To the Teacher:
This lesson begins with activities aimed at creating a sense of community among your students at the beginning of the school year.
It also includes an exploration of issues in the news over the summer. Students can be invited to pick an issue that they can then explore over the coming months.
The activity will work best if you are able to arrange students in a circle. We've found that circles can be very effective in helping build strong connections between participants, including students and adults. See these guidelines on the circle format. It includes using a talking piece that is handed from person to person around the circle (giving each person a chance to speak uninterrupted), and a center piece in the middle of the circle that has meaning for the group. The teacher serves as "circle keeper," both participating and gently facilitating.
Opening Ceremony or Gathering
Read the following quote by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson:
To each other, biologically.
To the earth, chemically.
To the rest of the universe atomically."
Have students sit with this quote for a minute, then ask them to share any reflections before starting today's lesson. If you are using a circle format, use this as the prompt before sending the talking piece around.
What's in a Name
In a go–round (with a talking stick, if you use one), ask each student to share a story of their name.
Explain that they can share anything they know about their name (first, middle, or last names, nicknames, etc.) This might include:
- Why was the name given to you? By whom?
- Were you named after anyone in your family – or someone else?
- Do you know the ethnic, religious or cultural roots of your name?
- How about the meaning of your name?
- Is your name ever misspelled/mispronounced? How does that make you feel?
You may have participants who, for whatever reason, don't have much information about their names. They can share whether they (dis)like their names and possible reasons why; whether their name is unique or they know three others with the same name; or any other name related information.
If you're concerned about students not knowing much about their names, for whatever reason, you might ask them ahead of time to do some research before introducing this as an activity.
Model the activity by sharing a story or two about your own name before beginning the go–round.
Explain to students that values are principles or qualities that are important and desirable when groups of people come together. Values are at the root of healthy, strong communities. They help ground our communities and guide our social interactions. They can us help create a safe space where we can share openly and honestly.
Give each student a post–it note. Invite students to write on their note a value that they think would also be important for the group as they build their classroom community together.
If you think students will have a hard time coming up with values on their own, consider writing a series of values on post–its for students to choose from. Place them at the center of your circle. Values to consider are: collaboration, kindness, generosity, integrity, support, respect, empathy, concern, compassion, courage, encouragement, equality, equity, love, open–mindedness, patience, honesty, justice, fairness, confidentiality, etc. Make sure to leave some empty post–its as well in case students want to add their own.
Invite participants to get out of their seats and create a standing circle (leaving their post–its on their seats for now). Introduce a ball of yarn. Explain that you'll be tossing it from one person to the next across the circle, so as to "weave a web." Start by taking the end of the yarn. Hold on to it as you toss the ball of yarn to a person in the circle to start the process. When that person catches the ball, invite them to share their value and explain why they think this value is important to have as a foundation for our work together. Explain that after sharing their value, this person should hold on to the yarn before tossing the ball to someone else in the group. As the yarn moves from one person to the next, a web is "woven" that you can explain at the end represents the foundation of your work together.
Explain that the web can be seen as representing the connections we build in advisory/our homeroom or class by sharing our stories, experiences, and feelings. The string represents our interconnectedness as people. The web makes these unseen connections visible.
To illustrate this point, invite participants to make sure the yarn is taut, by taking a step back as needed. Then pluck it in different places and encourage participants to do the same. Think of this as the interconnectedness and the energy that reverberates through a community. Have students think about the person who is having a bad (or good) day, and how that might impact the whole class. Or think about how something that happens in the neighborhood can powerfully reverberate across the school community. Think about a fight in the schoolyard that can put people on edge who (seemingly) have nothing to do with it. Explain that this happens in families, classrooms, schools, neighborhoods, cities and beyond. (The next activity will illustrate this further.)
For now, though, invite participants to slowly put the web down onto the floor, while keeping the strings taut. Then ask each person to put their post–it with the value written on it at the point of the web that they just placed on the floor.
If time allows, consider introducing one or more of following go rounds:
- Invite participants to talk about a time in their lives when this value has played an important role, either because it was present or because it was absent.
- What might get in the way of this value as we come together in our circle?
The Butterfly Effect
Project the image below on the board.
Ask students if they have ever heard of the "butterfly effect." If they have, ask them to share what they know. If not, or if their knowledge is incomplete, use the following to inform them further:
The "butterfly effect" refers to the notion that the flapping of a butterfly's wings can cause a tornado. The idea is often ascribed to Edward Lorenz, who was a mathematician and meteorologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In a December 1972 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C., Lorenz presented his theory in a talk entitled: "Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly's Wings in Brazil set off a Tornado in Texas?"
Lorenz's observation was that a seemingly insignificant event – like the flapping of a butterfly's wings – can create a minute change in the initial condition of the atmosphere, which could cause a chain of events that could ultimately lead to much larger phenomena. Had the butterfly not flapped its wings, the atmospheric change that caused the tornado may not have taken place either.
Tell students that not only are we interconnected as people, we are connected to other animals and the whole natural environment. All our actions have consequences both on each other and on the environment. The word "ubuntu" is used by the Bantu people of southern Africa to help explain this interconnection. The word literally means "human–ness." More broadly, it refers to a belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity – the idea that each of us is fundamentally a part of the whole. It suggests that "I am because we are."
But this concept isn't just a social idea – it is affirmed by quantum physics, which points to the profound interconnectedness of the universe. The physical world is an inseparable whole, and each action has consequences that reverberate throughout.
Sheldon Berman, founder of Educators for Social Responsibility, defined a community as "a group of people who acknowledge their interconnectedness, have a sense of their common purpose, respect their differences, share in group decision–making as well as in responsibility for the actions of the group, and support each other's growth."
Tell students that we'll now explore some things that have happened in the world over the summer – and think about how they affect us.
If you are planning to use this process to launch a project this year, explain that in our class or advisory community this fall, we'll be working together to pick an issue facing our community or communities today. Then we'll explore a variety of perspectives about that issue, and consider how this issue ripples through other communities, including our own. (For suggestions on how to conduct such a project, see Teaching Social Responsibility.)
In the News, Summer 2017
Print up a selection of the tweets included in this PDF document, cut them into separate tweets, and post them around the room. Explain that these are tweets about stories in the news this summer that affected our community in some way.
Invite students to walk around the room in silence, reading the various tweets. Ask them to decide on a tweet that stands out for them, one that resonates with them for whatever reason.
Next, ask students to return to their seat in the circle. Send the talking piece around, asking students to share the tweet they picked and explain why they picked it. What do they know about this news story?
After everyone has had a chance to share, send the talking piece around a few more times, asking some or all of the following questions:
- Do you have questions about any of the tweets we selected?
- Do you know what news stories the remaining tweets refer to?
- Are there other stories you have followed this summer? What stories are missing?
- Do you have direct personal connections to any of these stories?
- Can you think of any indirect connections you have to these stories?
- How does this relate to the butterfly effect mentioned earlier in our lesson?
In closing the activity, note that just as a butterfly flapping its wings may not seem to have a huge effect on our lives, an election in Kenya (mentioned in one of the tweets), or the flood in India, may not feel like it's connected to what's happening to us here in the U.S.
Ask students to consider how some of these changes elsewhere ultimately touch all of us.
Project the image below on the board or write the words on the board yourself.
Ask students to think about what large ripples happening around the world today are affecting our school and classroom/advisory/homeroom communities.
Then ask: What kind of ripples can we as individuals create that will have a positive impact on everyone in our community and on those beyond our immediate circles? Send a talking piece around asking students to share out on the last question.