Yesterday, something happened that confirmed for me the shift in thinking that I have gone through. It was lunchtime, and I was outside supervising the K-3 playground. It was -18, but no one complained. They were all busy.
It had snowed, and because of the frigid temperature, it could be cut by snow saws into pieces. The end result, a snow fort. Normally, my only thought would’ve been a silent prayer that nobody beat each other with their saw. But yesterday, I saw something different.
As I watched them, I wondered, “Is there something in the curriculum we could teach with this?” Something authentic. Not playing in the snow, and then writing a poem about it. Something that has to do with math, science or architecture that they could learn in a real hands-on way.
As I continued to watch them build, I noticed a number of things. There’s a great deal of negotiation and teamwork required to build a snow fort, especially considering these are kids of multiple grades and ages working together, and learning from one another, students who may not ordinarily work together outside of this context. They also needed to be able to problem solve when the walls collapsed.
As I evaluated this process, I realized that many of the 21st C skills we need to impart to our students, were happening right there: problem solving, communication, collaboration, and creativity and innovation. Wow. We need to make more of this stuff part of “school”.
I find that I am beginning to look at everything with the thought, “I wonder what this could teach…”
I think this lines up with Ackoff & Greenberg’s view that, “In the educational process, students should be offered a wide variety of ways to learn, among which they could choose or with which they could experiment. They do not have to learn different things the same way. They should learn at a very early stage of “schooling” that learning how to learn is largely their responsibility — with the help they seek but that is not imposed on them.”
I think this is a huge shift in thinking for most of our students, especially by the age that I teach them. I’m in the process of teaching my students that learning how to learn is largely their responsibility. And so far, it seems to make sense to them. I think it’s important to tell my students why our class is different, and how it’s important to them.
Of course, the best real-life example I have of this, is my grade 10 students and their idea of raisng money for Schools for Schools. The surprising thing is that this whole venture hasn’t stayed contained in my classroom; they’ve co-opted students from grade 7-12. Our school has students from six grades taking chances and learning life skills. And there are only a few adults directing it from the periphery.
At times, this makes it feel somewhat chaotic. And we discussed that as a class one day because they felt it too. Helping to coordinate this venture are a few adults on the edges. We’ve never spoken to or contacted one another, and to be honest, one of them I’ve never met. I explained to my students, that normally, the adults would have gotten together, planned everything, and then told the students what to do. But that’s not what’s happening here. Most days, my class feels a bit like this video:
Our class is being “built” as we go along. There’s no script to follow. I’m not even sure it’s replicable.
And I’m not sure how to categorize what is going on in my classroom. But it’s been the strangest teaching experience I’ve had, and I often find it difficult to explain to other teachers, especially when many have a teacher-centered model of teaching.
There’s something humbling about not being all that necessary in your own classroom. And yet, for their sake, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
While I have a basic plan of what we may do for the day, there have been many times this has to be drastically adjusted in the moment. I basically arrive at class each day to find out from my students where we’re at and what we need to do. Sometimes there’s a crisis we need to solve, other times details that need to be attended to.
Last Sunday, two of our grade 7 students explained Schools for Schools in front of their church of about 400-500 people. Afterward, they collected over $400 dollars in our Change for Change jars. I realized, after hearing this, that I’ve never spoken in front of that many people. What incredibly courageous things our students will do when they believe in something.
I find this class incredibly exciting to teach. I walk in excited to find out what has happened between classes. To see how they’ve grown and learned. To find out what challenges they’ve faced and conquered. I think my students learning should continue to take place after they’ve left my classroom.
Yesterday, we received a donation of $2000.00, and it confirmed for my students that what they’re doing matters. Seeing the joy on their faces, as they burst out clapping because of their excitement, that’s why I do this job.
picture courtesy of creative commons by circulating