Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Make A Difference Day - Saturday, Oct.27th - And Books!

Make A Difference Day is America's largest annual day of volunteering, on Saturday, Oct.27, millions of us will be helping our communities, you can too. I found ideas in my local newspaper and you can also get ideas and tools at However, I promote having children come up with their own ideas and use other resources as a guide.

Democratic education engages students in deep conversations, has them conduct meaningful research, discover rather than being told and utilize rather than store learning. Such an education has students working on projects designed to promote some form of community involvement -a public  good. These projects are not just for a day, it is the focus of the the curriculum, hence my classroom theme and the focus of this blog to Stand Up- Speak Out-Make A Difference.

To earn an A in social studies students had to complete a community service project each grading period. Community service was basically anything you don't get paid to do but helps individuals, the community, or environment. I had a form where students wrote a description of their project(s), the location and the times . I had to approve the project and sign it off and so did the parent(s). After students completed their project they wrote a paragraph reflecting on the experience. If students wanted to share their service project with the class I always made the time, it was important to them.  Some students wrote about their projects for the school newsletter, others gave presentations to the PTA and the school board, and some students shared their projects through other social media outlets (it was always a choice but I discovered they wanted to share their experiences). Projects varied but these are a few examples, one student helped his elderly neighbor with yard work, another student was a docent at Henry Cowel Park, one student provided after school care, and groups went regularly to clean up local beaches and the San Lorenzo River. Community service is an opportunity to apply lessons learn in the classroom to the real world! There are many things students can do to make the world a better place and they always told me it made them feel good and it was a positive experience.

In the 1980's tuna fisherman were catching (killing) dolphins and other ocean creatures in their tuna nets, it was school children that made this issue international news and school children who wrote to politicians to make laws that tuna fishermen have to use nets that only catch tuna fish. This is a great example of the power of children's ideas and the power of the spoken and written words. My students always liked this story because it is proof that they can make a difference. Now, with a wider variety of social media sources there are many more examples of children making a difference in their communities and more tools available for students to change the world.

A good teacher inspires students to be interested in subjects and topics that they otherwise would not engage in. Sharing stories like the one above demonstrates that just because they are kids doesn't mean people will not listen to them. I also like to use picture books to set the stage for units of study. I have a couple of recommendations today to introduce the process of making social change.

Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type, by Doreen Cronin is a hilarious book about how farm animals stand up for their rights. I like it because it shows how the animals organize, stand up for their rights, and most importantly how they use the written word as a powerful tool for change. I would have students pick something they cared about then conduct research, develop a community service project, and write about their project. Students also wrote about how their projects made them feel. Students published their work in the school newsletter, local newspaper, open house, and a class blog. I also made class books, including a few for our school and local library and they became popular with our school librarian, other teachers, students, and we always had lots of positive feedback from parents!

Giggle, Giggle, Quack, by Doreen Cronin is a great follow up book about how the cows (leaders) example has taught the other farm animals to cleverly standing up for their rights when Farmer Brown goes on vacation and leaves his brother Bob in charge. When you are exploring emotional topics, for example hunger (maybe you have students that experience this) it is sometimes important to use a little humor to relieve stress. Doreen Cronin's books are about important topics but the use of humor doesn't diminish the seriousness of the issues.

If you go to my store look on the left side for Debra's recommended books. Thank you.

Until next time - happy reading:)

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