Rome Wasn’t Built In A Day And Neither Was A Water Bottle Sculpture!

I’ve been doing some thinking recently around the pace in which learning happens. As educators, we’re always so aware of our time in school. How much do we have to teach? How much time do we have to teach it in? It’s hard to ignore the number of curriculum expectations, and I’m certainly not suggesting that we do. But some conversations this past week have me reflecting on the value in slowing down.

Over the March Break, I noticed a great Instagram post from Lourdes, a fellow educator, about the number of water bottles that people use. She shared a sculpture she saw made of 12,000 water bottles, which had me thinking about our ongoing environmental inquiry in the classroom. I Googled “water bottle sculptures” and saw that there are actually a large number of them. At this point, I messaged my teaching partner, Paula, to see if we could combine students’ interest in art and the environment by creating our own recycled art sculpture. She loved the idea, so we decided to email our parents and staff looking for empty plastic bottles. By Tuesday, we had a garbage bag full. 

At this point, we decided to capitalize on children’s connections with Plastic Planet, and encourage them to draw, paint, and write about ways that we could save the earth. We showed students the sculpture pictures, and suggested a “message in a bottle” as a way to connect their artwork with the bottles. Could we then turn the bottles into a sculpture? Perhaps. We wondered if painting the bottles first might help start the artwork process, so as students created their environmental messages, others painted.

While there were some good elements of this water bottle painting, it sounded/felt overwhelming. Before I left for the second nutrition break, I asked Paula if we should just forget the project. She said to me, “Aviva, it’s an ongoing project. It’s going to take time. We need to give it some time. What if we worked on attaching the water bottles first, and then adding paint. We could move the water bottle part into the MakerSpace area, focus on it with a smaller group, and then go from there.” I was ready to give up, but Paula re-looked at the problem, suggested an alternate approach, and had me embracing the project again.

When I came back from lunch, I said to Paula, “What if I show the wire to Joshua? He used it for our stick tree, and maybe he could get started at attaching the water bottles.” This is what I did. I helped him at first, but then I left the MakerSpace area, and he slowly worked through the process on his own.

At this point, Paula was having lunch with another student, Tommy, and she suggested to him that he might want to go and help Joshua. He had other plans. He really wanted to count the water bottles. While it was the end of the day, and we really needed to tidy up, neither one of us could resist this math opportunity … especially when it was child-driven.

In the end, Joshua’s first water bottle sculpture attempt broke, but he reflected on what he tried and had a plan for the next day. Again, I was reminded of the need to take it slow. Thinking and learning were happening, even if we didn’t have a final product … yet!

Moving onto the next day, Joshua was eager to get back to attaching the water bottles. He started with groups of two, and then worked with Paula to put three groups of two together to make the start of a sculpture. Meanwhile, Tommy and Brooke wanted to count the water bottles again, especially since we added in some of the painted ones. Similar activities actually led to some new learning today around counting on, combining groups, and addition and subtraction in different contexts. Talking with Joshua, we also started to look at abstract art, and how “six water bottles” can actually look like something more than that. 

As an unexpected extension to this, a group of girls created artwork out of old plates for Pizza Day, and shared some of their learning connected to Plastic Planet

A lot of amazing things happened today, but come 3:25, we still only had six bottles attached. We’ve collected almost 80 now … maybe more. Again, I wondered, are we expecting too much here? But Paula reminded me, “This is a long-term project. We need to give it time.”

I wondered if time was enough when on Friday, nobody did anything with the water bottles. Is the interest over? When I voiced some of my concerns to Paula, she said, “Aviva, it’s your double prep day. Our day is broken up more, so kids didn’t settle at this today. Let’s revisit it again on Monday. There was a lot of good discussion around the six water bottles during group time, and we can look at them again on Monday. With more time, will more kids go back and add more water bottles? Don’t give up yet.”

Time. This is an ongoing project. We don’t need it all done today, tomorrow, or five days from now. Students might walk away from this, come back again, add more, and leave again. Maybe the addition of a new material, the reading of a new story, or the watching of a different instructional video will reignite the spark. Slowing down isn’t always easy, but this experience is making me realize how valuable it can be. How many projects have I given up on in the past because things didn’t work right away? What about you? We teach children about the value in failure and perseverance, but do we always remember to explore these same values for ourselves? My conversations with Paula this past week have me wondering what opportunities my previous students have missed out on because I neglected to give enough time. For this week, I’m going to remind myself that ongoing really does mean ongoing. Everything doesn’t need to happen now … does it?


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