Thursday, April 05, 2018

paper kites...

I received a comment from a reader who teaches hands-on science, and feels overwhelmed by having 30 students per class and a total of 135 students under his teaching responsibility. What can I say to help? The following is my attempt.

Administrators rarely know that hands-on learning requires smaller class sizes to be most effective. So the question becomes how do you make the best of a difficult situation.

You may find the principles of Educational Sloyd to be helpful. Those are: Start with the interests of the child. Move from the easy to the more difficult, from the known to the unknown, from the simple to the complex, and from the concrete to the abstract.

Kids these days have been sheltered from the kinds of things I did as a kid. While their fingers are busy sliding over glass, mine were tying knots, using scissors, sawing wood, building stuff with blocks and with clay, so I started with a base level of hand skill that some students will not have.

The good thing is that kids who have had much time in school will be ready for the refreshment that the hands provide. So ask yourself these questions: What would be easy for my kids to do? The hard stuff can come later. What do my kids know? And What do my kids know how to do? Use those things as your platform from which to build, even if it requires you to start over with scissors and string. Ask yourself, how can I simplify this project? You know that most things are overly complex, and deserve simplification. Complexity can come later. And how can I build this lesson in the concrete so it serves as a launching point for the abstract? Have some examples ready to show in concrete form what you hope to accomplish. Don 't mistake pictures of something for the concrete or the real. They are abstractions.

When in doubt, simplify. That is my favorite rule in woodworking. If your projects are overly complex, that will add additional complication to lessons delivered under less than ideal circumstances.

The reader asked how to measure the results of his teaching efforts.

That’s a hard one. I watch first for student engagement. Are they engaged in the lesson and at what level, and if not, I ask why… It may be that I’ve forgotten to take the principles of Educational Sloyd described above into consideration. I figure that if they are engaged, then they are learning at the level that's most comfortable to them, as learning is one of the most natural of all human functions. Kids look for learning and hope for it and are happy when learning just as you and I are.

If you are a scientist, act like one and explain what a scientist does. Admit and accept the fact that some lessons don’t work out as planned, just as life almost never does. Be sincere, be caring, for the student, their successes and failures as well as your own. Those qualities of character that you no doubt model are possibly the most important lessons your students will learn from their time in your class. Be sure to ask your students what they have learned. Have them write it down so that you will remember some of the best when you have rough days as all teachers have rough days.

The lessons of Wissenshaft and the lessons of Kentniss are not measured in the same way or learned in the same way, but they do reinforce each other. Research has shown that lessons in science that have a hands-on component are remembered longer and to greater lasting effect. Standardized test scores are raised more by the depth of a child’s learning than by its breadth, so some educators have been surprised by the results. I can explain why this is true. A brain immersed in the examination of reality is better equipped to discern fact from fiction and be led to the right answer on a standardized test.

Yesterday we combined 1st through 6th grade students in making paper kites. None of the students had made kites before. The youngest were paired with the older kids. Making a kite is a relatively simple thing, but requires the use of scissors, string, paper and some development of skill. It is also a science project in which they will test their results and learn from the process. All the kites are now hung in the window of the first through 3rd grade classroom.

Make, fix, create, and increase the likelihood that others learn lifewise.


  1. Anonymous11:22 AM

    Your reader's comment on class size makes me think of my idea to bring in retiree's into the classroom setting to help teachers. As a project manager in a previous lifetime, I helped a teachers class in teaching PM techniques using Zoobs and applying it to doing their book reports. This allowed the teacher time to observer her class from a spectator position. Also I volunteer in the local Science Center Create Space and can see where volunteers is one way to combat large class sizes. I just think there are solutions out there but we need to think outside the box. Seniors are a great untapped resource!
    Bob S

  2. There are members of woodworking club that would be glad to help. You have a good idea.