The way to a student’s mind is through their heart. Or maybe their hands. Okay, definitely through the stomach!
We made pioneer log cabins out of graham crackers, pretzels and icing. The key element, of course, were the pretzels as kids used them to form interlocking corners to help support the structures. This activity took 80 minutes to complete. In school world, that is a quarter of the day and a huge chunk of time. But, these types of tasks are essential to learning for three reasons: engagement, class culture and hands on competence.
I teach grade 3 and my dream for my students is that they develop into creative, innovative and passionate makers. I hope they will make content on the web through writing or photography to share their life stories as they grow. I hope they will create wonderful work and home spaces with their own tools and hands that they love to spend time in. I hope the make widgets like guitar pedals or revolutionary solar panels and solutions to global warming. Make stuff. You’ll feel better when you do. Plus, these kids are little, they need opportunities to develop their fine and gross motor skills. Look how pumped Liam and Fraser are in these photos. They are so thrilled to have had the opportunity to hack at the crackers and have a go with making the house. Rock out boys, rock out.
As we made our pioneer pretzel cabins we listened to good ol’ Stompin’ Tom Connors. We were really getting into the Canadiana feel as we listened to Big Joe Muffera and other classics from the legendary Stompin’ Tom. We even took a little break from our houses to have a little time to dance around, which was a good way to fight off the sugar monsters.
I could probably have pushed through a lot of content and worksheets and tasks in 80 minutes. I could probably have exposed them to much more than log cabin houses. Soddies, plank house and more could have been on the lesson plan for that day. But, the power of creating this shared experience can not be underestimated. This experience is now the platform that we can build our understanding of pioneer homes and pioneer life. The activity was never presented as an “If you are good, then you will get to…” or “At the end you will be able to …” No. The fun was front and centre and for every child. This happy glow of engagement and positivity will hang in the air of our class like the smell of maple syrup at a sugar shack. It will carry us through at least a week of learning and getting along. We laughed at ourselves, we laughed with each other. We tinkered. We made houses that worked and some that didn’t. But, we didn’t worry about whether or not the final product was a level 4 pretzel cabin.
We enjoyed the moment.
We had fun.
We opened our hearts to school, learning, each other. We opened our hearts to the possibility that school is a magical place where we can have the most wonderful time with people we love. We have been together for over 100 days of learning. It’s been a cold and wet winter with lots of indoor recess. We love each other, but at times students are starting to feel the effects of February blues and a touch of cabin fever. This activity reinvigorated our love for our class, one another and learning.
Engagement, building class culture and hands on competence: these are essential to being human! These are essential to a thriving learning environment. Every teacher does these sorts of activities in September to capture student’s imaginations. I am reminded that we should do these activities throughout the school year to keep our spirits high. School should be full of these types of experiences because it makes a life worth living.