Thursday, September 19, 2013

Character Gifting and Creativity

A recent assignment seemed to foster creativity and autonomy and surprisingly, was a big hit! Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli was our first read aloud of the year. We usually use this novel as a springboard for many other skills including introducing character development and story elements. Growing tired of the usual when reading this novel and toying with the idea to encourage students to "make their mark" and tap into their passions, I wanted something different. Thinking about an earlier discussion we had on passions and talents, I thought it would be neat if students could somehow tie their passions to a character from our book. Hence, the "Character Gifting" assignment was born.

It was simple:  

"If you had to give a pretend gift to one of the characters from Maniac Magee, what would you give and to whom? Choose one character from Maniac Magee. Think about that character’s personality and character traits.

Next, think about what you are passionate about. Video games? What is a video game you would give to Maniac and why? Are you interested in designing clothes? Design a dress for Amanda based on her sassy personality and explain your design.

This can be anything you are interested in and you may “give” it to any character in the story.

Your final product only needs to contain what gift you would give to which character and why; although you can turn in drawings or anything else you choose to create. Be as creative as you can be!"

I'm not quite sure what I expected to see, to be honest. I wasn't even sure the assignment explanation did an adequate job capturing what I could envision in my mind, but I was optimistic.  And pleasantly surprised.

What trickled in were drawings, homemade miniatures, various hand-crafted objects based on student talent or hobby. I was impressed to say the least.

A party invitation so Amanda Beale can get out of the house and have some real fun!

A home-made tiny dictionary so Amanda can carry it in her pocket and not have to lug it around in her suitcase.

A fashionable book tote made from paper. 

Homemade books for the fashionable book tote because... Amanda loves books!

A home-made book shelf made from scrap lumber in the garage.

A tiny miniature bunk-bed since Amanda, Hester, and Lester all have to share a room when Maniac comes to stay with the Beale Family. 
A passion for creating items made of Duck Tape, turned into a book satchel for Amanda.

 It wasn't just the creative ideas that students came up with that impressed me, but the attention to details and the thought process most students really put into thinking through the assignment. And as the creative products trickled in, the more students became inspired by their peers. "Can I have my drawing back? I just thought of something else I could add that Maniac would really appreciate." I heard this statement several times throughout the week. Once all of the character gifts were turned in, we displayed them on a long computer table in the back. Students have enjoyed sharing and seeing one another's ideas and products. They've complimented one another, asked for details on how things were made in awe, and sparked some excitement and confidence in bringing our passions into our educational arena. After all, what good is education if it doesn't encourage curiosity and creativity? 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Same... Only... Different

I've read those articles in the magazines before where people realize they have unhealthy habits and suddenly one day "it's as if a light bulb goes off and change is a must." Whether it's eating better, adding exercise to their schedule, making more time for personal interests, whatever the case may be- one day they just wake up and things seem to click differently for them.

Then there's me.

I will never be one of those people. I know myself well enough to know that when things pile up and the to-do list seems every looming, I become like an Olympian swimmer. The kind with tunnel vision and goggles on; who only comes up for a gasp of air here and there. I start to lose sight of noble ideas and creative thoughts that once seemed so grand in my mind. Because I know these things to be true about myself, I knew that while my summer was without a doubt the best ever, and I would begin the school year feeling more confident and excited than ever thanks to meeting new people, new ideas, and new resources (hello, PLN!)- I knew the real test would come the first week of school. 

That was 3 weeks ago. And yes... I'm just coming up for air.

My motto at the beginning of the summer was, "Be the change." Inspired by new ideologies, an idea to hack traditional education, and a rebel-yell for something different, new, exciting- I wasn't sure what that would really look like once school began; I only knew it must happen. So when a friend asked in passing yesterday how things were going and if I had, indeed, made changes- I found myself saying they were kind of the same...only...different.

So what *exactly* does that mean? It means I still struggle with ways to teach certain content material in a creative and innovative way. I still tussle with where to integrate technology to ensure I am integrating for the right reasons and not because it's! I still panic when I think of ALL of the ideas out there and the fact that I am probably only harnessing a few to teach specific skills. But then there are some things that are different, too. Like having people available to bounce ideas off of. Like teaching kids they matter and are cherished each day they choose to walk into my class. Like not worrying when I haven't posted a blog in almost a month because instead I am spending time with my kids and family.  I'm learning it's ok not to have the house clean all the time. It's ok to miss a Twitter chat here and there; those same great friends will still be available when I come back the next week.

So after taking stock in the first 3 weeks, what have I learned so far?...Good ideas are being tweaked so that they work best, bad ideas provide a learning opportunity (First Attempt ILearning... right??), and- when allowed- students will surprise you by their creativity.