lasting life lessons that were a joy to behold.

Honorable Mention #2: Connection Web

My colleagues and I have spoken at length over the last year about how this year's students just don't feel the same. Yes, I know that is a constant refrain but I really think there is something to it. A culture cannot simply have a technological and social revolution like we have had in the last five years and not expect it to have a drastic impact on our youth. Today's 8th graders have grown up with their faces in phones. To them a personal connection is a click on a 'like' from someone they will never meet or speak to. That's scary. I've seen less empathy from mine as a group than ever before. I don't blame them. I don't blame their parents. I blame a massive shift that has been largely overlooked.

So, I wanted to find a way to show them what they were actually connected to. Along with a colleague I designed an activity we called a Connection Web. Students began by brainstorming all the people, places, objects, ideas and beliefs to which they were connected in some way. They did each type of thing one by one and I made sure to drain their brains of connections. They then created a top 20 ranking from their huge list. They took those 20 (plus 5 I added to each list) and created a web on a poster paper with their name in the middle. Those things they connected with most often were drawn close to their name. Those things that had connections they felt would never break (even if they were infrequent connections) were drawn with thicker connections lines. Students then colored and decorated their posters. It seems simple, and really it is, but the reflections to come out of it were huge. We discussed these questions as a class to wrap it up.

Some very interesting observations resulted. One student commented "I never realized I was putting soccer ahead of my mom..." Many noted how connected they were to their cell phones - often more so than to physical friends and family. I personally noted how few of them had ANY type of beliefs or ideas in their top 20 which I find terrifying. Ultimately, it was a great little activity that I'm eager to expand and build on going forward. As a historian the importance of connections cannot be understated. Our entire discipline is built on it. If this generation is losing it I think we have a responsibility to try to make sure they don't.

Part 2