What if a geography lesson was like playing a murder mystery game? That’s one of the workshops that was offered at this year’s UFT Middle Schools Conference, and for Mauricio King and Patricia Pabon, special education teachers at PS 12 in Throgs Neck in the Bronx, it was a winner.
“It was a fascinating workshop because they took a forensic approach, like the game of Clue,” King said. “We had to look at evidence.”
Students examine different maps — of climate, population and elevation among other categories — to figure out where the cadaver is and to solve the whodunit. They learn geography in the process.
“The excitement level would be high, because now the students are detectives,” King said.
King and Pabon were among the nearly 300 UFT members who attended the union’s annual conference tailored to middle school educators at UFT headquarters in Manhattan on Feb. 4 to celebrate the work they do and learn new strategies for reaching middle school students.
“You bring passion and motivation to what you do,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew in his remarks to the educators in attendance. “The graduation rate is higher than it’s ever been in New York City and across the United States.”
Richard Mantell, the UFT vice president for middle schools who started the conference four years ago, spoke about the importance of instilling grit and persistence in middle school students. “The most important thing is helping our students persevere,” he said.
In addition to the mapping workshop, conference participants could learn about using digital tools, enhancing English as a new language instruction, using gaming and coding to teach math concepts and mastering the process of creating an effective Individualized Education Program, among other workshop topics.
For Gordon Marshall, a math and science teacher at IS 211 in Canarsie, Brooklyn, a workshop on how boys learn was an eye-opener. “For boys, the environment has to be more action-oriented and infused with games and humor,” said Marshall, who was attending his second Middle Schools Conference.
Ayana S. Flood, an 8th-grade math teacher at One World Middle School in Edenwald, the Bronx, participated in the workshop on social and emotional learning. The workshop leader used the metaphor of an iceberg to describe the volatile emotions that lie beneath the surface of many middle school students, who may be dealing with financial and other crises at home in addition to the usual travails of adolescence.
“The workshop gave me a sense of how tough it is for some middle school children,” said Flood, a 10-year veteran attending her first Middle Schools Conference. “I learned that I need to stop and not be reactive and understand there are things going on underneath.”