Linking service to the curriculum
Kim Barth, a sixth grade teacher at Thurgood Marshall School and two-year member of Need in Deed's My Voice Teacher Network, won the January-February My Voice award.
Kim's students have had the good fortune to remain with her for a second year. Last year, as fifth graders, the class chose to focus on homelessness for their service-learning project. This year, they decided to explore the issue of cancer.
Time is always an issue in the classroom, and preparation for the PSSA tests is a major concern during the months leading up to the March testing period. Kim deftly incorporated service-learning into her daily classroom activities while also helping her students prepare for the test. Here's an example of one simple but effective activity she planned.
Her students were in the midst of collecting soda tabs for the Ronald McDonald House, which recycles the tabs to raise money for the charity. Kim arranged to have empty cans delivered to her room so students could remove the tabs before the cans were shipped off for recycling. But while they removed the tabs, she had the students keep track of the soda brand of each can, and asked them to use that information to determine the mean, median, and modes for each brand. In addition, the class used personification and alliteration to describe the cans, and created onomatopoeia for the sound of crushing cans.
The result was an inventive lesson that incorporated literacy and statistics skills in a single activity. When first faced with the task of designing the lesson, Kim felt a bit overwhelmed. “But once I started typing it up, it was easy,” she reports. In fact, Kim says that the most difficult part of developing the lesson wasn't tying it to the core curriculum, but simply putting the students into groups of comparable ability. And because it reinforced the students' literacy skills and knowledge of statistics, the lesson ultimately helped prepare the class for the PSSA test they would take just a few weeks later.
Teachers looking to incorporate service-learning into their core curriculum instead of treating it as an extra task can look to Kim's example for assurance that the strategy is a sound one. “The lesson worked well,” Kim reports. “It put the curriculum into perspective and showed the students how to use it outside the classroom. And the students were more keen to do it because it was hands-on.”