This year, in addition to teaching our usual subject area courses, we were informed that we would be teaching one critical thinking class per day. Because the critical thinking standards cover a pretty wide range of subjects & skills, we were also told that we could cover just about any topic we were passionate about. So of course my mind goes immediately to SEL!
I remembered a number of years ago attending a conference where Goldie Hawn was the keynote speaker, speaking about a new program she had started through the Hawn Foundation called MindUP. It's a social-emotional learning program with a focus on teaching and cultivating mindfulness. There are 3 levels of the workbook, I bought the middle school version and, after a short review, dove right in.
Here's the structure of a typical period:
For today, I'll share an activity the students worked on last week when they were learning about the emotional centers of the brain, which is taught for purposes of self-regulation. We were learning how stress affects learning and MindUP suggested word webs as a visual way for students to see how new information is stored in the brain. To put in really basic terms, when we learn something new, our brains try to categorize it to something similar that we already know. If there's a similarity, but slight difference, a new "file" is made, but so is a connection to that prior knowledge.
We have desks arranged in tables, so as a way to provide a visual representation and link to ELA standards, I wrote 6 seemingly unrelated words, one on each desk, with dry erase markers. Students were then each given a marker and they had to brainstorm related words for each of the keywords provided. Then they worked together to draw lines, connecting any related words from the brainstorm, desk to desk. Eventually their task was to try and connect seemingly unrelated words together.
The kids really enjoyed it and it was fun seeing the connections they made! I think it was a neat visual representation of a learning process that's so abstract.