Painting Pumpkins

This afternoon my wife and I took our sons to the MortonArboretum in Lisle, IL. We have been members there for a few years and go there on a fairly regular basis. Today happened to be a special occasion of sorts with a scare crow walk, food vendors (including some fine micro-brew), and various crafts for the kids. We took the boys to the back of the park where they could pick out and decorate a pumpkin of their choice. Naturally, we paid the nice volunteer for the pumpkins and settled in for some sure to be messy pumpkin painting.

As we sat down, another family with two boys, slightly older than mine, took up the spots across from us on the picnic table. When my boys settled in they began painting their pumpkins without any directions from me or my wife. However, as they got started one of the boys across the table turned to his dad and asked what he should paint on his pumpkin. The dad proceeded to tell both of his sons what they should paint and the boys then began painting their father’s designs. After this happened, my youngest son Kaleb looked up to me, having heard this exchange, and asked me what he should paint on his pumpkin. I simply responded with, “Whatever you want.”

Too often parents and teachers tell kids what to do without giving them the power and freedom to make their own decisions. Kids will generally do what they are told to do…but is that what we want? When they do what he tell or ask them to do, they are learning what we want and in the manner we want. Yes, kids need guidance in life, but guidance and control are not the same things. Give your kids/students tools and opportunities to succeed but leave the decisions and work up to them.

Bringing the Dead Alive!

As many know, I teach social science as well as language arts at the 6th grade level. If you have ever taught in the junior high setting or have a junior high aged child, you know how difficult it can be at times to keep them engaged and excited about a topic. In my language arts class we have been studying biographies and in social science we have been studying Ancient Egyptian Pharaohs. These are not typically on the top of any lists for high interest for students. However, you would not have known that this week in class.

With both of these topics I want students to be able to walk away with some basic biographical information about the individuals and their impact on their respective societies. Rather than have students write a paper or do a super-awesome-multi-colored-animated-sound-effected-Power Point, I decided to use one of my favorite programs Crazy Talk. This is a facial animation program that I have used in the past with all sorts of projects. I often refer to these projects and “Bringing the Dead Alive” and we go out of our way to find the creepiest pictures possible.

Here are a couple samples of the two projects that students created. I am a huge fan of options and choices and this is just one way to help students demonstrate their comprehension of a topic. Many students are already asking when we will be using it again and are using study hall time to “play” with the program.