Friday, November 20, 2015

A Story of Revision

It has been a mantra for years at Sabot that “The story of one child is the story of all children” meaning that by focusing in on one learning experience helps us understand more about learners in general. I think it could also be said that the story of one bridge building group is the story of all bridge building groups. By telling the story of one group, we hope to highlight the type of thinking and work we see going on in all. While all groups’ experiences  are not identical, we see common threads of planning, building, testing, communicating, learning to let go and revising. We see each group needing to come to the question of what is best for their bridge. Below is a story of revision.

One group was given the assignment to build a bridge that went from the bottom of a cliff up to the top. After working for a while, the group had finished their first version.  As they tested it, they noticed that it wasn’t really working very well.  It wasn’t very stable and it collapsed easily. The car also had to drive almost vertically to the top of the cliff.

Eventually the group decided to scrap that idea and began to build bridge number two. It was really solid, but also REALLY heavy. There were several other design features that the group wondered about. It wasn’t a very smooth ride and there was the potential for the road to flip over off to one side.

While waiting for group members to finish a critical part of bridge number two, one group member designed a new tile inspired from things he had seen in other groups' designs. The new tile incorporated the X shape the children had noticed so frequently on our field trip. The new tile was sturdy but also light, much lighter than a similar sized section of their current design.

We got curious and measured the new tile and a section of design number 2.
There was a 21 gram difference.

Many of the team members seemed to instinctively understand that this new tile design was going to be useful but without even a conversation about changing or without a concrete plan of any kind, three members of the team sat down and started making one tile after another. It was interesting that even during their work they mentioned how they were NOT going to use these tiles. Eventually, when they had made as many as they could, they showed their work to the rest of their team. There was instantly a unanimous decision to switch to a third plan…. well almost. There was one child who had been very invested in the making bridge number two.  It was four against one. They reminded the one teammate that if put to a vote they would easily win, but the team also seemed to really want consensus so they continued discussing rather than voting.

 It was interesting to see how much of the negotiation skills that had emerged during The Game resurfaced during this work. After finding the group in deadlock, I was able to bring them back to times in the game where explaining the thinking behind the changes they wanted to make had actually helped to change the people’s minds. Back in the bridge group, each side started to explain what they thought was best and why. As soon as they put less attention on who had made which pieces and more attention on what was best for the bridge, the group quickly came to an agreement to start completely over again with a third design. They commented several times about how they couldn’t believe they were starting over AGAIN!!

As a side note here I stop to applaud bold decision to start again. It is not easy to let go of things they had labored over for days. What a courageous move. I admire the tenacity.

As they thought about how to connect the tiles,  the design changed AGAIN. They went from separate square tiles to  pieces all connected into a long road.

Within fifteen minutes they had a single span large enough to reach floor to cliff. Light. Strong. Stable.

They put the finishing touches of railings and an anchor at the top. In a fraction of the time they had created a bridge far superior to either of their previous designs. But would they have been able to do it without the experience of the previous two models? Their new found skill had emerged from the work that had gone before. It was actually their failures that had created  this new design.  

We talked about the journey of this group together as a class, reflecting on the process of revision and how it links to our guiding question “What do good engineers do?”

Noah: When we were first doing our bridge, one of the reasons we decided to make a new one cause … if you touched it barely it would all fall. You didn’t even have to put your car on it, it would just fall anyway.

Nora: One time I touched their old bridge and it literally just went voom [ shows collapsing hands]

Ella: You need to try over a ton of times to actually get it right.

Teacher: What if they were on their first version of their bridge that wasn’t really working very well?

Will: We would not have a lot of progress.

Lydia: Now like everybody is working on it. Last time some people were working on it but some people weren’t. Then the next time nobody was working on it but the third bridge is everybody working on it.

Ian: I think they made a smart decision to rebuild because if they stuck with one bridge and you just tapped that bridge it would go pshhhhh  [hands show a bridge collapsing].

Teacher: It was more work…

Jesse: But it paid off in the end!

Will: Like the writing… the editing your story.

Ian: Like the writing and revising…. you did so much work and it is really… you don’t like it, but it is better in the end.

Teacher: I see a connection. With the more bridges they were building, the faster they were getting at trying new things. I think that is what is going to happen with your revising in writing  too.

Will: We kept on getting faster at building.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Our Richmond Round 2

We took our first Our Richmond field trip today. It was THE most perfect beautiful fall day. We rode the city bus downtown to the river to investigate bridges in preparation for some engineering challenges. Days like these make me just fall in love-- in love with my class, with my co-teacher, with my job and with my Richmond. I found that after last year I kept wanting to take my own babies to the same places I had taken my class so that they could have the same magical experiences. It seems to work. 
On our bus ride we saw a whole school of children out walking somewhere.
We were SO curious about where they might be going. It was great to see another school out and about. 

Crossing the river. I love the bridges in the background.
This is right when these girls spotted Hollywood Cemetery across the rive on the hill.
They were SO excited to spot it. It was fun to be with children who were thinking about
"Our Richmond" for a second year. We took a trip to pretty much the same spot in town but for
 different reasons. It was so beautiful to see how they reacted to those places
and those memories. It was clear that through those common experiences those
spots in Richmond had found a way deep into their hearts and that they were falling in love with the city.
Sketching the bridge with the railroad. Luckily a train came just as we got there and it
 stopped on the bridge for at least an hour. The cars were FULL of coal so it really helped
 put into perspective how sturdy the bridge really needed to be.

Some of the children made their way out on the "Bridge to Nowhere"
 (does anyone know the official name of the bridge?') to sketch.
We counted eight bridges that we could see all at once and the remains of several more.

Sketching the Manchester Bridge. Noticing the arches.

We tried to get together to talk but realized that the rushing water of the river
was too loud to hear each other, so we sang instead. 

Trying out this pedestrian bridge from on top.

"The bridge isn't straight across. It is bent."

Suspended pedestrian bridge on our way to Belle Isle.
along the way we wondered how sturdy it was.
We tried swaying all together to see if we could get it to move. No luck.
We were impressed that we couldn't get it to move. 

Eating lunch on Belle Isle.
Who would ever know we were smack in the middle of a giant city?

We were feeling like little ants compared to the massive pillars of the Lee Bridge.

We noticed lots of Xs in the structures we saw.
 "They are supporting the supports," one child said. 
What a good playground the bike course makes!!

Playing on the bike course beneath the Lee Bridge.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Our Richmond-- GRTC Style


This year for our school-wide umbrella project, we are all thinking about "Our Richmond'.

This topic has inspired us to get the third graders out into the city via that city bus system (GRTC). We are part of the way through a series of bus trips designed to help the children get into the city to connect with both the people of Richmond and the city itself. We have a dual purpose with these trips. We see the opportunity to go to interesting places where we can meet new people and have new experiences. We also see the bus ride itself as a big part of the experience. It is partly about the destination, but also partly about the journey itself.

As Mauren and I were planning trips, we wanted to connect to our history topic of immigration. We had planned to go up to the giant Asian market on Broad street to experience what it is like to be in a place where things feel really new and completely foreign. We imagined the children trying to read food packages in different languages, seeing fruits and vegetables they had never seen and plenty of potent smells coming from the tanks of sea food. We were so excited! As we were planning the trip we discovered that the bus trip, which would only be about 15 minutes by car, was going to take 2 hours and 15 minutes plus a walk one way. While the trip would only require a quick jot north of the river, the bus trip required us to drive all the way downtown, to catch another bus and then to ride all the way back out of the city to the market. We debated taking the children anyway, to get the experience of just how difficult it was to get there. Wouldn't that be an important experience to have? We debated back and forth for a while. Finally, after one of our other much shorter bus trips, we decided that the four and a half hours on a bus was way too much for one day. It wasn't going to work well for anyone involved-- not for the children, not for the teachers, not for the other bus passengers. We abandoned the plan.

We decided that instead we would stay on the south side of the river and head over to a little Mexican market/restaurant down here, hoping for a similar experience with new sights, sounds and smells. Again, it would only take about 10 minutes in a car. When we looked closer the trip would take 2 hours and 30 minutes!! We would still have to go clear over the river, into the city and downtown, get on a new bus, cross back over the river and then ride all the way back out to the market. No way!! Instead, we went to Tregegar, the historic Iron-works and Civil War museum downtown instead (45 minutes was all we could handle on the bus) because our trips downtown had led the children to notice all of the construction and changes that were going on. They had wanted to know what Richmond used to be like and to hear stories of its people.

In the end, we decided not to shield the children from the truth of the trips we were not going to be taking. The morning of the trip to Tredeger we sat down and let the children know about the plans we initially had and explained nature of their cancellation. We directed the children's attention to the actual bus ride with questions like, "What would it be like to get everywhere you went by riding the bus? How is riding the bus working for the people you see? What works for them? What might not be working so well?" The children, now familiar with the bus route and the routine of riding the bus, turned their attention to the people on the bus. What did they notice or wonder about these people and their experiences from day to day?

Our next plans involve taking the bus into the city to find people willing to answer our bus survey.

Hearing stories about Rihmond

Observing on the bus

Interviewing our middle school teacher, Myles, about his bus riding experience 
The project was made possible by an award from Partners in the Arts.