ImageWhen last I wrote – I was about to step back into the Flagstaff school I had left over 5 years ago for a long-term subbing gig.  So, how has it been going… it’s been really wonderful.  I have missed kids and teaching immensely.  There is just something about pulling together meaning with a group of kids that… there just isn’t anything else quite like it.  Now, don’t get me wrong, trying to crash course relationships, names and rapport with 100 7th graders in 6 weeks has been a challenge, but a fantastic one.  Also, being able to work with one of my oldest teaching friends has been a joy. 

I wanted to take a minute and share what we are up to while I am here, because I’m pretty excited about it.  I haven’t crafted something from scratch and taught it in awhile.  In the photo, you see students lined up in front of an exhibit that was installed in our hall in November called Dispassionate Landscapes. It is a photo exhibit that partners gorgeous aerial shots of 14 different scenes of development (mines, power plants, trails, solar arrays, etc) around the Southwest with two essays; one on the right and one on the left of each photo – the left essay is an informative piece of writing about what the landscape was like before the development and the right essay addresses what the landscape is like with the development.  The important word to understand is ‘dispassionate’ as it is an attempt at having a conversation about development that focuses on understanding perspectives in a way that is civil.  The creators of the exhibit are hoping to generate a more civil dialogue around some very polarizing topics in the region.

Josh, the science teacher on the Alpine 7 team – suggested that we do an interdisciplinary unit while I was in town and I thought that sounded like a fabulous idea as did the other long-term sub on the team, Sara. (Sara was a student when Josh I were teaching at the school 12 years ago, oh boy are we getting old)  We visioned a project that has the students creating their own dispassionate right/left essays partnered with a photo of their own.  Students will use what they are learning in my class with the five themes of geography and what they are learning in science around ecosystems and ecology to craft their essays.  We did an analysis of the writings in the exhibit to understand the idea of the right and left essays, we scoured the newspapers for examples of writing that told two sides of a story, and we also had a pretty long discussion on what it means to inform on a topic instead of persuade.  Kids have been having a had time moving from the idea of good/bad and right/wrong to the idea of just telling two sides from a more factual place.

I hadn’t anticipated the difficulty they would have with the dispassionate part, most of that lack of anticipation comes from being away from the middle grades learner for five years.  But, we rolled with the punches.  Over the long weekend, the students were observing their places in the world for an image.  Then yesterday they filled out a project contract to review expectations.  (Frankly, the contract is a tool for me to keep track of what 100 different students are up to).  Today we started researching.  The effective google search is also something that challenges the 7th grader, although we made some serious progress today.  They will continue to research this week, rough drafts on Friday.

Then next week, more fun as we head (in three groups of 33) to Cathedral Wash for an expedition where we will be talking 5 themes and ecosystems as well.  We even have some new gadgets to try out on the expedition.  There will be hiking, exploring and science fun.  The final drafts of the writing and images are due at the end of next week and then we will print up their final products for exhibition at a parent night on December 17th.  

We were going for inquiry, interdisciplinary, student choice, student voice (they will use the essays to write a persuasive letter to a person of influence on their topics after the essays are done… they are dying to be able to have an opinion ;-), audience and exploration.  Not sure we will get there with all 100 students, but it is a valiant effort on the part of the team to make the opportunity available.  One of the students yesterday said… this is really hard… and I cracked a huge smile.  I don’t think they understand how much that is music to my ears.  And on the day I introduced the project, one very sweet young man exclaimed, “This is going to be really cool, I am looking forward to it”, which true or not, was something I also needed to hear as the long term sub with a group of kids that aren’t quite sure I’m ok yet.

I’ll post all the resources when we are done with the unit.  We’ve been doing a pretty solid job of keeping track of all the moving pieces in a googledoc, so here’s hoping it will be relatively easy to share out at the conclusion.  I only have about 2 more weeks before the full time teacher returns, and I am going to revel in every minute.   I am most at home in a classroom.  Its so very special that I was able to spend some time in a place I cherish, doing what I love.  I live a truly fortunate existence.