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Packets & Puzzles

Last week was the end of the school year, and I had mixed emotions as many educators do. I felt a sense of accomplishment and pride with all my 6th grade students achieved, a sense of sadness with seeing my students leave, and yes, a sense of relief, and joy that summer was finally here and I would be getting to spend time with my own children. However as the year was coming to an end, I kept trying new things with my students. I did not want to end their time with me on packets and puzzles. I wanted to end the year as I began the year, being a meaningful, student-centered classroom.
We all want our students to find their education and the lessons we design for them meaningful, but honestly, can we define what is meaningful to our students when we are no longer students of that age? How do we know when something is meaningful to them and when it is not? I have discussed this year being meaningful to my students numerous times in previous blog posts, but I don't think I could really define it until one of the very last days of the school year. And if I am being completely honest, I don't know how many lessons were truly meaningful to my students. 
One of my last science lessons for the year was for the students to make a science meme of any topic we covered with this year using Google Drawings. What I thought would be a fun little lesson that incorporated Google Drawings, turned out to be the most meaningful lesson of the year to my students. As I watched my students work through this lesson, I saw them engaged and using all of the 4C's from start to finish. What they were doing was meaningful to them, and it was obvious. Once the lesson was over, I spent some time thinking about what made this lesson so meaningful to them. How did I have them engaged in their learning at about school day 174 of 180? What did I see from this lesson that I did not see from all of my other lessons? The answer was relevance. Being meaningful is being relevant. For my 6th grade students, learning how to create their very own memes could not be more relevant to them. So there they were, going through all their science resources for the year, reflecting, collaborating, communicating, being creative, and using critical thinking to create their very own meme in Google Drawings. 
Was the lesson meaningful? Did it demonstrate their learning? Absolutely. But what made the lesson meaningful was that it was relevant to them. It was relevant to my audience. It wasn't packets and puzzles. It wasn't finding the area of some random triangle. It wasn't finding what place value the 2 is in in the number 347,290,185. Can all of my lessons have the same relevance of my science meme lesson? Probably not, but that doesn't mean I can't try.
So as summer begins, I will start going back through my lessons trying to find new ways to make them relevant to my audience of 6th graders. However, I won't really know what is relevant to my new group of students until I meet them and get to know them, and one way to start to find out more about them is utilizing Google Forms. At the beginning of the next school year, I think I will do a Google Form about their likes, dislikes, interests, etc. and use that information to help make my lessons for them more meaningful, or rather relevant. 

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