My previous vice principal, Kristi, is one of my favourite bloggers. I go back and review her blog posts often, and in fact, many of them inspire me to reflect more. As I was doing some planning this morning, I couldn’t help but think about Kristi’s “pink elephant” blog post. You see, I’m having my own, “What am I teaching kids …?,” moments.
Last week, one of the Grade 2 teachers brought over two big garbage bags of various branches and rocks that the Grade 2s used for a Visual Arts activity. One of the Grade 6 students at our school has been coming down for a few weeks now to teach my students about dinosaurs. He’s inspired my students to want to create a Jurassic Park, and is even willing to come and teach them how to create plasticine dinosaurs for the area. He modelled how to create one a couple of weeks ago.
As soon as the students saw the natural items in the garbage bags, they were eager to create the Jurassic Park. To help tie this learning to our Social Studies expectations on communities, I thought that we could look at creating a Hamilton Jurassic Park.
- What might Hamilton have looked like back in the dinosaur days?
- How might the different areas in our Hamilton Jurassic Park meet the needs of the various dinosaurs?
- What areas in our current city might be best suited for these areas in our Hamilton Jurassic Park? Why?
We even went on a walk in our community, and looked at the different types of areas that we could see: from park areas with more trees and grass, to areas with just sidewalks and buildings. Students even spoke about areas that they’ve visited outside of the immediate community: from different waterfalls to water parks, and even nature trails. Coming back from our walk and conversing about what we knew and wondered, helped the students realize the value in making a Hamilton Jurassic Park Plan. Yesterday, our Dinosaur Action Committee formed, and students started researching, thinking, and planning for this Jurassic Park. Before they left for the day, they even asked if they could finish their planning on Monday. Absolutely! They are very eager to start creating!
This is where I’m struggling.
- How much time will we spend on creating the Hamilton Jurassic Park?
- How can I get my students to think deeply before, during, and after the creation process?
- How can I get my students to see the links to our Visual Arts, Science, Social Studies, Language, and Math expectations, and reflect on their own learning?
- While I see the tremendous value to using Visual Arts as an instructional strategy, how does this activity become different than the hours spent on creating a fancy bristol board display?
- What happens once the display is made? Where is the real world (or meaningful) learning?
I know that my students often choose to express themselves through the Arts. I also know that some students still struggle with spatial reasoning, and this activity would allow them to work on these skills: both through the creation and layout of the environment and the dinosaurs. I think that the key to the learning is going to be in the thoughtful interactions between students, and my questions to students before, during, and after the process. Good reflection questions are going to be very important. I think that there could be an opportunity to make this activity more meaningful by sharing our learning with the Kindergarten students (that are also very interested in dinosaurs and have been exploring nature more). My students love connecting with other groups of students, so this could be an opportunity to do so. Maybe we could even give our Hamilton Jurassic Park to one of the Kindergarten classes … providing another reason for the creation of it.
I love that the students are passionate about what we’re doing, and are taking control of this activity: from the planning to the creation. The conversations yesterday showed me just how much thinking and learning is possible. But still I sit here and wonder, is this Hamilton Jurassic Park just a “pink elephant” in disguise? What do you think? If it is, how can I still honour my students’ interests and passions? What would you do? I’ll admit that it makes me uncomfortable to put my plans out there, with an uncertainty of how people will feel, but as Heidi Siwak shares, we learn so much from the negative feedback. It’s time to face that pink elephant.
Jurassic Park Hamilton sounds wonderful! I know nothing in practice is simple, but I think if we are honouring student voice and choice that to not follow their lead in this would be sad. The teacher’s role is to steer elements of it into curricular lines and encourage student thinking and doing to overlap with these lines. Those questions of how much/how long, how far astray do you let them go are much trickier. I think if you are transparent with students (even young ones) about what learning you need to ensure they do and show, they will have great ideas about how you can all get there. While I’m not a big fan of traditional homework, this may be an opportunity to have students who are really eager to do A and B but you need to measure B and C, to make a deal to get A started at school but to focus on B and C at school and let them follow up with A on their own time.
I think if you respect student voice and choice in their interests and be transparent about where your responsibilities in assessment and evaluation lie, they will rise to the occasion and surprise you with ways to show the learning. And you’ll build more self reflective and self regulated learners at the same time.
I wonder if for this particular venture if they decide on a purpose before they get too far into it, if it will help define the learning you could draw out and measure. Is the Jurassic world just for the class? For the K’s? Something you would donate to a summer camp? Something you’ll use as a prop to make your own Jurassic movie?
Sounds like you have some exciting times ahead, whatever you choose. I think just by reflecting on it like this, you’ll dodge the pink elephant.
Thanks for the comment, Kristi! I always appreciate your insights, and your ideas here definitely help me out. We use Learning Goals and Success Criteria a lot in the classroom, and we’re constantly talking about expectations. I think that making the learning outcomes clear from the beginning will help, as I am somewhat afraid of this becoming way larger than the expectations. I love your homework idea for those students that may be passionate about areas that fit outside of our outcomes. Like you, I’m not a big fan of traditional homework, but this would be more self-directed for students that have these interests.
Starting with the purpose is a wonderful idea. At this point, the students have really just been learning more about the specific dinosaurs and/or other prehistoric animals that they’d like to include. On Monday, I know that the Dinosaur Action Committee is eager to continue their research and thinking, and I was hoping to move onto a plan about “environment/habitat design.” Before doing so, deciding on a purpose would be a wonderful idea. We can even generate ideas and vote on the final option: I see Data Management in here. The learning outcomes/expectations can evolve from there.
I’m really excited to see where this goes, and I’m quite determined to dodge the pink elephant! I think your feedback will definitely help.
I will say that my vote is for a Jurassic Park iMovie sequel (or film festival if various students make movies). That would be an amazing June project 🙂
Thanks for the suggestion, Kristi! That does sound like a great June project! I bet my students would love making a movie. I wonder if they could even work in small groups to plan and record different parts: sharing their learning as well as a storyline. Hmmm … now you’re making me think of lots of different possibilities! I can’t wait to hear what the students have to say on Monday.