Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Creative Choices

Minecraft is taking over our house, as seems to be the case in many houses around the country, and indeed the world. If you're not familiar with it, this is a computer/video game in which players survive and create in a world that may be best described as an infinite quantity of Lego-like bricks of various kinds. There are lots of ways to play, toys inspired by the game, videos where you can watch people play, every imaginable way to interact with the game. And of course there are the fights about who is going to play, how, and for how long. Yesterday one child graciously gave up his spot in the rotation in order to end a fight, so he got to play today as a reward, and he spent much of yesterday and today with a pen and paper, mapping out what he was going to create in this virtual world. He has recently become very interested in Egyptian history, so he wanted to create a pyramid devoted to Thoth, the god of writing. This meant hours of research into what would have been contained in a pyramid and what materials would be available to builders (real-life and Minecraft), followed by consultation and drawing, as well as using another computer program that essentially lets users create Minecraft blueprints. Yes, this company has turned civil engineering into a video game, and kids can't wait to play. And parents all over the globe are trying to figure out how to maneuver their way through this new screen time minefield that is part video game, part 21st-century education.

What they learned:
Hopefully they learned that patience is rewarded, since they all nearly lost the game for several days as a result of the fights, but instead they got more game time as a reward for compromise. But incredibly, they also learned ancient history, drawing skills, drafting, engineering, map-making, and game design. They also learned to support one another's endeavors, as the children who were not actively playing watched and cheered on the one who was doing the actual creation.

What I learned:
Technology is tricky. I suppose that like pacifiers with babies, you have to make sure that it's not being used in place of something more important. And I do still make sure that kids go outside and run around and interact with humans. But the lines between games and education are getting more and more blurry, and things that look like video games to adults might actually be teaching marketable skills to today's youth. I don't want children to spend all their time in front of any kind of screen, because that can't be any better for their eyes and brains and bodies than it is for the adults who are doing it for a living. But I also don't want to unfairly criticize their use of a tool that is actually encouraging creativity and digital skills and social cooperation. I think this is an issue that will require a lot of thought and work from all the adults working with children these days, but I got a good reminder that it's not just about limiting screen time; it's about remembering what they need to learn and how we can best use all the tools we have.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Taking your time

We spent a lot of today working on models that I bought online for a dollar to two dollars apiece. Each time we needed to remove the wooden pieces from the bag, identify the directions in the correct language (they were inexpensive!), identify the pieces and glue them together, then wait for things to dry before they were painted.

With kids ranging in age from 4 to almost 12, there was a variety of abilities and temperaments at work while we did this project. And only a couple of them (the ones created by the very oldest kids) have been painted so far. There were tantrums about being denied the set they wanted because it was already claimed by someone else, some creative problem solving when pieces kept sliding off or holes were not be enough for axles, and lots of unexpected cooperation as people realized that they had bitten off more than they could chew and should work with another person to complete the project or as they realized that someone else had the same set but was further along and could act as a guide.

What they learned
It's important to take your time and be careful when you're working toward a goal. Sometimes goals are further away than you had thought, as in thinking that you were going to have a completed ship in an hour, but now it's supper time and you've had to accept that you are not going to paint your project today. But if you can be patient with yourself and with the people around you, you will end up with lots of time spent on something that you really like, and you'll be proud of what you created.

What I learned
Kids come in a wide variety of ages and skills and personalities, and as a kid, your life is mostly about rules. So when someone hands you a project that is simultaneously free form (glue it however you like, frankly, and the colors are entirely up to you) and accompanied by a new set of rules (don't get glue on that, those aren't your pieces, you can't use that set because someone else is using it), it can be really frustrating. And explaining that you understand where they're coming from doesn't always help. Sometimes you just need to let them be in that frustration until they're done and can move on. It's hard enough to regulate your emotions as an adult, so don't put too much pressure on kids to get it right.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

What were you thinking?

There were two times today that I completely lost it and got all lecturey with the kids. The first time, they told me they "needed more paint" for a project, which then led through a wandering conversation to the fact that the reason was that the paint had spilled all over the box and nearby paper and was also on the floor, hands, and pants. Over the course of several yells, I informed them that they had skipped the most important points--that the paint had spilled and that there was a mess that needed addressing--and gone right to the fun part--that they needed more paint.

The second time was bath time, which for some reason is always either all sunshine and lollipops or all yelling. Tonight was not great. When a child informed me that we were all out of kid soap, I angrily remembered that I had put a new bottle in there two days--or one bath--ago. So they managed to use an entire bottle of kid soap in a single bath! I was livid as they explained the things they had tried to do, such as getting all the soap out of the bath sponge so that they could put "fresh" soap into it.

What they learned
Consider what people need to know when you bring a problem to them, and make sure you include the most important details first. Also, for crying out loud, only use a tiny bit of shampoo.

What I learned

Kids don't know things that you haven't taught them. I feel like I come back to this idea over and over again, but it remains true. It's obvious to me that if you see spilled paint, you deal with the spill before you seek out more paint. And if your shower is completely filled with bubbles, you don't need any more soap. But I have the benefit of a lot more years than them, and I need to remember that it's always my job to teach them, not their job to pick it up along the way.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015


I feel like I'm still trying to find my voice here, but since this blog is intended to discuss the time leading up to and including my student teaching, I want to make sure I don't just focus on fun moments; I want to talk and write about all the things we are learning, sometimes academic content and sometimes life lessons, because both kinds matter. And I expect to learn at least as much as they do each day.

We had a wonderful morning outside with Minecraft games and sticks and things. Of course, I didn't think to take pictures until the afternoon.

What they learned
It's great to be bored for a little while, because afterward you find places of great inspiration and joy.

What I learned
It's hard to catch kids looking spontaneous, especially when you're trying to catch a moment that happened earlier. Sometimes it really is best just to be there as it happens and hope that you can remember it later.