I have felt like a new teacher this year. Chalk it up to 27 students with a crazy range of learning needs, new program implementations, and just an insane amount of meetings to make sure everyone is on the same page. We also have a new block schedule to implement, which has been amazing in some ways and limiting in others. Most nights I work 2 or 3 extra hours at home making up for the time I don’t get in school. While I love this year, it has also been a crazy one and every day I feel the curriculum pressing down on me urging me forward, to just get it done.
So why on Friday, with the pressure of everything we need to get through, did I have my students do the spaghetti and marshmallow tower challenge, swallowing up 40 minutes of our day? Why “stop” the curriculum so the kids could have a team challenge? Haven’t we already built community?
I did it because the kids need it. They need to continue working in new teams. They need to be challenged. They need to think differently and deal directly with failure (there were epic attempts!). And if you look closely, you would have seen how it absolutely was curriculum, even if FOSS science had not mandated it. The students worked with design, creating a standard prototype and then testing their theory, adjusting along the way. They changed and tried to control the different variables and engaged in deep on-the-spot thinking to ensure success. In fact, as I looked up the Common Core standards for speaking and listening, I couldn’t believe how many of them we had covered.
Yet it’s bigger than that. I made the teams so that kids who would not pick each other worked together. I told them they would more than likely fail (based on previous years’ experience) and it was what they did with that failing moment that mattered. The spirit of living up to expectations swallowed the room and carried the children home. They did it together, and even though there was a winning team all of the kids celebrated and laughed about it.
We may think that when we leave the confines of our curriculum, we are breaking the rules or not teaching. And sure there are times when the educational value can be hard to uncover. But if the challenges are right, we are teaching the children more than some lessons do. It takes courage to step outside the boundaries, but do it right, and the pay off will be immense. My students left asking when they would do the next challenge, I told them “Soon!” and I meant it. We have to think outside the lines of our own rush and needs to keep those kids challenged and engaged.
I am a passionate (female) 5th grade teacher in Wisconsin, USA, proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day. First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classroom Back to Our Students Starting Today” will be released this fall from PLPress. Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.