When I arrived at Woodland Park 9 years ago, I inherited a well stocked classroom although I didn't know it at the time. To me all the toys, games, manipulatives, and puzzles looked old and worn, and there appeared to be a lot of junk mixed in with the good stuff. For my first couple years I was only teaching the 3-5 class, sharing the classroom with another teacher, and both of us were reluctant to toss anything out of deference to one another. We kept talking about meeting up some weekend to make some joint decisions, but it never happened.
I've tried to be brutal over the years since, purging things from our shelves and closets that we never use, but there's still a lot, and now, sadly or gladly, I've added to it.
One of those inherited items, not tossed in one of my binges, largely because it seemed to be complete and didn't take up much space is this set of "Life Sequence" cards from Lakeshore. There's the one in the picture, a baby becoming an old man, as well as a seed growing into a tree, an egg hatching and becoming a duck, a tadpole becoming a frog, a caterpillar metamorphosing into a butterfly . . . There may be a couple more, but you get the idea.
What I tend to not like about these kinds of things is the temptation for me as the teacher to insist on the right answer. I introduced them by calling them "story puzzles." Don't ask me why, but it's what popped into my head when I was trying to find a way to define the word "sequence." And for a time this worked as a useful name for them.
Lachlan, for instance, was working on the orange tree sequence. He started with the seed, then the sprout, then the sapling, then the full grown tree. He was left with a picture of the whole orange, sliced to reveal the seeds. I was waiting to see at what end of the sequence he would place it, because after all, either end would work.
Instead, he tossed it aside, saying, "That's it."
I asked, "What about the orange?"
He looked confused so I walked us through the story the pictures told, "First there is a seed in the ground that grows roots. Then it becomes a sprout. Then it becomes a little tree. Then it becomes a big tree. Then . . ."
"Then that's it," he finished for me.
"Well, what about the orange? I see oranges on that big tree."
"Teacher Tom, those aren't oranges, those are apples!" It's hard as an adult, who knows the "proper" sequence because he's seen the numbers on the backs of the cards, to keep his mouth shut, but this time I did. After all, he was right, you don't get oranges from an apple tree.
Shortly thereafter, I watched Peter put together this sequence. I tried the same technique I'd used with Lachlan.
"Okay, let me see how your story goes. First he is a teenager, then he is a daddy, then he is a baby, then he is a boy. That doesn't sound right."
Peter answered, "It isn't right. It goes like this, first there is a little man, and he meets a big man, and they find a baby, and they give it to the boy. The end."
Later, Isak discovered the numbers of the backs of the cards that dictate the "proper" order. After he'd taught his friends that shortcut, they made short work of the cards, no longer caring about the pictures on the front or the stories they could tell with them. They then dispensed with them as quickly as a middle schooler who discovers the homework answers in the back of the book, and moved on to something else.
I guess I'm glad I saved these cards, but they're too much of a one-and-done kind of proposition to really deserve a share of the limited space on our shelves. As long as we were telling stories, the kids were engaged, but the moment they became about right and wrong answers, we voted with our feet.
To their credit, the cards don't take up much room so I'll keep them. When I get them out next year, however, I'll make sure to black out the numbers on the backs.