June 2013 Archives

Classroom Connect: From Brainstorm to Pilot

When Shaz first described the idea for Classroom Connect to me back in January, I was so excited that I almost jumped out of my chair. What graduate student wouldn’t love a program that encourages our local schools to invite undergraduates, graduates, post-docs, and faculty into their classrooms to talk about their fields of expertise? (If you ask me to talk about the Puritan theology in Colonial America, I will regale you with tidbits and tales for days – surprisingly, teachers never made a request for this riveting field of study). I was thrilled to be part of providing a new resource to our teachers that would also help University students better engage with their community.

So we got to work. Shaz and I rustled up some IT guys to help build the website where all the connections would take place (thanks, Sandbox!). We also spent a lot of time spit-balling ideas; some were really good, some not so much. We were nervous when we officially launched in May. Would we actually get students to volunteer to fill teacher requests? Would teachers even want students to come into their classrooms at all? Were we just pie-in-the-sky dreamers who lived in a cold, dark world where no one cared about expert-driven educational experiences? I can’t speak for Shaz, but I was worried. Although, I’m a graduate student, so I’m always at least a little worried.

Then the first request came in. A sixth-grade teacher from Ray Elementary posted a request to have someone come speak to her students about Latin. I saw this first thing in the morning and actually did jump out of my chair that time. Success! Then more requests started coming in. One teacher at Ray wanted three students to come talk about different science topics. Another teacher asked for a student to come speak to all ninety second-graders at her school about bugs.

And then something even crazier happened. Students started accepting those requests. Classroom Connect spread through a combination of word-of-mouth and my (sometimes frantic) emails to student organizations on campus. I had them each come to our office to give them a brief orientation and it could not have been more of a pleasure. I got to meet biochemists, a geophysicist, and an undeclared undergrad with a strong passion for Latin and Ancient Rome. Their enthusiasm was contagious and I was impressed with their creativity and dedication. I was even able to attend a presentation at Ray Elementary. The sixth-graders were highly engaged and our presenter did a wonderful job. 

Ultimately, we filled almost all of the requests we received. Although I won’t be here to continue the program in the Fall, I anticipate that it will continue to be a success. Seriously, everyone in the University of Chicago community should check out the site (http://classroomconnect.uchicago.edu). It’s a great opportunity to get involved in our neighborhood and get some exposure to teaching!

And, I have to take a moment to thank our wonderful student volunteers, who prepared outstanding presentations and shared their passion for their subjects in our local classrooms. Tabbetha Bohac, Justin O’Dell, Meghan Vincent, Daniel Schwartz, and Magdalena Naziemiec: you guys totally rock! 

A School Year in Review: Arts & Crafts

One of the biggest upsides of working at St. Martin's is that my team and I got alter parts of the Jumpstart curriculum with my team to fit our preschoolers. We were able to experiment a little bit and tailor the curriculum to fit our classroom.

The first few basic things we wanted to work on were familiarizing them with the alphabet and numbers. After making a "Let's Learn the Alphabet" chart with (surprise) the alphabet, I looked online on YouTube for some creative ways to teach preschoolers how to count to ten. Turns out one of the first things you find when you type "Counting Numbers" in YouTube is this little gem:

It looked easy enough with sheep and a farm in the background, so I got to work. I painted a posterboard, drew some sheep, and stuck some velcro tape in the right spots.sheep.jpg

Luckily, the kids really loved it! They were all really excited to stick the sheep on the chart. In fact, so excited that they were upset when I told them they had to take turns. It was like a beautiful two-in-one package: learning numbers and taking turns!

Later on, one of the bigger final projects I worked on was a "Shooting Stars" poster. My team and I had used the "Let's Learn the Alphabet" chart for a while to go over the letters of each preschooler's name. Before long, many of them caught on that A was for Alana and sometimes different preschoolers' names began with the same letter. Once they caught on, I lost their attention.

Circle Time became more of a chaotic mess before because we weren't teaching them anything new! That's when I figured I should make some kind of chart that has everyone's names written out. With the help of Lucy, my site manager, for the idea and Vivian, a fellow Jumpstarter, for making the stars, I was able to bring this new chart into the classroom:stars.jpg

Reusable and sparkly! It was a hit. Now, for those preschoolers that already knew how to spell their names, they could see it in print. And for those that didn't, they could learn that the A in the beginning of Alana isn't the only important letter.

All in all, it's been a good year at St. Martin's and I hope to return next year! It'll be great to take all that my team and I have done this year and build on it. The dream is that before long, the preschoolers at St. Martin's daycare won't be all that different from those at Dumas and Wadsworth, other preschools in Woodlawn.

--Daisy Lu, undeclared first-year in the College

"Goodbye, Jumpstart"

Spring quarter, Week 10 means just about nothing to preschoolers. But as the year here is coming to a close, so are the Jumpstart sessions. During training, I learned that kids were very bad with transitions. Our tactic to deal with that was to distract them with song.

But choruses of "Goodbye Jumpstart, Goodbye Jumpstart, Goodbye Jumpstart ... it's time for us to part" can only do so much. How do we tell a group of two- to four-year olds that session is going to end?

My team, as well as all the other Jumpstart teams at different schools, have been working on goodbye certificates and ways to close off the year. Unfortunately, because the kids at St. Martin's don't have photo release papers, we couldn't take a picture of them and personalize their certificates that way. And because not everyone comes every day, having the preschoolers write anecdotes about their favorite Jumpstart memories would be a bit difficult.

Instead, we opted for something a little different than Jumpstart's standard goodbye certificate layout:20130531_154103_0.jpg

Every day during session when we have circle time, I would point to letters of the alphabet and we would clap for any preschooler whose name begins with that letter. Weeks of "A for Alana, when I count to three, let's clap for Alana! 1...2...3. Ah-lan-ah! Ah-lan-ah! Ah-lan-ah!" have come to an end. But that's when my team thought of a great way to tie it together: cutting out the first letters of their names to put right on the certificates. Weeks of clapping names all captured in a single letter. Hopefully, that'll be something to remember.

Right after clapping names during circle time, we usually read a poem. Sometimes it was about an alligator, or a big balloon, or three silly monkeys, but this time, we wanted one to say goodbye:20130601_125317_1.jpg

Sure, it won't be up for a Pulitzer Prize in poetry any time soon, but it has a simple message. Jumpstart was great, and we had a great time. Wednesday, our last day of session, is coming up and it'll definitely be something different.

--Daisy Lu, undeclared first-year in the College