Lessons Learned From The Water Bottle Tree

Last weekend, I blogged about our slow progress with our water bottle sculpture. While we wanted to give this artwork the value of time, we also noticed that after a few days, nobody went back to add water bottles to it with the wire. We thought that the difficulty of working the wire might have had something to do with this. And so, we began to think about how we could interrupt this play and develop a renewed interest in creating this sculpture. Our solution. Tape. Our kids love to tape, and the introduction of tape into this space led to something wonderful. Even more than this though, it was when we added tape and watched the transformation of our water bottle sculpture that we saw the many lessons learned from this experience.

Beauty comes in many forms. The introduction of tape into our water bottle space brought many kids along with it. They were winding the tape around the bottles and exploring how to attach them together. One child came to take a look at the sculpture mid-way through and commented, “This is such a mess!” Others though, felt that it was “beautiful.” It wasn’t about being perfect, and it wasn’t even about the look of the sculpture itself. It was about the message behind the sculpture, and that’s what made it so very beautiful. When one of our youngest JK students thought that it looked like an “alligator,” it was hard not to see the beauty beyond the tape and the random placement of bottles. How we view art is up to us! There’s something amazing, I think, about teaching students to see abstract art in new and creative ways, and to find a little something special in everything.

You can always try again! Seeing the tape mess from Tuesday might have prompted people to give up on this water bottle sculpture idea. I’ll admit that I was tempted. Was this just an “exploration of tape,” and did we simply have to recycle the water bottles and move on? But then something terrific happened on Wednesday. My teaching partner, Paula, did revisit the sculpture with the class, and the kids worked with her on starting again. They cut off excess tape. They used the hockey tape to secure the water bottles. Paula also held up the sculpture, and kids started to see how lovely it looked when hanging. Thank goodness we had a huge log in our classroom, which provided the perfect base for a water bottle tree. Now our water bottle alligator was turned into something new, and the artistic mess became even more beautiful!

Learning improves thanks to constant reflection. As educators, we know this. It’s not just the kids in the classroom who need to reflect, it’s also the educator teams. Paula and I spent a lot of time talking about this water bottle sculpture after school. With the help of the kids, we determined where we might go next. What questions do we have? How might we answer them? While we often reflect in this way, we did something that we don’t always do, and we taped our conversations (as you can see in our Instagram posts throughout this blog post). Lisa Noble shared the #visiblelearning hashtag with me before, and this seemed like a perfect opportunity for some visible learning. 

An activity might ignite a spark, but we also need other entry points. The water bottle tree was not for everyone. Some children have been involved in creating this tree from the beginning, and others have just observed it. That’s okay. Students can communicate their thinking, learning, and messages in different ways, and in the end, all of the ideas can come together. Even when we introduced some loose parts to our creative table this week, we were pleasantly surprised by how many students connected their artwork to our environmental focus. This water bottle tree is already making a statement!

Remember the “why.” It’s easy to get wrapped up in the project. I love this water bottle tree idea, and I’m eager to see the finished product, whenever that may happen. That said, I really saw the impact of the water bottle tree on our way back from the forest the other day. I was near the end of the line, and one of the students veered off into the garden area on the way back to the kindergarten pen. When I asked him to rejoin the group, he told me that he wanted to “go and get the water bottle. That’s littering! We can add it to our tree.” A small action from somebody who actually hasn’t added anything to the tree, but definitely knew the reason behind it. He was committed to helping the earth … the very reason why we’re creating this sculpture in the first place. 

Know when to get involved, but also know when to leave. When we started this sculpture project, Paula and I spent some time in the MakerSpace helping to put the tree together. But then, as the week progressed, we left the space. We let kids lead the learning there. We still looked in. We still observed, documented, and discussed with the children where to go next, but we let them take even more ownership over this project. When learning only rests in the hands of the educator, I wonder about the long-term impact and commitment to that learning.

Our water bottle tree is still in the blooming stages, and it may not be a popular Art Auction item (okay, truth be told: Paula doesn’t think that we can submit this to our Fun Fair Auction 🙂 ), but that’s okay. One of these days, we’ll be able to open our teacher cabinet again 🙂 , and we’ll know that the thinking and learning that came from this project made the experience well worth some heavy lifting, some new beginnings, and a lovely artistic mess. What might you learn from your own water bottle tree experiences? On the day of Earth Hour, there’s something special about reflecting on a small project with a big environmental message!


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