“Which part of your school are you most excited about?” This is a question that I get all of the time. The answer is often surprising because it isn’t directly related to the iPads, iPods, Mobile Computer Labs, Wireless Slates, etc. that our school district is known for. The answer is always related to our service learning projects.
Service Learning is a powerful teaching and learning strategy that integrates instruction with meaningful community service activities. Our version of service learning incorporates the tools/technology that students love with the service activities that they are passionate about.
Some of our service learning projects occur right in our own backyard. Our third graders are currently working on a courtyard garden project that will not only beautify our landscape but also provide food for the local food bank. The students are engaged in various concepts from the parts of a plant to determining area and perimeter. These concepts take on a greater meaning when it is taken off of a worksheet and shown in a real landscape.
Other projects span the globe like our recent “Pennies for Peace” campaign. Fourth grade students are required to learn about natural disasters. This type of required learning typically occurs in isolation. This year our students have been engaged in a wide variety of activities from researching the impact storms have on the economy to student-created digital stories focused on preparedness. The students have also reached out to various countries that have been devastated by recent earthquakes. This student-led campaign brought in over $1,500.00 for earthquake victims in under four weeks.
Service learning makes the curriculum and essential skills relevant. The projects are rigorous and the level of learning is much higher than had it occurred in a traditional sense. Students work together to solve real problems, develop a level of expertise in their area of study, and share their newfound knowledge with classmates, teachers, community members, and the world (via our SchoolTube channel).
One of the keys to engaging today’s learner is to tap into their passion. Service learning is a way to teach citizenship, academics, and the important belief that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world.