Mistakes… I spend a great deal of time helping my students embrace them. At home, I have sat with a teary eyed child on my lap a countless number of times reminding that mistakes are a good thing. They are opportunities to learn, to grow, to become stronger. Besides that, they are an inevitable part of being human. I know this. However, I am reminded every time I make a mistake that embracing them is easier said than done! True?!
So, yes, I made a mistake. Quite unintentionally, I sent home my students’ carefully crafted Father’s Day gifts an entire month early and completely unwrapped. These things do happen occasionally when you are team teaching. And yes… I did feel bad about it, but then I decided to heed my own advice and see this mistake as a gift, a chance to grow. Without my mistake, Father’s Day Design Challenge 2016 would never have been born. Time to celebrate!
When reflecting on Father’s Day gifts of years past (Mother’s Day and Christmas too, for that matter), I realized that a recurrent chain of events took place. It seemed that each year I spent a great deal of time scouring PInterest looking for that perfect gift, THEN I spent an exorbitant amount of energy rounding up all of the necessary materials and THEN there was the agonizing over the perfection of the end product. This took place in my classroom and also at home. The end result was always something less that the children had created out of love for that important someone in their lives and something more that I had created. The children just happened to put their names on it. Sad, but true. It was time consuming, expensive and mostly something for me to be proud of. With the blank slate I had created with my aforementioned mistake, I decided this was the year to make a change!
I started small. I actually challenged my three girls at home to create something for their grandmothers for Mother’s Day. They could create anything they thought their grandmothers might like, however, their creation had to be completely upcycled. Every material used had to have had another use in a previous life. We went “shopping” in our home looking for inspirational things that could be fashioned into something else. They settled on a half empty bottle of barbecue sauce. We emptied its contents into a small container and voila- a vase! Next, we sketched up some ideas for beautifying their vase and then got to work. We found tissue paper from my recent Anthropologie visit, Mod Podge left over from a previous project, and a handpicked bouquet of flowers from the backyard. At that point, my six year old took a step back and declared that some additional bling was absolutely necessary! After locating some string and a couple of beads from a broken necklace, she tied a laureate around the neck of the vase. Next, she designed a tag for the vase on the computer and we printed it out on a scrap piece of card stock. The finished product was attractive, completely free and completely theirs. Better yet, my daughters learned a lesson in upcycling and the design process.
Now… onto bigger things! In hopes of meeting the NGSS Engineering Design Standards this year, I have provided my students with many opportunities to work through the design process. The design process I use in my classroom has four parts: Ask, Plan, Create, and Test. Students work through the process as many times as necessary until the desired result has been created. I just started using the design process with my students this year and I have noticed a huge increase in student engagement. Exciting stuff! Students that once balked at math are now gladly playing with numbers as they use them to meet a real need. Check out YouCan2’s Design Notebook for a way to help students organize their thinking and a way for you to assess their work as they work through the process.
Then it occurred to me… why not have students approach the creation of their Father’s Day gift in the same way? This year my students will apply the same design process to the creation of their gift as they have to fashioning pom pom catapults and solar ovens. The first step of the design process “ASK” invites students to contemplate a problem they are faced with. They must consider the criteria to be followed and the constraints they must work within. A quick search “children’s Father’s Day gifts” on Pinterest leads to ideas about picture frames, bookmarks, key chains and coffee mugs, just to name a few. As we peruse, students could be thinking about what their father would like and how they could create it within the criteria and constraints of the project. Next, a “Plan” must form. This is where students sketch ideas, list needed materials and annotate their thinking with numbers. Students will go home that day with a paper bag, a letter home (addressed to Mom) and their PLANS. Students will need to collect various upcycled items and place them in the bag to return to school. The letter ensures that a little guidance and understanding is happening at home just in case a kid decides that mom’s jewelry box is fair game (after all her jewelry is used)! Check out our letter home along with a Design Challenge handout available at our YouCan2 store for FREE.
I will also make sure that I bring my recycling bin to class just in case students find it difficult to obtain the items they need from home. The next day students will “CREATE.” Just like my six year old when she stepped back and examined her vase, the students will most likely find that their plan needs alterations and adjustments as they “CREATE” and “TEST” which will in turn lead them back to “ASK”… What can I do to make my design better? In the end, the finished product should be environmentally friendly, free and most importantly truly from them.