I Just Tried It

Wednesday is supposed to be my day for sharing ideas, lessons or tools according to my new schedule, but I’m going to put that off because something happened today that made me think, or rather made me put together some thoughts I’d already been playing with.

All three of my children are artists. My eldest daughter, Sarah, is a gifted artist. The other two are learning from her and following in her footsteps. Maggie, my middle daughter, watches and reads art tutorials online and in print. Her sister taught her some techniques. Maggie’s art teacher remarked at the end of last year that she is awfully young to have developed such a unique style. Dylan has only recently begun serious experimenting with art, but he is also showing a true gift for creating. I don’t think of myself as an artist because I could never quite make my drawings look like what I wanted them to look like. My kids don’t have that problem. They also draw and draw and draw. They experiment. We learned the other day that Maggie knows how to make screencasts. She can’t really even explain how she does it. To hear her tell it, she just turns on HyperCam and does it. She said she learned about HyperCam from watching other videos and seeing the words “unregistered HyperCam” on them. She wondered what HyperCam was, and in her words, “I decided I better go figure it out.” And so she just did it.

I remarked to my husband that kids are like that. They don’t worry about learning how to do something first. They just do it. I compared it to teachers I’ve talked to who are afraid to blog, to put themselves out there in that way. The way a kid would approach it is to just do it and not worry so much about it.

Today we drove down to visit my parents in Macon. My sister is also visiting. She is going to be moving to Okinawa shortly, and it might be a long time before I see her again. Her five-year-old daughter has a Nintendo DS. She was playing a game, and she showed my sister a new trick she had learned. My sister said, “How did you learn how to do that? I don’t even know how to do that.” My niece replied, “I didn’t learn it; I just tried it.”

It reminded me of my kids and their art. They don’t see what they create as learning. They see it as doing. Partly because of school, and partly because of self-consciousness, I think we lose that perspective as we grow. Maybe it’s around middle school when we start worrying so much about what our peers think about us and consequently become afraid to put ourselves out there. Maybe it’s because over time learning seems to become less and less about doing and more and more about listening.

What do we need to do in our classrooms so that our students feel more like their not so much learning, but just trying and doing? I know, I know. Trying and doing is learning. And yet my five-year-old niece, who hasn’t even started kindergarten, already makes a distinction between them.

I don’t know. Just throwing some of my thinking out there.

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Engagement

I created a Diigo group for my students some time ago, but it wasn’t until Monday, when we had a snow day (weird that we’ve had 70° weather in the same week as a snowstorm) that I invited all my students to join.  The lack of response has been deafening.  I understand to a degree.  It’s one more tool, one more crazy thing Ms. Huff wants us to do, blah, blah, blah, don’t see the point.  One the one hand, I hate that I have to make use of these tools a requirement to convince students to use them.  I am not going to make the Diigo group a requirement the way I did commenting on my blog.  However, I have noticed something.  Those students who do engage with the tools I provide — whether it’s watching videos I share on the classroom blog, using Diigo, commenting on the blog, listening to recommended podcasts, or even reading suggested links — tend to do better in class.  Why?  Simple.  The tools help.  Reading, viewing, listening, engaging — all these tools help my students learn the material in more depth or in more ways.  Learning more leads to better understanding.  Better understanding leads to higher grades.  I prefer to leave it for my students to come to this realization, but when/if they do, I wonder what will happen when I have full engagement.

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