By Samantha Selikoff
Going to camp since I was 5 years old, I quickly adopted the themed days mentality when I became a teacher. “Why not make school like camp?” I thought. Let’s get rid of the “10 for 2” philosophy—that idea that you spend 10 months of the year counting down to the two months you’ll spend at camp—and make school camp themed!
Every school year I’ve looked forward to Computer Science Week. It features themed dress-up days. Why limit themed days just to spirit weeks?
Like every educator across the state, I try to make learning as fun and authentic as possible. I started by having a theme for my class each year. One year was sports themed while another was music themed. Last year, the theme was traveling around the world (virtually, that is).
After going virtual in the spring of 2020, keeping students engaged was particularly challenging. I began doing themed days such as Disney Coding, which included block coding lessons from
Code.org. Sports Themed Day with another sports coding lesson from Code.org.
I also started including prizes in the Daily Recap Form, which is my version of an exit ticket. The prizes were related to the theme or lesson during that learning cycle. You might think that prizes might get expensive, but you’d be mistaken.
There are many funding opportunities available. I often go to my Home School Association for grant ideas for class or event materials. Another place to try for funding is NJEA Pride Grants, We Foundation/ Walgreens Grants, and KDP Grants. Donors Choose is another awesome resource that often provides match offers from corporations.
There are many tips and tricks when starting a Donors Choose Project! First, start by creating an account with a referral link from a teacher who already uses Donors Choose. That can give your project a kickstart. My referral link can be found at the bottom of this article along with my contact information.
Keep your first project under $600 or check out the match offers available. Print out flyers from the Donors Choose site with your link that you can post them in local coffee shops and other popular spots around your town. Add the link to your email signature to let people in your network know about upcoming projects. Always feel free to reach out to the Donors Choose team with any questions.
I’ve also created a document that offers more of those many tips and tricks about using Donors Choose. You’ll find it here: bit.ly/2W38Jsq.
…virtually that is
Along with funding opportunities, there are many undiscovered virtual field trip opportunities for students. Within the last year we have visited New Jersey’s own Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center, the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Turtle Back Zoo, National Soccer Hall of Fame, and the Petersen Auto Museum. The Yogi Berra Museum was featured in last month’s NJEA Review.
Don’t forget about Pro Football of Fame, which offers free virtual programs all year long that can be accessed by emailing Jerry at Jerry.Csaki@profootballhof.com.
Along with many great virtual field trips, I have been fortunate to have had some great guest speakers who volunteered their time to come to my class, such as Luke Voit and Ken Danyeko. An NJEA Pride Grant funded our visit from Raakhee Mirchandani, who talked about her book Super Sataya Saves the Day.
Often people have the misconception that LinkedIn is only for people working in the corporate world. This is not the case. LinkedIn is one of my favorite resources. Though it, I get great ideas to help students have authentic learning experiences.
One of the best pieces of advice a professor once gave me was to always reach out to outside organizations. Many companies are more than willing to give back. Educators can use LinkedIn to message companies for donations or to see if anyone would be interested in being a guest speaker. Don’t just press the invite button. Instead personalize the invitation by telling the person why you want to connect with them. For instance, “Hi I’m a middle school teacher and we are currently covering the topic of graphic design. Would you be interested in being a guest speaker for 15 minutes over Zoom one class?” Remember to keep your invitation wording short because like Twitter, LinkedIn invites also have a character count and limit.
The same professor who taught me to never be afraid to ask, also taught me to always be thankful and show your gratitude. Seems like a no brainer, right? This year I created a holiday card with highlights from my class of pictures that I posted to Twitter. I used Shutterfly to have the card printed and sent them to the people with whom we connected as guest speakers and virtual field trip directors or coordinators. I have included a picture of the educator holiday card in the article.
Thank you for everything you do for your students. I continue learning every day and am often inspired by my fellow NJEA members. Toward the end of the last school year, for example, my students were able to connect with a class at Point Pleasant High School which was featured in an earlier issue of the Review. I really enjoyed learning about their app called DAWN in the feature article.
If there is any way we can collaborate, or if you have an idea feel free to reach to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or connect with me on LinkedIn.
As promised here is the referral link for Donors Choose: share.donorschoose.org/37z2nW. As always feel free to follow our adventures on Twitter @MsSelikoff!
Lastly, welcome to camp!