Being more spatially-challenged in general, I always had trouble as a child comprehending concepts like mirror images, rotations, and geometry nets.
Fortunately, as a grew older, I learned that these are all just facets of broader concepts of scale and perspective. I’ve also benefited by recognizing their applications beyond mathematics–from art to city planning to interpersonal relationships.
So this week consists of a provocation to help our young learners begin with the big picture of scale and perspective, hopefully encouraging them to draw their own connections and conclusions.
The first is a fascinating video that lays out the entire history of the earth on a football field.
The second is a photo series by artist Matthew Albanese. He creates stunningly realistic landscapes using forced perspective, using materials from nutmeg to steel wool to fake fog. Head over to his site to view the collection of images, along with the incredible behind-the-scenes images and information on his process.
How do people use scale and perspective to help us see “the big picture?”
How does technology allow us new possibilities to show scale and perspective?
How do scale and perspective change the way we see the world?
What is our responsibility to use perspective in our lives?
How are scale and perspective connected?
How does perspective help us understand other people?
“The aim of all IB programmes is to develop internationally minded people who, recognizing their common humanity and shared guardianship of the planet, help to create a better and more peaceful world.”
While I taught at an IB (International Baccalaureate) we were encouraged to cultivate the 10 traits defined within the Learner Profile (inquirer, knowledgeable, thinker, communicator, principled, open-minded, caring, risk-taker, balanced, reflective).
This week’s provocation (appropriate for upper elementary and older) will look particularly at the open-minded quality. When I think of open-mindedness, cultural perspective readily comes to mind.
The first resource is one I’ve shared with my fifth graders in the past, and has made for some fascinating conversation. Graphic artist Yang Liu’s East Meets West helps students start to consider how our cultural differences influence the way people approach various situations (click link above for more of her images).
The second is the awe-inspiring story of Rais Bhuiyan, a Muslim American who was shot in the aftermath of 9/11, but who worked to save his assailant from death row. I particularly appreciate how this illustrates that whatever our differences, compassion can bring us unity, understanding, and healing.
How is open-mindedness related to cultures?
What is our responsibility for open-mindedness?
How does open-mindedness help with fearfulness (or other negative emotions)?
Elena Aguilar (@artofcoaching1) recently shared this beautiful quote by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry:
These words turn my mind to all the spheres of my life, past and present. What is the ship? What is the sea?
When I look at my children, the ship-building vision comes readily: raising healthy, happy, and competent individuals. It’s why I require them to wear clean underwear, to eat vegetables, to brush their teeth, to say ‘sorry.’
When I recall my 5th graders, a similar ship comes to mind: self-aware and self-driven people who can drive their personal learning and growth. It’s why I asked them to write in complete sentences, to reflect with peers, to study out evidence for thinking, to keep track of goals.
I find it interesting how easily these tasks and expectations quickly slip from being part of grander vision, down to dreary repetition. In isolation, no one much wants to do any of those things. But when we elevate our sights to that “vast and endless sea,” our days change. A few ideas come to mind when I consider how we can help our children and students catch the vision of the sea, not only for their futures, but for their present daily experiences:
Constantly ask why, and help them to do the same. It’s tough because there is always so much to do in a perpetually tight schedule, but it’s worth the effort to slow down. Ensure students aren’t just “getting it done” so we can get it done. I admire the way Katherine Hansen brings the why into a simple yet effective place in her classroom:
Let them experience natural consequences. This is not really about “tough love,” grades, or getting them to see how correct we are in our requests for them to perform the daily tasks. It’s about helping them gradually discover the need for these tasks and skills independently. And it requires a lot of metacognition instruction on our part to help them think more about their thinking process so they can identify what is going wrong and what is going right.
Cultivate ownership, choice, and voice. Yes, they still have to wear clean underwear and write in complete sentences. But when we give our kids as many choices as possible and let them in on the learning plan, it makes a tremendous difference in their ability to see beyond the mundane daily to-do list. Check out this fantastic example of student agency by Charlotte Hills.
If we’re not careful, life can become like one long series of “gathering wood, dividing the work, and giving orders.” Elevate the vision. Seek the inspiration. And help all those around you to also “yearn for the vast and endless sea.”
I would love to hear more ideas for ways you help your students elevate their vision! Please share in the comments!
A while back, I shared a provocation to support one of the IB Primary Years Programme Units known as Who We Are. This week, I want to share one that can be used with How We Organize Ourselves. Take a look at this fascinating video to find out how the US went about the problem of an exponentially growing volume of mail.
How are problem-solving and organization connected?
How did the zip-code solution change over time?
How might future zip code solutions impact people?
Why do we keep changing the way we organize systems?
What is our responsibility to keep changing the way we organize systems?
So embedded are our own culture’s idiosyncrasies that we generally take them for granted. This is particularly true when it comes to our idioms. That’s why, when I came across this list of 40 idioms that don’t translate on TED-Ed, I just knew it would make an intriguing provocation.
Other resources for students inquiring into language might include this animated map of “how Indo-European languages may have evolved:”
Or this video, also from TED-Ed on how our languages evolve (might be a little complex for younger students, but you never know…):
Why do humans use figurative language?
How do you think idioms from certain countries are related to the way of life in that country?
How does language diversity affect our world?
How are human beings connected through language even when we speak different words?
How does becoming more fluent (readers and writers) in our own language help us? How does studying other languages help us?
Earlier this summer, my daughter started expressing interest in all things behind-the-scenes-movie-making. Not only did she seem more attentive during the “bonus features” than the movies themselves, but she took rapt illustrated notes as she watched.
When she told us she wanted to make movies for Disney when she grows up, I sensed a learning opportunity. I downloaded a stop motion video-making app for her to explore (Stop Motion Studio on Android).
Though the first attempt was pretty rough, I was impressed that a 6 year-old was able to figure out a fairly complex creative app almost completely independently. After some time exploring, I offered her an additional resource: a camera holder. We Googled some solutions together, found a cardboard lid, cut some slots, and let her roll. Below was her attempt a few days later:
Over the months, I noticed continued exploration of the the app’s features and techniques, including altering the speed of the stop motion, adding music, and typing in titles to her videos.
She also wanted to watch examples of high quality stop motion videos on Youtube. Her favorites were this:
and this… (which included a particularly rich conversation as she watched with wonder and made hypotheses on how each shot was created. We paused, rewound, and re-watched frame-by-frame. It was a magic in and of itself to watch her try to unravel the mystery).
I was not surprised when our mini-film festival inspired her to create something new, with markedly improved technique:
But I was ever so surprised to find that as I went about my business later that day, I was suddenly struck with an idea for a stop motion video myself (having had a bumpy, less-than confident relationship with creativity in the past). So we brought “Goldilocks and the 3 Chairs” to life together (the “river” and “bridge” were her additions):
I would never have guessed when I first downloaded the app that this would have evolved into such an enjoyable shared pursuit. And I marvel at the skills that she is developing (no sticker charts, grades, or rewards needed here!):
Story structure Over time, I can see her getting better at developing a beginning, middle, and end of her stories. She’s also considering settings, characters, and key details that bring a story to life.
Phonics As she slowly locates each letter on the keypad for her titles, she is making connections about spelling rules and “rule-breakers.”
Speaking and listening I listen to her record her voice, listen back, and then rerecord over and over until she is satisfied with the way it sounds.
Media literacy All this device and app exploration has increased her confidence in navigating and wielding the device features.
PATIENCE Would you have thought it possible for a 6 year-old to spend hours going back and forth between snapping photos and making infinitesimal adjustments to her set over and over and over again? Me neither.
The teacher-side of me is reminded that when we allow ourselves to be authentic participants of the learning (and not just the ringmaster or director of it as it swirls or marches around us), not only is that learning exponentially enhanced for our students, but it is enhanced for ourselves. The entire process becomes self-perpetuating in an ever richer cycle. And the relationships are deepened in a way that worksheets and boxed units can simply never replicate.