Thursday, May 27, 2010

Deconstructing the Classroom

The Debate
Last week, my students debated about the importance of different forms of technology at the home, school, and community levels.  The two teams that debated school technology chose paper on one side and the building on the other, as the technologies that are essential to a school.  The debate was really interesting especially when you consider that my students are 7-9 years old.  The paper side explained how difficult it would be to read, write, do art, make displays, and do any work without paper.  The building team pointed out that the structure protects us from the weather, it is a place to keep our belongings, it gives us privacy, and does a good job of keeping us from getting eaten by bears.  All good points, I thought.

The Big Idea
So the big idea was, "What technology is essential to 'school'?"

The Application
As they were debating, I thought to myself, "We could do this."  So the next period, I had students write their names on a piece of paper, and then write which technology would be the easiest to go without at school.  After everyone committed,we put up a t-chart and tabulated the results on the Smartboard.  Interestingly, exactly half the students thought it would be easier to go without paper and the other half thought it was easier to go without the building.  Then we told them that the following Wednesday afternoon, those people who were thought paper was a less necessary technology would go without paper, and the people who thought the building was less important would go without the building. 
The Reaction
The students were shocked!  Well, except for one who figured I would try something like this.  They asked a whole bunch of clarifying questions like, "What if it rains?" (You'll probably get wet, so dress for the weather), "What are we supposed to write on?" (Anything that is not paper or a paper product), "What can we take outside?" (Anything you can carry), "What will we read?" (Anything that is not written on paper), "Can we go to the bathroom?" (Technically no.  For some of you, the bathroom will not exist, and for the rest, you can go, but you are not supposed to used toilet paper or paper towels.  Try to go before the afternoon starts).  We explained that the students would be given a number of regular school tasks to do, and the we gave them time to plan with their teams.  That day we sent home notices that some students would be outside for Wednesday afternoon.
The Experiment
When Wednesday rolled around, you could tell that the students were excited about the experiment.  As luck would have it, there was a light drizzle.  My teaching partner, Shane, and my volunteer, Kalee, went out with the No Building group, while I stayed inside with the No Paper group.  Both sets of students were convinced that their own situation was the easier of the two.  The teachers were not as convinced.
The Tasks
Task 1: Read silently for at least 20 minutes. 
No problem for the outside group, once they set up tarps under some trees and got their umbrellas out.  The No Paper group had a brief discussion and decided to put up a Tall Tale on the Smartboard, gather around and read it, silently and simultaneously.  There were drawbacks: not all of them could read it, they read at different speeds, there was no choice, etc.  But because they were all so committed to the task, NO ONE complained.
Task 2: Write a story that is at least 6 sentences long. 
The No Building group had few problems.  They used their lap desks or binders to write on and Shane provided them with paper.  A few of them forgot their pencils, but others loaned them supplies.
The No Paper group was really diverse.  They used chalkboards, whiteboards, and the computer.  Others wrote directly on their lapdesks with washable markers.  
Task 3: Show 5 different multiplication sentences.
The No Paper group just used the writing materials they used for task 2.
The No Building group was a little more creative.  They used materials from outside: 4 sets of 2 sticks, 5 clover equalled 15 leaves, etc.
Task 4: Draw a coloured picutre of a boat on the ocean in front of some mountains on a sunny day.
The rain started to come down, so the No Building group had trouble keeping their art dry.
The No Paper group did not erase any of their previous work (to prove task completion to the other team), so they were running out of surfaces.  They started writing on the filing cabinet, doors and the cupboard with dry erase pens.  I was impressed with their problem solving skills and ingenuity. 
Task 5: Create a display and a presentation to explain why your technology is so important to schools.
The No Building group had been out in the rain for over an hour, so Shane started to pack things up.
In the No Paper group, three students got this far.  Again, they used dry erase pens and any surface they could find. 
The Debrief
Both teams loved the experience.  They loved the novelty and their own success and ingenuity.  Anita, our Learning Support Teacher, asked them if they enjoyed the experience so much because it was for a short time.  The students replied that they would love to try it again for an entire week.  The students asked the other team questions, and they saw that they saw that buildings and paper are not absolutely necessary to school.  They realized that you could learn without either, but that both certainly make learning more convenient.  I really tried to push the idea that they could take their learning with them wherever they went, but I think the students really got that concept based on their experience. 
The Residual effects
I learned that some students are more resilient and resourceful that I thought.
I learned that some students work extremely well with a series of short, sequential tasks that they can do at their own pace.
I learned that some of my resistant writers work very well on vertical surfaces.  Even today, I posted foolscap paper on the chalkboard and it yielded more writing out of some students than I thought possible.
I learned that when students have task commitment, they will work harder, more harmoniously, more cooperatively, and with more ingenuity than usual.  I think that with the experiment, students really thought they had something to prove and worked to prove it.
I learned that routine is important for creating strong habits, but novelty will yield growth in unexpected areas.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous9:37 PM

    Wow! I wish that I still got to work with you.I am inspired by your thought processes. You should start a learning team on this topic. It would be really cool! It would give you time to inspire and learn from other educators also intent on exploring classroom design. Thanks for the e-mail. You don't have to do that. On some accounts you can actually sign up as a follower and it just alerts you when there is a new post. What great learning for you and the students!!!!