Focus on Imagery

Draw and color a picture based on the poem.

Many students make a comic strip for this imagery activity.
It’s very simple, but I think it’s a good warm up to focus on descriptive language. One thing I would change is the directions. It should read “draw and color a picture to show what is described in the poem”, or something similar to reinforce the ‘showing with words’ concept of imagery.

Beginning inquiry with artifacts

To provoke this inquiry into similarities, differences, challenges, and opportunities in different cultures through history, I set out this kit of replica archaeological artifacts. Then, I invited students to write their ideas with whiteboard markers on the posted questions. Sometimes, the concrete should stimulate the conceptual.

Field Trip: Railway Museum

We went to the Railway Museum in Saitama City. It was one of the best field trips I’ve ever taken with a class. Incredible exhibits and lots of hands-on activities. Perfect for our inquiry into human energy usage. Learned two important lessons for excursions:

1. Take the whole day and expect to move slowly. Plan extra time for everything, then expect it to take even longer.

2. If you want your kids to explore a particular part of the museum during free time, take them there, then set them loose. Don’t expect them to find it on their own.

This interactive exhibit lets you control a real train motor, wheel, and brake system!

I must be getting old, because I was most interested in seats. Here’s a picture of me traveling back in time sitting on a tatami seat from 1902.

Metateaching: Teachers as anthropologists and designers.

While reading Gerhard Fischer’s Understanding, Fostering, and Supporting Cultures of Participation, I was transported back in time to my semester abroad in Nepal in 1996 when I was immersed in a foreign culture for the first time and inundated with fifteen units of Anthropology and Cultural Geography classes. In the shadow of Mt Nilgiri, we often debated individualism versus collectivism or the importance of the self versus the importance of the group.

Every discussion reached a similar conclusion, surprisingly quickly considering the effects of altitude on alcohol tolerance: A person both supports and is supported by a community.

In fact, from an anthropologist’s perspective, that is how humans survived and thrived for hundreds of thousands of years. Knowledge was not a commodity, it was a right. Innovation was embraced and shared. The modern education system is not based on such concepts. It is generally authoritarian, bureaucratic, and militaristic. And it is obsolete. In it’s current state, it can only perpetuate problems. That’s why teachers must be anthropologists.

I mean it quite literally. Anthropology and elementary education share every characteristic except one. Anthropologists wish not to influence their ethnographic subjects; educators specifically do want to influence our students. In order to make good decisions about how to guide children’s learning, teachers need to objectively observe and assess society to filter ‘everything’ into comprehensible units for kids. It’s a daunting challenge, and I wonder if students wouldn’t be better off filtering for themselves anyway?!

At least I can say that learning to see your students through an ethnographic lens will certainly make you a better teacher.

Movements like Genius Hour, the Maker Movement, Social Creativity, and Open-Learning, and achievement badges are some of the first bells to toll for our stagnant system of so-called learning. They are wrestling control of learning away from schools to give it back to learners where it belongs, and they provide exactly the kinds of authentic content elementary teachers should curate for students.

In Fischer’s article, he describes metadesign. Metadesigners, in my interpretation, design systems which empower users to create their own designs. MIT Media Lab’s Scratch is a great example, as it visually represents elements of code, allowing the user virtually limitless possibilities for creation, while at the same time learning concepts coding. The same idea can be applied to any system, from YouTube to Wikipedia, provided it meets certain criteria for openness and adaptability. Metadesigners recognize that everyone has brilliance within them and help to unlock it.

Let’s become metateachers. Instead of imparting knowledge, let’s create and develop environments in which children can acquire it through inquiry. Let’s frame inquiries with concepts which can be interconnected and applied universally. Prioritize emotional and social understanding to nurture collaboration and empathy. Find resources and experts who would ignite our students’ passions. Let’s design systems of learning which empower learners to design their own learning.