Growing Students into Difference Makers

Difference MakersThis past year, I really found my passion when I was given the opportunity to pilot a new class: 7th Grade Humanities. This class was a blend of Social Studies and Language Arts and is taught by two teachers. As my colleague, Steve Bowser, and I were developing the concept for this class, we both felt strongly that we’d like our students to begin impacting our community and the world. We weren’t exactly sure how we would do this so, at first, this idea took a backseat to our standards and preparing for our required state test in both Language Arts and Social Studies. We tried to include community outreach when we could, but felt limited. We had to provide data to prove that our students were growing.

Our students quickly changed our focus for us. What started as a few service projects sprinkled throughout our lessons quickly turned into a focal point for our class. These projects were driven by our student’s desires to help others. We began allowing our students to grow into world citizens by infusing service learning into our key components for our class. We quickly found that providing students the opportunity to affect change was one of the ways that we were able to grow our students into true Difference Makers.

Below are some of the steps we took to infuse service learning into our curriculum. Making time for these types of learning activities is often difficult, but I urge you to take these steps because your effort will make a difference in the lives of your students and the world.

1. Start Local
Our first public outreach of the year was to a retirement home near our school. Our students spoke with elders in their community about the themes presented in a novel that they had read. My students absolutely loved this opportunity and the residents of the retirement home truly enjoyed sharing wisdom with our students. Starting local can help your students feel comfortable and the community outreach brings positivity toward your school and can greatly enhance your students’ learning.

2. Use your resources
Utilize online resources to help students do research and contact experts. We reached out to MudLove, a business that makes bracelets and pottery to provide water to people in Africa. They were happy to take time to Skype with our students and enjoyed telling them about their business model. They also discussed what was most important when creating a company that supports a cause. Our students loved hearing from an expert in the field. They learned so much that they were then able to apply new information to their class projects.

3. Say YES
If you find an opportunity to write an email, send a tweet, or Skype an expert, TAKE IT! Your students will benefit and grow through the authentic experiences that you provide for them. If a student says that it would be neat to do something to help an organization or raise awareness for a cause, don’t say “no” too quickly. Have them do research, write a proposal, and support their efforts along the way. Show them that their ideas are of value and turn those ideas into your standards-based classroom lessons.

4. Recognize Greatness
Don’t just focus on the problems of the world. Also help people who are taking action to find solutions. Showcase local people and students who are making a difference. Talk about businesses that support causes, show them PSAs, discuss news articles, and follow stories of students like them who are making changes in the world. When your students learn about kids their own ages making progress, they too will feel empowered to make changes.

Difference MakersAfter our students learned about various problems, they began asking us to allow them time to write letters, start campaigns, and raise money for various causes. We showcased Project Kakuma as we were discussing the Syrian refugee crisis. After learning about the cause, our students wanted to take action. They collected over 100 books to send to Kakuma so that children would be able to learn how to read. This project was completely student-driven, so they had complete buy-in. Through the project, our students worked on their writing and communication skills, researched shipping fees, and gained a better understanding of what life might be like for a refugee.

After following these steps, I hope that you too will be able to provide opportunities for your students to make a difference in your community and the world.

About the Author:
Valerie Anglemyer has taught at NorthWood Middle School in Indiana for the past 9 years. She has been a 7th grade Language Arts teacher for most of that time. Most recently she started a co-taught class called 7th grade Humanities. She has had the privilege of being a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert and a Surface Expert for the past two years. This privilege deepened her passion for connecting her students with the world. When she's not at school, you can find her playing with her adorable son, hanging out with her amazing husband, reading a book, or cruising on the lake.