Friday, October 21, 2011

Integrated Unit: Wrapup

Well, it's the end of the week.

I wouldn't say we're "done." I mean, educators are never DONE. There's always another way we could extend the lesson, another application, a list of "oh, we should have done it that way" suggestions for next time. But we're "done" in the scheduling sense." 'But I think our students have gained a much more nuanced understanding of the issues facing churches, charities, and governments. And they're excited about biting off a tiny bit of the problem to tackle in our area.

This morning we sat around and discussed at length an article in the Columbia Free Times about 4 responses to the issues of poverty in SC, especially in the area of government action.
"Four Views on Poverty"

Is a flat tax detrimental to the poor?
Does improved access to education really make the difference for people trying to get out of poverty?
Does SC tax the poor too much, or throw away resources by offering huge incentives to giant corporations like BMW to move here while taxing small businesses?
How do we live out the Gospel among the poor without exacerbating the problem, shoveling it off onto the government, or condescending in our attitudes toward those who need help?
What balance should we strike between government support for ending poverty and nongovernment charity action?

Nobody has easy answers to these questions, but the first step toward being able to do something about it must be wrestling with the problem.

Our culminating activity for the unit requires the "family groups" of students (see Monday's post) to organize some kind of service project. Specifically, we have asked them to target one church in the area and try to connect that church with a local charity -- to provoke people toward some specific action or change of behavior which will help support the charity or alleviate suffering.

At first, the students wanted to do school-ish things: "We're going to make a poster about hunger in the area."  That's well and good ... except we don't need to reinvent the wheel here. This isn't "school" in the negative sense where the most "important" tasks usually require writing an essay on the same topic that was handed out to the class last year.  We don't need a poster when charities usually have their own promotional materials. We don't need to make a video about child abuse; YouTube has 1000 great PSA videos already.

What we need are connectors: for students to choose an action as their goal, recognize the road blocks that keep people in their target audience from doing something about the goal, and removing those barriers. 

Sounds like Kingdom work to me. ;-)

LiveBlogging: Integrated Unit: CHC Workday

More work!

If you don't know anything about Calvary Home for Children, you should (especially if you live in SC). CHC operates within the state foster system as a private, independent group home for foster kids who are in some of the worst position: they are in "long term" foster care, meaning that their parents' rights have been (or probably will be) terminated.

We've had the joy of working with several CHC kids as students at NCS over the years. Unfortunately, CHC isn't able to accept any teenagers right now so I really miss having CHC kids in our classrooms.  They are currently raising money so they can staff another cottage with house parents and take in more kids!!

There's always volunteer work to be done at CHC. Just give them a call and set up a time when you can use your skills.  Today the NewCov kids headed over there (it's just a mile down the road from us) to sort food goods in the pantry and pick up rocks.  Really... I'm not kidding.  They needed to clear the big field of rocks!  So-- 3 hours of hard work well done:

Jack Knipe, Sarah, David, and Lauren are sorting and organizing the giant pantry. The typical CHC cottage can house 8 foster kids PLUS the house parents and THEIR kids. So it's a big pantry. lol

Riley and MK lost among the canned goods. lol

Meanwhile.... everybody else picked up rocks. YEAH.

Workin' hard or hardly workin'?

Dusting off those wheelbarrow skills. And sore muscles.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

LiveBlog: Integrated Unit: From God to You Ministries

Wednesday = "Stop talking and let's work" Day!

Despite the pouring-down rain, everybody loaded up into cars and drove up to Greenville to visit From God To You ministries, which provides food and other assistance to families who need it.

The man who runs it does much of the work himself. So having 40 people show up to package 600 bags of food for the families to pick up later saved him so much time!  We were done in 45 minutes instead of him working all day.

Here are the hands and feet of the Gospel. That's a lesson worth teaching.

I love it when our NCS alumni come back for a workday!

Working at From God to You ministries

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

LiveBlog: Integrated Unit -- CHC tour

OK, enough talking already!  Time to go do something....

NCS students went to our local, awesome foster care ministry (just up the street), Calvary Home for Children. CHC has been helping kids for over 5 years, providing a caring environment for many kids who would otherwise be lost in a "system" that struggles to serve long-term foster children. 

The students are touring the facilities today to learn about the ministry from director Greg Skipper. On Thursday they'll get to roll up their sleeves and do some volunteer work at CHC.

NCS students touring Calvary Home for Children on 10/18/11

LiveBlogging: Poverty Unit -- SPENT

No point in reinventing the wheel.  This is one of the best simulations I've ever found for teaching people about the way financial hardship can affect nearly any family at any time.

We played the game this morning as a group, taking majority votes on hard decisions arising from real-life situations like "You're sick today but you don't get paid any sick days.  Do you call in sick or go to work anyway?"

It's funny how the kids didn't recognize the ways they were slipping into the "parent mindset" that they hate so much day to day.  When given the prospect of spending $10 they didn't have so their kid could go on a field trip or telling the kid to stay home, a chorus erupted:  "Just tell the kid to suck it up!"  We teachers spent a lot of time pointing the students toward the emotional and relational effects of the current recession.  Low-income families have a much higher incidence of depression, health-problems, stress-related fights, and abuse.

In fact, when given the option of helping a friend move for $50 OR attending their kid's school play (in which the kid was playing a starring role), the initial choice was to blow off the kid's play to earn the $50.  Turning that around on the students, we asked them to consider the relational costs of their choices as "parents" in the simulation.

People are more important than things.  Or money.   We tend to assume that rich people worship money, but actually -- those who are poor fall into that sin just as often (or more).

*I really like Spent because it ends with an opportunity to donate $5 toward a NC charity that assists poor family.

Monday, October 17, 2011

LiveBlogging: Poverty Unit -- teaching time

Before we will do anything about the problems of this world, we must mourn. (Thanks, Dr Steve Kaufman, for pointing that out in my Covenant MEd coursework.)  We don't adjust our view of Kingdom ministry until we understand that the Gospel isn't just a fire escape out of hell. God is at work in the world to reclaim it in His name, and that redemptive work touches families and nations and schools.

If we want our kids to love God and love others as a life-principle, they need to understand the task at hand.  The psalmist repeatedly says that a righteous person (or king) is the one who cares for the poor, the oppressed, the widow, the orphan.  So our kids need to understand what that looks like.

We spent the afternoon doing short faculty presentations on different social issues:  malnutrition and the effect of poverty on the health care issue ....  criminal domestic violence and child abuse stats in SC .... the causes and effects of immigration .... the cycle of poverty and poor education .... and the overwhelming cost of war on our veteran in terms of mental health.

It's a heavy afternoon.  Plus all the cheap carbs we ate for lunch (remember -- just $3 per person!) left everyone sleepy and sluggish.  A perfect example of the problem.

Time to let them mourn.
Tomorrow: moving toward being a part of some solutions.

LiveBlogging: Povery Unit -- Food Costs

Food prices have more than doubled in the past few years. As  more people around the world get enough money to buy food (a good thing!), food costs rise due to increased demand (bad thing).  The recent American push toward ethanol fuel derived from corn or soybeans have skyrocketed the price of staple items.  Truth is, much of the world is malnourished or undernourished even though actual cases of starvation have gone down.

Students took time this morning to read this article from USNWR:
More Americans in Poverty than Ever

Rising costs of fuel and food + the economic downturn worldwide have squeezed out many jobs in the middle layers of the economy, leaving only poor-paying service jobs at the bottom and high-paying professional jobs at the top (which require tens of thousands of dollars' worth of education to attain). But huge swaths of jobs have disappeared from management, white collar careers that require little education or training, and blue collar manual labor.

This morning, we divided the students into "families" representing a variety of economic situations and family relationships. Some families have only a single parent; others are trying to support both kids and grandma.  The family groups worked through a list of common grocery staples to estimate what they cost.

Next, we walked up the road to our local BiLo store. The students had two tasks:
1. Write down the real cost of the foods on your list.  Surprise! Surprise! ....more expensive than they thought.
2. Buy your own lunch.  You can pool all your family's money together, but no individual is allowed to spend or donate more than $3.

It was a great experience  for the kids! Many of them used checkout counters for the first time on their own, juggling unit prices and total prices in a real-world test of arithmetic skills. The patient checkout clerk smiled wanly and said, "Y'all are BRAVE for doing this!"   Everybody managed to feed their families pretty well, though our next task (after lunch/recess) will be to analyze the actual nutritional value of the food they were able to purchase.

Some BiLo shots of our "families" shopping:

LiveBlogging: Poverty Unit: KICKOFF

This morning after Coart's short devotion, we divided the students into groups of 5 and gave them the task of brainstorming the effects of poverty on society.  The student groups got a piece of posterboard and a stack of  magazines to create a collage of the effects of poverty.

Check them out:

LiveBlogging: Integrated Unit -- Poverty

For several years, we teachers at NCS have been kicking off each school year with a multi-day, problem-based integrated unit.  Almost no one will spend their career sitting in an office reading books then writing essays, but all of us spend our days solving problems with nimble, creative thinking. (We hope.)  Problem-based education is on the rise in the best schools because it more naturally connects students to the kinds of thinking and skills they will need for life, not just for the artificial environment we call "school."

So for the past several years we've opened the school year with one of these units. We started in 2007 with Darfur, then studied the Health Care Crisis in 2008, problems that rise with the elderly in 2009, and the worldwide water shortage in 2010.  This year we had to move our unit into October as a replacement for our normal big-city field trips. We chose to focus this year's unit on the problems caused by poverty.

The recession has eaten away at most families' budgets, leaving gaping holes in our sense of security. We Americans are used to relying on money to solve our problems, and my students are no exception.

So let's see how this goes.  Five days of intense, problem-based, collaborative learning and service ministry with cross-grade groups (6th-12th).  Stay tuned!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

"Traiin a child in the way she should go...."

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.”

Albert Einstein