A dream is a wish your heart makes…

It has been awhile since our last F2F but it was good to have time to talk with my fellow C21-ers and to participate in all of the engaging sessions our fearless leaders have prepared for us. I always feel empowered after a Face 2 Face! Hearing what others are working on inspires me and having their feedback on my ideas helps me to move forward. At this latest session, I had some time to reflect and clarify my Action Plan. Then, I went back to my work-a-day life and started day-dreaming again…


Oh so corny and yet somehow I can’t stop myself from singing that song! According to the Disney version of Cinderella, all I have to do to make my dream come true is “keep on believing”. Thankfully, although I am prone to flights of fancy, I do know that there is quite a lot of hard work involved as well.

So, what is the wish my heart makes? Well, I dream of empowering my students by giving them more agency in their learning. I’m trying to get as far away as possible from this kind of school;

Calvin and Hobbes

Ok, maybe I’m not quite a Ms. Wormwood but trying to make a change sometimes seems like I’m trying to climb Mount Everest in stilettos…On the other hand, sometimes, like when I’m at a Face 2 Face session, I feel like it just might be possible! A while ago I came across this article that challenged me to think again about learning and motivation. I wanted to make the curriculum more relevant to my students so that they are excited and motivated to learn. Knowing that other teachers are wrestling with the same issues, helps me to feel like just maybe I might be able to actually do something meaningful…and so, to action!



Now I’m finally getting around to writing this blog post (yes, I’m a procrastinator). The good news is that at this point in the year, I’ve been able to begin to try out some of my ideas. Serendipity comes into it a lot though, and the amazing energy that the kids bring to the equation. Now we’re here, fully immersed in the Action Plan action. We used the book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret as a jumping off point into all kinds of things. I chose it for a class read aloud and it magically fired imaginations, as great books tend to do. The kids got excited about automatons and clockwork and gears and old movies and we explored all of those things together.

Just before Christmas holidays, we headed off to the Distillery District for a pulleys and gears scavenger hunt. Now we are playing with Lego and wind-up toys, investigating and building clockwork, and building small devices with pulleys and gears.IMG_8814

I thought a lot about how I could take something from my students’ own immediate experience and something from the Science curriculum on pulleys and gears and put it all together into a motivating and exciting design challenge. (Phew!)

My classroom is in what is essentially the attic of an old house. I, and my students, have to climb three flights of stairs multiple times a day. It’s great for keeping fit, for example, my app tells me that yesterday I climbed 29 flights of stairs (hence the Mount Everest in stilettos feeling). In September, the kids moaned and groaned a lot about the stairs and it even sparked a great math problem about how many steps they climbed on average each day.

It came to me that I could ask the kids to use pulleys and gears to solve their problem of too many stairs to climb. Could they create a device that would eliminate the need to climb the stairs? What it evolved into was something even more interesting. How could we make our classroom more accessible to people who have mobility issues? Could we use pulleys and gears to solve this problem?

Justifying the challenge…
Design Sprint with feedback









More Design Sprint!

The kids are so excited about this! They LOVED the design challenge process. I kept hearing excited sounds of approval when it was on the schedule. They have come up with all sorts of ideas, most of which sound like a lot more fun than stairs but which I doubt would meet code. Still, we are having fun, and we are learning (much more than just about pulleys and gears), which is the goal here.

Here’s where the serendipity comes in…at some point during this process I realized that I had no idea how to build a device that would meet our challenge! Oh oh… I just prayed that the kids would figure something out without me. Sure enough, one day, after all of our thinking and discussion and drawing, I put out the lego and blocks and some pulleys and gears and we went to it. At first, everyone was kind of lost, they didn’t know where to start. I started to panic. All of a sudden one kid tried something out and it worked! Other kids jumped in with suggestions and started trying out their own ideas and soon enough, everyone had built a device that met the criteria. Best of all, we all bounced ideas off each other, tried things that didn’t work, came up with a new idea, tried that, and kept trying until we got to something that we liked. We used different materials, different designs, different systems, all to meet the same goal. Now this is not to say that there we not moments of frustration, anger, feelings of defeat, all of those things were part of the process (especially when the lego kept breaking or the gears wouldn’t turn). But the kids were able to push through that to create something of their own.IMG_8789


Now we get to show off all of our creativity and hard work at our Doors Open night this week. It’s been such a rewarding and satisfying experience for me. Rarely do I get to see my group of “struggling” and often reluctant learners so enthusiastically engaged in the learning process. And for the kids, well I think that they have learned so much more than I could have possibly predicted and far more than the curriculum mandates they learn.

And I have a new challenge to work on…how to keep this kind of learning going!




4 thoughts on “A dream is a wish your heart makes…

  1. Wow, Miriam! It sounds like it was an amazing experience both for you and the kids! How wonderful when things work out like that! I love how you put yourself out there as a learner right alongside the kids.

    1. Thanks Jen! It sure felt satisfying to be teaching and learning in that way. The challenge now is how to keep this all going…back to the drawing board! How goes your action plan?

  2. AWESOME!!!

    I totally get this… the excitement, the serendipity, the panic when you don’t have control over the thread of learning, the exhilaration when it all works out. Amazing!

    And while it would be difficult to *plan* this level of perfection into the unit, planning for the opportunity of discovery is possible. Next year’s class may come up with different solutions, for instance, or find different problems they want to solve. I think you are providing a fantastic framework for them to build on, and being comfortable (and confident) with some uncertainty is perhaps the hardest part.
    As Dan Meyer regularly points out in his writing about secondary mathematics: you can always add information (instruction, demonstration, etc.) but you can’t subtract it. Better to let the students try as much as possible on their own and only add to their work if *necessary*. I think it’s equally relevant to your classroom approach here, and that you nailed it with this unit!

    1. Thanks Ruth! I’m now trying to infuse all of my units with this same kind of feeling. It’s not easy but I have found that letting go of expectations helps a lot 🙂 In fact, we are starting a math unit on fractions right now and I am struggling to make it authentic for my students. What you wrote about Dan Meyer is resonating with me because I think I am probably adding too much to my lessons. I think I just need to step back and let the kids lead the way just as I did with the pulleys and gears. It’s seems more risky with math because I am so aware of the skills the kids are supposed to have by the end of the unit. But then I think to myself, if they are not ready, then they are just not ready so why push it? It’s liberating! Now to go read some Dan Meyer…

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