December 21, 2012 Leave a comment
The following is my portion of a presentation given under the Council of Exceptional Children at their annual event:
When I was asked to join in on this presentation, I remained unaware, for quite some time, the justification for the invitation. I had fallen into the assumption that my participation was a reward of sorts for being studious and for regularly, almost effortlessly expanding upon the information strung over our heads via long lectures and endless readings, which we were to sew into an already existing, yet underdeveloped schema entitled: “How to Teach. . .Well”. Wrong. As it turns out, it was never that I was being encouraged to accept an offer that might add bulk to my résumé, but to embark on a mission to expose, highlight, and immortalize my pre-service perspective.
Yes, I had a working perspective as a result of previous placements in congested classrooms, but my time at the museum had a uniquely profound impact on my developing teacher. I saw things that gave me endless comfort: teachers costumed in roles that, first, inspires hesitant, shifting glances, followed by twinkling eyes and cheeks sore from smiling amongst the students. I saw the resurrection of equality as adults and children questioned and discovered in seminars of play, and the truth that I had so long been in search of: that it is not mandatory to we settle for a traditional system—that we talk at in order to instruct—but that we may squeeze our jumper-clad bodies out from behind our big, metal desks, and play with, elevate, and remember with our students the joy of exploration in order to teach.
While I was here, my professors gave us an assignment that would last us through the semester. We were to write reflective journal entries based on various, given topics—to connect classroom content to the reality of our discoveries in observing the reality of education within the museum. I’d like to read a few excerpts from my entries, as they are weighty reviews of my experiences as they occurred—quite genuine and all the more introspective.
Entry #1: Thus far, Strong Museum has been a positive experience for me. It’s not that I have an aversion to the classroom setting. On the contrary, it’s ideal, but the experience of being in the museum and observing children in true, playful interaction with the educational process is, while different, definitely something I consider to be worthwhile and irreplaceable. I recently had my first field trip. We observed a lesson entitled “Healthy Beginnings” designed for pre-school students held in the Wegman’s play area. Afterwards, directly following a serious effort on my behalf to return my jaw to a closed state as a result of having witnessed a most organized and educational free-for-all of young shoppers, I was able to stumble upon the following realization: I am truly excited to continue with my observations of these lessons as well as of the children at play. It truly amazes me the way that play helps to establish and reinforce ideas, understanding, and the willingness to learn, even without teacher intervention.
After assisting with a theme day at the museum entitled, “Math in Action”: One can only guess the frequency of which cruel flashbacks of elementary school math sessions came to haunt me as I tiptoed past exhibits dripping with numbers and fortified with pencils. Still, I was optimistic, as I had been made aware that the curriculum regarding mathematics had changed during our classroom exploration of the subject. I simply wasn’t sure how. The stations, however, were not designed to ensnare delicate minds in confusing webs of sticky equations and finite answers, but to “take the scariness” out of mathematical content. I believe I’ve said this before, but the ways in which the lessons at Strong Museum are designed and taught take into consideration the values of freedom and creativity. If students are only provided with a limited set of responses, then, as teachers, we cannot expect them to respond with fervor or 100% accuracy, as various learning needs dictate a demand for differentiation.
On Independent Observation: Mostly, from what I have been able to witness, Strong Museum does incredibly well in its mission to enforce the idea that lessons be completed on behalf of the students as the main components, utilizing hands-on, imagination-centered activities as the primary gateway to learning. There was one independent session in particular, that I saw one very young child experience a moment of true, secretly educational and developmentally supportive sublimity. I noticed a very young girl seated at the rather large and ultimately enticing Light Bright station. Given her age, her creation was nothing comparable to a work of pure genius, but she seemed, and pardon the pun, incredibly enlightened by the experience. She spent the majority of her time carefully choosing the colors that she so delicately inserted into the easel, occasionally swapping the colors and their respective positions to suit the image that I am sure was looming at the forefront of her mind. Unless she was a baby Einstein, I think I can safely state that she was too young to recognize the colors by name, but the simple fact that the insertion of a darkly colored peg into a large, seemingly magical board would produce a bright, glowing, and rather pleasing source of light and stimulating color was enough to satisfy her curiosity. Even when encouraged to move on in her exploration of the plethora of exhibits the museum has to offer, the child remained entirely distracted by such a particularly interactive station- so much so, in fact, that by the time my observation had come to a close, she had yet to be swayed to move away from the Light Bright. For her, the experience, as I must assume, was crucial. It was, in a sense, an introduction to the world of technology and its ability to produce inexplicable results. Judging from her passionate involvement with the exhibit, it was something that she had yet to receive exposure to, and, because of this, she was intent on mastering this piece of technology. It could, perhaps, be inferred that her passion for the station, then, was not to create a work of art or emulate a picture she may have seen on an episode of Sesame Street or dreamed up in creative frenzy, but rather to develop an understanding of how, exactly, the station functioned- the best way for her to do so being devoted participation with the machine. She was hoping, searching for an answer to the inquiries that formed with each peg that passed from her fingers to the board. This, I think, is crucial when fueling the developing mind of any child. Beginning at a young age, children ought to develop a sense of wonder and resonating curiosity for the world around them- a stimulant for the insatiable appetite of the inquiring mind; and, as we all know, the inquiring mind inherently becomes the successful intellect in the world of education.
Final Entry: In my first log, I made mention of the fact that my placement at Strong was atypical due to its lack of a traditional learning environment; meaning, I was no longer observing the same students in the same classroom being instructed by a singular teacher with one particular style. Instead, I had the pleasure of being exposed to a rather extensive variety of students, ranging in age, personality, capability, learning profile- any differing characteristic one might be able to cognitively conjure up. To be honest, I had moments expressive of feelings of contempt for this placement, especially when multiple field trips and the ever so valuable theme days were cancelled, but I realize now that those were the moments that taught me the importance of being able to adapt as an educator. Sure, my peers whose placements were in conventional classrooms may have had an easier time obtaining observation hours, and I am sure that they were able to benefit just as much from their own experiences, but we were truly challenged at Strong. For those who were here with me, I wish they had seen the same beauty as I. Perhaps it was that their eyes were not yet open, perhaps the ability to establish a connection between Strong and the institutional classroom had been drawn out of them in the drying of their creativity as always seated, almost sedated learners. Perhaps they were scared, but by being thrown into an atypical setting with an occasionally unreliable structure, we were taught to embrace what we could and let go of the rest, to be comfortable with what we knew, but also to familiarize ourselves with the unfamiliar, and, perhaps most importantly, to explore the professional realm of teaching, like the students we observed, by means of holistic, playful interaction.
After all of that, I say that now my mission has narrowed itself down to a more compact endeavor: simply to spread the word. I remember listening to lesson after lesson regarding the concept of integration (content, classroom, any and all things that might hold the potential to be intertwined with another). Now, I take pride in understanding the importance of that, but I’d love for it to be expanded upon—extended for the sake of change. I’d like to share my experience here, to become an advocate for adventurous learning, to integrate school and sport, assimilate amusement to the environment of arithmetic—to play for preparation.