Thursday, January 11, 2018

Putting What They Had Learned To Use

We arrived in the morning on Monday to find that someone had rudely used our parking lot to dispose of their Christmas trees, a pair of Nobel Firs.

The trees, naturally, evoked memories of the recent holiday, with children being inspired to share about their own trees, their decorations, their gifts, their relatives, their family traditions, and the ultimate fate of their own trees, some of which are still standing in their living rooms. We had obviously talked about a lot of those things in the run-up to the big day and it was interesting to hear the differences between what they had anticipated and what had actually transpired. In other words, these illegally discarded trees, showed me a snapshot of some of what the children had actually learned about their family and the holiday: they had previously expressed their theories about what was to come and now I was hearing what had actually transpired kind of like a pre- and post-test without, you know, the intrusive irrelevance and stress of an actual test.

The conversation then turned to whether or not the trees were alive. After some debate, they came around to the consensus that they were dead, despite the still-green needles, because they no longer had roots. But could they plant it and make it come back alive? That question generated more disagreement, with most coming around to the reality that these trees would never grow again, just as the ones that had decorated their homes would never grow again.

But that didn't mean they weren't going to try, if only to attempt to prove themselves wrong the way real scientists do. They began by choosing a spot, then digging a hole. They had no problem making their hole deep enough for a trunk, but with all those diggers, it turned out to be far wider than it was deep, which, of course, meant the tree would not stand on its own. Someone said, "We have to dig a down hole, not an out hole," a description that needed no further explanation, although it took them some trail and error to figure out that digging such a hole is a one-person job.

Even so, once the "down" hole was dug, the tree wouldn't stand on its own, so as one boy held the tree, the others bent their backs to the task of backfilling around the trunk, then packing the sand down. When the boy holding the tree ceremoniously let go, the tree remained standing, provoking impromptu cheering. Then, employing more of the Christmas tree knowledge they had acquired over the holiday break, they went back and forth about whether or not it was "straight," looking at it from various angles, then adjusting it accordingly.

When they were done, someone said, "We have to decorate it."

"But we don't have any ornaments."

One of the diggers hung his shovel from a branch, "That could be our ornament." And so the kids finished by decorating the tree with whatever wasn't nailed down.

They had learned about Christmas trees over the break, adding to the knowledge they had been accumulating on the subject over the course of their five years on the planet, an important subject. They were motivated, sociable, and worked well together, testing their theories, putting what they had learned to use in the real world. And when they stepped back they had done it: they had their very own decorated tree around which to celebrate.

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