When I finished my student teaching in Lexington, my cooperating teacher, Len Swanton, gave me a wonderful book, Starting from Scratch: One Classroom Builds Its Own Curriculum by Steven Levy. Since 1998, this book has served as like a bible to me. I have used parts of it, adapted parts of it, and retread parts of it for the past 15 years. Levy describes this as “How can I create an environment that allows every child to express and develop his or her true genius, the essence of who he or she really is?” Levy goes on to explain that “genius” does not mean that every child is a genius, but rather “that everyone has a particular character or essential spirit.” Like Levy, I try to build my learning colony to enable every child to “manifest the genius that he or she brought to the classroom.”
So, over the course of the first part of this school year, I have been watching the children. We have now been in school for 30 days, and for many of those 30 days, I have focused on finding the “genius” in each student as well as for the entire class. What makes them tick? What excites them? How do they like to learn best? What makes them squeal in delight? What are their strengths? What are their weaknesses? How can I set up our learning environment to make it one that the children will take risks. will love learning, and will own their learning?
Together, our Learning Colony has really melded together to define what makes us tick as learners. Our first science unit on Water Filters shed a lot of light onto this Learning Colony’s genius. They loved the building of the water filters, they loved testing and improving the water filters, they loved applying “QCE” to this process, and they loved using technology to create iMovies, Pic Collages, and Explain Everythings about their water filters. I loved hearing the squeals from the children as their dirty water came out clear after passing through the water filters. I loved witnessing the incredible
conversations between group mates, and I loved how engaged the students were in their learning.
We then ventured onto Big Maps. Again, the ability to design the maps on their own was another “genius” point. This moved onto designing a village on the banks of the
Assabet in 1013. I was impressed with the amount of detail, the amount of thinking, and the amount of creativity displayed in their maps. I am looking forward to going outside and building some of our village attributes.
Our second science unit, Rocks and Minerals has provided similar enthusiasm for learning. I showed the students the skills that they were suppose to master during this unit. We then brainstormed investigations
that would help students meet the standards while at the same time, would incorporate their genius points. Students were introduced to certain “tools” such as hand microscopes, rulers, magnifying lens, and pan balances. Instead of copying the worksheet found in the curriculum notebook, students created their own attributes while looking at the rocks and mineral specimens. Again, the
engagement in the room was wonderful. The amount of detail in notebooks was great.
Another “genius” point has been collaboration and creativity. During band on Thursday, I asked a student who was not in band to show the remaining students in the room how to do Scratch. I know a few basics, but this student took about 13 students and in a 45 minute period, had them creating wonderful creations on Scratch. She remarked about their ability to just play around and find out some neat things. Finally, our last day before the three day weekend allowed
students to employ both collaboration and creativity. This particular group has loved learning and using iMovie on the iPads. I have a group of boys who have made movies during sleep overs and then have asked to give up their recess to make movies. So, on Friday, as we headed out to our morning recess, they once again asked to be able to take an iPad out to recess. Two other groups also asked to do the same activity. It occurred to me after witnessing enthusiasm for about 15 minutes that perhaps I was going to switch up my writing lesson to something a little different. I called all 23 students over and gave them a challenge: In 15 minutes, they needed to all shoot video footage. Then they would have another 15 minutes to edit their movie before showing it to the entire class. Off they ran to plan out their movies, and shoot many versions of the trailer “Super Kids”. Each group put their own spin on their movies. Before showing them to the entire class, I asked what skills did we use in producing these. Their answers surprised me, “team work, collaboration, time management, creativity” were some of the skills that the class came up with about our little film challenge. These were all what I would call “Applied Open Circle Skills” and the class did them well.
So, here is what the students and myself have discovered to be genius points for this year’s class:
Engineer: Build, Test
It promises to be an exciting year!