Monthly Archives: August 2016
I am teaching on-level Algebra 1 this year, and I wanted to spend my First Five Days with them teaching them something that would not only create a good relationship with them, but would also help them build good relationships with each other. I want to make my classroom a space that makes them feel safe to be themselves and make mistakes without feeling embarrassed.
I remember hearing from a number of experts, including Alan November, saying that the one skill that employers and college professors agree is missing from high school graduates is empathy. So, over the summer, I researched how others teach empathy: clear videos, meaningful activities, guided discussions. There is a lot of information out there, and I spent a lot of time filtering through it and sequencing it properly.
I also wanted to incorporate the technology lessons in, since they are still valuable to students during high school, so I tried to find ways to related the empathy lessons to the technology lessons.
I finally decided to build up the the idea of empathy by spending a day on perspective, two days on compassion, and two days on empathy.
Here are the results:
Day 1: Perspective
- Begin with a YouTube video of a sculpture by Mattheu Robert Ortis that looks like two giraffes or an elephant, depending on where you stand.
- Give each student a piece of paper and ask them to draw any part of the classroom. Then, let each student share what he or she drew, and why he or she decided to draw that. Discuss how each person can see different parts of the classroom, and can interpret a given assignment in many different ways. Two people can draw the same thing, but from different angles and in different styles.
- Discuss what it means to have perspective when you are doing research. Show them easywhois.com as a way to see if the author of an article shares the same perspective as them. As an example, use easywhois.com to find out more about the author of a Martin Luther King website, with shocking results.
- Share an image that demonstrates how two different perspectives can both be true but incomplete. Discuss how it’s important to learn from other people’s perspectives rather than argue.
- End with a YouTube video about perspective, produced by Apple.
- For homework, have students get a personal story from a relative that they do not live with, e.g., how their grandparents met, how an uncle got his first job, what it was like when an aunt was attending college.
Day 2: Compassion
- Begin with a YouTube video about compassion, produced by Happify.
- Let students take the story they collected from a relative, and whittle it down to exactly six words. (This is based on the “six-word story” by Ernest Hemingway.) Let students share their stories and share how they feel about them. Let other students share how they feel while they were listening.
- Discuss what it means to understand how it feels when something happens, especially if it happened somewhere else in the world.
- Discuss the shootings in Munich on July 22. How would we know how the Germans were feeling?
- Try Google, but quickly realize that we are only getting information about the American perspective, so it is difficult to show compassion.
- Introduce the Google command “site:” which allows you to search by domain suffix. We need to use the command “site:de” along with keywords “munich” and “shootings” to search exclusively in German websites. The results are much different, but much more meaningful.
- Introduce the Google command “filetype:” which allows you to search by file types, like “filetype:ppt” for Powerpoint presentations, or “filetype:docx” for Word documents.
- Introduce the Tech Dictionary website, that lists all domain suffixes and what they mean.
- End with a YouTube video of Thupten Jinpa explaining the obstacles that stop us from showing compassion. This video is produced by Big Think.
- For homework, have students complete a survey about who they are and how they feel about world issues, future life events, high school, and taking my Algebra 1 class.
- Watch a YouTube video by TrueMove H about giving.
- Interview each student on video, asking them the same questions that were on the survey.
- While doing this, focus on what’s going on in the classroom: Watch the students gather around the students that have just finished being interviewed. Listen to the discussion that follows. The students that haven’t been interviewed want to know how it felt to be interviewed on video. The students who just finished their interviews assure them that it was short and there was no reason to be nervous. There is definite evidence of students showing compassion here.
- Ask them what was happening in the world on their birthday? What did certain websites look like?
- Introduce archive.org and the WayBackMachine. Look up certain websites to see what they looked like decades ago.
- Look up the New York Times website on September 11, 2001. Let students try to understand how it felt when that happened. (I discovered that these students were all born after September 11, 2001, so 9/11 will now be taught in history classes as an event that they were not alive to learn about at the time.)
- End with a compilation YouTube video of people showing compassion to others in many different situation. Discuss how little effort and time it takes to show compassion. We just need to pay attention and recognize others in need.
- For homework, have students find a story of a famous person who failed many times before he/she became successful.
- Watch a compilation YouTube video, of celebrities discussing their failures.
- Read the stories of different celebrities and their failures, and have students guess who you are talking about.
- Play a game where, as a class, we count to 50, with each student saying the number after the previous student. The only rule is that if a number is a multiple of 3 (like 6 or 21) or has a 3 in it (like 13 or 37), you say “red” instead of the number. If any student says “red” when they should have said a number, or vice versa, we start over. How long will this take?
- As the game progresses, I kept saying, “It’s okay to fail,” like a chant. Hopefully they remember that.
- After the game, discuss how it felt to make a mistake. How many mistakes did we make? Does it matter, since we succeeded in the end? What matters is that we kept getting better with each mistake until we ultimately made it to 50.
- Have students pair up as Speaker and Listener. Speaker shares a story of failure that he or she doesn’t mind sharing. Listener is given the five steps to active listening (Make eye contact, Remember the facts, Imagine the situation, Ask how they feel, Show you care) and demonstrates them during the conversation. Have students switch roles.
- Discuss how the Listener demonstrated empathy during the conversation. How did it feel just to know someone was listening, rather than offering solutions or taking over the conversation?
- End with a YouTube video of philosopher Jay Shetty, about learning from failures.
Day 5: Empathy (continued)
- Watch a YouTube video of Brené Brown, produced by RSA, on empathy, and how it is different from sympathy.
- Review the five steps to active listening.
- Have students pair up as Speaker and Listener. Each Speaker is given a slip of paper with a different story on it that describes a small failure that could happen (e.g., forgot to tie shoelace, ate soggy cereal for breakfast). Each Listener is given a suggestion of how to listen incorrectly (e.g., don’t make eye contact, interrupt the Speaker with a story of your own).
- Have Speakers pretend to be overly upset with their situation. Have Listeners follow the instructions on their slips of paper.
- Discuss how it felt when empathy is not shown.
- Now switch roles and have the new Listener show empathy. In what ways was this better?
- End the week by inviting students to take a Google Forms survey of how much they have learned about perspective, compassion, and empathy.
I was excited to read the student responses to the survey. Here’s what I saw:
There are comments that accompany these results, so I will be spending the next few days reading over these, in order to find ways to improve.
This week was definitely different enough to attract the attention of the Instructional Coach, Digital Learning Coach, and the Principal. The Principal even featured these First Five Days in his weekly “Friday Focus” email to the entire staff!
I look forward to seeing how these First Five Days improves the environment in my classroom, and I can’t wait to use the lessons we learned to help my students be academically and personally successfully this year.
Thanks to Alan November for introducing me to the idea of the First Five Days the technological tools that I share with the students.
Thanks to Aaron L. Polansky for showing me the connections between perspective, compassion, and empathy.
Thanks to the administration at Coppell High School for trusting me to have an idea and run with it.
One of the frustrations of teaching advanced classes, like the IB Math classes I teach, is the tendency for students to focus too much on GPA, especially as it applies to college applications. Students frequently value GPA over learning, which leads to a constant battle over a point or two on every test.
I thought that I could deal with this frustration by repeatedly telling seniors that GPA isn’t as important as they think it is. There are other elements of their college applications that weigh equally or more than their GPA.
There are two problems: (1) I went to college in Canada, and (2) I went to college decades ago. Both of these facts made me less credible as a college advisor in their eyes.
So I decided to try something different: A month before school started this year, I wrote a post on Facebook, specifically directed to any of my former IB seniors who have been in college for at least a year. I asked if any of them were available to visit with my class and give my students a better and clearer overview of the college application experience and college life once they attend classes.
Within hours, IB alumni were responding and I had a full schedule of guest speakers ready to share their experiences.
Each period of each day, for the first five days, one or two IB graduates answered questions from the seniors. The questions were very specific and well thought out, and the answers were wise and personal at the same time. The graduates clearly enjoyed the opportunity to share what they knew, and the seniors had a sense of reassurance that the process, though grueling, would get them into the right college.
(pictured above – Jeanna, Sarah, Laura and Ryan, Pranav, Sanjani, Ashley, Christina, Mio, Akshaya, Archie, Shreya, Michelle)
Was it all worth it? Did the seniors appreciate the effort? I allowed them to give feedback through a Google Forms survey. Here are the results of a couple of questions:
If 98.1% of the seniors (52 out of the 53) felt the same or better about college, I’d say that this was a success!!
The one thing I need to remember next year is to have any potential on-campus visitors complete a background check, as per district regulations. Also, it would probably be a good idea for the seniors to think of their questions in advance, to avoid big gaps of silence in the conversation. I think next time I will also have students document for themselves any new information they hear in the conversation that will affect their decision, and tell them to keep this documentation in a place where they can access it as they progress through the college application process.
I’m very pleased with how this turned out. Even though the graduates were admittedly nervous, they were honest and professional, as were the seniors. The discussion was meaningful and educational. And I think everyone, myself included, learned a lot during this first week.
Thank you to all of the graduates who volunteered their time to make this such a big success!