Grit, Common Core, and Working Together

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Students will be able to engage in academic discussions (including: following rules for discussions, posing questions, and acknowledgment of new information) by giving and receiving homecourt advantage.

Big Idea

Students need emotional support from teachers, classmates, and themselves to effectively learn. Homecourt advantage gives them the framework to support each other throughout the year.

Overview and Rationale

5 minutes

Homecourt Advantage Bulletin Board

Today's activity was designed to develop the school culture.  Our sixth graders complete an intensive leadership unit at the beginning of their sixth grade year and the seventh and eighth grade teachers are expected to continue the development of leadership skills.

The big idea is that all students need to give each other homecourt advantage.  The sixth grade teachers spend  time talking about what homecourt advantage is, and in seventh grade,  I reviewed and built on the concept.

I posed the following questions to students. 

  • If you're on a sports team, what does it mean to have homecourt advantage?
    • You are well rested because you don't have to travel.
    • You know the idiosyncrasies of the court or field.
    • The people in the stands are rooting and cheering for you.
  • How does having homecourt advantage make you feel?
    • safe
    • comfortable
    • willing to take risks
    • supported
  • What words and actions  show that you are giving someone homecourt advantage?
    • "Yay!"
    • "You can do it!"
    • a pat on the shoulder
    • a high five
  • What words and actions show that you are not giving homecourt advantage?
    • "Wow."  (spoken in the drawn out Woooooooow to show that someone is stupid)
    • obscene gestures
    • rolling eyes
    • "Duh."
    • "Can't you speed up?"
  • Why is it important to give everyone homecourt advantage?
    • We all need to be safe at school so we can all learn.
    • Bullying is bad, yo.
    • Some kids never get homecourt advantage, not even at home.
    • It's part of being a leader.


15 minutes

After we reviewed the concept of homecourt advantage, I told students that we were going to practice giving and receiving homecourt advantage.  Each pod would work together to lift a stick (I used a ski pole that I borrowed from another teacher) filled with helium from arm level, down to the ground, and back up to arm level.  The stick is filled with helium, so it will want to float up to the ceiling, but if they keep the stick in the proper position and work together, it will work. The stick is not actually filled with helium, but the students think it is.

The proper position is to keep the stick between the first and second knuckles of the hand.  Hands need to be facing palm-down.  Everyone needs to be in contact with the stick at all times.  After modeling the process (without the fake helium) I asked students to discuss with their groups how they might complete this task.  I stepped out of the room for a few moments and pretended to fill the stick up with helium.

I asked for a brave group who would be willing to go first.  They came up, put their hands in the proper position, and I balanced the stick on their fingers.  As they tried to get it to the ground successfully, I watched carefully to see that everyone's fingers were on the stick.  If they weren't, I pretended like it was rising up and grabbed it before it got too far up.  If the stick was rising up, I grabbed it. Each group was given an opportunity to come up and try the task. The students in the audience were constantly reminded to give homecourt advvantage to the group up front.  They could show homecourt advantage by using the sign for applause as a group went up, staying quiet while the group was presenting, and so forth.  To make the point that cheering, yelling, etc. is not actually homecourt advantage in the classroom, I asked one or two students to do just that while one group was up front.  I asked the students how it felt.  They were distracted and couldn't complete the task.

After each group tried the task, I pointed out what made them successful. Communication, patience, concentration, hard work, and other such traits were what made the successful groups successful. 

The Big Idea

5 minutes

I talked very honestly about the big idea of today's lesson.  I told them that they would be expected to work at seventh grade standards, which were much more difficult than sixth grade.  I reminded them that last year's seventh graders warned them how much more difficult seventh grade is compared to sixth grade in the letters they wrote. 

I told students that last year's students didn't even know how much more difficult it would be because this year we would be working with the common core standards.  I told them that the Arizona standards and the AIMS test (our state test) set the bar for passing really low. . . at 55%.  Students could actually miss half of the questions and still pass the test. They could get an F on the state test and still pass the test.  This was shocking news to them and their faces showed that they saw how serious that was.  I told them that the new test, PARCC, would expect much, much more of them. 

I also told them that we could do it.  That we could pass the PARCC test, but only if we used homecourt advantage.  If teachers gave them homecourt advantage, if their classmates gave them homecourt advantage, if they gave themselves homecourt advantage, then we could do. We would need to work hard, communicate, have patience, be willing to make mistakes and learn from mistakes, and so on.  Everything that we talked about in regard to homecourt advantage, all the skills they practiced during the helium stick activity, would help us meet the common core requirements.  I told them that I believed in each and every one of them and that yes, it would be hard work, but we could do it.  We could do it if we worked together. 


Sometimes it's hard to find motivation to keep going.

Sometimes it's hard to keep going when you know that no matter how hard you work, you'll only get a D.  or a C.  or a B.

Sometimes it's hard to keep going when you think it'll never be enough.

And so I asked the students what motivates

  • a basketball player to practice three-point shots for an hour a day? 
  • a soccer player to run laps to improve endurance?
  • a runner to run five miles a day?
  • a hunter to practice target shooting every single weekend? 
  • a cadet training for the military keep going rather than drop out when their drill sergeant is constantly yelling how awful they are? 
  • a grocery store cashier to improve his/her technique to get more people through the line faster?
  • students to do well in school?

I asked students to consider the motivation that each of the individuals above had.  And the answer that they gave me was simple. 

The desire to improve.

As Angela Duckworth (please see reflection) put it, "passion and perseverance."

See this video for a collection of thoughts about grit.

Responding in Writing

10 minutes

To wrap it all up, I asked students to respond to the following questions in two separate paragraphs.  Two separate paragraphs?  Oh, the humanity!