What I’m about write may be a little bit different than the Monday Message or celebration posts I typically blog about. Yes, I’m going to share something engaging we did in the classroom. It will be full of pictures, bragging about the kids, and the steps we took to produce the end result. What makes this post unique is the shift in who was teaching who, and the lesson that was ultimately learned.
Today in math, we completed an activity that challenged us to use our knowledge of perimeter and area to construct a robot. The kids were given this set of instructions, centimeter grid paper, and construction paper:
I spent probably about 3 minutes explaining the logistics of the project, describing the end result, and reviewing key vocabulary and strategies.
My pre-project explanation may have seemed rushed, too short. As I dismissed them to find a partner, I felt slightly concerned that maybe they may be confused. I had a flash back to when I did this with last years class and remembered the countless questions, hands raised, and students parading behind me to make sure what they had was correct. I took a deep breath, braced myself for what I thought may be chaos and confusion, and gave the students the OK to begin.
The next hour inside my classroom was one of the most powerful moments (hours) of my teaching career. I learned more about myself as an educator, reaffirmed my teaching philosophy, and almost cried tears of joy in that hour that the kids were constructing their robots.
As I walked around the classroom, I saw and heard a variety of wonderful things. Here comes the bragging (I told you it would still be in this post!). Each child was cooperatively learning, effectively working together as a team. They were using each other as tools, not waving their hands around to have me clear their confusion. I kept constantly checking behind me to see if the parade of students had started without me being aware. Every where I looked, I saw learning. Not just the completion of an assignment but authentic problem-solving. I also heard learning. The conversation was was more about the process and less about the right answer. They were talking through the difficulty, not avoiding it. Using their tools, prior knowledge, and each other to navigate through an assignment.
Needless to say, I was proud. I was so impressed with their learning process that their robots could have been upside down and backwards and I would have still been smiling. But I was confused. Being a chronic self-reflecter, I wanted to figure out WHY this year’s group approached this assignment so differently. I quietly took a step back and started to search my brain unsuccessfully.
Then it hit me.
This year, I’ve made sure to communicate my philosophy with the students from day one. We talk about it daily, especially during instruction time. I try and model my whole-hearted belief in this philosophy by the way I teach and live in our classroom comunnity. It goes a little something like this:
Mistakes are important. In fact, it is even good to make mistakes. They help us learn what to do differently next time. The only time mistakes are bad is if we get frustrated and choose not to learn what they are teaching us. Mistakes are proof that we are trying.
Taking the time to make this idea known in my classroom has shaped our community positively. With the emphasis on admiration and appreciation for their efforts and choices, we are truly becoming a community of learners.
It wasn’t that this activity was easier for this group of kids than my last year’s kids. Essentially, it was the same difficulty. But what I realized was that this group embraced the struggle. They were able to understand that it was OK to be confused. There was no fear of making a mistake. They didn’t seek that validation of, “Am I doing this right? I’m scared I’m doing it wrong!”. They are starting to trust their own knowledge, learn from mistakes and experience, and take control of their own learning.
Watching the students apply their knowledge (both academic and real-world) and learning along side with them is my favorite part about teaching. I am truly grateful for each moment I have in the classroom.
I’m sure you are all wondering what the robots looked like. Here’s my chance to brag (again) and post pictures. Enjoy!