Wednesday, November 23, 2011

"That's What A Light Saber Is Supposed To Do."

I've written here often that I'm not all that concerned about what the children learn. From among the infinite bits of trivia that comprise our existence, who am I to choose what becomes permanently stuck in their brains and what has to be looked up later in life on the internet? No, my primary concern is that they develop the habits of inquiry and exploration: not that they learn, so much as that they think.

Making my job so much easier is the great truth that they all come to me with those habits, imbued by nature via the urge to play, so I find that most of my job is largely just getting out of the way.

For instance I've had these three air pumps in the storage room forever. Two of them are the hand operated kind you carry on your bike, the third is a foot pump model with a nice big air pressure gauge mounted on it. Last week I put them on a table in our room, along with some other gadgets. 

Several adults asked what the pumps were for. None of the kids did.

Of course, 2 and 3 year old boys seem to always know what to do with long stick-like things: pick them up, hold them at eye level, and swing them around while walking through crowded spaces. I'm exaggerating, of course, but it does seem to be the case, even if it isn't as universally age and gender specific as I've made it sound. The shiny, red one was the most popular for this purpose. After we persuaded a couple of the guys that their friends were worried they would get their eyes poked out by this behavior, they got down to figuring out what else they could do.

A few of the kids tried to operate the foot pump, but it became quickly evident to me that none of them were being physically assertive enough to depress the foot pedal with their hands, which is what they were trying to do, probably since I'd put it on a table. The hand pumps, however, made their way from hand to hand, being put through their paces, being bones of contention, being the subject of intermittent conversation.

"They're light sabers."

"This one's a machine."

"Hey, you're blowing air on me!"

"It's my turn now."

At some point, probably through either frustration or by way of clearing the decks, the foot pump wound up on the floor. Connor stumbled on it, stopped, put a hand on the table to steady himself, then jumped on it, successfully depressing the pedal, causing the pump to issue an impressive hiss of air. Soon we had a line of kids wanting to try it out.

As you can see from the pictures, the pumps later found their way to the sensory table where we were playing with river rocks, plastic sea creatures, and water. We discovered they could be used to make bubbles.

Or rather, we learned that the silver hand pump and the foot pump could make bubbles, while the red one couldn't. I passed my grown-up judgement, "That one's broken."

I've never seen so many blank stares. I tried again, "No bubbles means no air is coming out of this one."

Jody said, "Yeah, but it's not broken. See?" And he proceeded to demonstrate that the piston still slid quite smoothly in and out. "That's what a light saber is supposed to do."

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Aunt Annie said...

Hahahahaha! Gotta love children! Time to change your definition of 'broken', then... or perhaps your definition of 'air pump'?

Seriously, though, at some stage this flexibility of thought gets taught out of them. The ability to see an object as more than its name, but as an object with potential to be many things, is what ends up providing the world with amazing new inventions. How can we preserve this thinking in our children?

Anonymous said...

This is a question I often struggle with and strive to help my students with each and every day. I am a middle school science teacher passionate about science and more importantly the education of my students. They are wonderful people with such creativity and I worry about the continual testing that seems to zap them of their innovative energy.

I have enlisted their help and created many open-ended projects that allow for freedom and choice. I have seen such amazing things from them that reflect their personality, potential, and desire to learn. They inspire each and every day to continue to be innovative myself.

On another note, it has been a while since I was able to read Teacher Tom's blog. I read the November 13th entry and your comments regarding the Common Core Standards deeply resonate with me. While accountability is important it should not supercede teaching students how to think, work together as a community, and problem solve.

Thank you Teacher Tom. I wish we lived closer so my sweet, curious little man could experience your classroom. However, I do have to say I have borrowed many ideas from you for our time together at home. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Shellee said...

FABULOUS!! That's all I can say!

Well, the only other thing I can say is that would LOVE to open a "Teacher Tom" school here in France for my little international kids and their little friends. Keep up the curiosity!! :)