Dr. Thomas Moore has a great song entitled PAPER TOWEL ROLL that encourages children to play with a paper towel roll and use their imaginations. The paper towel roll becomes a many wonderful thing, and hopefully the child gains some amount of imaginative ingenuity in the mental process of singing it.
nurturing the individual child
Recently I’ve explored how the world of marketing can teach us something about hooking children in for learning. It would not be authentic to simply take cues or imitate the world of marketing without really analyzing what aspects of a child’s thinking skills they are captivating. We all know how successful Legos (and other various building bricks) are in our culture. They really are fascinating. The NC Arboretum is hosting a Lego in nature show—fascinating on so many levels. I would challenge any parent or educator to make mental brainstorm lists of what makes things fascinating to children and then build lessons on those features. I’ll model such a list based on the fascinating nature Lego show at the Arboretum.
–the Lego features themselves—challenge a child to build something they like in nature out of Legos or similar bricks; –the setting: is the object featured native to this area? teach them about Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species; cover some Latin terms;–placement: who made these features and who gets to see them? how? why?—favorites: which feature is a favorite and why? write about it;–how many bricks do you estimate are in a certain feature; how did you come up with this number; compare your estimate to the real number; what was the difference? how close to being right were you percentage-wise?
A few weeks ago I posted about using plush or creative characters to engage students in learning. What an exciting day for two students who found a real Owl and Fox at a museum field trip destination, after an artist rendition of a fox and owl had carried them through lessons in all subjects throughout the year. It’s kind of like, “let’s give them something to look for.” And they found it! And that struck of up questions of where these real animals live and what they eat and how humans impact their lives.
My post last week dealt with honing in the same zeal used in marketing character themes in the media market (movies turned books turned trinkets, toys and experiences). Consider how exciting it is to win a plush toy (without any real monetary value) at a carnival game . . .or the claw! I’ve noticed many claw games now guarantee a win. . .$1.00 and you can take as long as you want to scoop up a 2 cent toy with a crane line challenge that really won’t even prepare you to be a crane operator, but will take your money with a 500% return for the owner of the game.
People like plush. We like characters. My challenge to you: how can you capitalize on that apparent fact to help student learning? Design lessons around themes based on book characters, assign a character to a cheap plush (get those claw winnings and put them to good use!). Incentivize learning with sharing reading time with a classroom plush. Have children act out a story they just read and retell it using plush characters. The possibilities are endless!
We live in an interesting time of education as a marketplace. In many regards, it always has been—text book companies, teacher supply providers, etc. And even if we fight to achieve balance between profit motivations and education for the purpose of a more successful population (“chance favors the prepared mind,” afterall–Louis Pasteur), there are many opportunities that can be garnered from the marketplace approach. (It’s here, so we might as well figure out how to make it work for children).
Having recently attended a “Finding Dory” party at Barnes and Noble, I noticed several things. First of all, most craft and supporting activities at functions like these are pretty low on the creativity scale. A color sheet; a ditto; that sort of thing. The idea, of course, is to sell books—and there were plenty of printed freebies (bookmark, color pages, thin magazine with a puzzle or two) to make it worthwhile for the American mindset of “you get a toy.” And there was a read aloud, properly promoting a book you could buy (whereas, at the library it could be borrowed). But what if the book store collaborated more with the community wanting to provide nurturing and creative activities for children? What if they hired teachers to come and read, rather than the employee who most likes children? What if they passed on any leftover printed freebies to the closest public school? But, I digress.
Now to the point: children do enjoy connecting with a character. And Disney Pixar never disappoints. It’s fun to see them enjoy the characters. So. . . we can take cues from this for the classroom. So often in our country we are looking to scale up. I say, let’s scale down. What is a big company like Barnes and Noble trying to engender with an event like this (other than sales)? They want the child to connect with the character (building on the fact that they probably already have connected when seeing the movie), and to be excited about finding expressions of that connection in the book store. So teachers, how about you introduce a character in your classroom and create magic around that character, allowing the child to connect with it all year. Cater assignments to connecting with that character. Each child, perhaps, will have their own or the classroom will have one.
I’ve seen this done throughout a school year with a plush mouse. “Miss Mousie” provided the basis for adventures in learning for a classroom throughout a year. She visited about twice a month, introduced a concept via the teacher and was present in custom activities. There was a song the children sang and it got them excited for learning each time Miss Mousie appeared.
Rather than constantly fighting the fact that we live in a capitalist society that does pose obstacles to true community, often, we should figure out what aspects businesses have already calculated and scale them back down to our classroom. Help students connect with characters (perhaps not ones that are trademarked or trendy, albeit you can start there to hook them in), and help network their minds for learning.
Data can be useful in guiding teaching practice, no doubt. And I believe we will find a balance to what data we collect and how we use it (for example, I believe test score data should be fluidly offset by a variable based on community involvement in a school—that is to say, strong community involvement should help student test scores trend upwards if the tests are valuable and meaningful so as to influence a school letter grade by at least a half grade, up or down).
The most offensive practice I have seen in the data-drives-education craze is the “Data Wall,” which is usually located in the “Data Room.” Pearson encourages data walls. To me they are insults to students when a red square is placed on a wall with a student picture on it. I’ve seen it in more than one school and it is disgusting and de-humanizing and I can’t believe it is allowed and furthermore it is a violation of student privacy.
But in education we shouldn’t complain unless we have a better idea. So mine is: keep data private, allow teachers to see it or anyone guiding instruction for that individual student. Then, encourage community support of schools and have a planning room for hands-on projects related to any and every subject. We know students need multiple ways to learn and express learning. . .and we should model that by offering materials to create student learning projects, both teacher-driven and student-driven. Come up with a metric to evaluate your school’s community support and the hands-on project materials offered in your school as a result.
I have been told that spatial awareness in 2nd graders is a better indicator of future STEM skill strength potential than 7th grade math is. Research articles can back up this cocktail party chatter, I suppose. Read here and here
Choosing a theme for a learning session (no matter the desired outcome as far as the subject being taught) helps organize the approach to the lesson in terms of materials, flow, activities and point of reference. More photos from the recent comics and dots lesson, which covered history, science, writing, math and art.