Piecing Together a Coherent Educational Experience

One of my fondest memories from elementary school was when my third grade class traveled to Old Fort Number Four in Charlestown, NH.  We learned all about early colonial life in New England.  We got to pound metal like a blacksmith, turn wool into yarn, and play games that children from that time period would have played.  It was an amazing experience, and the only thing I remember about third grade.  I couldn’t tell you what I learned in math class, what books I read, or who my friends were back then, but I remember that awesome field trip.  Experiences like that field trip are the memories that get ingrained within one’s long term memory when in school.  Field trips are ways to experience school instead of simply consuming it.

As a teacher, I want to provide my students with experiences they will remember so that learning is engaging and real.  Instead of listening to me lecture all about alternative forms of energy, I have my students erect a wind turbine and solar panel, calculate the energy output of both, and then compare and contrast the two green energy forms.  This allows them to DO the learning as they become makers and producers instead of consumers.  My goal is to get students thinking, questioning, making, doing, and experiencing the world around them through collaborative opportunities with plenty of time for reflection.

In Humanities class, we are in the midst of a great unit about Africa.  Knowing that we would be completing a multi-day activity regarding the art and music of a particular country starting today, my co-teacher and I arranged a field trip to a local art museum that has a large exhibit on African Weaponry and Art.  Rather than just show them pictures of art on a projector in class today, we wanted to stimulate their brains and neurological pathways a few days prior to the start of the art activity.

On Wednesday of this week, we traveled to the Hood Museum at Dartmouth College to see, first-hand, some authentic African art.  The boys had a blast learning about the various weapons used by different tribes throughout Africa.  They even had a shield used by one of the tribes mentioned in our class read-aloud novel A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park.  This connection happened accidentally.  I love when serendipity enters the garden of teaching.  We also had a chance to view some modern art from Africa.  The boys were enthralled by the metaphorical and unique works.  I engaged the students in a conversation about the artist’s message regarding a piece of modern African art.  They were very interested and curious about why a photographer had included a basketball in an image showing kids in Africa.  They used their critical thinking parts nicely throughout our field experience.  They loved it.

Fast forward to today.  In class today, we began the art of Egypt activity.  I showed the students several different pieces of art from Egypt.  We discussed each piece regarding observations and noticings the students made.  They were great detectives and picked up on intricate things I hadn’t even thought of or noticed.  They made insightful hypotheses regarding the purpose of the art work and the message the artists were attempting to make.  I was amazed.  While I had intended on finishing our discussion of the art pieces in the first of our two blocks today, I allowed the conversation to bubble over into the next block as well as they all had so much to add to the conversation and seemed genuinely engaged in what we were discussing.  It was awesome.  Perhaps Wednesday’s field experience and discussions paved the way for the high level of engagement and participation that occurred in the classroom today.  Or, maybe, they just love Egyptian art.

During the final ten minutes of class today, I introduced the activity portion of the lesson, which will take at least three more double-block periods to complete.  The students need to choose an engaging and inspirational piece of Egyptian art that they will then recreate in a similar manner to the original while putting their own spin on it.  How can they make the piece unique to them as individuals?  While the students didn’t have much time to choose a piece in class today, many of the students began searching online right away.  A few of the students began researching Egyptian weapons, perhaps because they were inspired by Wednesday’s art museum visit, while others looked into ancient Egyptian art pieces, perhaps because they were the focus of my lesson.  Regardless, they were excited to begin letting their creative juices spill out into our classroom.  One student asked if he could create a tomb painting on the wall of our classroom.  Without giving him carte blanche to do so in front of the entire class, I said, think big and I’ll have a conversation with you.  Yes, I thought, how cool would it be to turn our classroom into an Egyptian museum?

Our African unit has been filled with experiences and activities like the one we created this week.  The students are making connections between our field experiences, hands-on activities, and in-class discussions.  It’s been phenomenal.  While this is the first year I have taught a unit on Africa, my co-teacher and I are putting the pieces of the puzzle together in a very coherent and purposeful manner.  The students are seeing how everything is linked back to perspective and the way we each view the world through a different lense.  It’s been an amazing experience and today helped remind me just how engaged are students are regarding Africa and its rich and diverse culture.


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