Sunday, March 27, 2011

Lessons From the Gingerbread Man...

For the past two weeks I have been encouraging my students to bring empty half gallon milk cartons to school for a project that I have always done during our fairy tale unit. They have not brought in nearly enough cartons for our project. In fact, they have brought in only four or five total. The 15 or so that I had saved made enough for us to begin the project last week, but we are faced with the inability to complete it at all if they do not show up with quite a few on Monday. The fact that I am still in the process of changing my teaching is probably the reason the solution to this problem was slow in coming, but today while reading blog posts from Twitter, I had another ah-ha moment!

The project I am using comes from a wonderful book of what were at one time innovative ways to teach math. It is spelled out in specific steps and even has "The Rules of the Kingdom". Guess who the ruler is? Why me, of course! I don't know how many times I will have to learn this lesson before it becomes instinctive, but I don't have to be the ruler and I don't have to set the rules for my students to learn something worthwhile!

Our project is based on the story of The Gingerbread Man. With a simple change to the ending of the story, he escapes from the fox and finds himself on the other side of the river where he meets other Gingerbread people who are building a village in the forest. The project is a set of activities that incorporate math skills and social studies. Everything is based on half gallon cartons so that the pieces of the village fit together as planned. Well.... we can learn a great deal by venturing away from the prescribed lesson and turning the kingdom over to the Gingerbread people rather than the "king"!

The Gingerbread families have been created. Each family has an elaborately designed milk carton home. Now all they need is floor space and an opportunity to work together to create a village that will meet their needs. They don't need me to tell them what to do or how to do it. I only need to pose a question that will guide their learning. "How can the Gingerbread people build a village that will meet their basic needs and provide a safe environment in which to live?" It occurs to me that they will learn so much more by working together and figuring that out as a class. I plan to show up at school with a variety of boxes and materials for them to use and to see where our project goes when led by the students rather than a book. Will it involve math? Maybe. Will it involve social studies? Definitely! Will the kids be engaged and learning? Certainly!

I can't wait to see what happens!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Lessons From Palm Oil

My second grade students watched a live broadcast from Borneo via TakingItGlobal earlier this week. They learned about the destruction of the rainforest and the orangutan habitat for the production of palm oil. A reflective discussion following the event generated a list of ideas for how seven and eight year old children can help with the problem. "We can speak for the trees!" suggested one student. They went on to suggest writing letters to the companies that are responsible, writing a blog about the issue, and starting a campaign against the use of palm oil. The kids were not, however, exactly sure what products contained palm oil. In an effort to transfer the responsibility for gathering information from myself to my students, I suggested that they go home that night and begin searching labels to find out. A wonderful lesson for children! But... the lesson had a twist I had not foreseen...

The next morning the children arrived ready for a new day. One of the first little girls through the door enthusiastically exclaimed that she had found a product containing palm oil! As she announced her finding, sugar wafer cookies, my eyes traveled quickly to a Walmart bag sitting on the table. With a sinking heart, I opened the bag which contained brownies I had purchased for a reward I owed the kids. They squealed with delight as I lifted them from the bag, only to dissolve in dismay as I turned them over and read from the ingredient label: palm oil! A tiny voice rose from the class asking the question they were all thinking, "Do we still get to eat them?" There was a collective sigh of relief as I said, "Of course you can, but I just learned a huge lesson from you! Next time I will look at the label before I buy things! Even better, perhaps baking from scratch rather than buying ready made would be best!" I don't think a single child in my class will ever forget the lesson I learned that day.

As we lined up to go home, I reminded them that over the weekend they should look for more products that contain palm oil to report back to the class. My favorite question of the day was, "Would it be cheating to look on the internet?"

We are learning together, keeping it real, and making a difference!