Service Learning Cluster
By Bob Dowling, Middle School Teacher
Three times a year, Middle School students experience Clusters learning, where they take time away from their regular class schedule in order to delve deep into three specific content areas:
- Service Learning
- Drama and Performing Arts
For two weeks at a time, students spend each morning working on a specific project tied to these Clusters content areas. Students rotate, by grade, through all three clusters throughout the year. This blog focuses specifically on Service Learning.
For Service Learning, the first thing students do is develop a working definition of what service learning means. This definition has been constantly evolving over the last few years. Their current definition is this:
“Service Learning is learning through a combination of helping others and reflecting on your work. Discovering how you can help and evaluate along the way are also part of service learning. Being able to work together, interacting with people, and problem-solving are skills you develop during service learning. You take away more than just a good feeling, you also learn something.”
The topics and activities for service learning are constantly evolving, but here are a few Service Learning examples by grade that demonstrate what students have previously studied.
The 6th graders focus on Early Literacy, partnering with Stepping Stones Child Care Center in Watertown. They spend time observing in the classrooms, interacting with the children, and learning about early literacy. Then students break up into small groups to develop a proposal for a project that revolves around early literacy and they submit the proposal for approval by the director of Stepping Stones. Some of the past projects include: letter pinball machine, alphabet train, shape puzzle, and photo album picture books. Finally, students spend a few days bringing their ideas to life.
The 7th graders focus on Hunger in America. For this project, they partnered with the St. Patrick-St. Vincent de Paul’s Food Pantry in Watertown. The students interviewed local and state politicians about their policies to combat hunger. They use this information, along with personally collected research, to develop their own policy briefs around the issue of hunger. Last year, the 7th graders participated and helped organize a concert and food drive. As a part of their efforts, they raised $775.00 and collected over 20 boxes of canned goods for the food pantry.
This year, 8th graders will take on a larger role in determining the topic they wish to explore and planning what their experiences will be. To accomplish this, the 8th grade will have Service Learning once a month until April, when they will be in their Service Learning Cluster. Currently the consensus is leaning toward exploring the topic of Aging in America, but their planning is still in the early stages.
Each grade will explore a distinct topic for Service Learning, but there are many commonalities. No matter what topic is being studied, the students need to be able to work effectively together. The first thing students do, as they work to enhance this skill, is develop group norms where behaviors and attributes are listed. The common norms allow each group to work well together. The following photo illustrates their work:
In addition to creating norms, each student identifies some of the skills and abilities they personally possess. They also identify an area for potential growth relating to group work and share this with the group. As a group they utilize each other’s strengths and help each other work toward their goals. Students also focus on conducting research and engaging in reflection. The students explore one issue in great depth, conduct interviews, summarize and share their findings, and reflect on their learning to determine what their project(s) will be and what their next course of action should entail.
Clusters continues to be a distinguishing aspect of our middle school program.