Two Projects That Created Authentic Dialogue About Work Habits

Well I did it again! I started the first day of school with a project, this one a little different than what I have done the last few years. I like to start the first day off with a bang. I asked the students to perform a complex task where I give them minimal directions.

First Day: Boat Challenge

The Task: Build a boat that could sail across a four foot channel of water in 30 seconds or less.

They could use a variety of materials that I set out: aluminum foil, paper plates, paper bowls, cups, straws, napkins, tape (almost all of these items were leftover from classroom holiday parties last year).  They could also test their design as many times as they wanted before the “official test”.  They were given 30 minutes to build their prototype.

Once the shock of learning that I was not going to tell them how to build it wore off, we began to see some pretty exciting stuff.  They went back and forth from the supply table, many of them trying several different ideas.

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There were so many feelings/things happening in the room, frustration, anxiety, excitement, nervousness, celebration, dismay, selflessness, idea “stealing/copying”, and not all of the feelings were good feelings. I took that moment to realize that sometimes we have to use these authentic experiences to help students identify ways to get better at work habits.

As soon as all of the boats had sailed, we sat down at the carpet in front of my easel to make the first half of my anchor chart. We came up with things to put under “I can work alone”. I was delighted by their thoughts.

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This worked so well, that I thought I’d try for “I can work in a group” the next day.

Second Day: The Teddy Bear Challenge

The Task: Build a 12 inch or taller tower to hold a stuffed bear out of notecards and tape.

Each student was given a bag of materials: scissors, scotch tape, index cards, stuffed bear and a ruler. This time it was a group activity.  Again, there was a wide variety of things happening in the room. Some groups worked perfectly together, others argued over supplies, some spent time doing individual towers, others fought over whose idea was best, I was most impressed with the group that gave each other jobs. The voice level in the room got louder, and louder, and louder.  5 of the 7 groups came up with viable options that worked after 20 minutes of building.

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I realized quickly that third graders are not nearly as good at working in groups as they are working alone.

We met again at the carpet to discuss “I can work in a group.” Again, their frustrations turned into the positive on the chart paper. It was amazing to work through their negative thoughts, to turn them into goals for the next time we work in a group.

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I’ve taped the anchor charts to the wall, and plan to refer back to them often (especially in these first few weeks).  I hope that it will lead to more risk taking when working alone, as well as more peaceful group work. I’ll let you know how it goes!

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4 thoughts on “Two Projects That Created Authentic Dialogue About Work Habits

  1. Hi Timothy! I did use a small fan (I don’t know if you can see it in the photo- it is a small black one). I figured it would be good to use something with a constant breeze. I hope you do it! 🙂

  2. What did you use for the “Channel” Thanks for the idea! Looking forward to this with my kiddos as we start a new year!

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