Constructivist tasks with my first graders


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Giving a constructivist class isn’t easy. It’s exciting, fun, edifying, productive, but never easy. It implies trying to forget everything I was taught about teaching in the last 19 years or so of academic studies. You have to take the teacher away from the front of the class, out from behind her desk: that holy niche in which professors of the past would fit themselves. It means the teacher has to get on the floor, in the mud, to jump like a frog, act like a monkey, sing like a bird, think like a kid and let your ideas overflow every day, because now our job isn’t about filling tiny heads with concepts, theory and procedure; it’s about filling hearts with a love for life, learning, growth and making yourself better every day.

When I heard that the school I was about to join as teacher had a constructivist-humanist philosophy, I was overjoyed. Finally I would be able to do my job the way it should be done according to the experts! But I was also scared, would I be able to achieve EVERYTHING that goes with being a constructivist teacher? Would my imagination, my sills, my energy, be enough? To be totally honest, I am still a little scared every day. So I took a firm decision to not worry, and to get busy with giving my best to my two groups, to direct, imagine, search, to get rid of all of my inhibitions and to always have a great attitude.

I try to make the activities interesting, motivating, fun and always helpful towards thedevelopment of my kids(yes, my kids, and not because they belong to me, but because for seven hours a day, they are my priority, my drive, my joy). So, faced with the task of describing a constructivist class, it wasn’t easy to choose one. Finally, I chose this one:

Creation of a model incuding the natural elements of the places we live.

I asked the students to bring in certain materials in order to work: an eighth of mount board, acryclic paint, paintbrushes, glue, scissors, and coloured wood. We prepared the boards by cutting them and stapling them at the sides.

Of course, following the SEP program, we had already been working on this expected learning outcome during the week, conceptualizing the natural components and giving some examples, so it was enough to do a short game with our seats, taking turns and remembering what we had already seen in the previous session. That’s how we started.

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The instruction consisted of making a representation of the aforementioned natural components of the places where we live: The Sun, the ground, rivers, mountains, plants and wild animals. First of all they sketched out some details with a pencil (the sky, the clouds, the line of the horizon, the mountain and the Sun) and they painted them with acrylics. They put their work out in the sun so it would dry, and to incorporate the Sun itself in the process of making their model.

They then applied glue (either spreading it out or with glue sticks) in order to stick on some of the components that were missing: the ground, mountains or plants, and we went out to explore the patios and gardens of the school to get some materials (earth for the ground, little stones for the mountains, different types of leaves for plants). For water, they took a little ‘river water’ that I had brought in. The clouds (which are also water but is a gaseous state) were made with little pieces of cotton. After that we went out to observe the wild animals we could find that live in our school.

They drew them, cut the pictures out and stuck them onto their models. They also incorporated some wild animals which can be found in Pachuca but not in our school because they had researched them at home.

All of this work was done in pairs, and each team decided on the order in which they would put the different elements into their model. At the end, the children put together all of their models and asked themselves: How are they alike? How are they different? Each team took turns explaining what they had represented in their work. The results were incredibly satisfying, going beyond my expectations.

I can confirm that the activity was 100% constructivist because I only guided the activity, listing the materials, organizing times to go out and explore, and monitoring the work of each group. The children recalled their own previous learning about natural elements, and represented each one of those with materials that stimulated different senses: the heat or light of the sun, the touch of water and how the aroma of paper changes once wet. They worked with glue, cotton, earth, stones, plants with differing textures, different colors and smells. The wild animals which we found, were something else: the birds with their colours and songs, difficult to see and draw.

 

Insects which, to the surprise of the children, were much more numerous than they had expected.

They discovered with excitement (and a little bit of fear) that under the earth there are worms, ants, spiders, snails and many more little bugs which we don’t see every day.

The collaborative aspect to the work motivated them and helped to consolidate the expected learning outcome in a better way. Even the small disagreements that occurred served to put into practice and develop their social and emotional skills. The oral presentations were given with precision and skill, a sure result of the great excitement which all the children felt during the activity.

From beginning to end, this activity was incredibly satisfying, and until now, one of my favorites. I share it as a successful experience in my diary, and I continue moving towards a wholly constructivist teaching practice. I hope it is of use to the reader, and I am anxious to receive any comments about it.

Miss Sara Alejandra Meléndez Salgado.

 

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