HEART’s mission is to foster compassion & respect for all living beings & the environment by educating youth & teachers in humane education

Make It Real Mondays

 
girl with microphone

By guest blogger and teacher, Samantha Gentrup
 
One of my favorite things about being an English/Language Arts (ELA) teacher is that my content area ties to every other content area and I can bring in all sorts of real world topics for my students to read about, research, question, reflect upon, and discuss. Every year I incorporate something I call Make It Real Mondays (MIRM) and these lessons have made a huge impact on my students’ reading and writing abilities as well as on their overall interest in their education. I believe that MIRM are not limited to the ELA classroom, but can also apply to science, social studies, and math. I begin by implementing MIRM in the beginning of the year and continue throughout the year until my students write their major argument writing piece in February. Because of MIRM, by February, my students have a plethora of topics and issues that they’ve learned about, making it very easy for them to choose a topic for their argument writing piece. It also makes their writing that much stronger.
 
What are MIRM and how do they work? In a nutshell, MIRM occur every Monday and involve humane education lessons. These lessons can involve a reading piece, a video, a guest speaker, an art activity or even a field trip. The lessons focus on issues related to compassion towards oneself, others, animals, and the environment, and each lesson involves a written reflection and sometimes even a mini-debate so that my students can process this new information about real world issues. All notes and reflections are kept in their writer’s journal for them to use when it’s time for the major writing pieces, especially their argument writing piece.
 
In addition to making my student’s writing better in my classroom, I’ve found that MIRM and humane education almost always tie to what my students are studying in their other content areas as well and my fellow teachers are thrilled that we are talking about their content in another classroom.
 
The first unit that my students complete is on personal narratives. For this unit, while still incorporating MIRM every Monday, my students read narratives about famous activists throughout history and journal daily to reflect upon the heroes. They then connect these heroes to their own lives and write a personal narrative for their major writing piece of this unit.
 
The second writing unit is an informational writing piece. For this assignment, my students can use their writer’s journal and select one of the MIRM topics to research and write about.
 
The third unit is their argument writing piece. Using the information they gathered from the informational assignment, they take a stance on an issue and defend their position while also addressing the opposing viewpoint. These writing pieces tend to be their strongest of the year.
 
The final unit is a creative writing piece in which my students use the real world topic of their argument writing piece, and turn it into a children’s book. Since they partner up, they get creative when combining their topics. For example, one year I had a pair of students write a children’s book about bullying and rainforest depletion. Another year I had students write about teamwork and saving a tree from being cut down in their neighborhood. For this project, they learn about theme(s), tone, and mood and how to write for a specific audience. They include dialogue and characterization and produce amazing children’s books that they hand deliver to kindergarten and first grade classrooms in our district. This is a powerful way to end the year: sharing a message of humane education via a children’s book and spreading a love for reading and writing from one age group to another.
 
I believe that every teacher can include humane education into his/her classroom and that can be via Make It Real Mondays and guided writing units, or any other creative avenue. There really are no limits with the right mindset and vision.
 
sam gentrupSamantha Gentrup is a passionate middle school teacher who believes in the power and necessity of humane education to empower children to positively change the world. She integrates humane education into her daily lessons and shares ideas with her peers through professional development sessions and her Facebook page at Miss G’s Classroom. She hopes to one day open an animal sanctuary and school based on humane education. She is actively engaged in animal rescue and loves to go hiking, backpacking, and kayaking and she also plays sand volleyball and finds joy in spending time with her dog and three cats.

Teaching Tip: Partner with Other Teachers to Explore Humane Topics

 
mickey kudia

One of the beautiful things about humane education is that it can be taught alongside any subject. English? Write poems from the point of view of a child factory worker. Social Studies? Look at the history of segregation in the USA. Science? Investigate the facts to understand climate change. Any teacher can find a way to bring humane education into their classroom.
 
If you are already doing that (and you might be since you are on the HEART blog), we have a way for you to make your work with students even stronger. Consider joining forces with some of the other teachers in your school to coordinate your lessons. There is something so powerful about looking at an issue from multiple angles. Let’s take climate change. Imagine that first, the science teacher does a unit on climate change. Then, the English teacher helps the kids do a letter writing campaign asking the government to take action. And finally, the art teacher asks the kids to create educational posters about what people can do to stop our world from warming. And think about what it would be like if all those lessons took place on the same day, or even in the same week.
 
We all know that students learn information in different ways. Approaching the same topic from more than one perspective allows the children to really get familiar with the material, and enables them to explore it in a way that is comfortable for them. Perhaps you have a student who doesn’t like art, but enjoys writing. Or vice versa. Approaching the issue in this multidisciplinary way gives every student the chance to shine, and increases the chances that this important knowledge will stay with them. It might even make the subjects that are usually less interesting to them more dynamic.
 
Since the school year has just started, talk to your colleagues and ask them if they plan on covering any humane topics this year. Let them know what you’re planning on doing in your classroom. And then, together, think about how you can work together to complement each other’s lessons.

Ethical Prizes for the Classroom

 
kids raising hands

A wonderful teacher we have worked with in the past got in touch with us with a very interesting question. She wanted to know if we had any suggestions for humane prizes to give to students in the classroom.
 
She is not alone. When students do great things, many teachers want to acknowledge those stellar skills and give them a reward, many times purchased using cash from the teacher’s own wallet. That means the prize has to be inexpensive and kid friendly. Keeping those criteria in mind, but wanting to also think about items that are humane (eco, animal and human-friendly), we put together a list of fabulous items teachers can give to kids in the classroom. They won’t break the bank and they will help make our planet a safe space for everyone.
 
1. Recycled Pens or Pencils
These are a nice option because you can buy them in bulk and there are a large variety of options out there like pencils made from newspapers and pens made from recycled plastic.
 
2. Thrift Store Toys
Thrift stores are fantastic places to find the kinds of little toys and trinkets that are perfect to give as rewards. Head over to the children’s section and see what’s fresh. These items are used (and therefore eco-friendly) and tend to be very inexpensive, sometimes even cheaper than a dollar store.
 
3. Garage Sale Finds
Children grow up fast. So fast that they only use their toys for short bursts of time before moving on to the next one. As a result, parents are constantly unloading perfectly lovely kids toys at garage sales. Load up in the summer when there are garage sales every weekend and give them out from September through June.
 
4. Used Humane Books
We all want to inspire kids to read. Thankfully, there is no shortage of used books on the market. The “used” quality makes it a humane choice, but you can go even further. Choose a book with a humane theme like The Lorax or Buddy Unchained. Head to a used bookstore, look online, or for really good deals, see if your library does an annual used book sale. Garage sales and thrift stores sometimes carry books as well.
 
5. Recycled Notebooks
These tend to get a bit pricier per child, but if you just need a few of something, a recycled notebook can be a great option to teach kids that anything and everything, even their school supplies, can be eco-friendly.
 
6. Fair Trade Organic Chocolate
We know that sweets do tend to be a popular choice in the classroom. Due to health concerns and to keep things ethical, consider a bar of fair trade organic chocolate. Rather than awarding one kid the entire bar, break off a section for each child to enjoy. This way you are giving out smaller portions (less sugar) and one bar can be used as a prize for a bunch of kids.
 
Do you have any suggestions to add to the list? We would love to hear them. Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Meet Gideon Simmons, One of HEART’s Caring Kids

 
child with dog

Ever meet a child who cares so much, your hope for the future is fully restored? Here at HEART, we get to feel that sensation each day. We wish you could meet all the kids who go through our programs and see just how big their hearts are. For now, we’d like to introduce you to Gideon.
 
7-year-old Gideon Simmons participated Caring Kids: Animal Ambassadors, a new program for 5 – 8 year olds we created in partnership with Animal Haven. As an Animal Ambassador, Gideon took part in five different programs, each three sessions long, learning about topics including companion animal protection, the importance of adopting small furry animals, birds, and reptiles, building reverence for farm animals, protecting wildlife, and humane training techniques, along with promoting dog and cat adoptions. During each program Gideon and all the other children learned about various issues related to the main topic and then completed service projects to help animals in real life. At the end of the program youth received badges to recognize what they learned, the service they provided, and their dedication to helping animals in need.
 
We decided to ask Gideon if he would mind sharing with all of you why he cares so much about animals, and how he feels about Caring Kids.
 
Gideon and his mom, Georgia, came all the way from Staten Island to Manhattan to attend, not exactly a short distance to travel for an after-school program. Gideon explained, “I read this book called ‘Harry the Homeless Puppy’ and people were volunteering at this animal shelter. So after I read the whole book, my mom [and I] went online and we tried to find local animal shelters that I could volunteer at. All the animal shelters didn’t really have something for kids my age. So, we found Animal Haven. It was the best.”
 
caring kids animal havenIn the Living Wild section of our program youth had the opportunity to learn more about how trash and litter can harm wildlife. They created art pieces to educate others on the harmful consequences that trash can have on our wildlife friends and discussed ways to protect wildlife by reducing, reusing, and recycling. Gideon, a long-time animal lover, with a special interest in wildlife, told us he wants to assist animals when they are injured when he grows up. He said he will “help animals and nurse them back to health if damaged, like seagulls if they get caught up in trash. Or…wounded fish or dolphins…and whales.”
 
The youth who attended Caring Kids: Animal Ambassadors learned a lot about animals in need and ways to help. Gideon told us that of everything he learned, one of the things that will stay with him the most is the plight of captive animals. He said, “animals who are captured and brought in to places like circuses… like elephants, they don’t like it.” In his opinion, “[t]hey’re tortured. They’re probably being held down against their will.”
 
In addition to learning about the issues, a key component of the program was the service projects. Gideon, along with all the other youth who attended, participated in numerous projects to help animals. While Gideon said that he really liked all the projects, he said his “favorite, favorite, favorite” one was when he tabled for Animal Haven (using display boards the kids made themselves, among other materials) and collected donations for the shelter.
 
Gideon is wise beyond his years; he said that it is important to help animals because “we need them.” He explained that there are so many ways that animals have helped people and therefore people should help them.
 
Outside of the program Gideon and his family have their own animal companions who they love and care for. They also provide for the needs of a stray cat who is in their neighborhood. Gideon says everyone can start helping animals today by, “being nicer to the Earth, [not] littering and stop[ping] all this toxic stuff that people let in to the air.”
 
To other kids who are thinking about attending the program this coming fall, Gideon says, “…don’t even think about it, just go right ahead! It’s the best place you could ever want to go…It’s nice, the people there are friendly…I love everything there.”
 
If you are interested in participating in the Caring Kids: Animal Ambassadors upcoming Fall 2014 programming please register here.
 
Sign up soon as space is limited.

Photo credit for image of Gideon with certificates: Brandon Perdomo

For Teachers: Tools to Start the Year with a Humane Classroom

 
teacher in classroomIt’s that time of year. Kids are finishing up their summer homework and teachers are preparing their classrooms and going over their curricula.
 
As you prepare for the 2014/2015 school year, we would like to offer up a few resources that will help you make your classroom a humane classroom. And we would love to hear any additional suggestions on how you model humane behavior, create a safe learning space, and bring human rights, animal protection and environmental ethics into your daily lessons.
 
Teachers: Tips to Make Your Classroom Eco-Friendly

5 Quick Tips for Creating a Compassionate Classroom

Four Ways to Encourage Kindness in Students

Critical Practices for Anti-bias Education

Twenty Tips for Creating a Safe Learning Environment
 
Of course, you can always check out our resources section for actual lesson plans and activities. (And stay tuned for HEART’s new Animal Resource Guide. We’ll be releasing it soon!)
 
Photo Credit: US Department of Education / Flickr