Islands of Creativity and Learning
We are just finishing up the Explorer Project with presentations in my sixth grade Integrated Studies class. The project is a long running one where students choose an Explorer from throughout history and spend several classes doing research in various note taking categories (i.e. early life experience, personal characteristics, challenges encountered, reason for exploration, etc.). From there they construct journal entries written from the perspective of their chosen Explorer and create a map depicting her/his area of exploration. To create the journal entries (of which there are between six to eight), they must decide when each is being written. To avoid merely writing a report, they must capture the Explorer’s “voice,” and they have to integrate historically accurate facts. Finally, they present to the class in character as their Explorer. To do this, they must choose two journal entries to integrate into the presentation; they must also appropriately reference their map during the five to seven minute long presentation and create a believable and creative costume. There are checklists and rubrics throughout that the boys should use to guide their process and learning.
The project poses lots of challenges and risk-taking. As we began, boys had questions along the lines of: “What should I do next?” “What should I include on my map?” “When should I have him writing his journal from?” “What should I use to make a cover for my journal?” etc. My mantra from the beginning is “Figure it out” or “That’s your job to decide.” These answers inevitably make boys nervous, but it is in that realm of unease where they learn to get creative and innovative. Teddy Roosevelt was once quoted saying, “If you are cast on a desert island with only a screwdriver, a hatchet and a chisel to make a boat with, why, go make the best one you can. It would be better if you had a saw, but you haven’t. So….” I cast these boys on to proverbial islands (with some guidance, obviously) and deliberately withhold the saw.
For instance, they may not purchase store-bought costumes; they must make them. For example, one boy this year was Neil Armstrong. He went to his local hardware store and bought a white painter’s jumpsuit, painted NASA emblems on it, put a paper wrapped shoebox velcroed to the front as part of his life support system. On his back, he wore a Ghost Busters inflatable backpack. For a helmet he glued together two large plastic salad bowls and cut out the space for the front face opening. He covered the unit with white paper, and he finished up by creating a visor that actually could be down or retracted back up into the helmet. He used a paper plate covered with orange aluminum foil and screws on the side of the helmet to allow the advisor to pivot up and down. Of course, he wanted to enter the room as Neil Armstrong taking his first step on the moon. He had planted a walkie talkie in the room, and, once I had brought the class to silent attention, he broadcasted from his own radio, “That is one small step for man…” The plan was that he would finish the famous phrase and would enter in slow motion and plant the American Flag (which he had pre-planted in a half sphere of Styrofoam left over from the 3D map he had made of the earth and moon’s orbiting routes) at the front of the class. Unfortunately, he hadn’t counted on the fact that he wouldn’t be able to see through the aluminum-foil-covered paper plate. Luckily, that morning before class, he removed one of the screws of the visor so he could peek out of a crack on one side of the deployed visor. As he entered, out of his line of sight was a trashcan that had been moved, and, as Neil Armstrong strode to plant the flag, he too almost went down with the words “… for mankind.” But, he steadied himself and gave a wonderful presentation, replete with historically accurate facts and a great character “voice.” That is what a boy can do when placed on an island without a saw and needing to create a boat.
For the rest of the week before break, my class and I will visit each boy in class on his own island and see the boat he has built – without a saw.
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