We are closing in on Memorial Day weekend, a big one for us as we “get back” two unused snow days in addition to the usual three day weekend. When we return, it will be June, and my kiddos will be living and breathing summer dreams of swimming, lazing about, and freedom from school…even though we will STIL have three more weeks of school.
Last week, I turned our classroom over to my sixth graders. They are working on their multi genre writing projects – choosing a topic and writing about it in four of the twelve different genres we have learned to write, starting book partnerships to dig deep and read through two books in the time we have left, and diving into various history projects that will put what they are learning in social studies to the test.
From Monday through Thursday, I stepped back and watched as my kiddos took my simple instructions: create a game of courage and chance that plots out the dangers and sacrifices made along the Underground Railroad this week, honor the brave men and women who were part of this civil rights movement.
Using their class notes and a few additional research tools, my students got to work (some right away, some eventually, and some reluctantly). It took all of the following to get to our goal – game day:
patience and perseverance: even the best initial ideas need tweaking and refining, nothing ever is as easy as you first think it’s going to be.
communication: no one is allowed to be a show boat or a slacker, but everyone needs to participate and be heard. Sometimes, may want to scream at your team mates, but that’s the best way to ensure that no one listens to you.
trade offs: “you can’t always get what you want” is a fact of life not just words to sing, you’ve got to learn to give a little to get a little (that might be a song, too!)…and that’s hard to do.
staying focused on the purpose: it’s all too easy for a group project to run off the tracks if you lose sight of the purpose of the project in the first place. You may need to take turns reining each other in, but that’s just part of group work.
sometimes the people you really wanted to work with are just the people you’d best NOT work with: this was a tricky lesson to learn, and one that brought no small degree of frustration and tears.
Game day was great fun. We took turns rotating around the classroom to play each game, and then having a “say back” at the end. And, even in this, there was something to learn:
Your ideas may be clear to you but not to others – directions are hard to write. It was interesting to hear how directions could be revised and refined, there is a reason why I stress working towards clarity in our writing workshop!
So, this weekend I celebrate projects: they are messy, noisy, and often frustrating – but we learn so much about ourselves and others when we work together to create something new. Project based learning is so worth the effort (and the occasional headache!).