School has a reputation for being routine, dull even. Students learn through reading, writing and repetition. Take in information, lather, rinse, repeat.
But does learning have to be like washing your hair?
I’ve learned over my many years of teaching that novelty and doing are essential to learning, but both need to have a purpose integral to the goals of the learning.
Today was all about the wire.
We’ve learned some fish basics in preparation for a deeper inquiry into grunion–a very special fish native to our area that depends on the pull of the moon for the signal to lay their eggs on our sandy beaches. We studied about angles, creating fish from the 360 degrees of a circle, then cut a mouth and caudal fin measured with a protractor to understand categories of angles. And, inspired by Alexander Calder and his circus (have you read Sandy’s Circus?) as well as his magnificent mobiles and stabiles, we made wire fish.
My favorite kinds of projects are those that people can’t believe are possible for kids. Long strands of pokey wire and pinchy pliers are not the usual fare of an elementary classroom. And yet, students couldn’t wait to handle these materials. Equipped with floral wire and pliers, students turned and molded. They twisted and pulled, curved and bent, all the while telling the story of their emerging fish. Buttons became eyes and scales, even the lighted appendage of an angler fish. I coached and encouraged, pushing students to elaborate on their basic ideas–to push past my example and envision new possibilities.
Students also encouraged and informed each other as I watched new ideas take hold. I noticed confidence in students who are sometimes tentative, the challenges of the intricacies of wire. We commiserated about the problems that come with sweaty hands. Eventually, little hands, emerging stories, and big ideas twisted together with buttons and colorful wires became a school of fish.
The next twist is still to come as we assembly each small collection of wire fish into a fishy mobile swimming from a piece of driftwood. There’s a special surprise as well…but I’m not ready to tell about that yet.