Summer Reunions

It’s no secret that teachers love having time away from school in the summer just as much as our students do. Packing so much focus and activity into nine months would make anyone ready for a breather by the time the summer months roll around. Now, I would be the first one to jump on board to the idea of converting to a year-round school schedule with more purposeful breaks built in throughout the year, but that is another blog post entirely.

While getting the ARCTIC Zone off the ground the past two years, Andy and I spent nearly every summer weekday at school planning and prepping. Fall would roll around, and as every other teacher was walking into the building feeling rejuvenated after a well-deserved vacation, I felt like I had never left … because I hadn’t. This summer, I promised myself I would take the vacation I deserved. So instead of worrying about student schedules, course ideas, and project packets, I spent time reading for pleasure and for school, I visited family and friends out of state, I attended several concerts, and I built my first vegetable garden in my backyard. Andy and I have met up for coffee a few times to gather our thoughts for the upcoming year, and with each meeting my enthusiasm has grown. It’s amazing what a little time off can do for the soul.

A few weeks ago, we hosted our annual family potluck picnic at a local park on the river. We had about 100 people join us, both returning families and new. It was a beautiful night and a wonderful chance to just hang out for a little while. I don’t quite know how to explain how happy I was that evening. It is a huge privilege to be able to work with the same group of kids for three years in a row. You build such a close relationship with each student and family. Looking around that night, I was reminded that after this year we will say goodbye to our first ARCTIC Zone class. I’m putting the cart before the horse, but I get choked up just thinking about it. And it’s why events like these are so important… to just be together … with no other expectation.

Another event that has become important to us is our summer STEM days. Yesterday, we welcomed 20 of our returning 7th and 8th grade students back to school for a morning of laughs, a fun design challenge, and a walk to Dairy Queen for lunch. It was a chance for them (and us) to chat about our summer passion projects and to engage in some collaborative learning.

With only just over an hour of time to plan and work, they were challenged to build a roller coaster out of straws for our brand new Sphero Mini Bots. The only requirement was that the coaster needed to have two inclines. Students broke into groups and immediately started designing. Adjustments needed to be made to accommodate angles, speeds, and natural forces like gravity. It was such an engaging challenge that Andy and I are already rethinking one of our quarter projects to incorporate a larger, similar task this year.

I think the thing that struck me most at the end of the morning was how well every student embraced their failures. No coaster was actually successful. The time allotted for this challenge was far from enough to make this project what it could be (hence the future project idea). However, when time was up, every student was ready to share what they had created, what their thought process had been, and what they would do differently if they had more time to continue. Two years ago, I would have been prepared to nag the students who wouldn’t stop working when asked, to listen to complaints about not having enough time, and to hear excuses about why their coasters were unsuccessful. Instead, our students came in prepared to engage in a fun challenge and were able to thoughtfully reflect on their thought process and the execution of their planning.

This reminds me of a quote from a book I’m currently reading called “The PBL Playbook” by A.J. Juliani. It states, “With PBL you will always fail, but it’s the great teachers that come up with a different plan and try again.” I love how failure is assumed. I think that goes for life, as well, though, and that’s why I’m proud to see our students building grit and perseverance to “come up with different plans and try again.”

I’m not sure about everyone else, but summer is winding down, school is just around the corner, and I am ready!

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