Education should be a fun experience, and that requires an enthusiastic instructor!

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Hi, my name is Jordan Bazak. I am 23-years-old from the United States. Before I came to HOOP, I received my undergraduate degree in Economics, a subject I will continue to pursue this coming fall as a doctoral student at the University of Pittsburgh. I decided to volunteer in South America both to improve my Spanish and experience life in a developing country. After some research, HOOP stood apart due to the level of freedom and responsibility volunteers are handed in their role as lead teachers. Four months later, I can now say working with HOOP was the right choice, one that allowed me to engage my creativity and develop as both a teacher and a person.

My class, Manatee, consisted of six students ages 10 to 14. A short roll call was not only an advantage of small class. I was able to personalize assignments to each individual student’s interest and form close relationships with all of the kids. We were able to play games and complete projects in a way that would not have been possible with a larger group. I would like to focus this blog on one such project which I believe perfectly exemplifies how HOOP’s structure allows teachers to think outside the box and students to have truly unique learning experiences.

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But at first, I must introduce one of my students, an intelligent kid but one who struggles to focus in a traditional classroom setting. During lectures and written assignments, he quickly loses concentration, diverting his boundless energy to antics that disrupt the rest of the class. One of his favorite tricks was to sneak out of his seat when my back was turned. He would always go to the bookshelf and retrieve the board game Monopoly. I would inevitably take it away from him and, when he would ask when we would play, I would say “maybe sometime.”

This “sometime” came the first week in April, though not in the way he had expected. The HOOP’s curriculum designates every fourth week as a “Project Week.” During this week, students work for five classes to produce a single product be it a play, poster, model, etc. Teachers are only bound by broad theme. It is up to them to design a project sufficient complex and entertaining as to engage students for an entire week.

The theme for the first Project Week was food. At first I struggled to come up with ideas. Then I thought of Monopoly and naturally of the student. Monopoly is a very complicated game. It has a board, rules, money, deeds… you get the idea. To create ones own version of Monopoly would easily consume days.

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Of course one had to consider the theme. Hence on Monday, each student received a list of food from a different country. One-by-one we went through these lists, each student choosing the three plates that would make up each colored set. We wrote the foods on blank tiles and pasted them in a square on poster paper. The students wrote the game’s name in big letters diagonally across the board. Thus Monofood was born.

It is true that the project took a lot of planning and guidance. This said, the students embraced it with a vigor I had not yet seen. They raced to finish the project, accurately assuming that as soon as the construction was over play could begin. What was supposed to take five classes took just three and half. And, little surprise, he was among the most active contributors.

Over the next month and half, my students would consistently demand we play Monofood. One even went so far as to take home and copy the cards. It became a part of our class’s culture, popping up time and again is different lessons. And, on my last day, there was no more fitting way to celebrate than a good round of Monofood.

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My experience teaching at HOOP was not always easy. I often put a lot of work into lessons that fell flat or dealt with the same behavioral issues over and over. Worse, I felt frustrated at what I perceived to be a lack of progress in my students. But all of this was based on unrealistic expectations. If you come to HOOP hoping to create fluent English speakers – you are likely to be disappointed. If you, however, aim merely at making education a fun and positive experience for students for whom it rarely is, I guarantee you will leave feeling proud of the work you have achieved.

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