Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Making it up as we go Along

I used to think that a big part of being a really great teacher was having a stellar lesson plan that encompassed all the key areas of development. In my imagination, the really great teachers diligently wrote and followed their lesson plans every week. The children who were lucky enough to bask in the glory of these magnificent minds, were so riveted by their flawless masterpieces that they flourished and everyone lived brilliantly ever after. 

According to my own limited definition I have never been able to reach the status of a “really great” teacher, in fact I’m pretty sure I never will. I seem to have been born missing the the magical component that endows “really great” teachers with the capacity to write and stick to lesson plans regularly. Sure I can compose a beautiful lesson plan; I can even recite all the ways in which my open ended activities will influence a child’s development but when it comes down to the follow through part, my toddler - like attention span just won’t let me do it. I get distracted or bored or completely absorbed in something totally unrelated to my original plan.

Somewhere along the way I’ve decided to make peace with my shortcomings and accept the fact that I’m only capable of (gulp) teaching on the fly. As unconventional as it is, my etch a sketch memory gives me an almost superhuman ability to shift my thinking on a dime - turns out that skill comes in quite handy when working with curious little minds. I know full well that some people might not consider teaching on the fly to be a valid method of teaching, afterall there is no formal plan written ahead of time, no predetermined destination to reach. There’s just a bunch of toys, some curious kids and a leap of faith that something cool is going to happen. What can I say? We've all got to work within our skill set and I am no exception to the rule. 

One thing I do know is that teaching on the fly always yields lessons that are relevant to the children’s interests. They are always deeply emersed in whatever it is we do, even if we don't know what we'll be doing until we're actually doing it. I also know it's a magical thing to witness.

Lately the kids have been bringing in all sorts of cool toys from home to share with the group. Our projects tend to be cobbled together from items they lay on the table before the group and random bits gathered from around our room. I keep a few backup projects on standby just in case the kids haven’t conjured up a brilliant plan by mid morning but rarely do they fail to imagine something awesome. 

Our most recent collection of items to investigate were an accordion, five mini monster trucks, a remote control monster truck, some primary colored handprints and crayon rings.

The children determined that our first task should be to figure out how the accordion works so we googled videos on the inner workings of accordions. We learned that there are reeds in the accordian and that air moves through it like a harmonica to make sounds. We also watched some pop song accordion music videos and danced to cheezy polka songs, then we took turns making our own music. 

The children explored the parts of an accordion and compared the similarities between the keys on an accordion and the keys on a piano. 

The following are some of their responses to the question: “What did you learn about accordions today?”

“They go open and closed.” Jackson

“It changes the sounds when you push the buttons.” Will

“I had fun with it and it was hard to hold. ” - Sam

“I put the accordion (straps) on my arms and open and close.” - Addie

“You can put on the straps on your body and move with the accordion, and you can push the buttons to change the sound.” - Logan

Later we made up a color sorting game with some handprints that Carmen brought in. The children waited patiently for a turn to use tweezers to match colored tiles to the corresponding handprints on the lazy susan. We also used the very same colors of crayon rings to cover a large sheet of paper in a group project.

Then we built some really cool things on the train table for our monster trucks to crash and smash. There were ramps made of scrap wood and lines of “old broken cars” for the monster trucks to roll over - just like the videos we googled the during a discussion about Sam’s birthday trip to the truck pull.

We learned about how the wire in the remote control on the monster truck sends a message to the vehicle so that it knows which direction to move in. We also discussed the importance of handling the truck with care so that the wires didn’t become detached and unable to communicate. We took turns building walls together and laughed hysterically as the monster truck crashed them down. 

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