What inspired this project?
The Beginning of a Journey- 3 Big Reasons
Three events were synergistically the catalyst for my research topic. First, we were all experiencing a worldwide pandemic. The summer before school started I attended the Learn Shift conference and became inspired to increase my skills in teaching online by adding more technology-based tools to my “teacher toolbox”. I heard about the scholarship program that Napa Learns offers if you get your Masters at Touro University. I talked with my family about going back to school to get my Masters since I needed to learn all these new technology skills to teach online and they were very supportive. I was excited to get started.
The second event that caused me to look for another way to create feelings of connection and belonging between middle schoolers happened the Sunday before the second week of school began. I was looking at my students’ schedule in AERIES, just trying to learn names and faces. As I looked at the schedules a feeling of dread came over me. Our kids were not teamed. In my head that Sunday night, and maybe out loud in my living room, the realization was more like this, “OUR KIDS ARE NOT TEAMED!” Teaming has been foundational to Redwood as long as I have been there. If you went to Redwood you can probably still name the team you were on- Panthers, Eagles, Wolves, Geckos, etc. Somewhere in the mid 90’s, the animal teams were retired and college teams were used. Students found themselves on the Hornets, the Aggies, the Seawolves, the Bear, etc. I work within an academic team with four other core teachers to support and know 160ish students that we all share. Teams handle recognition, field trips, celebrations, assemblies, homework clinics, and a fair amount of discipline. Through teaming we also connect the core academics by collaborating on projects and sharing resources. Most of all teams allow kids to connect with other kids and get to know teachers better. To start a year like 2020-2021 (virtual due to the pandemic) without our traditional team support system was a blow.
The third event happened early on in the Master’s program. We were all assigned a book to read and report on. I read James Paul Gee’s Good Video Games + Good Learning. One of my big takeaways from this book was the power of affinity groups. Affinity groups connect people through a shared passion or experience. Gee talks a lot about the powerful learning that is shared through video game-based affinity groups and the nurturing communities that build around these groups as people teach and learn from each other. Since I couldn’t count on the usual team structure at my school to create a sense of belonging and community, I wondered if affinity groups in class could create some of those same social connections and collaborative work experiences. I feel passionate about young people finding those connections at school that will create a healthy & stimulating learning environment where they feel safe, known, and supported. They learn and grow academically but equally important as they grow socially and personally. Have you ever had a really amazing camp experience where you made new friends and shared adventures with them, learned cool stuff, grew personally stronger as a person, and kind of hated to go home because the experience was so powerful? That is my secret dream for the middle school experience.