Sunday, July 27, 2008

If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em

EraserTown USA (the eraser cities my second graders built in their desks - see first blog post below) continued to thrive during the 08-09 school year. But I have been known to have my own imagination. My parents will tell you that I lied quite a bit as a child, but it was truly my creative side being expressed. I decided to use my "storytelling" abilities to motivate reluctant a reluctant writer. And, I decided to join the EraserTown game. One late afternoon, I decided to transform into the "Writing Fairy." The Writing Fairy came to a student's EraserTown and took the whole town away - erasers and all. The fairy also left a detailed note saying that she captured the town and would return the town once the a writing piece was complete. The next morning, there was quite a buzz in the classroom. Of course, I didn't know what they were talking about - I had never heard of a Writing Fairy!! But what I do know is that the student got to the writing right away! She actually wrote a very amusing story - not exactly what it was supposed to be, but it was finished. And, instead of my feeling frustrated, I was able to have some fun while sparking some motivation. Much better on the nerves!

Storytelling is creative and a great way to engage children. And it can be great fun for teachers. If you've ever listened to Sir Ken Robinson or read his publications, you have heard him say that as children progress through their school years, their creativity diminishes. So we in the primary grades are somewhat fortunate to have the most creative children with which to work! We can learn from them and appreciate what we have. Creativity, as a 21st century skill, is something that the children, as well as we adults, need to be successful. And, I think it is the "fun-ness factor" that can make our classrooms a great place for the children AND the adults to spend their days.

Give it a try. Tell a story (It really isn't lying, no matter what my parents say!!)

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

EraserTown USA

Welcome to EraserTown USA - The New Primary Classroom Blog! Here is a place to discuss and share the many ways to promote creativity in the primary classroom--whether it is by using technology in a developmentally appropriate way, designing long-term projects as a way of integrating the curriculum, integrating the arts into other subject areas, or any other way your imagination allows.

If you teach in a primary-level classroom, you might have experienced the EraserTown phenomenon yourself. Now that it is summer, EraserTown is funny--not so much when you are trying to teach a math lesson. Let me explain...

My second graders have desks. They sometimes sit at their desks. I sometimes try to teach a lesson while they are at their desks. They don't like that. So, they find ways of amusing themselves while I am "doing my thing." Sometimes the children will read a book, sometimes they chat, sometimes they gaze out the window, sometimes they go ahead in their math workbook. I have taken to observing this behavior and following up on what is really happening and not just correcting the children who seem to be not paying attention to the lesson. Often times, they know exactly what is going on with the lesson. Good for them, they are learning to multitask!? And at such a young age!! This year's class was exceptionally creative. There were a handful of children who collected small erasers. During desk lessons, they constructed (yes, constructed) small towns in their desks with whatever they could find, and the erasers were the people of the town. The sides of the desks had signs and pictures (via PostIt notes). They had little plastic containers (from the cafeteria) with everything from pencil shavings to small plastic bears. At the end of the day, while the children waited for their busses, the towns were still bustling with activity. While EraserTown does not match our district standards, you have to admit, it is quite clever! And as many times as I de-constructed the towns, those little builders kept building.

Luckily for me, I had many other ways of amusing my students that were academically sound as well as creative, motivating, and cooperative in nature. Even though I work with young children, I have found that they can do very "grown up" things. We were fortunate this year to have the technology tools available in our classroom to engage these creative learners in projects and lessons that would meet their needs, although not all of our projects required the use of technology. Here are some things they were able to do this year:

  • Learn how to set up and use a SmartBoard

  • Use MacBooks and software - right in the classroom - HOORAY

  • Troubleshoot when there were problems with technology equipment (imagine 25 troubleshooters talking at once - something I had to fix)

  • Use digital cameras for classroom projects and act as the "press" at school events (photos were used on our school's Web site)

  • Write, direct, produce videos--one was even featured on our district's cable channel, and we even managed a mini film festival at the end of the year

  • Write their own science textbooks

  • Participate in webinar and videoconference events - they love the back channel (chat) feature during webinars

  • Put together a circus in one week - performed for other students, staff, and family members
The biggest surprise for me this year was when I came back from a technology meeting with what I thought was a funny story for my class. Some of the adults at the meeting thought that second graders would not be able to use a SmartBoard. I chuckled to myself knowing that my students were not only using the SmartBoard, but they were also orienting it (a prized job) and troubleshooting (correctly) when it wasn't working. I told my class what the adults said thinking they would laugh (ha-ha they think we can't use it). Instead, my students responded with words like, "That is insulting." "That was mean." "Why do they think we are dumb?" When given the responsibility, they really do take it seriously and do their job well AND they learn some very valuable skills at a young age.

During the summer months I reflect on the past years of teaching and I make plans for how I want the next year to look. I fear that if I don't respond to the EraserTown phenomenon directly, I will be missing the chance to harness that wonderful creativity for learning and growing. And, now that I have some valuable technology available right in the classroom and know how these young children shine when they are given the chance to use these tools, I know that I will continue to develop projects that include such things as making movies, participating in interactive video conferences, and learning outside the classroom and away from those desks!

Now that I think about it, maybe we could have created EraserTown - The Movie!! Oh well, you never know what next year will bring.