Teacher’s Pet…projects!

If you have known me for long, you have already figured out that I love to teach. When I learn something, pretty soon it comes spewing out again, being passed on for the interest or help of others. Like any teacher, my favorite projects are those that lead to an “aha” moment for students.

In the past few weeks, I have had great fun with a variety of teaching opportunities—in school and out:

marvelous messy artistI did an art history/project with the local school’s 1st grade class some time before Thanksgiving. This week, I got to do another project with them. We made marvelous, messy, colorful art in the style of Monet. (Read more about it HERE.) I was pleased that the students remembered the name and nickname of our previous artist—Henri Matisse, the “wild beast” (so named because he loved to use wild colors and shapes—kind of like ME!) I was pleased that the students worked hard to draw realistic mesa shapes…and then played with the chalk pastels, experimenting with how to mix and smear them. I was pleased that they want me to come back again and do more art with them. And best of all, I was pleased that a few of them who are usually serious and tentative, had big SMILES on their faces by the time we finished.

I pushed and prodded students in my two after-school tutoring groups to participate in NaNoWriMo this year (an on-line program challenging people to write a novel in a month—with a published book given for free to each student who reaches their writing goal during the month). I was sad to discover that reachable word-count goals were so low because writing is quite a challenge for most of these students. On the other hand, almost 10 of them persevered, adding sentence to sentence, slowly progressing, gradually reaching their goals. Even though it is hard work, they haven’t given up and are willingly doing rewrites and editing. Each of them wants to have a printed book in their hands, one written entirely by them! One of my students has discovered a strong talent for description and for coming up with a cliff-hanging plot. Another was reluctant to participate, but is now the most excited to finish up and order her book. All of them have gained confidence by attempting the previously unimaginable. YAY for NaNoWriMo!

I have gotten to know another student in the past few weeks. Although an upper grade student, he still struggles with math and reading. He tends to hunch over, trying to avoid being called on in class or being spoken to in the hallways. He was one of the students who had not yet chosen a science fair topic when I was subbing for his class. At first, he said little. Eventually, he muttered that he had an idea… When I took him seriously, he got more animated. We had a good discussion about what it would take to turn his idea into a full-fledged project. And he has carried through. I helped him do the experiment this week. And he willingly sat with me for over an hour to painstakingly write out his conclusions for the report. He still hides behind his long hair if asked about other things—but he happily talks about what he did and what he learned when the topic is this project. Wow! What a privilege to help a struggling student find something of interest in the academic world. Now, if only he does well in the science fair judging this week…

Anna sewingAnd the fun of teaching and seeing the “aha” moment in students has not been limited to the local school setting. Anna has started learning to sew. Before we left on our trip back east, she made a wall-hanging to hold her many Junior Ranger badges. Randy just laughed to hear me—“Wait! STOP! Go slower! Pay attention!” He says it sounded like I was teaching her to drive. Now THAT’s a scary thought! She enjoyed it enough that we gave her a homemade doll-quilt kit for Christmas. So far, she has pieced the many squares into strips. By the end of that step she was actually doing everything completely on her own, with me sitting beside her (supposedly) reading a book. My, you should have seen the proud smile on her face! One of these days we will get back to the project and she will finish the job.

Jakob is not left out of the joy of learning new things. For a number of school years, I have tried to interest him in reading non-fiction books. Nope…he dallied, delayed, whined, and wiggled out of it. Oh, he would read the specific things I assigned and demanded that he finish, but, by golly, he was determined to not enjoy it. And then…and then…he overheard me telling Randy all about the fascinating things I had learned from a book about human brain development related to type of culture (agricultural versus hunter/gathering). And somehow it captured Jakob’s interest. He “stole” the book from me before I could finish it, and read it from cover to cover. Suddenly he is enjoying many of the laymen’s science books I bring home. YAY! Another “aha” moment which opens the world wider for a “student” of mine…

Hmmm…I wonder what I will learn next. And I wonder which teaching opportunity will bloom into more “aha” moments for students. I can’t WAIT to find out!