So far this semester, students in Beth’s FUTURA class have participated in Robotics, Fables, Folktales, and Mythology, Facts, Opinions, and Fake News, Weather & Meteorology, World Explorer, Walking to Freedom, Navigation & Cartography, Immigration in the 21st Century, The Power of Art, Race in America, The World Through My Eyes, Protecting the Planet, Joining Forces for the Environment, and Chinese Art & Literature.
Yes, one class participated in all of these projects this semester! How? By allowing students to choose and manage their own projects. Learn more about how Beth supports her students to take ownership of their learning, and check out some of her students’ responses below. Make sure to follow Beth on Twitter @BethFUTURA to continue to learn from her!
I teach a program called FUTURA to fourth and fifth grade students identified as gifted at Creightons Corner in Loudoun County in Virginia. I have a different class every day of the week. They come from my school as well as other nearby schools, from which they are bused. The students begin their day in their general education classrooms in their home schools. They arrive to me between 9:00 and 9:15 AM, and then return to their classes/schools at 1:45.
My day is broken into three main parts: Independent Center Time and two curriculum blocks. Center Time is student-choice, self-paced, and self-taught. As students finish an activity or have questions, they check in with me. I give them feedback and then they either return to improve their work or move on to the next activity. They follow contracts and, when the center is complete, they self-evaluate and conference with me.
PenPal Schools fit seamlessly into this part of the schedule. Basically, they have two centers going on at once: the in-class center they choose and the PenPal Schools class they choose. They have a separate PenPal Schools contract to hold them accountable. They must complete their PenPal activity before working on their in-class center, usually allowing 30 minutes for each.
I selected eight classes to start with. I had a hard time narrowing it down that far! Students signed up for the one they were interested in. They had different Match Dates, so they were responsible for making sure that they completed their profiles on time. Once a student finishes the Reflection, he or she turns the contract into me and we conference about the experience. This approach really fosters independence. It’s amazing how much growth I have seen in my students since the start of school. It allows me to be more of a facilitator and for the class to be very student-centered.
With more than 100 students, it sounds like it would be a lot to manage. The truth is that it is actually time saving. The lessons, materials, and activities are rich and relevant, and I didn’t have to create them! They have an authentic audience and are eager to share their thoughts and ideas, so there is 100% buy-in.
I really enjoy reading the exchanges between the kids, and it has helped me learn more about my students, so I log in to PenPal Schools almost daily to check student progress. I manage to assess them once a week. This has allowed me to deepen my personal relationship with each of my students.
Another bonus for me is connecting with other teachers. I have enjoyed Mystery Skype and hope to collaborate more.
Gifted Resource Teacher
Creightons Corner Elementary
Loudoun County Public Schools