We at Engaging Educators are located in Michigan. Michigan in the winter is cold, grey, and snowy. As “From the Classroom Week” highlights, Ben and I still pay the bills as elementary classroom teachers. Much of the winter is spent with indoor recess. I had an incident in my classroom today that nicely ties together [...]
We at Engaging Educators are located in Michigan. Michigan in the winter is cold, grey, and snowy. As “From the Classroom Week” highlights, Ben and I still pay the bills as elementary classroom teachers. Much of the winter is spent with indoor recess. I had an incident in my classroom today that nicely ties together our From the Classroom and College Project series.
To summarize the College Project, our students are researching, contacting, and presenting on three different colleges. I’m working on taking our project from the 20th Century to the 21st Century. One of the aspects of college preparedness we’ve been working on is vocabulary. Students have been researching words from admission to waitlist. In the past, students have been required to make an ABC book with the vocabulary words, definitions, and example sentences. This year I told my class to use any tool of their choice to present these words. My students still have a relatively small 21st Century toolkit, but they are comfortable using iMovie, PowerPoint, and Garage Band to name a few.
This gets me to today’s indoor recess. I said to my class, “This is your 2 minute warning.” As usual, I received a series of mumbles and groans. I looked up to see which students they were coming from today. The complaints were coming from three of my boys. The Three Stooges, The Three Musketeers, what ever you want to call them, you know the boys that I’m talking about. What you wouldn’t have guessed, though, is why they were complaining. They were complaining that recess was ending because they were too busy working on presenting their college vocabulary. They wanted recess to continue so they could continue to work on our writing unit.
That is why I teach with technology.
Before we can discuss the changes being made to our six-year-old College Project, you have to first understand what we’ve been doing. The College project has entailed three phases, a college fair, and a trip to a local university.
As with all projects we do, we start with a hook. The hook for this project begins with the 4th and 5th grade students entering an assembly with the best college fight song blasting (if you aren’t sure which song I’m speaking of and you want to know, read our About Us). The rest of the assembly lays out what the project entails, photos from previous years, and questions & answers.
Each student then picks three states. I do this through a lottery. After they pick the states the students use a wonderful website provided by the University of Texas that lists all of the colleges and universities located in any given state. The website also provides a link to all of the universities’ homepages. The students then attempt to navigate the pages to locate the addresses for the admissions offices.
While some students are using the computers to find their addresses, other students work on writing their business letters for the schools. The letters briefly introduce themselves and our school. They tell the universities that we are doing a college project, and they request that the universities send them information to use in putting together their project.
In addition to finding schools and writing letters, the students use dictionaries, both paper and online, to find the meanings of about 40 college words. The words range from admissions to waitlist. They eventually turn these words into a small ABC book.
Phase 1 usually takes about a week.
Phase 2 is all about business letters. We review the business letter format. We look at examples of business letters from Letters from a Nut. We revise and edit our own letters. We learn to address and stuff envelopes. Finally, we mail the letters out to the colleges and universities. This might not seem overly time consuming or eventful, but trust me, it is with 9 and 10 year-olds.
Usually a month to several months have passed from the end of Phase 2 to the beginning of Phase 3. Once students start receiving mail back from the universities (and they do get mail by the truck load), they have to pick which school they want to focus on. They take the information they received in the mail, add it to what they can find online, and create tri-fold boards for the college fair. At the college fair students are split into two groups. The first groups walks around looking at the boards while the second group stands by their boards to answer questions. Then the two groups switch. Each student is given a handful of raffle tickets that they can give out to the boards they think are the best. The teachers do the same. At the end of the fair, there is a raffle for the swag acquired from all of the schools. Awards are also given to students for different accomplishments.
After the college fair, we take a trip to the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor. We talk with professors about what college is like, what you need to do to get there, etc. We tour several buildings including lecture halls, rec buildings, and the union. We eat lunch in a dormitory with the college students (which the university graciously pays for). We end our trip to Ann Arbor with a tour of Crisler Arena, U of M’s basketball complex. Several university athletes discuss life on campus as a student athlete. Besides field day, this is my favorite day of each school year.
This is how the college has been. Stay tuned to see how I try to take this project from the 20th Century to the 21st.
Ben and I started teaching at the same school seven years ago. We had an amazingly powerful opportunity. We were hired in to be the first staff at a brand new, progressive elementary school. The school’s focus was to prepare students for college. (Hence the name, University Prep.)
In the beginning of our second year there, we decided that we needed to do something to help truly prepare our students for college. Ben, the six other teachers we worked with, and I created what we called the College Project.
Six years later the College Project is still going strong, but, in our opinion, it is starting to go stale. More likely, we have grown as teachers, but we haven’t grown the project. This blog series is going to chronicle how I (we) increase the rigor, improve our teaching, and bring this project into the 21st Century. Along the way I would love for your feedback and advice too.
Check back often as this blog series will run from now until the middle of April with frequent updating posts. I hope you enjoy.
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