My 5th graders spend the last semester examining their own beliefs, developing manifestos, and researching a Dream Team of people who exemplify what they stand for. We use some of the “This I Believe” curriculum to help them identify their values. Yesterday, my students and I listened to one of the short radio essays archived on the website for the podcast. It is called, “30 Things I Believe.” In this particular episode, a first grader, Tarak McLain, reflects on his Kindergarten 100th Day Project. While most students bring collections of 100 objects, Tarak brought in 100 things he believes. For the podcast, Tarak shares 30 of those beliefs. My students and I enjoyed listening to his earnestly read list, and talked about what they agreed/disagreed with. We also discussed which of Tarak’s beliefs might change as he grows up.
Tarak would be about 16 years old now. I wonder what his thoughts are on the manifesto created by his 7-year-old self.
As my 5th grade students wind up the school year, I begin to worry that they will go to middle school next year and forget everything they learned in our GT classroom. Some of them have been with me for 6 years, so I’m hopeful that a few things will “stick.” Nevertheless, a visual reminder can be helpful. Rather than make them all stick pictures of me on their walls at home, I started this project with last year’s 5th graders. It seemed to make an impact so I decided to repeat it this year.
You can read a little more about the process I used to jump start this year’s manifestos here. Once the students did quite a bit of brainstorming, I let them jump on to Canva to design their manifestos. Things were going merrily along until I noticed that many of them were using famous Pinterest quotes on their documents instead of their own words. There was a bit of groaning when I insisted the manifestos needed to be in their own voice – not someone else’s. I’m still not sure if that was the right thing to do, but I just felt like it would be more meaningful. One of my students was quite satisfied with one her rewrites, “Life’s a llama with a neck full of opportunities.”
Another mistake I made was to let them design to the edges. Last year, the students downloaded their manifestos as images, and we printed them on t-shirts. The quality was not very predictable, though. This year, I went to the dollar store and bought each of my 11 students a frame. When we tried to put some of the manifestos into the frames, though, words got cut off. (That’s why you won’t see 11 in the picture below; I’m still re-printing some.)
For an investment of $11, I got more than my money’s worth when the students framed their manifestos. The students were proud of their work and I got the impression that at least some of them might display those manifestos in a place of honor when it goes home. I also really like having them in the classroom for all of my students to see. (We can’t hang them up because I am in a borrowed room at the moment.)
The next part of the project is for the students to design their “Dream Teams.” They are using the “Find My Role Model” tool from The Academy of Achievement to find 5 people they admire who embody the statements on their manifestos. You can see some ideas for how to publish your Dream Team here,
I showed them the Creativity video from Apple, and I asked what I thought was kind of a rhetorical question, “Is creativity important?”
One child squinted at me nervously, one nodded somewhat hesitantly, and the other two vigorously shook their heads. (I normally have 5 in this first grade gifted class, but one was absent.)
I tried not to show my astonishment, my absolute disbelief that they could have responded in any way but, “YES!!!”
After I picked my jaw off the floor, I asked the two certain-that-creativity-is-not-important students, “Why isn’t creativity important?”
One didn’t really have an answer, and the other said with great conviction, “Because it’s just fun!”
How had this happened? (Maybe because I need the above poster plastered on my wall.) How had I spent this long with these students without communicating that I feel, very very strongly, that creativity is so important?
Yesterday, I decided to get a wider sample from my class of 18 second-graders. Some of these kids have been with me since Kindergarten, so I was hoping more cumulative exposure to my teaching would give me different results.
It was slightly better. Only 5 students shook their heads. But the yeses did not seem very confident. When I asked the “no” students to explain, one student said, “Because it’s destructive. The more humans create, the more of our planet and animals we destroy.”
Wow. That certainly made sense.
Other students were quick to respond with how human creativity can solve problems, sometimes even improving things, and that it makes life worth living.
When I asked, “Which would you rather have more of – creativity or knowledge?” most of the class said, “Creativity!” But I suspect they may have figured out by then that I was not very happy about creativity getting a bum rap.
Obviously, creativity needs a new ad campaign in my classroom. Instead of saying, “Now, let’s do something fun!”, I need to say, “Now, let’s do another kind of important thinking,” or, “Now, let’s work on solving problems a different way.” I thought I was good at praising unique answers and unusual methods, but now I see that I don’t do it often enough.
Of course, I want creativity to be “fun,” but does that mean it can’t also be important? Does that mean the perceived “important” types of work can’t be fun?
This tweet that I saw the other day explains one reason that many of our students probably feel this way.
Do we have to measure creativity for it to be considered a valuable asset? If not, then what can we do to help our students understand its significance.
Or, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe creativity really isn’t that big of a deal.
Thanks to Sonya Terborg (@terSonya) sharing a tweet from @FriedEnglish101 this weekend, I discovered Pickle this weekend. Pickle is an ethics podcast for kids produced by WNYC. The episodes look to be an average of about 20 minutes, and cover topics like, “Would an Elephant Visit a People Zoo?” and “The Friendship Formula.”
Pickle is hosted by two adults – Shumita Basu and Carl Smith – but they consult the “BrainsTrust” of kids during each episode. I would guesstimate the target age group for this podcast would be 8 years old and up based on the topics and episode lengths. It seems ideal for family discussions and enrichment classes, and individual topics could be integrated into curriculum as well.
Pickle currently has only 6 episodes (from December 2017), so I’m not sure what the future holds for this podcast. According to the website, the original series (wouldn’t that be Cucumber?) was an Australian Broadcasting Corporation production, Short and Curly, which has a few more episodes to offer on its website.
The Kids Philosophy Slam folks released the topic for the 2018 contest, which has a deadline of March 9, 2018. The question is, “Truth or Deceit: Which has a Greater Impact on Society?” Definitely relevant!
Students from K-12 can participate in the contest, and younger students can submit their entries in a variety of forms (essay, art-work, etc…). If you have participated in the past, please note that there are some new guidelines for entries.
Although individual students can receive rewards, the contest is also looking for “The Most Philosophical School in America,” which will receive a $200 cash prize. See the above link for more information.
In my 4th grade gifted and talented class, the students study masterpieces. In addition to masterpieces of visual art, we talk about literary, musical, and even mathematical masterpieces. When I saw the title for Roger Antonsen’s TED Talk, “Math is the Hidden Secret to Understanding the World,” I thought it might fit in well to the mathematical masterpiece section. Little did I expect that it would tie everything together that we had discussed all year.
I should mention that this year’s 4th grade class has some very passionate mathematicians in it. They worship Pi, see Fibonacci in everything, and sit on the edge of their seats whenever I mention that a math activity is imminent. But I wasn’t sure they would find Antonsen’s talk as revolutionary as I do. I was willing to overlook the mathematical examples that were over my head in exchange for appreciating the bigger picture, but would they?
Fortunately, Antonsen’s visualizations managed to maintain their focus, and even their awe at some point, as he gradually brought his audience around to the idea that mathematical equations and representations are actually different perspectives (a few heads raised a bit whenever he said this word, as we regularly talk about multiple perspectives). The “a-ha” moment, however, was when Antonsen said this, “So let’s now take a step back —and that’s actually a metaphor, stepping back —and have a look at what we’re doing.I’m playing around with metaphors.I’m playing around with perspectives and analogies.I’m telling one story in different ways.I’m telling stories.I’m making a narrative; I’m making several narratives.And I think all of these things make understanding possible.I think this actually is the essence of understanding something.I truly believe this.”
There were audible exclamations in my class when the word, “metaphor,” was used. We started the year by learning about figurative language. And the concentration in 4th grade in Texas is on Writing as it is tested at this level for the first time. So, looking at math as a way to tell stories and show different perspectives really captured the attention of my students.
I often tell my students about my childhood struggles with math, how I was often congratulated on my writing skills but made holes in my math assignments due to all of the erasures. It wasn’t until high school that I had a few great teachers who taught me to love math and helped me to see that my only obstacle had been my own fear of the subject.
If I had seen Antonsen’s TED Talk when I was in 4th grade, things could have been different for me far sooner. Instead of feeling like math divides people into those who can and those who can’t, I might have realized that math is actually the language that brings us all together.
A favorite project that seems to dwell in the memories of my gifted and talented students from year to year is the time they made Leprechaun Traps in Kindergarten. It’s how I introduce our “Inventor Thinking” unit and ties in, of course, with St. Patrick’s Day.
As I introduced the project yesterday to my newest group of Kinder students, I was met with the usual enthusiasm. There was lots of excitement generated as they brainstormed ways to entice a leprechaun into their trap, and even more as they thought of ideas for ensnaring him.
And then one girl said,”What if I don’t want to trap the leprechaun? What if I think that’s mean?”
For a moment I was speechless. In all of my years of doing this project, none of my students have ever questioned if it was humane or not.
Interestingly, I am the person who carries spiders outdoors rather than smush them – and the person who grabbed a rat snake behind its head when it snuck into our house and flung it outside. I yelled at my husband in the middle of the night when he grabbed a huge pair of hedge clippers to battle a rat that had snuck into the house.
The ethics of trapping leprechauns never once crossed my mind.
My friend over at Not Just Child’s Play, Joelle Trayers, provides examples like this one of ways to discuss ethics with Kindergarten students. Yesterday was only my third meeting with my current Kinder class, so ethics had not entered into our class vocabulary yet. However, I couldn’t miss the opportunity at this point. After a slight pause, I said, “That’s a very good question. What do the rest of you think? Is it okay to trap the leprechauns or is it mean?”
Whether a coincidence or not, the issue was decided by gender. The girls were firmly in defense of the leprechauns and the boys had no intention of being swayed from dreaming up diabolical ways to trap them. (I have, several times, reminded the students we are “just pretending,” but that hasn’t deterred their strong feelings on the subject.)
The girls decided they are still making traps, but they are going to give the leprechauns a reward and an escape route instead of imprisoning them, especially since we will be gone for Spring Break. The boys are more interested in how they can combine Legos with their cardboard boxes than they are about the fate of the leprechauns.
So, a word of warning to any leprechauns in the vicinity of our school in the upcoming weeks: Beware of complex Lego staircases that seem to lead to nowhere. The boys outnumber the girls in my class, and I’m not really sure what they intend to do if you actually do fall into one of their clever contraptions.