Monday, November 30, 2009

The Preteen Blues (played in B)

Middle school years are the hardest ... the students feel disconnected from the "little kids" in elementary grades and unacceptable to the "big kids" in high school.

Interestingly enough, that was my favorite group of kids to teach. I'm not sure why. Maybe it was because they were still young enough to enjoy cartoons and old enough to be a little more sophisticated intellectually. I related to that ... at 25 years old (okay, emotionally and mentally I was 13 years old). So ... we understood each other. Now that I have reached well beyond the AARP threshold ... I'm about at the senior high school level.

One thing I always remembered about being in school myself was that I continually questioned the relevance of what was taught. Why did I need to study about frog reflexes or isoceles triangles or Custer's Last Stand? Would I need the frog reflex fact or have to draw a triangle when I applied for a job? I don't think so. Now, the Custer thing ... that was okay at the time because the visual of Custer with hundreds of arrows in him was so cool.

Relevance was important ... so I decided to spend at least one hour a week teaching it. It was then that I came up with the idea of "Community". One day a week for one hour, the seventh graders would work and play in their own community. They had jobs, got paid, had real life problems and had to work together to figure it out. I might add ... this was before computer programs like The Sims Community and 10 years before Enterprise Village.  It was not nearly as smart and well put together ... pretty rudimentary ... but the kids loved it and related to it.

There were challenges.

For instance, the first time around, I let everyone choose a profession. There were 10 lawyers and 15 doctors. That didn't work ... so I limited the professions to one each (since we had a small town and we'd get into competition later in the year). I ran into trouble with our first lawyer. I told him to research his annual income and compare it to small towns in the Southeast US. He found a reasonable comparison and started getting "paid" each week. His father (a prominent attorney in St. Petersburg) called me at home to complain that his son was NOT making enough money and how dare I underpay him for his services. I KID YOU NOT.

Some professions were never picked so I would gather everyone for a Town Meeting run by our elected mayor and he would draw "problem" cards which I had created with challenges for the town to handle as a group. One was that the garbage had not been picked up for two months because there was no garbage collector. My student attorney offered to change professions and assumed this duty  ... being the community minded individual he was.

Big surprise: I got a call from his dad that night. 

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