Our Own Alternate Endings

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This post originally appeared on the Adjusting Course blog on December 22, 2015, and on the #KidsDeserveIt blog on December 28, 2015.

We all know the endings to familiar stories: the shoe fits so Cinderella marries the prince, and Harry Potter defeats Voldemort to save the wizarding world. We find ourselves often thinking and talking about endings long after we have finished reading. Generations of teachers have challenged learners to use their creative talents to write alternate endings to these beloved tales. But how do we tailor this classic method to our current generation of learners – the next innovators in our world? In what ways can we apply 21st century skills such as collaboration and creativity to the learning experience and standards? And, what if the artifacts of learning lived on beyond the lesson using digital tools relevant to young students?

Recently, my kindergarteners have been fascinated by the alternate endings to the gingerbread man story. I wanted to take their energy and dive deeper. The classic method would have been to have my students use their creativity to write a new ending. And the challenge was that kindergartners’ writing skills and stamina are still developing. So I asked myself, what motivates them? What tools can I give them to help them be successful when so many of their skills are still in progress?

This is when I turned to our school’s mobile Makerspace carts and challenged my students to build alternate endings to the gingerbread man. The objective was kindergarten friendly: I can create a new ending to the gingerbread man using legos. The results were astounding. My students planned, collaborated, shared, built, created, and reflected for over an hour – a long time for our youngest learners. Their creativity stretched well beyond my highest expectations and the experience was authentic and meaningful. They changed the characters, the setting, and more. One group’s version of the story had a copy machine that the gingerbread man used to make twenty copies of himself in order to “outfox the fox.”

“We’re engineering!” one student exclaimed. This was the moment when I started thinking about the possibilities for their future. I was not just teaching a skill, I was imparting on kids a new mindset – an engineering mindset. Building their alternate endings was cross-curricular. During the planning stages, I looked up how many standards connected to this objective and was blown away.

While learning to write and practicing writing are critically important, this whole exercise made me reflect on the choices I make as a teacher. Maybe I should not limit their tools in the classroom when it’s time to create. How could using tools that are relevant and motivating to students change the learning experience?

After an hour of innovating, it was time to take apart the creations – such a hard thing to do for both teachers and students after so much time, effort, and creativity are spent. But what if the learning does not stop when the last lego brick is cleaned up? What if we could make time in the classroom to help students’ ideas and work live on? Enter, Google Drive. When students take pictures of their own work, upload it, and share via the Drive with their families, they truly own every step of the learning experience. Digital learning is relevant to students and the ability to share learning with families helps connect us.

Every teacher savors that moment when her students achieve bigger things than she ever dreamed possible. Witnessing 5 and 6 year-olds upload photos of their creations to Google Drive was one of those seminal moments. Most people might hear “Google Drive and kindergartners” and think “that can’t end well.” I guess you could say my class created an alternate ending of our own.

To learn more about this lesson, click here.

True for Us, True for Them

pexels-photo.jpgImagine you attend an all-day professional development course with a group of your teaching colleagues. You arrive and enter a large conference room with hundreds of other teachers. As the presentation starts, the leader of the conference instructs everyone to sit “criss-cross applesauce” on the floor for each presentation. What would you think? Terrible, right? And what if while doing that, you were asked to learn? Does that sound like a good learning environment for you?

Assuming you answered “no,” ask yourself this as an educator: would kids want to do that, sit in one position all day to learn? If it’s true for us, it’s for them. One of my professors in graduate school once posed this example to explain how we as teaching professionals often miss such a simple guiding principle: if it’s true for us, it’s true for them.

As teachers, we make hundreds of decisions every day. It’s exhausting. While not a catch-all, the true-for-us-true-for-them approach helps me make more purposeful decisions. Whether it’s planning an effective lesson or making a split-second decision while I’m teaching, I ask myself: how would I want to learn? What do I need in order to learn?

Here’s something I know to be true: I learn by trying and failing and then trying again. True for us, true for them. I learn through active, experiential learning rather than passive learning. True for us, true for them. I learn through collaborating with others. True for us, true for them. I learn by moving, thinking out loud, getting personalized feedback…true for us, true for them.

Now, think. What if we all took a few moments each day to reflect on this notion and then put it into practice? It’s possible that if you reflect on your own learning needs, it might provide insight into children’s learning needs.

Join me as I ask questions, seek to find answers, and build connections while I put myself in kids’ shoes. 

Connect with me via Twitter @InKidsShoes and @MrsGarwitz (my classroom account).