“Paul, we need feedback,” one of my students said to me. Music to my ears.
She and her partner were working on their second iteration of their desk. They were trying to see if it was a desk that could fit all of the classmates, so when they mass produce them (and by mass produce, I mean make four of them), that all students will be able to use them at various times.
I sat down at the desk and noticed my legs were constrained laterally, meaning if I spread my knees apart–even in the least–that I was hitting the sides of the desk. I also noticed that my knees came very close to touching the underside of the desk. Turns out the desk was a bit too small, even though I’m twice their size. Of course, I wasn’t surprised. The girls building the desk were more on the petite side, so it turned into a great mini-lesson about advocating for one’s needs as well as the needs of others.
We decided to measure just how much space was between my knees and the underside of the desk. It was only about two inches. The girls and I began wondering just how much room we might need between the tops of our needs and the bottom of the desk. And that’s when it dawned upon me.
We have been in the midst of a unit on measurement and design, but I’ve been struggling to incorporate data collection. However, right here, in this moment, was the perfect opportunity for data collection, measurement, and an emergent experience to come together synchronously and authentically. I asked the girls to collect data from all the classmates–to measure the distance from the tops of their knees to the bottom of the desk–and then construct a line plot to organize the data, aligning with the second- and third-grade measurement and data standards around representing data on line plots. As a result, due to the fact that this was embedded in an authentic experience, the girls created the line plot successfully and with little confusion.
In fact, it seemed that, within this experience, the girls saw a purposeful way to really use the standards in their learning.
Oftentimes, standards, rubrics, and outcomes get a bad rap from the emergent community–and vice versa. In fact, more often than not, standards-based learning and emergent curriculum are seen as polar opposites; they are portrayed as a dichotomy–like two opposing paradigms that are not able to make room for each other. The exact opposite, however, is actually true. It’s possible to plan ahead, to build detailed and descriptive rubrics, and to structure learning experiences that still manage to pave the way for student ownership and student choice. It turns out that the lines between the emergent curriculum and the standards-based curriculum are rather blurred; it turns out that we don’t have to choose.
Instead, we can have both.