Over the last three weeks I have had the opportunity to work alongside our third grade students and their art teacher Robert, their geography teacher Mark and Lynette, another third grade parent volunteer, to make the third grade classroom project for the upcoming auction at Bixby School. In the spirit of drawing on common interests, allowing for independent creativity and collaboration among our students and us adults, we introduced the idea of making a board game together. Our game will trace the steps of the great explorer Ibn Batutta, complete with adventures and harrowing experiences along the way that may leave our travelers thirsty, hungry, even ship-wrecked and potentially devoured by crocodiles!
Already it is clear that another one of Mark’s deeply engaging units of study has taken a hold of the students’ interests and has provided us with a rich knowledge base from which our students are boldly leaping forward. And speaking of boldness: The children have been exploring some of the most challenging parts of this project with rich conversations around collaboration, sharing of ideas, time-management, and task-planning involved in this project; -all with unwavering grit, persistence and motivation. On several occasions they have chosen to stay late to complete their game pieces; they have compromised on the specifics of some of our game rule-making process; they have helped each other when handwriting was a challenge or Batutta’s travels on our game board seemed to come to a standstill.
This past week our collective knowledge on how to proceed briefly came to that dreaded standstill. The task at hand had changed from free creativity and multiple independent steps for our students to producing a map of the world in the 1300’s that would become a piece of wall art and also be our game board. We had arrived at a moment of transition: Now we were struggling with what media to use to render a very detailed map on a piece of plywood. Paint sharpies were a favorite but a trial on a piece of wood from home produced blots and spots and the realization that this may not work well. Free-hand drawing seemed daunting and so did the thought of all of the students working on this one piece simultaneously. As one student said: “What if one of us messes up and then everyone might be mad?” Another student echoed similar concerns: “We might only have one shot at this but no one here has done this before.” We pondered options: Should we just go and buy a printed world map so we could avoid the difficult task of producing the map ourselves? Would it make sense for an expert or at least a “really good artist” do this step for us? For me this conversation became poignant in more than one way: I had just completed a parent tour of our school with a prospective new family. Our conversation during that tour centered upon questions around learning, independence, risk-taking, engagement and the power of meaningful relationships. All skills and concepts that would lead to a rich life outside of school if learned as part of school and beyond. Here those very concepts were unfolding before me in our community at Bixby School: Our students decided they wanted to proceed and find ways to make this map as a group. In our discussions on how we could learn more about the process and techniques involved, we asked our art teacher Robert if he had any suggestions. Here we clearly had found an expert in our community who quickly offered much more than advice in passing. Mark, in the meantime, had taken the initiative to reproduce an outline of the image of our map onto a piece of plywood. This past Friday hesitations and worries dissolved into a reflective 45-minute session on painting techniques and how to share a 30×30 space as a group canvas to draw on as Robert provided his art class time with this group. Paint brushes in hand, our students continued to chart their course through this project and resumed their own journeys as learners, leaders, and members of our vibrant community!
I can’t wait to see what will happen next . . .
In closing, I will quote a great local leader in education, David Hawkins:
“On a ladder there is only one way to go: You have no significant choices, except to get off-as many do. But with climbing a tree there is prompt and positive reward. Every new turn brings novelty.” (From: The Informed Vision)