Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Service Learning in Middle School

As middle school students seek to identify their place in the world, and indeed to form a sense of identity, providing them with opportunities to look outward and make connections is extremely important. ( It's not ALL about you okay?)

One very good way to do that is through service learning projects. Now, depending on your past experience with them, they can range the gamut between an amazing educational experience and well, mortal dread. I've been here and there on that spectrum, but happily (mostly) find that incorporating service learning throughout the curriculum is an extremely positive experience.

What's great about teaching middle school, is that the kiddos have the ability to be more hands on as well as share their opinions.  Whenever we start a service learning cycle in my classroom we follow the following basic structure.

1) Identify a need. I always tell the students to look around them, to identify a problem that they see in our community and in our world.

2) Persuade. Once a need has been identified, the students write/create a persuasive piece to convince us all that their cause is a worthy one. (Whoohoo! Language Arts tie in!)

3) Voting  As opposed to the younger grades, it's important that middle school students have a choice in what they are working for.

4) Research  After the class has identified what issue they want to tackle, the next step is research. We take the time to look at the history and development in the need and to chart data and statistics ( social studies and math)

5) Call to action. At this point in our cycle, we are educating the community about our identified need. In the past my classes have written, given assemblies, performed skits, produced videos, made posters, or given mini lessons in each classroom.

6) Action! The hands on part of service learning. Depending on your project, this could mean meeting at an offsite location, facilitating collections of some kind, assembling an object or two. Earlier this year, there was a completely devastating fire in a community about 100 miles from us.  While help for the humans came right away, a few of the students noticed that the animals weren't so lucky. We were able to skip a couple of steps in the cycle and go right to the "Call to Action". My class was able to collect 4 truckloads of pet and animal supplies to help the displaced or abandoned. It was a fantastic experience to finish loading the last carload ( luckily I had parents willing to caravan and bring all the donations up)

6th Graders sending off the last carload of animal/pet supplies.
7) Reflection/Check-In  If we want students to have total "buy-in", this is a step that we can't forget to include.  We always take the time to write about and discuss our service learning projects. We also make sure to check in after a period of time with the agency that received our help. Any thank you letters or certificates always get hung up on our Accomplishment Wall so that the students can see that they had a positive impact on the world.

How do you incorporate service learning with your students?

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