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Finding creative ways to reach students

Published on Monday, February 17, 2020

BCSD conference day 2020

BCSD photos / Monica Kreber : Teachers make parachutes in the "Makerspace Mania" class.

For more photos from Conference Day click here.


Berkeley County School District’s teachers have their students doing more than reading a text book to learn a subject.

Whitesville Elementary’s Makerspace Club has had students create light-up Christmas cards using circuit boards. English teacher Tamara Sweatman can show examples of a creative “Netflix series” her students have come up with, based on the books they are reading. Music teacher Sarah Red can demonstrate how a folk dance can make a history lesson a little more fun.

Teachers learned different ways to implement innovative and creative lessons to their students during Berkeley County School District’s annual Conference Day on Feb. 14. Teachers attended classes to learn – and test out – more ways to reach their students.

Learning & Motion

A little less talking and a lot more awkward laughing and movement came with a class called “Learning & Motion: Adding Movement to the Classroom”.

Sarah Red, music teacher at Mount Holly Elementary, showed a pretty packed room of participants a variety of different folk dances they could incorporate into their classrooms – including an Israeli dance and a couple of line dances. She also taught teachers how a variety of movement activities can tie in with social skills, social studies and history lessons – and how students can have fun doing so.

Red first showed teachers videos of how the dance was done, then would demonstrate the dance herself and got the teachers to partner up, form a circle, assemble lines (or a combination) and had the teachers dancing throughout the remainder of the session. Red would also mention ways movements benefit students. For example, in the Israeli circle dance, there was a part where students walk toward the center of the circle and do a certain maneuver; Red said that was a good time for her students with a lot of energy to let a lot of energy out.

BCSD conference day 2020

Creativity in ELA

Tamara Sweatman is new to teaching English at the high school level – she is now at Goose Creek High – but she is not a stranger to coming up with creative ways to keep her English students engaged.

From book tastings, to book snaps and literary food trucks, to turning books into a “Netflix series” – her ideas kept visiting high school teachers engaged during Berkeley County School District’s Conference Day.

Sweatman led “Cooking up Creativity in the ELA Classroom”, one of many classes offered all day Friday at Cane Bay High.

One idea she presented to teachers was an event called a book tasting. She said she partnered with media specialists to pull books from every genre in the library, and set up tables where students were given “menus” and could sample the books. To make it a whole experience, Sweatman added tablecloths and snacks for the students.

BCSD conference day 2020

English teacher Tamara Sweatman speaks on her creative lessons.

She also presented something called “book snaps”, which can be done on a number of platforms. For her lesson, she created Google slides for each child to take a piece of text they found, from whatever book they were reading, and had them decorate their slide in a way that related to the theme of the text. Students used emojis, pictures and thought bubbles to illustrate their ideas.

“The kids really got into that one,” she said.

An idea that she said went great with literary circles or class novels was assigning literary food truck assignments, where students model a food truck based off a book or character. They could base it on a character, theme or novel as a whole. Students came up with what would be on the menu, who would run the food truck, what kind of music would be playing and more.

Something that got some “Love it” responses from her fellow teachers in the class was Sweatman’s idea to have students create a Netflix series based off a novel. The students create an episode list, a cast list, etc.   

Sweatman wrapped up her lesson showing teachers different gaming tools, like one called Gimkit, which has all sorts of games a teacher can make for students to play. Another teacher in the class said she uses Gimkit for vocabulary, and played it herself  -- answering all the questions correctly but still placed 22nd because she was not as fast as her students. She said her students who play videos games in particular are really good at it, whether they know the vocabulary or not.

Sweatman created a vocabulary game in which the participants in the room divided into two teams – “humans versus zombies” – and the participants answered questions on defining vocabulary. Zombies won.

Makerspace

A growing fad in elementary schools is Makerspace, whether it comes as a club or a class. The “Makerspace Mania” presentation showed elementary teachers how it is done.

Whitesville Elementary’s Makerspace Club is a new one this school year. Clubs meet after school on Mondays.

The club includes a lot of hands-on activities and a STEAM approach to learning.

About six staff members cover the club. The school’s media specialist Carolyn Davis, as well as fifth-grade teachers Amanda Hicks and Kelsey Chapman, gave tips for other teachers on starting up their own Makerspace Club.

“We are still very much a club that is a learning process,” Chapman said.

The group went over six steps to implementing a good project: ask, brainstorm, design, build, test and improve.

They also showed different examples of projects the students have done so far.

“We as teachers are just seeing what they can handle,” Hicks said.

One example was students built a windmill, another was an owl for which students had to find a way to make the bird’s wings move up and down.

“The ideas they created were just amazing,” Davis said.

BCSD conference day 2020

In December students made simple electrical circuit Christmas cards. They learned about the factors of a simple circuit and applied that knowledge to make Christmas cards sporting Santa Claus or Rudolph on the front; the circuits lit up small light bulbs that made up the nose of the character’s face on the front of the card.

Davis said ideas for projects can come from anywhere, and teachers can take a craft and make it work for Makerspace.

One indication on if a project will work is asking the question: can you test it? If not, there’s a good possibility it will not make for a good Makerspace project.

Teachers taking the class got to try out a sample project themselves: the parachute drop.

They divided into groups to find ways to create a parachute to protect a “paratrooper” (a little craft ball) when dropped from the height of one’s reach. They were given scissors and tape and could pick three of a list of other items that included two pieces of paper, one piece of string, one coffee filter, four popsicle sticks, three straws, two paper cups and some other items.

Teacher groups came up with different ideas, and many of them found success in their creations.

While the Whitesville Elementary teachers said they show the students examples of the projects before they make them, they do not give away too much detail, because while the club embraces creativity, “you want to get that critical thinking in there too,” Davis said.

Monica Kreber
kreberm@bcsdschools.net