When starting a project with small children, it’s hard not to develop a strong vision for how you want the project to end up. In fact, many experts in curriculum design tell you to do this very thing: to develop a strong vision for the end-product. This vision helps provide structure, allows the educator to design the unit backwards from the vision, and provides a concrete deliverable for the children, too.
More often that not, however, our vision for the project becomes absolute. We imagine what we want the final product to be, and while our intentions are good, we end up micro-managing, focused only on perfecting our vision of what the final product, and neglecting to take into account the visions that our students had.
“I really want us to focus on what the kids notice for this project,” one of my teammates said recently while planning our current class project, “and not what we want them to notice.”
Our project has been to study the surrounding community of Palo Alto and build a three-dimensional model of it. We’ve gone on community walks, written about various places of interest, and next week, we’ll be starting the actual building.
A few weeks ago, when we started planning this project, I did exactly what I mentioned above: I developed my own vision for the end-product. I conjured up a mental picture of what this would look like, the steps that we’d need to take to get there, and the concrete deliverables for the project. And slowly, but surely, as we began to go out, explore the community, and take pictures of it for our project, I began to see that the places and objects I noticed in our community were so much different than the places and objects my students noticed.
I noticed significant buildings, while they noticed decorative walls, manhole covers, and small trees. I noticed street signs, while they noticed balloons, purple cars, and odd sculptures. And now, as I look through the mounds and mounds of pictures they took, I’m noticing just how different what we “notice” truly is.
The world is incredibly different when viewed through the eyes of a child. While they do notice the things that we, as adults, deem to be important, they notice so much more. And this is what ignites their excitement and unlocks the motivation to learn. While this project is turning out differently than I anticipated, and while their vision for the project is significantly deviating from mine, I’m finding it exciting to simply run with it. Because I’m learning a lot about me–as their teacher–in the process.
But even more so, I’m learning so much about them.