Sometimes, the idea for designing a learning experience comes flying in out of clear, blue sky. Hopefully, the window is open when it does. And if it isn’t, then maybe that’s what the project needs to be about.
A sparrow lives outside the windows of the Media Center at MVPS. She’s been living there for a couple of years I was told. She’s also been flying into those windows for a couple of years too I was told.
Periodically, I would hear her crashing into the glass while I was working. One day, I was lucky enough to capture the event on my phone – which is the video at the top of this post.
I showed the video to my grade 1 classes and their interest grew.
“I remember that bird doing that last year.”
“I hope he isn’t hurt.”
“Why is the bird doing that?”
“How do we get him to stop?”
The last two questions were the opening I had hoped for, because they became the questions that drove the purpose of our project.
We set about trying to find the reason the bird kept deciding to fly into the window. With some good questions, and some valuable observations, the students noticed that when they looked out the window, they could see the legs of the tables in the media center, reflected in the windows. They experimented with this phenomenon by put their hands in the front of the windows to see those reflected in the sunshine too.
Then we started to imagine what it must be like on the other side of the glass, and asked ourselves what the bird must be seeing.
(Reflecting back on this, no pun intended, I should have brought the students outside to actually investigate this first hand. #failup)
We then came back to that last question. The week before, we had done some experiments with lashing – wrapping yarn around craft sticks was fresh in their minds, which I had hoped for. I ask if they thought the work we did last week could help this situation. There was some discussion about it, and then agreement that it could work: “If we put enough yarn on them, they’ll block the windows. And if the bird does fly into it, the yarn will make it softer.” From that, our prompt was born..
Create a hanging weaving that blocks as much window reflection as possible.
Sticks and yarn were passed out, and students got to work.
Some students struggled with getting started. I encouraged them to seek out others that could give them a hand. One student even stood up to run a demonstration for others on how to begin the lashing.
After just one day of work, the weavings began to take shape – and for some, patterns even began to emerge.
On the second day of class, work continued. Students began asking questions about their weavings:
“How am I doing Mr. Tiffin?”
“Is this right Mr. Tiffin?”
“How do you like it?”
Answering these questions is key. For me, one of the major goals of maker-center eduction is that students develop an ability to evaluate their own work. The student is the one that decides if what they’ve made “works”, not the teacher. This sense of agency is built by asking students to recall the purpose of what they are creating (ie the prompt), and then getting them to explain why, or why not, their creation fulfills that purpose.
The reason for the “why not” is just as important as the reason for the “why”. By listening to the what/how of their explanations, these student responses provide a glimpse into their understanding of the task, and their ability to judge their own efforts toward accomplishing that task.
Most of my dialogues with students went like this:
S: “Is this right Mr. Tiffin?”
Me: “What is this weaving supposed to do?”
S: “Keep the bird from running into the window.”
Me: “How is it supposed to do that?”
S: “By making it so the bird can’t see the reflections in the windows.”
Me: “So does this block a lot of those reflections?”
S: “Some of them.”
Me: “Can it block even more reflection?”
Me: “How could it block more?”
S: “If I put more yarn here,” (student points at the empty quadrants formed by the sticks), “then it will be wider, and that will make it harder for the bird to see the reflections.”
Me: “Sounds like you have a plan. Do you need anything from me?”
S: “Just more yarn!”
Students continued to work. Those that decided they had blocked as much reflection as they could, now had to figure out how to attach a piece of yarn to the weaving so that it could hang from the window sill. They even had to decide how long that string needed to be so that the class’s combined weavings would work together to effectively block the window reflections – another nice collaborative element to this project.
At the end of the third day of class, we were ready to head outside to install our projects, and hopefully make living in the bushes outside the media center just a little bit safer for the birds.
Images in this post, but not shown in the Image Credits section, are my own.