Nearly three years ago 150(ish) 6th graders began their first day of middle school. I also began my first day of middle school (well, my first as a teacher) that year, after 10 years teaching in elementary school.
Now it’s the spring break before they leave for high school and I’m already dreading the last day of school. You see, for over 50 of those students, we didn’t just go through the challenges of making a transition from elementary to middle school together, learning the rules, procedures, and PBIS motto, together… we’ve been together since they were in 3rd grade. This is the group of students that I started in the media center with; I have been their media coordinator for SIX school years. We, and their families, have a bond that is super strong. From the time they were eight years old, we have laughed together, learned together, and matured together. To put it in perspective, my youngest daughter wasn’t even a year old when this group of children and I started our journeys. She’s finishing Kindergarten in a few weeks.
These kids have been “my guinea pigs” when it comes to learning and taking risks. I’ve always tried things with them first, just to “see how it goes,” and they *LOVE* it! (So do I.) Seeing them finish eighth grade and move on to the high school makes my heart soar, and it makes my heart break. To say that I love these kids is an understatement. They are a special group. Amazing students, INCREDIBLE minds with way too much knowledge of how the world really works. They are go-getters and I’m 100% sure they will change the world. Many of their stories would break your heart and then you’d see their determination and you’d feel the same pride I feel when I see them persevere and destroy the barriers that stand before them. In the coming weeks, I will take several of them to Washington, D.C. for a three-day field trip and I will attend their 8th grade formal. I will take up their Chromebooks for the last time, removing the labels with their name on it; I will watch with tears in my eyes as they have their final celebrations and sign yearbooks. Then on June 11, I will stand in the hall in front of the media center with waterproof mascara on as we take red-eyed photos together one final time.
I dread that day; no summer countdowns this year as I don’t want to think about the dwindling amount of time we have left to make memories together.
Eight months ago, 150(ish) 6th graders started their journey in middle school. Nearly 50 of them were in 1st grade when we met for the first time. They had just finished 3rd grade when I moved to the middle school. We had a lot of catching up to do. During #DBC50Summer, one of my goals was to build a strong connection with this group. After reading Teaching Math with Google Apps by Alice Keeler and the late Diana Herrington, I was so excited to use Google Slides to learn student names and imported selfies using their Chromebook’s webcam. I mentioned in Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth by Aaron Hogan that I’ve really struggled getting to know the 6th graders as quickly as I’d like.
Knowing that relationships are e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g, I decided to use a portion of our time together in our first media class to have students use a Google Slides template to allow me to get to know them better. I would LOVE to be able to spend the entire class doing getting-to-know-you activities and culture builders, however I see students for media classes once a month for approximately 50 minutes at a time. During this time, we’re getting to know one another, getting acquainted with the media space, discovering expectations, checking out books, and learning a new tech tool and creating something amazing. Oh, and I try to embed standards from English Language Arts as this is the class they are coming from to have media.
With that said, the Google Slides template (my #DBC50Summer implementation) was a success. There are certainly things I will do differently next year, but I like the template itself (I may still add a slide for a selfie.) Next year, I will likely devote more time to this activity on the first day and determine who the student experts are in Google Slides, assigning them as peer tutors. This will give more ownership to students immediately and frees me to walk around chatting with students to get to know them, rather than answering their questions about importing an image.
The template I used is here. You will be forced to make a copy in Google Drive, then you can change it up as you see fit if you’d like to use it with your own students. (If you don’t have GoogleDrive, connect with me on Twitter or Instagram and I’ll happily send it via ppt or keynote).
Using these Google Slides has allowed me to get to know student interests and family dynamics faster than I have in the past. I commented on each submitted slide deck with more questions and responses about what we have in common. Next year I will share these with classroom teachers as they are available as a resource when teachers are designing learning experiences. Creating this as an assignment in Google Classroom made it so easy! If you use this approach, I certainly welcome feedback and even more ideas!