Common Materials in an Uncommon Place

Dec 21, 2012

Brasdis-Nixon Family

A couple of years ago, I went to a professional development workshop and as the presenters were introducing ideas, concepts, and materials, I found myself growing increasingly frustrated.  The information they were presenting was amazing and unique, but the problem I was running into was the practicality of the lessons.

I teach in an urban school system. The students I work with are oftentimes below the regional average in reading and lack the necessary skills to complete even the most basic assignments.  So, when these dedicated teachers from other schools suggested we use  detailed reading workshops and expensive technology to inspire creativity and work ethic, I was skeptical and frustrated.  My students worked well together in groups, but the objectives and topics suggested by these professionals were just too far fetched.  It was bad enough that several of my students already scoffed at education and questioned its usefulness.

It was at that time that I realized I could use their concepts, but implement my own materials.  I wanted to introduce a lesson that the students would actually use in the real world.  A lesson that would change the way my students viewed material and get them thinking about the world around them.  And then it hit me:

Meet them where they are and take them to where they need to go.

I solicited sit-down restaurants and take-out restaurants and salons and any other place that would allow me to take a plethora of price lists and menus (for free) as a resource for my students.  These would be the things my students came in contact with every day.  Even when I took family vacations to Hershey Park or Busch Gardens or any museum that had a map of the venue, I went to the welcome desk explaining that I was school teacher in need of real world materials for my students.  And they gladly handed them over.

I discovered during my first year of teaching at Northside that many, many, many students have never been outside of their city of Norfolk, so it has become a steady adventure of looking for interesting and new materials to bring to my students as a precious bounty.  And because we can't afford field trips, both financially and academically,  I take them myself via our imagination, a projector, and a class full of kids in desks.

A couple of weeks ago, we took a field trip to Hershey Park and they LOVED it! Of course, they have never been and so when I told them to buckle up because we were going to a sweet destination, they were more than excited.  I had them get into pairs and measure themselves to see what candy brand they would be (in order to go on rides and attractions), I had them explore the entire park, and we even met back up and took a tour of the Hershey factory with some Hershey chocolate as a sweet reward in the end.

Even though we really didn't go anywhere, the students were bummed when I called them together and informed them that we had to go home in time for their next class.  Collective groans and pleas filled my classroom and it was reminiscent of a real field trip...for the most part.  Not only were my students were able to escape their real lives for a little bit and see a place they otherwise wouldn't have known about, but they learned real world skills like how to read a map and its features, how to compromise when it came to coming up with a ride schedule, and team work.

Since that fateful discovery of real world lessons, I've slowly incorporated other real world materials:  drivers license and job applications, state maps from a Highlights subscription, bus route maps and price lists, newspapers, website navigation lessons, and most anything else that I think my students will benefit from.

And I've learned more from my students in this adventure than I thought I ever would have.  I've learned to appreciate the world around my and the resources I have.  I've learned to never take advantage of education and that although not everyone has exactly the same opportunity, opportunities can be made from the simplest of ideas.

I have some pictures of my students on their field trips to different states and some from Hershey Park and as soon as I edit and crop them, I will post them here and on facebook.  :)

The lesson I truly want my readers to glean from this entry is this:  despite how common certain materials may seem to you, they always have a place in an uncommon place.  The classroom.

Thanks for reading and always wonder!

<3 Sam


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