With the school year coming to a close, I wanted to come up with an activity for students that felt like play–like a party–and still provide academic content to satisfy my ever-present need to make use of all available instructional minutes. (Yes, even in the last week of school)
So, when I came across a blog post about making giant bubbles and bubble art, I knew I could turn this into a meaningful day of learning and fun…all wrapped up in a soapy bubble! I’m pretty fascinated by bubbles. I’ve spent quite a bit of time photographing giant bubbles at the beach and I’ve written about the “bubble man” a time or two (or more). I know that the trick to great bubbles is the solution–so prior to having my students explore and experiment, my husband and I tried our hand at bubbles over the weekend.
The basis of all bubbles is soap and water. But if you want the bubbles to be big and to have a bit of staying power, a bit of corn syrup and some glycerin need to be added to the mix. Using smoothie straws and yarn, I created a bubble wand that my students would be able to make on their own and started dipping and waving in my own attempt to create bubbles. This bubble thing is harder than it looks! I didn’t immediately get big beautiful bubbles flying from the wand. But with some patience, some tinkering, and some exploration of how to get a thin film filling with air onto my yarn…bubbles happened. At that point, with bubble solution pre-made, I was ready for a day of bubbles with third graders!
We started with a very interesting TED Talk titled, The Fascinating Science of Bubbles, from Soap to Champagne. We learned about surface tension, the geometry of bubbles and so much more. (If I were to do this in the future, I think I might devote an entire week rather than a whole day to bubbles!) Then we made our bubble wands and headed up to the field to make bubbles.
In spite of warning students that making these bubbles would take patience and experimentation, there was plenty of initial whining that “it’s not working!” I reminded them to keep trying. And then it happened…the first child experienced success! Like wildfire, bubbles emerged, filling the air with irridescent spheres.
The soap solution ran out before student interest waned, which is probably the best possible result! We headed back to the classroom with soapy hands, happy hearts and filled with visions and language about bubbles.
These young scientists are also prolific readers and writers, so after studying Valerie Worth’s short poem, Soap Bubbles, we created a list of bubble words and a list of potential bubble metaphors and then set the magic 7-minute writing timer and started writing. Like bubbles, colorful, delicate, evocative poems floated up, emerging from the points of students’ pencils.
Here’s a couple:
To complement the poetry and the elusive, temporary soap bubbles, we got out paper, pencils, water-based markers and some water and created bubbles…as art! Each artist created their own composition, tracing round shapes, adding a space where a light source reflected off each bubble. Then they added marker and finally, using just water and a paint brush, urged the marker to follow the water, creating beautiful dimensional bubbles on watercolor paper.
There is so much more we could have done with bubbles–including exploring the mathematics of spheres. Overall, it was an amazing day. Students could not believe that an entire school day had passed before they even realized it. Engagement was high, work quality was inspiring…it was an amazing last Monday of the school year! Based on this success, I know I will be working some bubble science into future teaching and learning!
I wrote a poem a day during the month of April and challenged my students to do the same. And while not every student wrote every day, they did write a lot of poems. When you put that much effort into daily writing, it seems that something more needs to happen. I knew from past experience that drafting a poem each day is just the first step in moving my students toward seeing themselves as writers. So as the month of April wound down, my students and I started the process of curating a personal anthology of poems.
It’s not enough to simply select a poem and call it done. I had to move my students toward meaningful revision–and that meant giving them strategies and techniques to make their poems better. They re-read each poem they selected and considered how they might add a comparison (simile or metaphor), how they might personify an animal or object, how more specific details could help the reader “see” the ideas being expressed. So no matter how small the change was, each poem was revised. Because I had 16 page blank books for each student, we selected and revised ten poems and created five art pieces to go along with them.
As we worked through this intensive process, I kept asking myself, “Is it worth the time and energy–theirs and mine–to put this anthology together?” As I read poem after poem (25 students times 10 poems each), I started to see these young writers in a new way. They had gained confidence and knew what it meant to revise. I watched them own each poem, claiming their writing and making changes that satisfied each of them. I noticed some started poems from scratch. For them, the original poem was simply a pre-writing activity and a new idea emerged when faced with revision. For others, revision meant adding on to a poem, further developing the kernel of an idea that they had started earlier. Some revisions were the change of a single word–the poets were satisfied with their original effort and only went through the motions to satisfy the revision mandate.
And as we finished the last touches, gluing the final poems into place and typing up a table of contents I asked myself again…was this project worth it? There is no Open House celebration this year where families will come through and admire displays of student work products and ooh and aah the hard work done specifically for their benefit–something that has always made projects like this a necessity in the past. But still…my answer is yes, this intensive focus on poetry for more than a month has been totally worth it. Here are a few reasons why:
- Students see themselves as writers. They confidently write daily and have developed both fluency and style. All those poetry techniques also make other kinds of writing better.
- Revision has become ordinary. We do this routinely and resistance to going back to a piece of writing has dropped. Writers revise and we are writers.
- All of our writing matters in our community of writers. Everyone will share their writing and everyone can pick out bits of excellence when they hear it in each other’s writing.
- A project gives everyone a reason to persist. No one wants a half-finished book, so everyone pushed through, developing stamina as they worked through the revision of all ten poems.
250 student poems later and ten more of my own and we have created 26 individual anthologies of poetry. They are beautifully imperfect and incredibly perfect at the same time. And totally worth the time and effort.
What does it mean to identify as teacher-writer?
I write with my students, I write for my students, I write to understand my students, I write to understand my teaching and my students’ learning. That’s probably the definition of teacher-writer.
Today I experimented with a writing provocation I found in a Teachers and Writers Magazine article. It attracted my attention because it began with doing–actually with a blind contour drawing. I love to have students do something as a provocation for writing–probably because I like to DO as a way to instigate my own writing.
So, following the directions in the article, I used my non-dominant hand to draw my hand, keeping my eyes on my hand and not on the drawing. I tried not to lift my pen, keeping my pen following all the lines and shapes I saw on my hand.
After drawing I opened my notebook and began a list of words evoked by my examination of my hand. then I came up with some metaphors. I thought back to memories about what my hands had touched or done, capturing some of those thoughts in my notebook. I went on to express my gratitude to my hands.
The next step was to write about my hand, using the ideas generated before–or not–for about 7 minutes (my favorite writing time!).
Finally, using a different colored pen, I added words to my blind contour drawing of my hand, creating a collage of sorts. I didn’t directly copy my writing, just added some of the words and phrases I had generated.
Students could go on to write an essay or ode about their hands, having generated a plethora of ideas.
Having tried this writing on as a writer myself helps me identify how it might or might not work for my students. My young students might do better studying their non-dominant hand and using their dominant hand for drawing. I know they will worry about how the drawing might come out–I’ll have to show them some strategies and perhaps do a practice or two before we start for real. We may brainstorm words about their hands as a group before they begin their individual lists. But, I think I’ll try this project with my students. I love the blind contour aspect, the close examination, and the way that careful attention leads to more interesting writing.
What strategies do you use to keep the writerly part of yourself sharp? How do you hone your skills as a teacher-writer? Does anyone know a great picture book that focuses on one body part that is not about hands?