Search form

Warren Phillips

When seventh grade science and technology teacher Warren Phillips was invited to teach the "gifted and talented" class at Plymouth (Massachusetts) Community Intermediate School three years ago, he politely declined, noting that he didn't really like seeing the best students pulled aside to do extra work. He added that he thought those students should be treated as a valuable resource, performing service to the school, community, and beyond. To his surprise, the administration came back to him a week later and told him to give his idea a try.

Click here for larger image.

"I agreed and researched all summer, finding many great high school and college service-learning classes, but nothing for middle school. So, I created Helping Others While Learning (HOWL) with our advanced seventh grade Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) students," recalls Phillips. "It took a while for teachers in the buildings to buy in, but once they understood what a valuable service the students were, they allowed a very flexible schedule."

Phillips tells his students that he will lead them for the first have of the school year, and then he expects the students to lead him for the second half. He asks them to consider the needs of the building, the community, and the world, and decide what they would like to address. Next, they brainstorm about those needs and about possible projects.


Click here for larger image.

"A good service-learning project is one that has a great impact both on the people serviced and on the HOWL students," Phillips explained. "I do not teach technology -- we use technology. We need to learn whatever the task requires. For example, Excel databases need to be set up if we produce and graph a climate survey for the principal. We need to learn how to use everything in the television studio -- from audio, video, and cameras, to editing on Adobe Premier -- when we produce TV shows for a cable education channel. We also invite guests based on school and community needs."

Phillips' class has produced Public Service Announcements for television and the Web to promote its causes. They have planted flowers with students who have special needs, created Jeopardy games that focus on curriculum topics, and presented school-wide initiatives such as the Heifer Project. Although all the projects have been enjoyable for Phillips, his favorites involve the students teaching other kids.

Click here for larger image.

During the program's first year, the Forefather's Monument Society asked for help with its restoration efforts. HOWL students, working with the organization, decided to hold a walk-a-thon to raise funds. One month from the scheduled event, the society called and said it planned to cancel the event because a primary fundraiser had an ill family member. Two students took the lead and chose to move forward on their own, with the support of the 23 other HOWL students. The event was a huge success.

"This year, HOWL student Madison B. wanted to help other students with their MCAS tests, because many were stressed out and frustrated. She came up with the idea of Homework Buddies, a mentoring program that takes place after school," shared Phillips. "She proposed it to the administration herself, with my guidance, and was approved to elicit her peers to form a mentoring group. She recruited 25 students! Then, she went to each fifth grade classroom and did a presentation to encourage them to come after school. It was, and is, a great success."

For Madison, the mentoring program fulfilled a desire to help other kids. "Homework Buddies not only helps fifth graders, but also helps older students who want to make a difference," she told Education World. "You get two for the price of one -- a friend and a learning experience. For after school help, it's a more comfortable environment working with a Homework Buddy than with a teacher."

Click here for larger image.

The level of commitment and effort that the students invest in their HOWL activities continues to amaze Phillips. He often actually has to limit the time students put into their projects because their parents report that the students want to stay up late and keep working. Anyone can and should conduct service learning as a part of teaching, says Phillips.

"We should be educating the whole child," he added. "If you include service learning, no child will ever ask, 'Why are we doing this?' This is purposeful learning and emotional learning. With my HOWL students, I emphasize that it's not how smart you are; it's how you use your smarts."

Coming Soon...

If you're a teacher who has completed an interesting or unusual activity with your class -- or if you know of a teacher who has -- please let us know about it. E-mail a brief description of the activity, along with your contact information, to [email protected]

Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
Copyright © 2008 Education World