Normally I would write a post on the importance of advisory culture at the beginning of the school year when students are getting to know you and each other and settle in. I highly recommend revisiting this post in the fall for that reason. However, around this time, classroom moral can tend to take a dive. Students are exhausted, the winter keeps dragging on, state testing is on the horizon, seniors are anxious about what the future holds, and so on. I understand these feelings, as I feel many of them myself. This is the time to reflect, reset, and kickstart spring with a renewed attitude. I have found that this is best accomplished by starting at the source: classroom culture.
When your advisory (or any learning group for that matter) is strong, a positive attitude, motivation, productivity, inspiration, and engagement tend to follow. By "strong advisory" I mean a group that trusts one another, is inspired by each other, work well together and are enthusiastic about doing so, and support each other through the tough moments. There is a kinship, a camaraderie that is so unique to this specific group of individuals.
So, if you're feeling a lull in your advisory, classroom, homeschool co-op, or any other learning group, start by building the group back up. I wouldn't say that I am the best educator out there, but I can say that I have always had a strong advisory/class culture, and that is the result of making this extraordinary bond a priority.
Check out some of the activities that I have done with my advisory and other learning groups to improve advisory culture.
How to Build a Strong Advisory Community
Create advisory goals as a group. Examples:
Create advisory rules and/or expectations together. It may seem counterproductive to have students weigh in when it comes to class rules. Their rule would be “the rules are there are no rules!”, right? Surprisingly, this is not how students respond when you tell them they will participate in creating and implementing their own group rules. The class rules or “expectations” if you prefer, will in part reflect their advisory goals. For example, if one of the advisory goals is to cultivate a safe and productive learning environment, one rule might be to respect everyone’s space and physical boundaries at all times. Allowing students the opportunity to set the rules gives them voice and accountability. Doing this at the beginning of the year then sets the precedent that their voices are heard and respected by you. If it is mid-year, come back to these goals. Use them as a reminder or modify them as a group.
Advisory Group Challenge:
A favorite thing to do with my students at the beginning of each year (and periodically after that when we need a little pick-me-up) is to take them out of the building to do something together, preferably something challenging. I usually take my students to climb a fire tower, hike to a breathtaking view or lookout, or hit up a city skyscraper, taking the stairs to the top. Each of these activities are both physically and mentally challenging, especially if those participating have a fear of heights. Therefore, it is a great accomplishment for students to achieve together.
I have found that these experiences foster group mentality. Each individual makes it their personal goal to get everyone to the top. They support each other, and the results, whether that be the accomplishment or the view, are well worth it. Of course there are some logistical obstacles to consider, and this isn't an option for everyone. If this type of experience isn't possible for your group, use the basic concept to create a similar bonding experience - 1) non-competitive, 2) challenging but not impossible, 3) there is a common/group goal in mind.
Advisory Theme Project:
Ask students during the first week of school to complete mini-projects (independently or in pairs) under a specific theme, and have them present to the other advisories at the end of the week.
Theme ideas: make a short documentary, upcycling projects, family traditions, cooking, create a game, hobbies, try something new. The options are endless. This activity gets students on the same page, working toward the same goal. They feel united by a common objective.
Check out all my project-based learning resources in my TpT store. Students choose their own project sub-topic under a specific theme.
Brand Your Advisory:
I usually have my advisory come up with an advisory name at the beginning of the school year. I have a small group, so we usually sit in a circle on the first day, or within the first few days of school and talk one out. Ideas are thrown out, we vote, a name is established. A name is fun, but useless in the long-run if it is never used. If you're feeling a lull later in the year, propose the following add-ons:
There is no better way to build a strong group culture than giving. There are a variety of ways you could do this. I have found these experiences to be most successful when I give the students voice, when they are passionate about the issue or purpose, and when the experience involves the entire group. All it takes is a little class discussion to spark some service-learning ideas. Many of our group service learning projects have been inspired by current events. We watch Vice News episodes together and go from there. Check out my Vice News episode worksheets and extension activities to get students inspired. You can also head to my Community Action Projects, which provides all of the guiding materials and templates for student-directed service learning experiences.
Plan and Host School Events:
Hosting school events and activities really bring students together. It is something that they can take pride in executing as a team. My students have planned some of the following school-wide activities.
Student-Led Advisory Fundraisers:
Every year my students choose to plan several fundraisers with the intention of raising money to add to the class budget. The money we raise almost always goes towards field trips. They could also donate the money to a charity. The process of planning and executing an event is such a great way to build a strong community within your advisory.
Large Group Project:
Unlike the theme project that is done independently or in small groups, this is a project done as entire advisory group. It takes quite a bit of coordination on your part but is worth the time and energy spent. Each student of the advisory plays a role in the bigger picture. My students have done all of the examples below. There are so many more options! Talk with your group.
Advisory Book Club:
Discuss book interests, take a vote, and settle on STUDENT-CHOSEN books to read for an advisory book club. Read together in class or have them read on their own time and meet back as a group for book discussion.
A “family” meal is when the advisory cooks and shares a meal together. It’s a very informal way of sitting down, enjoying food together and having some casual conversation. It breaks away from the academic rigors of the day and gives us time to just enjoy each other’s company. It also teaches some pretty basic life skills that some students haven’t yet mastered, such as contributing to the clean-up process or setting the table.
Sparks and Community Experts:
Invite community members into your class periodically to speak. It can be on anything. It could be related to a current event you’re discussing in class. It could be related to one of the life skills seminars you are giving. It might just be an interesting speaker that you think your students might like. It could be ANYONE. Examples:
Phew! That was a lot. The experiential school where I have been my entire teaching career highly values and encourages relationship building. My learning space was to be safe, trusting, inspiring, exciting, supportive, encouraging and so on and so on. If you are sensing apathy, discouragement, behavioral issues, conflicts between students, etc., start to remedy the situation by building that classroom community back up. Hopefully there is something here in this post that you can start with! Good luck!
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I love the quote below, for one, because Amy Poehler said it. I also like to use it as the goal for my advisory: to create a space for my students where they are "challenged and inspired".
In 2008 I signed on to to work as a project-based educator at a small charter high school in St. Paul. I knew that I would be taking on far more than the role of "teacher", as most educators do, but I had no idea when I started this job that I would end up being the events coordinator, which included the high school graduation ceremony. I went on to plan a commencement ceremony for 20ish students every year for 9 years.
As some of you can relate, as a newbie, I rarely said "no" to a request. So when my director asked that I take on the graduation planning, I enthusiastically agreed because I wanted to prove myself. As nervous and ill-prepared as I was to take on the responsibility of organizing one of the most important events in a person's life, I did it, figured it out, and am grateful that I did. I got to be a part of something incredible.
Many of my students were first generation high school graduates. Others were told for much of their lives that they would never graduate or amount to anything. I got to be a part of proving their doubters wrong, proving my students wrong about themselves, making them feel special, valued, and worthy, for at least one day. A small graduation ceremony, one with few graduates such as a charter school, alternative program, homeschool co-op, etc., should be intimate, special, and personalized to EACH student. Over the course of 10 years I think I've figured it out, and I'm here to share some of what we did to honor each student and celebrate their unique achievements that brought them to this profound and unforgettable moment in their lives.
Before getting into ceremony ideas for a small and intimate high school graduation, I should note that I was the graduation ceremony coordinator. I did plan it or run it by myself. I organized a student graduation committee that helped plan and execute the ceremony. Students have awesome ideas. I highly recommend putting together a committee.
How to Plan a Small Group Graduation Ceremony
1. Student-Selected Personal Speaker: Each student invites one special person in their lives - a parent, mentor, friend, teacher, sibling, etc. - to speak about that student and introduce the student to the stage to receive their diploma.
2. Senior Theme: At the beginning of the year start making observations about your seniors, and take note. By the end of the year pull seniors together to settle on a theme that represents the group. It could be an adjective that describes the group as a whole, a word that describes an experience that they all shared, or a theme that represents their graduation year. Every ceremony idea that follows below could follow the theme determined by graduates.
3. Personalized Gift Bags: Put together gift bags for each graduate with a few items that represent each unique individual. For example, if a graduate loves to bake you might add a customized spatula, some spices, a cookbook, etc. All of the items do not have to follow a theme, but should reflect the interests, passions, personalities, goals, etc. of each graduate.
4. Personalized Videos: The students in my graduation committee produce a customized video for EACH graduate with photos and videos of students learning, as well as interviews with friends, family, teachers, and more. Those videos are played at the graduation ceremony and are shared with students to keep as momentos.
5. Relevant and Personal Keynote Speaker: Small learning environments organically foster relationship-building, camaraderie, mentorships, and more, because students go through significant life and learning experiences with each other. With that said, an important figure or community collaborator that has been present in the lives of the graduates and have been supportive in their high school journey, make the best keynote speakers. Choose someone that has personal significance to graduates rather than someone random spouting off their idea of "success".
6. Graduate Performance: This is a tricky one to coordinate, but if you have a really small group of graduates, have them create and organize a performance. They can write and perform a song, a skit, a dance, poetry, and so on and so on. This is a group effort that includes all graduates. If this is a logistical nightmare, try to get a graduate or two to perform on their own instead of the entire graduating class. If you can pull off a full-group performance, however, do it. It makes students feel included and important.
7. Student Bios: Write student bios into the ceremony script. At the beginning of our graduation ceremony, the MC's introduce each graduate one-by-one by reading a written bio. The introduction includes graduates' hobbies, interests, shining achievements, and where they're headed or goals for the future.
8. Senior Shirts: Every year our underclassmen design and make senior t-shirts for graduates. Again, this could follow the theme that seniors decide on earlier in the year. Other students in the school, staff members, family, friends, community members, etc. sign the back of the t-shirts, sort of like a yearbook, and those shirts are added to graduates' gift bags.
9. Personalized Graduation Day Frames: In the past, the graduation committee has ordered basic frames and customizes them for each student. Every year one of our staff members organizes a senior photo shoot offsite. We add the photos from that shoot to each frame and give them to graduates at the ceremony.
10. Playlist: Create an album, like a "mixed tape", for each student and share it with them. Each playlist could be customized for each student or the playlist could consist of popular or significant songs from the graduation year.
11. Senior Field Trip: In the past our seniors have organized and hosted fundraisers to raise money for an offsite experience just for graduates . This is not technically a ceremony idea, but could be a field trip that they go on right from the ceremony. My students usually choose to go to our local amusement park.
12. Senior Dinner: Underclassmen plan a dinner for graduates and their parents. Graduates often have family plans post-ceremony, so this dinner doesn't need to take place on the night of the ceremony. It's just another way for graduates to feel special and soon-to-be seniors pumped up for the coming year.
13. Graduate Philosophy Statements: The director of my school started this tradition before I began teaching there, but it was a special experience for everyone involved, so we kept the tradition going for a while. Each senior writes a philosophy statement; a statement that highlights who they are, their dreams, their goals, what life is about for them, and how their high school experience helped shape that philosophy.
14. Photos Exhibit: The graduation committee spends the year collecting photos of seniors in action; on field trips, giving presentations, working on projects, working within the community, etc. The committee organizes these photos onto boards and puts them on display at the graduation ceremony. Friends and family can view the exhibit before and after the ceremony.
15. Graduating Class Slideshow: One ceremony idea already mentioned was making personalized videos of each graduate to play at the ceremony. This is labor intensive, especially if you do not have a graduation committee to take on some of the load. If it's too much, consider putting together a slideshow with videos and photos of the entire graduating class. Play the slideshow during the ceremony or have it displayed while guests take their seats.
There are so many neat ways to make graduates in a small graduating class feel special on their big day. The ones mentioned above are a few that have lasted the test of time. We have tried many other little touches, and have kept some going and have ditched others. Trial and error, right?! I would love to hear any graduation ceremony traditions that you have seen or experienced.
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Project-based learning is a fun and interesting way to enhance learning on any travel experience, whether it's while worldschooling, on a school trip, or even expanding ones' resume or broadening skills and knowledge on a personal or family travel experience.
I am a high school experiential educator. Project-based learning is generally my go-to instructional approach. I have also been a high school travel coordinator for 12 years and make travel with my own family a priority. I have found that the best way to engage students in any travel experience is when supplemented with project-based learning. When students design and lead the project based on their own interests, when purpose is evident, an intrinsic motivation organically results.
Below is a list of end product ideas for travel projects. However, project-based learning is much more than producing an innovative final product. In addition, students reach out and engage with the community, they organize relevant learning experiences, and they share their new skills and knowledge with the world. Authentic learning activities are essential in order to gather information and enhance the learning experience. Encourage learners to participate in service learning projects on their trips, engage in cultural experiences, immerse themselves in ecological and human ecosystems, set up interviews/shadowing experiences/exchanges with locals, and more.
I suggest using my project-based learning tool kit as a guiding tool through student-led projects.
For details on PBL and what sets it apart from other pedagogies (or regular projects), click the "project-based learning" link in my archives.
33 Project-Based Learning Experiences for Student Travelers
1. Travel Journal:
Have students write a travel journal as they go. Have them publish it for personal use and a keepsake for later on in life.
2. Travel Blog:
Students can keep a blog of their adventures, posting at the end of each day. I like this one because they can share the link with friends and family from home who can then follow along on their travel adventures with them. My students kept a school wide travel blog. Check it out at thejenningsexperience.weebly.com.
3. Climate and Culture Project:
My students did a group project on this in hawaii. They coordinated interviews with locals, business owners, tour companies, surfers, park rangers, and more about how climate influences Hawaiian culture. Check out my Climate and Culture PBL project on TpT.
Students can create their own trivia game with questions relevant to their trip.
5. 21st-Century Skills Portfolio:
This is a project that my students do regardless of whether they travel. The idea is that they make a portfolio with evidence of skill-building and reflect on those experiences. Travel would significantly bolster this portfolio. Check out this resource here.
6. Open Inquiry Experiments:
Have students design and conduct ecological open-inquiry experiments. They can test water quality from various water sources, conduct animal behavioral studies, edge effect experiments, soil experiments, and more. Because I am a science teacher, my students do this almost everywhere we go. Their final product is a lab report or science fair style presentation. Check out my open-inquiry tool kit to help guide students through the process.
7. Google Tour:
There are so many cool things to do with Google Maps. Students can drop points anywhere in the world, add descriptions and photos from those points, and publish their "tour". Check out my blog post dedicated to all of the ways kids can use Google Maps as a final product of PBL projects. You can also check out my "hometown tour" PBL resource but rather than complete their project on their hometown, they focus on their travel destination.
8. Behind the Scenes Projects:
This type of project is a great way for students to really immerse themselves in the place they are visiting. They connect with residents, businesses owners, city planners, etc. to fully experience the inner workings of the community. Check out my Hometown Behind the Scenes projects, one on a community event, the other on a local business. The projects are both written about students' hometowns, but could easily be adapted to any location.
Host, produce, and publish a daily podcast on the trip for friends and family to follow along on the adventure.
10. Student Exchange:
Connect with another school, student organization, homeschool co-op, etc. to arrange for your students to experience a day in the life of a local student. Have them journal, video document, or blog about the experience.
11. Write a Book:
Have learners document their experience by writing a book about it. They could write a historical fiction book based on the history of their travel destination, a children's book about their journey, a book of interviews or essays on a specific theme, and more.
12. Plan the Trip:
I don't plan our school trips. Our students plan them with my guidance. Trip planning is a profound learning experience. It includes lessons on finance, fundraising, geography, culture, geology, biology, etc. etc. Check out my free trip planning project guidelines or see my Plan a Trip Around the World PBL resource for all of the guiding templates needed to plan a trip.
13. Biography Project:
Read a biography or memoir about one person from or relevant to the destination and arrange authentic learning activities while traveling. Complete a project on this person. Check out my Biographies PBL project for guidance and templates.
14. Pinterest Profile:
Students create a pinterest profile about travel. They create boards related to traveling such as budget travel, travel bucket list, authentic experiences while traveling, etc. Learners designate a board per destination visited and design and create their own pins to add to those boards on their travel experiences.
15. Tour Guide:
Students write a tour guide about their travel destination. They can add photos of their experiences, write reviews (restaurants, excursions, lodging, etc), and add insider tips for future visitors.
16. Travel Product:
Students design and make a product that solves a travel problem such as young kids kicking your airplane seat. They test their prototypes on the trip and even consider asking other travelers around them to test their products. Check out my Maker Tool Kit for any maker project, which includes a guide and design templates.
There are so many directions kids can go with this. They will choose a theme such as landscapes or environmental portraits, work on a specific camera function or photography technique, or do a photojournalism project, photographing an event taking place in their travel destination.
18. Habitats Project:
Students visit different ecological landscapes in the area they are traveling and design projects around these habitats. My students have conducted biodiversity surveys in Costa Rica. Another group gathered and mapped out climate data from various biomes in California. Check out my habitats project for guidance and templates.
19. Artistic Performance:
Students write a song, poem, skit, screenplay, etc. about their travel experience or specific content relevant to their travel destination.
20. Digital Animation:
Create an animation on any number of things related to the trip. Students can create a cartoon of their experience or an animation about something specific that they learned on their trip.
Students create a physical or online storyboard about their travel adventures. They could also create a storyboard about some aspect of their destination's history.
22. Learn a New Skill:
This could be something that is specific to the place or the culture. For example, when we visited Cambridge, England, we learned about punting and how to do it. When in Costa Rica we learned how to make traditional, wood-fired, pottery. In Italy we learned how to make authentic cannolis. Check out my pbl resource on this concept.
Create quality infographics about some of the concepts learned on the trip. If students spend a lot of time in national parks, for example, they might create infographics on what they learned about each the park's geology, history, biodiversity, etc. This can be done with any number of subjects. They can post infographics on a blog, Instagram, Pinterest board, etc. day-to-day as they travel.
24. Design a Set:
Upon return from a trip, students create a "set" that demonstrates where they were. It should be something that someone could walk through as if they were touring the destination themselves. Host an event for people to tour.
Students design and make their own postcards using photos from the experience. Students can later donate them to the places where the photos were taken such as a visitor center of a local park or gift shop of a museum.
26. Moving Diorama:
Students design and create a diorama that moves. It could be of an ecosystem, landscape, famous street, museum, etc. Use my maker tool kit to help learners through the design process.
27. Interactive Timeline:
Students design and make an interactive timeline on one piece of their travel destination's history. "Interactive" could mean moving, pop-up, reveal flaps, manipulating parts, etc.
28. Heritage Project:
I have my students do heritage projects in school all the time. They are asked to organize authentic experiences about one culture of their choosing. When traveling, authentic learning experiences are much easier to arrange because students are immersed in the culture they are studying. Check out my heritage project to get learners started.
29. Video Promotion:
Create a short movie that summarizes your trip. Produce it as if it were a promotion for your school or homeschool. Or produce it as a campaign that encourages parents, educators, and students to embrace travel as a learning tool.
Students make mini-documentaries on their travel experience. This final product idea could go with any number of driving questions or research topics. The documentary could be about the travel experience itself. Or it could be about a political, social, economic, environmental movement taking place at their place of travel. It could be about specific content such as a piece of the history, ecology, geology, geography, art, and more.
Make a calendar about the travel experience itself or about some aspect of the travel destination. Original artwork and/or photographs of the destination should be included for each calendar month.
32. Make a Magazine:
This is a great group project. Students come together to determine the theme of the magazine, what to include, student roles and tasks, and more. The content should reflect the travel experience as a whole or features of the place itself.
This is a fun one for 21st-century learners. Chances are your students already "vlog" to some capacity. Students will record significant moments, learning experiences, activities, etc. during their travels and post those videos to a blog, website, or social media outlet such as Youtube, Twitter or Instagram. Family and friends from home can follow along. Students should have a focus question or topic, as all project-based learning experiences do. Check out my pbl tool kit (link in intro) to help learners organize this experience.
To provide innovative educational resources for educators, parents, and students, that go beyond lecture and worksheets.
Sara Segar, experiential life-science educator and advisor, curriculum writer, and mother of two.