For those of you who attended the PTO meeting on Monday August 19th, Dr. Jeff Beedy presented some ideas on how we can provide our students with the 21st Century skills they need to be successful. He showed videos that engaged our thinking of education, and provided us with insight from the faculty Summer Reading selections. After this meeting, and having read Creating Innovators by Tony Wagner, Chris and I have decided to review what we are doing in our classes and how we are teaching necessary 21st Century skills.
First, What are the 21st Century skills we are talking about? In the Middle School, We try to address the higher level skills that students are going to need. These skills would include analyzing, communication, problem-solving, and inquiry. Their foundations in Lower and Upper Elementary provided them with a great start in being responsible, and internally motivated. From here, we see that the Middle School serves as a transition to teach those higher level skills that will tangibly transition into high education and their future careers.
So what do these skills looks like in the classroom?
Within History and English classes, students are going to be developing skills in written communication. Both History and English this year are giving students daily exposure to expressing thoughts through writing. Note taking, journaling, creative writing, and grammar are all being taught with frequency and enthusiasm. Middle School grammar is taking a unique spin this year with a program called “Giggles in the Middle”. This program approaches grammar through the idea that students enjoy their work to be disguised as something more interesting. “Giggles in the Middle” follows a storyline while students edit the story piece by piece. Throughout the year, they will subtly improve grammar techniques without ever opening a boring grammar textbook. This skill will later assist the students in report/essay writing, as well as communicating through writing later in their lives.
Middle School History is covering ancient World History this year, which sometimes allows for students to check out and claim that it has no use for their lives today. To fix this common misconception, the approach of this years history curriculum will focus on problem solving and inquiry to discover the past. Each unit will provide students with connections to their own lives to make the process of uncovering history more relevant. One project that the students took part in already this year was a project-based learning project where they took on the role of an actual archaeologist. They were tasked with excavating artifacts through a systematic approach, and by using very specific procedures, students were able to uncover artifacts, piece them together, and ask the necessary questions to reveal clues to the people who lived at the site. Students enjoyed solving a hands on problem, and gaining the necessary knowledge of how archaeologists solve historical problems. (Pictures from the dig are posted on the JBMA Facebook Page).
This year the 7th and 8th grade Life Science class is continuing a project that was started in 2012. It is a collaborative, project-based learning undertaking involving the scientific method, environmental science and conservation. While this project will help our immediate campus it will also empower the students to make a positive impact on our community and planet, and promote stewardship. In addition, it is the foundation for understanding the significance of our Cahaba Watershed and our affiliation with the Cahaba River Society’s CLEAN program.
In 2012 the life science class received 1stplace honors in the state of Alabama from the Disney Planet Challenge for its work on rescuing our school pond. As the project evolved it became clear that this project would never be complete. What the students had accomplished in a short period of time was incredible, but there is so much more to do. The current class is now continuing the legacy of the 2012 class.
Currently, the class has identified the problems associated with our pond and has begun the research on the solutions. We have several local professionals who will also be assisting us in this endeavor.
In all, we are excited about the chance to provide our students with the real and practical skills that will prepare them to be citizens of the 21st Century. Not just memorization and knowledge recall, but real-life skills that will set them above others in higher education and in the workplace. We use our subject matter to teach cross-curricular habits that can help develop the way they learn, and allow them to impact their own community.