Our school year began last week, and for both my students and I, this marked the start of many new things. As grade five students they were embarking on a new journey and transition from elementary school to middle school; while as their educator, I too, was experiencing the very same thing.
After looping with my previous students for three years and knowing what their goals and expectations were, I was unsure as to what my new group would need and what I could do to assist them this year.
As our first week unfolded, our focus and direction soon became apparent when our class discussions started to centre around learning, knowledge and expertise in different areas. One of my students said ” Miss Ariss, you are the teacher. You are smarter than us.” To which I replied. ” I may know more things because I have had more life experience, but that doesn’t mean I am smarter than you. You may have more experience than me in many areas, and because of that, you have a lot to teach me.” They pondered this and I wondered if they truly believed that they could be experts in an area that their teacher, who in their eyes, knows everything about everything all the time, was not.
We started an Art project where I asked them to represent themselves as Lego figures. As I walked around and began to assist my students, my eyes turned to one drawing. My student was effortlessly shading, detailing and bringing out his personality in his figure in a way I had never seen before. It only took a few seconds before everyone was huddled around his artwork. I took this as an opportunity to refocus them on the concept we had discussed earlier, that every one one of them can teach all of us something. That every one of them has an area of strength that can be shared with others. We had found our resident artist who has a deep love and passion for artistic interpretation and creativity.
The week progressed and student’s strengths were slowly emerging and not only that, they were starting to see them. Those who were strong in technology were helping those who were struggling to connect and learn while those who were code masters were assisting those who had trouble to unlock their locker locks. The best part to see however was that they weren’t doing the work for others, they were teaching and working with them. They were implementing their strengths.
One afternoon, one of my students said to me ” Miss Ariss, I don’t think I’m an expert at anything.” I replied, ” I know you are, but we just haven’t found out what yet.” I didn’t realize it then, but this stuck with him all day because as the home bell rang I noticed him lingering around the door. I walked over to him and he started to talk to me about the things he would be doing this weekend and then he said he loved to build robots in his room whenever he could. I asked him what kind of robots and what he meant exactly, to which he proceeded to explain to me just how he uses wires, cardboard, light switches, batteries, light bulbs and anything he could find to build and take apart things in his room. As I stood there listening to him and watching his face light up, I was amazed at how passionate he was about this. I stayed silent and listened when all of a sudden he says ” Miss Ariss… I think I’m an expert at making things. Can I make you a robot? ” I looked back at him unable to contain my smiles and just said, ” I can’t wait to have my own robot!”
On Monday he came to school carrying his tools and showed me the most incredible moving car that he had built for me:
He had used a cardboard base, a light switch, batteries and wires to create this amazing robot and he made it for me. His excitement, that what he loved to do was relevant and meaningful, overtook him and he just wanted to share his creation with everyone, especially our AP Jesse McLean who he knew loved electronics. The class was riveted watching him make it run and he was beaming with pride after showing Mr. McLean and having other students ask him to teach them how he built it. He realized that he was making an impact and that his talents and strengths are important.
Most would have been happy to have reached this point, that being an expert means you are finished, but when you are dedicated and passionate about something, your learning never stops. My student went home tonight after watching this Vine video that Mr. McLean took, to refine his machine and try to see if he can alter the wiring to make it do spins.
This is only the start of our journey and I cannot begin to express just how excited I am to help my students to find out what they are experts at or what they would like to work towards becoming an expert at this year. I want to bring out their strengths and help them gain the confidence to grow and truly find their passions. Most importantly I want them to know that they matter, that I will support them and that expertise is something that is constantly evolving as they learn and share with others, that learning and expertise is a process of growth.