There is a guinea pig at one of the schools where I work. Jackson (an alias to protect his identity) receives great attention and love from not only the classroom he belongs to, but the entire school. He is the elephant in the room in terms of a project. A few weeks ago, we began to collect documentation about children’s relationship to Jackson–what they say, what they do, how/if they interact with him. We made him a mailbox in the message center. We drew his portrait and had a conversation about him. Abrahim (alias) noted that Jackson likes to play and he gets sad when the children aren’t there. He suggests: ” We can make him a friend. Someone can be his friend like a fish.”
The teachers and I met to discuss next steps. We researched and drew fish–the children want the fish to have legs so he can run and play with Jackson. We decide to offer clay and wire for the children to realize their fish three-dimensionally. The following are excerpts from an email correspondence with the teachers about their lesson plans for this experience:
“Jen: Allison…I am not clear in my understanding of what you need to have in your lesson plans (officially), but I want to make sure you and I are on the same page about the true intent of the work. So leave this as is if you need it to read that way…but read on for a different point of view…..
In my opinion, the essential question for the fish goes beyond :
“Essential Question: (How or why) How are we going to create a fish? What parts does a fish have? (Gill,
Fin, body, mouth, eyes, legs?) How are we going to create that part? Who is going to do what parts of the
fish? If we want legs does he need to stand up? If so, how are you going to make him stand?”
The essential question connects the value of empathy and caring to the action of creating a model fish. What parts a fish has is a nice piece of information but is not the essence of what we are trying to do (in the original email I did not say that so nicely, this is rephrased) . And it separates the meaning of what you are doing from its roots–turns it into an activity. Always keep the big picture in mind. A question could be: What qualities might Jackson like in his fish friend? What does he like about the fish? The caring is what makes this important, not vocabulary acquisition. Remember….and to make the values you and the school hold visible. Do you have the list of values from the beginning of the year? Look back at them!”
The principal at another school asked me a while back, “when is the work just a craft, and when will the work with materials be more connected and have context in the lives of the children?” When children were building their clay fish, it was evident that they weren’t just making a fish out of clay–they referenced Jackson. They talked about him and what he would like–they made him a “fast fish” to play with-and a fish with legs so that it could run with Jackson. They care about the well-being of the classroom pet.
I wanted to post this because I think it is food for thought-what is it that we are trying to do at school? How do we make the work relevant and meaningful? What is important? What do we value?