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Putting a new spin on learning

New York Teacher

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PS 107 in Park Slope, Brooklyn, students do activities to foster team spirit suc

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Teacher Michael Carlson developed the Huddle program at PS 107 in Brooklyn.
It’s Friday morning in Michael Carlson’s 5th-grade classroom at PS 107 in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and the students are playing mumball. The object of the game is to pass the ball from student to student as quickly as possible without dropping it or speaking.

The students take 10 minutes to plan. Then the game starts, and the classroom is tense and silent. When the ball reaches the front again, the silence persists. All eyes are on Mr. Carlson. In a hushed and reverent tone, he says “32 seconds.”

The students erupt in cheers. They’ve beaten the record.

It’s a typical morning in the Huddle program, which started five years ago after the 5th grade became departmentalized, meaning students travel from class to class. “It was more effective for instruction, but we felt we lost a sense of community that you have in a self-contained classroom,” said Carlson. So, the Huddle program was born.

For three periods each week, students share their feelings and problems, work on social skills and play games like mumball. “The games bond us together when we laugh and have fun, but they also help develop skills,” said 5th-grade teacher Ed Schulz. “In games like mumball, you’re fostering a team effort and strategizing together.”

The students agree. “Mumball is fun because we learn to become better in class and work together to accomplish something,” said a 5th-grade boy. A 5th-grade girl added that the program “helps build a community so you feel safe in school.”

Fifth-grade teacher Shirley Hawkins says navigating the social realm is challenging for her students. This time allows Hawkins to support them as they “get to know each other so they can reach out to each other,” she says, and learn they can also reach out to teachers for help.

Over the years, teachers have tried different strategies in the program, such as collaborating with the school counselor to teach conflict-resolution skills or working through an activity from the diversity committee about women in history.

It’s all in the service of gaining social-emotional skills that “we know from research are as important as IQ for life success,” said Schulz. “You can’t assume kids have these skills, and if they don’t get that instruction, it hurts them,” he said.

“At first, we were afraid to let go of instructional time, but it’s made us more powerful instructors,” Hawkins said. “With Huddle, my students get the message that other things besides academics are important. It’s important for them to get space to be humans.”

Related Topics: Pedagogy
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