Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Woodworking Wednesdays

The second group to do woodworking poses in front of Mike on November 23
 Upon first entering the room, our young ones may cover their ears and look up at us as if to say, “Are you sure this is the right room?” Their initial confusion over the loud noises, big machines, and older kids does not last long, however.  Mike Lawson quickly approaches with a smile and a reassuring sense of confidence, and welcomes everyone into his woodshop.  Mr. Lawson is the last Industrial Arts Teacher in the Seattle Public Schools, and we feel honored to be partnering with him and Franklin High School.
The first group in action

Students have been assigned into groups of eight or nine, and each group gets four sessions to really start, get into, and finish a project.  At the start of each session, Mr. Lawson dumps a large box of wood scraps on the table, and makes sure each child has a hammer, some nails, and safety glasses. Our students then select pieces from the table and begin hammering away! Mr. Lawson coaches them on technique, and encourages interactions with his own students and ours.  

Katie at work
The Lake and Park kids really look up to the high school students, and thoroughly enjoy having the opportunity to learn from them. They will, in fact, often turn down help from our own staff, and wait for a turn to be helped by a “highschooler.”
The students walk away from this encounter with a number of positive experiences: they have an even further understanding of the importance of community relationships, they have a new skill set, and they have a physical creation of their very own, not to mention a sense of pride and accomplishment that is so strong, I am sure it can be sensed by passers-by. We love woodworking Wednesdays!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Making the Case for Thematic Curriculum

When I see how much we have learned since we first began listening to the stories of Robin Hood just eight days ago, I am reminded of how effective the thematic approach to teaching is.  In such a short time, but with the benefit of concentration, the children have not only been introduced to the legend, but have begun to make it their own.   We have expanded the dramatic play area to have it run from east to west across the north side of the Big Room.  A divider allows for the children some privacy as they make up their own imaginary games.  The names of Maid Marian and Robin Hood are heard as they create their own interpretations of this heroic epic.  Props such as stuffed forest animals and wooden bowls and stumps help set the scene.  Children have made paintings of oak trees: displayed with them are ink stampings of autumn leaves which were a segue from our study of plants per se and our move into the Robin Hood story cycle with the oak tree and the temperate forest having such a central role.

We are making the most of three traditional folk songs which evoke the period. One is called “Come Follow, Follow” and recounts a singer asking others to follow him “to the greenwood tree”.  As we sing, we imagine Robin Hood calling to his men to follow him to Sherwood Forest. Perhaps the biggest draw in the school right now is our active engagement with bows and arrows.  As we shoot blunt arrows at targets, we are truly involved.    A song that brings the role of archery into our awareness is “The Keeper”.  It features a call and response motif, with the two parts blending in a robust “Derry, derry down, among the leaves so green-O!”  We are singing this song in many ways, learning four verses.  Sometimes we get up and skip during the chorus.  There is a lot of interest in learning to play the autoharp as an accompaniment to this melody.  Newer to us is “Who Killed Cock Robin?” a lament for a dead bird that was shot with a bow and arrow.  “Who killed Cock Robin?”.  “I,” said the Sparrow.  “With my little bow and arrow.  It was I.  It was I.”  We will add more songs to our repertoire.  Singing is a vital part of this unit as all of the Robin Hood tales began as folk ballads which belonged exclusively to the oral tradition and were only much later written as folktale.

To see the vast impact of the ballads, do notice the display that runs across the windows in the Big Room.  These are mounted copies of prints made by Virginia Lee Burton (of Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel renown) in Song of Robin Hood by Anne Malcolmson. In the frontispiece of this Newbery Honor book, she shows a printing press.  We will discuss the role of the press as an adjunct to our study.   In doing so, we will discuss the role it had in standardizing spelling; this concept makes a fitting counterpart to our growing awareness of the evolution of English.  As we sing such phrases as “Whither shall I follow?” and listen to tales where “quoth Little John” is de rigueur for “said”, we usually do not need to stop to ask what such words mean.  But when we point them out, and the children write them down next to our common vernacular, they see a stunning difference that can yet be recognizably traced.  We might say, “Good morrow,” to one another, but the children will know we are saying “Good morning.”

The version that we are reading as our main text is Howard Pyle’s classic The Merry Tales of Robin Hood.  Illustrated as well as compiled by him, it is very much in keeping with the ballads and is told in a beautiful way with archaic language that does not interfere with the telling, but that requires the listener of today to sit up and pay attention. Past expressions and words that allow us to see the changing nature of our language’s history also allow us to enter into the milieu of the times as we substitute “thou for “you” and “ay” for “yes”.  I recommend that parents read this book to their children and do so more than once.  With older children, one might point out some of the word changes; it can be a treat for the adult, too, to learn with the child.  (One phrase that popped up for me, of which I did not previously know the origin, was “will-he-nill-he” from which comes “willy-nilly”; in the earlier form it refers to someone being made to do something whether he wished to or not.  In our usage today, it suggests a sense of the haphazard:  “The clothes were spread out all willy-nilly on the floor.”)  A child cannot get enough of this epic. One can read a chapter that’s been heard before, or skip about in the book.  It makes for a good adventure for the parent and child to launch out on together.

In order to understand the story, we began the unit in an unusual manner for a school—watching the animated Disney version.  The classic movie served us well.  Created in keeping with the folkloric element of the tale, the connection between ballads and story is made apparent through the conceit of the Rooster as Allan-a-Dale, bard.

We began making our own Robin Hood hats last week.  These are made of “Lincoln green” felt and require just one seam.  Maddy ran the sewing machine.  After the seam was sewn, each child began to hand sew the hat, adding a feather, buttons, and other details as she/he chose.  Plans are to make quivers or knap sacks.  We will spend a day at Seward Park wearing our hats and taking our bows and arrows into the forest.  We’ll  make of it our own Sherwood Forest and have our own “in the greenwood” adventures.  

The children’s knowledge of the tale is revealed in paintings and drawings but most clearly in their original stories.  North Room children wrote tales in which each child took on the role as a participant in the merry band of outlaws in Sherwood. The choice of the role was each child’s own, as they were free to invent new characters or to choose characters from other tales. Look for these to be posted here on Ampersand.

By the time we attend the actual production of Robin Hood at the Seattle Children’s Theater on December 2nd, we will come to the show open to the dramatic interpretation of the moment, knowing that that interpretation is just one aspect of the literature.   Living deeply into a universal tale, in this case a classic trickster story, opens the door for living into other archetypal stories, into myth, and on into fiction and its constant contextual counterpart that is always verifiable history. 

*********************************************************************************A Sampling of stories by North Room children follows:

My First Meeting with Robin Hood
By Tate

My name is Cole.  The Sheriff was not being nice to my family.  My mom was old and died.  My sister died because the Sheriff killed her.  I ran away.  I came to a Rain Forest and when I was pretty far into the rain forest I came to a river.  When I was about to step onto a bridge to cross the river I saw a person.  I said to him,  “I will cross first.”

He said, “No, I will cross first.”

We started to have a word fight.  Then we got really mad and started to go on the bridge.  We started to fight with sticks.  Then I did a really big blow and he fell off the bridge.  Then I helped him back up.  I asked what his name was.  He said his name was Robin Hood.  He asked my name and I said it was Cole.  I asked to join his merry men.

Robin Hood said, “Only if you can beat me in a shooting match tomorrow morning.”

In the morning we went out to the oak tree and did a shooting match.  At first Robin Hood hit the target.  Then I hit the target.  On the last one Robin Hood missed.  On my last shot I split robin Hoods arrow open.

The End

To read more of the children's stories, click the link below!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

UNICEF fundraiser allows real world math questions!

Trick-or-treat for UNICEF is a long-standing tradition at The Lake and Park School.  Once again this year students collected coins while trick-or treating and we mailed a check for a total of $ 382.36.  At a time of year when children can get caught up in how much candy they are getting the opportunity to help children around the world serves as a counter balance. 

A couple of days before Halloween we met as a whole group to learn about the work UNICEF does by watching a short video and also talking and listening to each other.  At community meetings such as this you can feel the value of a multi-age setting, as older children share their experience and younger students look to older students for reassurance.  Thoughtful questions were asked and students grew in their personal understanding as they stretched to address concerns.

Coin collection boxes were a part of the school Halloween carnival.  Some children constructed their own boxes. Others stopped by the table to get a box, put their name on it and tucked it away for later in the evening when they went trick-or-treating in their neighborhood.

The week following Halloween students brought in coins, sorted, counted, recorded totals and added their money to the group collection jar.  The integration of mathematics into the daily curriculum took center stage.  For some students sorting and counting coins was the top challenge, for others counting by 5’s and 10’s and converting 15 dimes to $1.50 was an excellent use of place value.  Still other students worked on totaling all of their donations.  Math games extended our work with coins: tossing for heads or tails, recording and then making equations was one game.  Students ready for further place value work played race to $1.00 with pennies and dimes.  As we move into story problems, the money we raised and how many vaccines we helped to purchase for children around the globe will further our connection with children everywhere and bring real life meaning to mathematical problem solving.