Friday, January 06, 2017

Beyond Smashing

Seattle's marine climate typically keeps us damp and just above freezing for most of the winter, but a couple times every year, the skies clear, removing insulation, which allows temperatures to fall, and if it comes right after a good rain, all the collected water hardens into ice. This is an exciting thing for the kids, who then tend to go into a sort of ice smashing frenzy.

This is what happened on Wednesday this week. The kids made short work of the ice, dropping it, kicking it, throwing it, and hitting it with sticks, leaving the playground looking like the scene of an auto accident with "broken glass" scattered from top to bottom. I have nothing against smashing ice, we even got out our rubber mallets to support the process, but as a teacher this instinct to joyfully destroy it all it left me feeling like we had missed an opportunity to really explore the stuff.

So what's a good teacher to do? Well, I don't know about good teachers, but this one spent an hour after school replenishing every concavity on the playground with water, from buckets and wagon beds, to sauce pan lids and the insides of car tires. Not only that, but I filled a dozen other containers that I put atop the storage shed, set aside for purposes other than smashing.

My main idea was to offer the chunks of ice alongside regular tempera paint. I figured that would give more meditative kids a chance to play with the fundamental properties of ice beyond its brittleness -- hardness, melting, slipperiness, cold. And as some kids ran wildly about smashing what they could find "in the wild," others were intrigued by the notion of painting the stuff and did, curving their bodies over their work, commenting amongst themselves about the hardness, melting, slipperiness, the cold, and joking that this was art they didn't get to take home.

I was feeling pretty good about myself, when I noted one of the three-year-olds carrying a chunk of ice to the workbench where we were building with glue guns. We had earlier discovered that it takes quite a bit longer for the tools to heat up in freezing temperatures and that, once fully heated, we had to work faster than normal because the hot glue cooled more rapidly than normal. Now we were going to see what would happen if we shot hot glue onto ice.

The first thing we learned was that if the tip of the glue gun actually touched the ice, the tool wouldn't function. The second thing we learned was that the hot glue didn't melt the ice as we had predicted, but instead the ice cooled the glue instantly causing it to slide right off. So that's what we spent the rest of our time doing, emptying glue guns onto the ice, often painted ice, creating great tangled hot glue sculptures that we began to call "snow flakes."

The rain is supposed to return next week, so it's back to what we know: cold, but not freezing, and damp. Few humans on earth know more about those conditions than the kids I teach, but, for a couple days our natural habitat gave us something else to learn about and as children always do when given the opportunity to explore, we jumped in with both feet.

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