Thursday, March 3, 2011

intrinsic motivation

It is so late and I have had a crappy day, BUT, I just have to write about an amazing thing that happened today in the classroom.  Something that, for me, provides the intrinsic motivation I need to do my job and is a premium example of authentic, meaningful, real world learning--thus beautifully illustrative of MI teaching and learning.  Now bear in mind, this story includes mistakes--but that is how we, as humans, learn--and it also includes solving problems that matter to society--which is what intelligence is.  So, here it is, with a little background to start:

At the beginning of the year, I planned to do something exciting and different and meaningful with "weather" this year.  I included it as one of our class jobs, but as September closed in, I got derailed by a thousand other more pressing matters, and never actually came up with a concrete plan--or even idea for what that something would be.  The year started, and as I introduced class jobs, I simply stated that I hadn't figured out what that job would actually entail so the weather people could take a break until we came up with something.

Weeks and months passed and weather was not a popular job choice, obviously because it wasn't really a job.  In January, I decided this situation was ridiculous, and I had to come up with ANYTHING, if for no other reason than to save face with my primates.  I am always very careful with making promises.  Breaking promises to children does not build trust, and if I'm going to get them to learn, they must trust me.  So even something as insignificant as defining the weather job can go along way with building trust--because I had, at one point, promised I'd do it--and they know I don't throw that word around.

At morning meeting one day, I brought the subject up for discussion and was honest in saying that I just didn't know what to do and needed help.  A few primates offered suggestions....nothing really exciting, but as a group we agreed that the job of weather would be to record the daily temperature on the calendar every morning.  Our next problem was how we would gain that information, every morning.  I asked them to name ways to find out the daily temperature and we made a list: watching the news on TV, looking at a thermometer, checking the dashboard of a car, the Internet.  We decided the Internet would be a good option, and one of the primates suggested our school secretary announce it every day like when she announces birthdays.  We wrote a letter to the principal and to our school secretary, asking if they would please announce the daily temperature with the morning announcements.  The secretary came by later that day and reminded us that she doesn't do morning announcements anymore--only afternoons.  OK, mistake--how did I not notice that?!?!?!?!

Anyways, we were forced to find another solution, so I offered to check it on my computer with the weather kids before morning meeting.  And so we did.  For about 3...maybe 4 days.

Reality enters and the usual monsoons of the 8-8:20am time period prevented this from happening regularly.  One morning, realizing this and not wanting to let it go, I mentioned that I noticed the temp on my car dashboard that morning read 28 degrees Farenheit and the weather primates quickly recorded it on the calendar.  A few days later, I noticed that each day since had a temperature recorded and I asked the weather primates how they got that information.  They replied they had heard it on the news before school and one said he had asked his mom on the way to school.  Hmmmm, I thought--very impressed with the fact that they had taken it upon themselves to do this, and relieved that the weather job was something I could let myself not feel guilty about anymore!

It's been weeks and many, many snow days, and even a vacation since then.  Here and there daily temp recordings have been missed, but ALSO here and there, they are recorded.  Leading me to today's events, and I do apologize for the length of this entry, but context is very important.

So I'm in the midst of a bad day--just one where a million things go wrong and circumstances beyond your control make things THAT much harder, and I'm preparing to leave early in order to address some family matters, but I have 30 precious minutes with the primates and I'm determined to make them count.  As I describe the task I'm requesting from the primates, (a continuation of a drawing assessment/lesson that I will describe in full detail another day), I notice there is no temp recorded for the day and I ask, "Does anyone know what the temperature was this morning?"  Suddenly a sluggish group of primates just returning from math and an hour before lunch, are excited raising their hands and spouting stories of....the day's temperature and how they got that information.  "My mom's car said 6 degrees F!"  "My alarm clock tells the temperature and this morning it said 9 degrees but I heard on the news 2 degrees!"  "I asked my dad and he said 8 degrees!" and on and on and on....and I was suddenly shocked silent.

Here they were, my primates, actively engaged in a discussion of temperature that included accurate vocabulary, varied stories of actively using resources in their real world, taking something from the classroom into their lives outside school and bringing their lives outside school into the classroom.  Here they were, in a complete stage of engagement and meaningful, purposeful learning.  And it all began with the problem of coming up with a class job for weather.

In my geekishly, teacherly mind, this moment was a significant experience.  This is theory to practice in that as the teacher, I presented a problem, guided them through making mistakes, failing, finding solutions, and ultimately inspiring inquiry and taking responsibility for their own learning.  I feel pretty confident that my primates understand the purpose and uses of temperature, and that they are able to transfer this understanding to a variety of contexts--including how temperature is used in the real world.

There's no script to this kind of teaching--no book or program that will tell you every word you need to say,  there's no guarantee that somehow attempting to replicate this experience in another classroom, with a different group or teacher will produce the same results.  But the truth is, if such a program or book existed that actually worked 100% of the time with 100% of learners, schools would be using it.  Teaching, real, authentic, inspired, good teaching HAPPENS.  And just as we know that as humans, we learn from mistakes and failures much more often than we learn from easy success, good teaching comes from time, patience, mistakes, failures, and that intrinsic motivation to experience moments such as this.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

everything begins with a line

We have been exploring lines in our world--in drawings, paintings, nature, objects, and here we searched our classroom for lines of all kinds!  These are a few we found:

One primate noticed angles on the easel left behind after someone painted a picture 
and missed the paper!

Lots of lines on the American flag--straight, diagonal, horizontal, vertical...and angles on the stars.

Primates worked on a unifix cube train that circled the entire classroom and at some points showed curved lines, such as this.

Another curved line on the edge of the table.

Mac the turtle also showed many lines on his shell--curved, straight, diagonal, wavy, 
horizontal and vertical.  We also found lines on his tank, light, and water bowl.

Primates are expanding their vocabulary, using and learning about directional words (which will be helpful not only in drawing but also as we work more with mapping later on), they are recognizing simple shapes and lines in things they are drawing, which enhances their artistic skills as well as observational skills.  Primates worked in partners to find lines in the room and we shared our findings as a whole group--making sure to be specific about what type of line we found and where we found it.  This activity, which I consider a "messing about" activity, uses experiential, foundational, aesthetic, and social entry points to engage learners, and provides a foundation for future drawing lessons.