Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Try it Tuesday: Inviting in the experts

For this next edition of Try it Tuesday, we're going to zoom in on something that's a little scary...

Today's topic is inviting in the experts.

Since fifth grade is in the midst of our great map project to learn about the fifty states, I've been doing lots of research on interesting facts about the fifty states to embed into our social studies and science units.  I'm including land forms and trying to hit every possible learning standard, so it takes a bit of planning.  Lucky for you, they're available {here}.  

(As a side bar, one of the great things about TpT is that when I update a product, previous buyers get the latest addition for free.  After teaching the first unit on the Intermountain Region, my grade level and I discussed strengths and weaknesses, so there are some things I want to improve for when we teach this unit again next year.  I love that for the most part, I have a team that is honest enough to engage in the tricky conversations about resources that are being used and how to improve them without it becoming a personal attack.)

However, I am humble enough to know that I don't know everything and ask for help...in the form of guest speakers.

Since Las Vegas is such a diverse place, I have teachers at my school from all over the country.  I've been inviting in these teachers to talk about their home states and it's been a great success.  My students are loving getting to hear from experts (and in some cases, their former teachers!)

It started with our lovely school counselor, Mrs. G, coming in to discuss her home state of Wyoming.  She purposefully wore a Wyoming shirt and put together a slide show of pictures from her home town, because she's awesome like that.

Next, our assistant principal, Mrs. B, gave up part of her very busy schedule to share all about California.  They loved asking questions and hearing all about amusement parks.  I must say, I was quite jealous to hear that she was off to Disneyland with her family over this long Nevada day weekend!

Our most recent visitor was one of the great fourth grade teachers, Ms. H.  

She came in to talk about her beloved Hawaii and fill the students in on Hawaii's history. Several of my students had her last year, so it was great for them to see her again in a different role.

I also had her add some of the features to our map, which is an old FAO Schwarz design that was given to me by a previous teacher.  I've added velcro to the back of post cards to make the map interactive.

I'll admit, it's a little scary to hand over the reigns to another adult in the classroom.  I did choose speakers that I know personally because this education time is precious.  I'm not handing over the reigns to my classroom to some stranger off the street just because it's convenient.  I sought out fellow educators whom I trust and asked if they'd be willing to come in and talk to my students.  {Last year}, I had my friend Katie who is a local chemist come in and talk about making mixtures and solutions.  She took the whole day off of work and did a forty minute science lesson in each classroom. She sent me her power point before hand to make sure it matched our standards and went over her procedures with me.  After dealing with somewhat grumpy adults all day, I'm sure she loved coming to talk to very excited students who want to know absolutely everything about everything.  Sometimes having a guest speaker takes a little more work on the teacher's end in terms of planning and organizing the lesson.

 However, it's worth it.  My students love hearing from experts and I love that I get to learn something new.  It's a wonderful opportunity for them to see these adults in a new way and ask questions about the world.  To be fair, we have the ongoing conversation about thoughtful questions versus random questions, but they're ten year olds and they're still learning.  

The other teachers love talking about their homes and I always learn something new from their discussions.  It was a little strange asking other teachers at first to come into my classroom because I felt bad about asking my over-worked colleagues to give up their free time, but I'm fortunate enough to work with some amazing educators who will happily procrastinate paperwork to come talk with my students.

Having guest speakers in the classroom does take some prep work.  It takes some flexibility with the daily schedule because you most likely will have to accommodate  the other teacher's prep schedule.  I had to collaborate with the special ed teachers that I co-teach with to let them know our daily routine was shifting just a bit.

My students are really good about thanking the guest speakers at the end of the talk, which is about fifteen to twenty minutes.  I want to be respectful of other people's schedules and appreciative that they're giving up their free time to talk to my students.  I send a hand written thank you card a few days later and I've got other teachers volunteering to come talk about their home states.  Ms. M, who is one of my bridesmaids, will be coming in to talk about Pennsylvania.  Mrs. A, our speech pathologist, is ready to discuss Michigan and our spunky principal Mrs. W is ready when we get to the east coast.  I inform the guest speakers of what we've covered (state, capital, state symbols, major cities, major colleges, major land forms) and let them take it from there. 

For this week's try it Tuesday tip, think about what subjects you teach and if there is a local "expert" who can come in and share.  Is there another colleague in your building? A parent who has background in the subject?  You never know until you ask!

At a school site where no one will come talk to your class?  Try skype instead.

I know that when we get to Ohio, we'll be skyping one of my former colleagues who now works for OSU.  Surprise Ms. G, we're going to call you! Be ready! 

Still on the fence about it?  Here's some {background} on why guest speakers are great for students!

Take a deep breath, be brave, and invite in an expert to teach your students something new.  

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