Thursday, January 1, 2009

A Ball of Clay and a Bit 'O Google Earth

Erasertown USA - that is what happens when you have primary-level children sit at their desks for an extended period of time and listen to you teach. They do "creative" things like create little towns in their desks, with the erasers as the people! (Hence the name of this blog!) So, we have groups of children who need to move, collaborate, create, etc. That sounds good, for the most part. Although it can be exhausting to a teacher!

But, recently I have been thinking about the idea of continous partial attention, a phrase coined by Linda Stone. It is not a new idea, but one that I have heard being used more often in recent months. It is meant to explain something similar to multitasking - where people are doing more than one thing at the same time to be efficient. With continuous partial attention, however, one is always on high-alert, bouncing from one activity to the next with a sort-of urgent need be involved in everything that is going on at once. I will be the first to admit that I am guilty of this at times.

Some classrooms have a strong energy--but it can be an unsettled feeling that is not a creative, collaborate, hands-on energy. Some groups work very well together and thrive when they are given hands-on, collaborate projects, but they often crumble when they need to sit, even to listen to a story. Just recently, as I was reflecting on this idea, and I began to think that I don't just need to give children hands-on projects, I also need to give them practice "being calm." They need to know what that feels like. And I do think they need to practice.

Somewhere in my Internet browsing at one point (YouTube perhaps - now can't find it), I came across a college professor who actually did require all students to put away all electronic and other devices, including computers. If I remember correctly, one person took notes and shared with the class. He was trying to re-teach them how to focus on one task - listening to him only.

For me it started with a ball of clay. Each year my students learn about famous American symbols, and as part of unit, they each sculpt one of the symbols (Liberty Bell, Statue of Liberty, Capitol, etc.) out of non-hardening clay. It is a large chunk of clay, and it takes some time to soften and mold. Once, before I had even given out the last balls of clay, some children were jumping out of their desks, "claiming" to be finished. "Impossible!" I exclaimed as I found a great place for some learning. And that is where my lessons began. I showed them how to take their time, that it was OK to relax, to work the clay, to think about their work, to smash it and start over if they weren't happy with it, etc. And I think they slowly got the idea, but they really did need the lesson.

Another opportunity arose once time when I began teaching the class how to use Google Earth and how to create placemarks for famous American landmarks.. There was again a feeling that it was a race to the end. Again, I slowed them down, showed them all the wonderful "sightseeing" that was available to them, and praised them for their exploring. They began to enjoy the moment, the task, and working with their partner on what they were doing, not racing to whatever came next. And I was content with the fact that they didn't all get finished the task.

So, lesson for the students - enjoy the process of learning. Lesson for me - remind yourself to remind the students to enjoy the process of learning! Find those moments when you can allow the children to practice being calm, even in our fast-pace, ever exciting learning environments.