Parent nights traditionally formatted with sit and get informational sessions. See how Five Oaks Middle School in Beaverton re-imagined their 5th grade parent night to build relationships and community with incoming parents.
Kristy Brady, assistant principal, came to me asking for ideas to improve our 5th grade parent night. In the past we have had sessions where 6th grade teachers talk at parents about several different topics. Most of the parents’ time is spent sitting in a seat listening. We wanted to create a more interactive and innovative experience for parents, much like what teachers create for their students. We brainstormed ideas and settled on the idea of creating a breakout box style event. Parents would participate in several puzzles, or challenges, and through those activities they would receive the same information that teachers would have presented in the traditional format.
I had never created a breakout box activity, though I had participated in a few over the last 2 years. I asked Emily Carlson, one of the 3 district librarians, for support after hearing that she has created several herself. Prior to meeting with Emily I made a list of the topics I wanted to cover throughout the event. I knew that I wanted parents to have a typical 6th grade experience. The topics I chose to cover were: Outdoor School, Lockers, Chromebooks, Daily Schedule, PE Encore classes, Binder requirements, and introducing parents to digital resources. Emily and I sat down and talked about ways to build different puzzles for each topic. We started by working on writing questions with short answers, where the answers could be found by solving some sort of puzzle. The questions needed to be focused on what we wanted parents to learn throughout the event. Once we knew what we wanted to learn, and had some ideas for the puzzles to get them to the answers I got to start creating.
Over the next 2 weeks I created 7 different puzzles to be placed around the building. Parents practiced opening lockers to find out how they can get involved in our school. They completed a crossword puzzle about our PE/Encore choices. There was a puzzle created out of a copy of the 6th grade daily schedule where they looked at the amount of time students had to pass between classes. One puzzle included watching a slideshow about our Chromebooks and matching symbols to letters around our library. Families were given notecard with the icons of several of our online resources and descriptions and were challenged to match them up. Current 7th grade students gave us some quotes about their experience at Outdoor School, I put those onto a poster and parents used those quotes to answer questions and unscramble letters.
We decided to use a digital breakout on an iPad so that each group could have their own set of locks to take with them as they traveled around the building. To create the digital locks I used http://www.flippity.net/ . This site allows you to use a google sheet template to create your own breakout questions and locks. I entered the questions, answers, and in some cases a hint. The screen presented to the groups had 6 locks that appear locked. When you click on a lock you are presented with the question and space to answer. When you input the correct answer the digital locks make a happy noise, and unlock on the screen. We had the locks set up so they could be completed in any order, and I put in possible answers accounting for capitalization and punctuation errors.
On the day of the event I had twelve 8th grade leadership students volunteer to help out. Together we went through each of the puzzles as we left folders with everything needed for that particular puzzles. The student helpers gave good last minute feedback about how the puzzles were set up and if we needed any extra supplies ready for families. The challenges were located all around the building to allow for parents to see different parts of our school. Teachers who were attending the event were asked to supervise and be the “expert” at one of the puzzles. They were given directions and answer key for the puzzle in their care. Teachers were then able to answer questions from parents and start to building a sense of community with them.
When the event began we asked families to sit at one of 8 tables that had been labeled with a number. This number was a way for us to keep track of where they were going to start, and for them to know what group they would travel around with. Each group had eight to ten people in addition to 1-2 leadership students. The leadership students were armed with a map showing locations of all the locks as well as an iPad for the groups to use for their digital locks. Our Assistant Principal showed a video created by current students entitled “A day in the life of a Five Oaks 6th grader”, she talked about how at Five Oaks we strive to be innovative and collaborative in our classrooms and that is what we wanted to show to them during the event. We also were able to share some information about the construction happening around the building. I took time to explain the activity to parents and asked them to take a leap of faith with us. We knew some parents would be pushed outside of their comfort zone, but we wanted them to have an experience like what their future 6th graders will experience.
Groups were given 40 minutes to complete the 7 challenges. We asked that they travel in a specific order so there wouldn’t be too many groups at any one challenge. In some cases I had to ask groups to go out of order because some of the challenges took longer than others. The hardest challenge for parents was opening the lockers, which is also true for many 6th graders on the first day. This gave teachers an opportunity to let them know that on 6th graders’ first day of school we spend a lot of time practicing.
When groups had finished all 7 challenges they were invited back to the cafeteria to enjoy a cookie and complete a feedback form for us. The majority of the feedback from parents and future 6th graders was positive. They enjoyed getting to move around the school and participate in the activity. They thought our leadership students were wonderful, helpful, and energetic. The parents left knowing a little more about our school and what they can expect when their child comes here. There were a couple of parents who would have prefered to sit and listen to teachers talk, and have more opportunities to have specific questions answered. We appreciated their feedback and will think of ways to improve the event for next time. Some parents indicated that after this experience they were considering removing their applications for an option school, knowing that their student would receive a well rounded education at Five Oaks. Teachers also appreciated the format of the event because it was more relaxed for them, they were not required to create or give a presentation. They had the opportunity to talk with families and answer some questions for them.
Due to the success of this program we will be doing a similar activity with families during our AVID family night this month.
Suzanne Peerenboom is a Library and Instructional Teacher at Five Oaks Middle School. She enjoys exploring new ways of teaching and learning.
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