Mix It Up at Lunch Day is now in its 15th year. And just when we think we’ve seen every possible way to organize this event, schools surprise us with new levels of creativity. We’re sure October 25 will be no exception!
Do you have a creative idea for Mix It Up? Share it! If you still have no idea what you’re going to do yet, don’t panic. You’re part of a community of educators who have lots of experience. Join the conversation! A great place to start is by following Mix on Facebook or Twitter.
Here are some time-tested activity suggestions:
- Have students grab cards pre-marked with letters (or colors or numbers) as they enter the cafeteria and then sit at corresponding tables.
- Hand out treats (Jolly Ranchers, lollipops, playing cards, etc.) as students arrive, and have them sit at tables designated by treat.
- Assign tables based on birthday month or season.
- Assign tables using the first letters of students’ names.
- Use random hand stamps or raffle tickets (or colored bracelets, buttons, etc.) to assign seats.
- Use table toppers (favorite college names, sports teams, animals, colors, foods, etc.) and have students choose tables accordingly.
Conversation starters get the ball rolling and help students realize they have more in common than they thought. There are so many topics to choose from (sports, music, movies), or it can be as simple as asking students about their preferences: Coke or Pepsi? Snow or beach? Dogs or cats? Almost any topic can lead students to common ground.
Many schools have used cards from board games as conversation starters. “Would You Rather?” is a clear favorite.
Want to really mix it up? Who says you have to keep it confined to the walls of your own school? Invite nearby schools with higher or lower grade levels. Students will make new friends and meet positive role models—or become role models themselves.
You can always play traditional games like musical chairs or charades. There are no limits to the possibilities; just look at the various ways our Mix Model Schools celebrated last year. As long as students are interacting with someone new, your event will have a positive impact on your school community.
By the way, have you entered the Mix It Up Video Shoot Contest yet? Yours could be one of three schools to be in our short film! The deadline is this Friday, September 30.
Mix It Up at Lunch Day is October 25!
Do you have any questions about Mix It Up? We want to answer them. Any ideas or other thoughts? We want to hear them. Contact us on Facebook or Twitter (use #MixLunch!), or browse these FREE Mix It Up resources.
The freshman literature survey course I teach offers readings rife with sexism and limiting gender norms. Romeo and Juliet, penned in the late 1500s, illustrates the way women were defined by their relationships with men, how they were treated as material objects to be admired and owned (the owners being husbands and fathers), and how physical beauty was the primary consideration in assessing a woman’s worth. Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is another. Beyond the more obvious theme of racism, there is also a strong undercurrent of sexism as Scout struggles to navigate her desire to “act like a boy” in a society with strongly polarized and clearly defined roles for men and women. When her brother laments, “Scout, you act more like a girl every day,” he does not mean to flatter.
The key step to making these narratives pertinent to today’s students—and that may help them formulate clearer ideas about the meaning and value of justice—is to have students examine how much of the media they consume reinforces the same gender-normative ideas. It seems easy for my students, at first glance, to view these works as outdated. Closer examination reveals something else.
High school relationships have always had a big helping of physical attraction at their core, and teenagers are still trying to understand what matters beyond the initial hormonal rush. Now, from my vantage point, cellphones and social media have made physical attributes even more of a preoccupation than they were when I was in high school. Between sexting and posting provocative pictures to Instagram and Snapchat, students are more frequently exposed to sexualized images—particularly of women—and young girls are increasingly pressured to take part in that objectification.
As a teacher, I see the cultural messages that continue to tell girls they are objects to be appraised by boys and that how women look is a key determinant in deciding who they are. Photo-edited images on magazine covers and in ad campaigns add to the pressure for girls to alter their weight, hair color and body proportions in real life.
It’s worth noting that standards of appearance are becoming increasingly unrealistic for men as well; the male cosmetics industry is exploding, and the normative belief that men should be broad and muscular also stands out from most magazine racks. Not only that, but the messages that limit what women are expected to look like and do undermine the authenticity and humanity of men as well, pegging them as conquerors, owners and judges rather than as individuals capable of empathy, collaboration and tenderness.
So as we cover the curricula we are given to teach, let’s make sure we keep contextualizing those points in terms of present-day media literacy.
- Have students examine the coverage of women and men occupying the same spaces. The recent Olympic commentary is a good place to start. Red carpet appearances in which men are asked about their craft and women are asked about their clothes is another. Teach them how these are vestiges of a time when women were literally considered property, objects to be owned. You can tie back to literature to make those connections.
- Have students write journal entries about times they have seen the value of girls and boys being measured by their looks or their willingness to engage in sexual behavior. Discuss the results of their writing, and talk about possible solutions to the problems.
- Have students spend a week examining the world around them. Tell them to look at interactions among peers, their social media accounts, movies, television shows, music videos and lyrics as a start. Ask them to write down all the examples they can find of behaviors that match up with the standards they see in literary works written hundreds of years ago. Again, examine the underlying biases.
- As a follow-up to that week-long examination, ask them to make an attempt to change what they have seen in some way. It may be as simple as telling someone they don’t want to see the picture on their phone or not buying a certain artist’s new album. Those who want to go bigger can create a school-wide awareness campaign or write an editorial for a local paper or website. Have them write a short reflection on that process, emphasizing what they objected to and how they took a stand against it. The “Do Something” tasks in Perspectives for a Diverse America offer a variety of approaches to having students take action that builds civic engagement and critical literacy skills.
We can use curricula to give students a better understanding of the past and present. More important, we can use them to help students think about how to solve today’s problems for a better, more just future.
Knoll is a writer and English teacher at a public school in New Jersey.
It was sixth-grade orientation. New lockers, new teachers and new friends. But as I was preparing to lead this orientation, I wanted to take time to honor what wasn’t new—all the experiences my students brought with them. My solution? Paper airplanes.
I gave out paper and asked the students to list people and things that were important to them in elementary school. To help them think broadly, I gave lots of prompts as they made their lists:
● Friends they were close to, whether or not they’re still close now
● Teachers who made a difference
● Significant activities, such as athletics or arts
● Places that mattered to them
● Topics they learned about that were particularly interesting
● Important skills or processes they learned
● Things they cared about, like a favorite toy or well-worn article of clothing
● Books that had an impact
● Memories they want to hold onto
After the students had time to make satisfying lists, we folded our papers into airplanes, with the words on the inside so they could be kept private. Some students were already expert plane-makers, and others had no idea what to do. I had no idea either, but I’d printed the steps off the internet and guided those who needed help. (Everyone got through the activity with their eyes intact!)
But before we flew our planes, we sat in a circle. I said, “Imagine that this plane represents your life. On board are the important experiences you’ve had so far. Even though new things might become important as you go through middle school, no one can take away the experiences that are important to you right now.” I looked around the circle. The students were with me. “So, what might happen when we all fly our planes at the same time?”
“They might crash into each other,” a student said.
“Yes. In life, we’re going about our business, and other people are going about theirs, and sometimes we have conflicts. Two people reach for the last doughnut, try out for the lead role in a play or try to get the same friend’s attention. What else could happen when we all fly our planes?”
Another student said, “It might just…” and she acted out a crash landing with sound effects.
“Yep. We sometimes try things and fail miserably.”
Another student motioned to the fluorescent light fixtures and said, “The plane might get stuck.”
“Yes. In life, we sometimes get stuck and need help getting out of those situations. What else could happen?
“Couldn’t the plane fly exactly where you want it to go?”
“Of course! Sometimes things go the way we planned them. Maybe because we folded our planes really well, we got help or we just got lucky. What else could happen?”
“I don’t know. Maybe someone tries to make the plane go really far, but it ends up making some cool loop-dee-loop.”
“Yes! Sometimes what we end up doing isn’t what we expected or planned, but it’s really cool! There are so many ways to make a flight successful.”
Then, on the count of three, we all flew our planes at the same time: We sped and looped and crashed them. Then I asked the students to find someone else’s plane and bring it back to their seats. How did it feel to have another person’s plane? The responses were all similar. Weird. Uncomfortable. A big responsibility. I asked, “What might be some situations in sixth grade where someone else’s plane will be in your hands, so to speak?”
“When you’re working on a group project, you need to do your part or everyone gets a bad grade.”
“If your friend is upset.”
“Even something small, like if someone needs a pencil and you have an extra.”
“Or if someone asks you for help with their homework.”
They flew each other’s planes—more carefully this time—and found their own again. Finally, I asked them to consider how they want to fly their planes in middle school. Not where they wanted to fly; this wasn’t a goal-setting exercise. I was asking how they wanted to fly: “How do you want to approach your classes? How do you want to treat your friends? And your classmates who aren’t your friends? How do you want to treat your teachers? How do you want to treat yourself? How do you want to behave toward your families and communities?”
They wrote their responses on the wings of their planes because, while their experiences are on board, their values are how they want to fly. We went around the circle one last time so everyone could share.
“I want to take on challenges.”
“I want to act supportively toward my friends and classmates.”
“I’m going to take my academics and sports seriously.”
“Even if I fail, I’ll keep going.”
I collected the airplanes so I could return them later in the year and ask if the values the students wrote on the wings still feel salient. How have they stuck to their flight plans in middle school, and how have their flight plans changed? Questions like these can help them live by their own values in a variety of contexts—including school.
Porosoff is a seventh-grade English teacher, curriculum design consultant and author of Curriculum at Your Core: Meaningful Teaching in the Age of Standards.
Two common themes are apparent when reviewing the American Library Association’s list of the top 10 most challenged books of 2015. The first is highlighted by such books as Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan and I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings. These books and others on the list feature characters that represent the diversity of gender and sexuality beyond the privileged norms. Religion is another prominent subject in books on the list; challenged texts include the Holy Bible, Habibi by Craig Thompson and Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan by Jeanette Winter.
Gender, sexuality and religion are social flashpoints, and so it’s no surprise that books that tackle these subjects have raised concerns. However, instead of shying away from such important aspects of humanity, it’s vital that students engage with challenging texts that can serve as mirrors of their own experiences and as windows into those of others.
In honor of Banned Books Week, below is a listing of just some of the readings around these topics in Teaching Tolerance’s Perspectives for a Diverse America text anthology. It’s our hope that you will use these readings with your students to provide a more rigorous, relevant and engaging classroom experience. Happy reading!
Tip! To access the texts, you can log in to Perspectives and then click on the hyperlinks below. Doing so will pull up the readings in your browser. Or you can search for the titles in the advanced filter of the text anthology. (You must have completed your free registration to log in and see the anthology.)
Gender and Sexuality
- 10,000 Dresses (K-5)
- Antonio’s Card/La tarjeta de Antonio (K-5)
- Families Like Mine: Children of Gay Parents Tell It Like It Is (6-8)
- Gender Trouble
- International Bill of Gender Rights (9-12)
- Parent Power: Raising Kate (6-8)
- A War on the Peaceful (K-5)
- The Burden of Being a Young American Muslim (6-8)
- Letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport (9-12)
- My Illustrated History (6-8)
- My Name Was Hussein (K-5)
- What Is the Truth About American Muslims? (9-12)
Phillips is the
manager for teaching and learning at Teaching Tolerance.
A recent piece in Politico Magazine unearthed the libertarian influence on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s classic book series Little House on the Prairie. This article highlights the various ways the series has been a pathway to debate and discussion of broader sociopolitical topics such as the merits of the free market. More important, the Politico piece implicitly acknowledges that, whether we’re discussing children’s literature, young adult literature, popular literature or classic literature (or anything in between), we cannot separate ideology from texts. Nor should we try, especially as teachers during a national election like the one unfolding in front of us.
Educators have a role in helping students understand how ideology influences the way people think about the world. Although I am an English teacher, I believe helping students come to better understand ideology is essential for all content areas. STEM fields, for example, are far from free of biases and ideological bents, despite popular opinion to the contrary. For instance, statistics teachers should help students understand how ideology helps influence survey questions and how embedding words such as family and patriotism into the universe of possible responses may cause ideology to sway the results.
I like to tell my students that ideology is the belief system that influences how people make sense of the world around them. In my ninth-grade class, we read several books that are frequent fliers on banned book lists, such as Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of A Part-Time Indian and Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis. Banned book lists offer a good starting point for discussions about ideology. My students and I kick off by discussing what texts are commonly on these lists—and which aren’t—and what issues cause a book to be banned and why. Some students always point out that topics like sex and violence result in books being banned. However, reading Shakespeare complicates that equation.
My students are always surprised by the innuendos and juvenile humor in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. “But this is Shakespeare!” some of them gasp. This reaction leads into conversations about why the play is rarely banned. Arguably, Romeo and Juliet deals with as many controversial topics as Alexie’s and Satrapi’s texts. The difference? Shakespeare is a “classic” writer.
I unpack with my students the ideology behind the term classic. Does it mean old? Somewhat. We then brainstorm what so-called classic texts students are familiar with in order to find common themes among them. Are these texts written by Europeans? Largely, but there are some American writers. Are they all written by males? Not all of them, but certainly women’s representation is lacking. How many authors of color appear on classic lists? Not too many. What about LGBTQ writers? Almost nonexistent. So why is Shakespeare’s coverage of controversial topics OK, but not Alexie’s or Satrapi’s? With this conversation, students come to see the ideological forces behind the banning of books.
All curriculum is political. After all, schools are funded by taxpayers and thus tied to the electorate, if only loosely. And all educational decisions are driven by ideology, whether we’re aware of our own ideological foundations or not. If we do not teach students how to understand and address ideology as part of their meaning-making capacities, then we risk allowing them to be socialized into the dominant, hegemonic belief systems that marginalize segments of our population. That is not healthy for our democracy. Helping students understand how ideology influences decisions allows them to be more thoughtful and engaged participants in society. That should be our goal.
Miller teaches ninth-grade English language arts at P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School, the University of Florida’s affiliated K-12 laboratory school. He is also a recipient of the 2016 Teaching Tolerance Award for Excellence in Teaching.