What are your children learning in school? Does it relate to items in the news? Does it offer food for thought? Are they developing engineering minds? Do they engage in challenges that require persistence? These are the kind of educational experiences that last a lifetime. To engage children in this kind education you have to start with Big Ideas. You have to ask questions and let the students uncover the answers. The students have to be relied upon for the solutions to problems and their ideas have to be tried. They have to experience ideas that don’t work to create ideas that do work. The content can’t be limited to the teacher’s knowledge of tried and true projects or by the age of the student.
Here at Vanguard, I teach gifted children at the primary level. In the current unit the Big Idea is change. One of our projects involved how to change two dimensional shapes into three dimensional shapes. The class started building prisms with paper patterns. This activity caused them to be inspired to ask to make a sphere from 2-dimensional shapes, so they did! Using a lot of recycled cardboard, they changed 2-dimensional triangles into a 3-dimensional geodesic dome. With help, they cut some of the 75 triangles. I eventually took over that job, but the students measured and folded every triangle, screwed in all of the cardboard screws needed to attach the triangles together, and when the screws did not hold they problem solved and found that zip ties would do the job. They realized the relationship between triangles, trapezoids, hexagons, and pentagons. In the construction process the dome collapsed, sagged, and came apart multiple times. They brainstormed ideas to fix it. Their minds and their muscles worked hard. The students came to understand the importance of measuring accurately. The class connected math to real world applications, especially when they saw an article from the local newspaper about the Buckminster House in Illinois, which is a geodesic dome. When the dome was finished, the students’ pride in the authentic work they loved doing was evident to all. They speak with confidence to visitors about the process of building it. Now they love doing other learning activities inside their dome.