Create a culture of service project with students age 10-12
Teaching students about giving back has a place in the classroom, especially when it has roots in learning. Youth Service America has created amazing guides for teachers on how to carry out these projects, one version of which you can learn about here.
Jake McCollum, Sarah Bayer, and their students at IB Lincoln World Middle School engaged in YSA’s Semester of Service, a program in which teachers and students work together to connect meaningful community service activities with intentional learning goals and academic outcomes.
More than 130 eighth graders did a Semester of Service – or a “STEMester of Service” – applying their science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills to community issues. Students focused on local water quality and natural resources, and researched hydraulic fracturing, a major issue in their Colorado community.
Students hosted a “conversation café” with local leaders, community partners, and energy company officials to share their research findings and facilitate discussions about the pros and cons of fracking. Students launched a school-wide energy awareness campaign and concluded the school year by organizing a neighborhood “Zero-Energy District” Energy Expo.
Adaptable to most classroom settings and subject areas, all Semester of Service projects include these key elements that are known to promote student engagement:
Duration and intensity: At least 12 to 14 weeks of continuous service and learning experiences.
Link to curriculum: Activities are clearly aligned with Common Core or other academic state standards in one or more content areas.
Meaningful service: Students address a community need that is meaningful and relevant to the community, to the students themselves, and to the teacher
How you can do it
Get school administration support. Youth Service America suggests sharing research that shows a Semester of Service has a positive impact on student engagement and achievement, while also thinking about what specific goals are important to your school and to administrators, and how this project might meet some of those aims. In addition to the research, share success stories from other educators and invite the administration to be partners in your efforts. Outline the ways you’ll keep them involved as the semester rolls on: share updates from students, perhaps, or how you plan to do media outreach. And be positive. Passion is contagious!
Build on your curriculum. Jake and Sarah used backward design by starting with the science curriculum's enduring understanding and learning goals, then aligning their activities up with community needs that could drive the lesson plans.
Think skills. Hands-on fieldwork allowed students at Lincoln World Middle School to practice and gain STEM skills, while also witnessing firsthand the state of water quality in their area.
Plan service activities. Students started energy conservation campaigns at their school and encouraged their peers and school staff to change behaviors. Their STEMester of Service concluded with a neighborhood “Zero-Energy District” Energy Expo that students organized.
Invite issue experts to speak to the students Jake and Sarah had a variety of issue experts—including a professor from Colorado State University, an oil company representative, and EPA staff—to share their expertise with the students.
Involve your peers. Jake and Sarah gained support from other teachers along the way. The other eighth-grade teachers bought into the project because they saw how enthusiastic the students were. Sarah encouraged the other teachers to partner up and collaborate to produce meaningful and in-depth cross-curricular units of study.
Involve partners. The students were successful in working with community partners. They chose FortZED as their primary partner because its mission fit perfectly with theirs.
Invite administrators to the events. Not only will it add to the importance of the events, it will be a good opportunity for the administrators to see how the knowledge and skills the students have learned are put to good use.
Measure your success. The students captured baseline data on energy consumption by using surveys in and outside of school. They continued to gather and analyze trend data throughout the project. Students made adjustments in their actions based on their data analysis.
Students reduced energy use at school by 25% in four days and raised awareness of energy conservation in their community.
Perceptions about teaching and teaching practices changed as a result of this project. Jake wrote as he reflected on this project, “The program took me out of being a teacher and into being a facilitator working with the students. This has forever transformed my teaching and expectations of what kids can and should do.”
Jake suggests letting students create a list of potential issues and guiding them to choose one with which they will experience success. He says, “Success is vital to the power of service learning.”
Jake’s mentor, Sarah, used YSA’s resources throughout the year. “Thanks to the great structure that YSA has provided, we have been able to connect our entire science curriculum to the project using the Semester of Service Strategy Guide.”