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!

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