This is the third and final installment of children’s poetic reflections on their architecture projects. To read about the project in its entirety, please use the search term “architecture” in the search window below.
The Big Apartment Building
It’s kind of big and also people who live here don’t have to live in little houses, they can live in big buildings.
And also they don’t have to live out of houses.
It took a long time to build it.
The sides are really big and the building’s really big
There’s lots of places for people to live inside.
Sometimes they have to break it down because it’s not working well.
They make designs so that the building doesn’t fall down
and they glue the bricks so it doesn’t fall down on the people inside.
This is the second post in a series of children’s poetic reflections on their architecture projects. You can read more about their projects in earlier posts on this blog tagged with “architecture” as well as here.
The Fire Fighter Station/Gymnastics Place
We put the roof on top and it can move a little.
A door that opens and closes
If there’s ever a fire, you just run inside for help.
When you’re all done with the slide, you can just lift it up.
I wanted to do that to the ladder too.
We had to take one thing at a time.
When we make it we had to think up ideas
And when it falls apart we have to do it again.
It’s a place to go and do gymnastics, like I do gymnastics.
The Shoe Factory
The roof is pretty crazy.
It looks like something that I don’t know what it is.
There are 3 rooms.
I made a model first.
I thought of the idea because my auntie told me about it.
This one won’t break because it has glue and not tape and it’s made out of wood.
In documenting our architecture project, I’ve struggled with how much to interrogate the children about their buildings.
Tell me about your building?
What’s that for?
All of the questioning gets a little tedious for both of us and the buildings themselves speak so strongly on their own that I wonder about the need to layer text on top of that.
Part of this project, for me, was to validate building as an important language of expression by really digging into in and creating longer-term building projects instead of the build and break construction projects that kids create every day using blocks, tiles, cups, etc…
I’m astonished by the diversity of their work and by how clearly they’ve communicated their own personalities and thinking without using a word. To say that they are different from each other isn’t enough – in many ways they are their buildings.
But, once they take their buildings home all we will have left are photos and text, so I decided, in the interests of posterity, to ask them to tell me whatever they thought they would like people to know about their architecture. I’ve formatted them as poetry because it seemed to fit – one language for another. Here are the first two:
The roof is straight and not bendy.
The steps help you get up and down the slide.
There’s a stove on the roof.
That part (the V) is for bad guys to trip… it’s the tripper.
The chimney is for smoke.
The flower is for people to see it.
The diving board is for people to jump off; water is there.
The square behind the slide is for bad guys not to get in the house.
No Santa allowed in the house; there’s no more Christmas!
The hole is for people to pop up. There’s an invisible trampoline underneath.
It’s all done.
I don’t have any chimney
There’s a window in the wall and in the roof.
There’s a gate and around it is to hold the gate up.
There’s a triangle mouse hole on each side ‘cause the mommies and the daddies go in one hole and the babies go in the other hole.
There’s a surfboard on the roof.
The glue is snow.
There’s a chair inside the back door.
I couldn’t have made them more different if I’d tried – the buildings or the girls who built them. I’m still not sure about how much to value the text but I’m hoping that we are becoming more multilingual these days; maybe we can speak architecture and English without privileging the latter.
Our architecture project continues and we’re moving towards building scale models of our 3-D sketches. This has been a challenging part of the process for us as it requires more adult helping than I would usually be comfortable providing. While the children are able to take on some parts of the process, they are often assuming more of a fore-person role in directing the adults as we wield the utility knives and the super-sticky glue. It’s been challenging in other ways too as the educators have been forced to develop skills that aren’t usually part of our jobs; precise measuring, cutting wooden dowels, using ratios to adjust the size of the model to suit the materials; balsa wood, it turns out only comes in certain widths. We’ve also had to think about our own roles as teachers who may want to influence the process (towards making a building a little simpler, for instance) but who are trying to remain true to the students’ creative intentions.
The students’ creative process has been interesting to observe. Several students worked on their 3-D sketches over the course of many weeks, adding small details every few days. Now, they have to make their sketches more permanent and they’re torn about what elements to keep and what they’d like to change.
U.E.’s curved, sculptural house with a courtyard is being simplified as he re-creates it. He’s particularly fond of his new asymmetrical doorway. We’re still not sure how to tackle the roof, which he also wants to be curved.
F.I.’s building has changed significantly as we discovered that museum board can be cut to create curves and that it holds its shape much better than cardboard or plastic.
M.K.’s tall building has stayed true to its original design but she has added a perimeter fence as well as two mouse holes on opposite sides of the structure so that the mice can run through. It’s a delightful combination of pragmatism and whimsy.
Embedded in Ontario’s Arts Curriculum document is the Creative Process Chart. Teachers are asked to facilitate student creativity by becoming aware that their ideas will flow through this process and that they should be given an opportunity to revise and refine their work after it’s been presented for feedback at an initial phase. For grown-up architects, scale balsa wood models and drawings are their preliminary works. For our students, however, the scale models are the final product they create after having refined and revised the ideas they developed by creating 3-D sketches. Being an observer and a contributor to this process has been both challenging and fun. It’s hard to know where the line is between being a “usefully ignorant co-worker in the thick of the action” (McWilliam, 2008) and taking over the project. We’re all learning as we go. Part of our learning as educators has been to think about how much help is too much help when we’re in the throws of a project that requires some adult assistance to be safe. It’s a balance we’re still trying to find. It reminds me of the line from the Shel Silverstein poem Helping:
And some kind of help is the kind of help
That helping’s all about.
And some kind of help is the kind of help
We all can do without.
I’m interested to hear how other educators have handled this dilemma. How much help enlivens creativity, allowing students to bring their ideas to life? How much deadens it? How much is too much?
Those questions are so important when we’re teaching from an inquiry stance but tracing things back is sometimes hard. Ideas are so organic that we can struggle to identify where the ignition point was.
This was not one of those times.
When our partner architect talked to us about drawing from different perspectives, it got me thinking about other ways that we could get the children to consider multiple view points.
Then, serendipitously, Teacher Tom sent out this blog post. In it, he wrote about cutting wooden blocks for something he called “tall paintings“. What are tall paintings, I wondered? So I clicked on that link which brought me to another post of his and then to this video. Wow.
Now, I do not have much in the way of woodworking skills so I sent the video out to the parents on a Friday and by Monday (Monday!) we had several boxes full of mini tall painting towers.
We got busy with the glue gun and tiny cups of acrylic paint. What amazed us was the way that this art project appealed to children who very rarely visit the art studio. Its structural elements and the kinaesthetic quality of pouring the paint mesmerized some of our reluctant artists and kept them engaged for the entire morning play block. Then they begged to do it again!
The finished products are mesmerizing, even hypnotic, and I’m particularly intrigued by how different they look when viewed from the top versus from the side. This part of our architecture project has been a great reminder of how important it is not to dismiss a child’s lack of engagement with a particular subject – it may just be that they want to approach it differently. Providing those multiple entry points is so important!
Sometimes when I’m reading teacher questions about inquiry, I come across something along the lines of: “I don’t get it, the kids were really interested in subject X and now they’re not. How can I get them to do an inquiry when they don’t stay interested inanything?”
Sing it sister (or brother – as the case may be).
I hear you, I really do.
One of the most challenging aspects of teaching this way is trusting the natural ebb and flow of children’s interests and questions.
I recently took my Senior level qualifications so that I would be officially qualified to teach grades 11 and 12. It’s been a long time since I’ve taught high school and I was pretty rusty. The whole unit planning process was bewildering to me after so many years of teaching in an inquiry-based classroom where planning comes more as a response to the children than it does as a top-down process that adults impose upon them. Going back to the process of writing formal unit plans caused me to reflect on the challenges of inquiry. Maybe some of our frustration with the in-and-out nature of inquiry comes from our expectation that it will look like those unit plans. Do we expect it to be linear? Do we expect that after the children introduce a topic, that they will then proceed to engage with it in a linear sequence of activities, ending with a culminating experience? Big finish, jazz hands, curtain closes, ta-da!?
I think that may be at least part of the problem.
Here’s an alternative way to think about it. Be a detective… notice where things pop up.
This week, we’ve continued to work on our Architecture project but we’ve let it ebb a bit, just to see what would happen. I haven’t been pushing the cardboard sketches as hard as I did last week. The materials have still been available but I haven’t put them out as an invitation. Here’s what I’ve noticed instead:
Creating tile mosaics that look very much like architectural drawings from the “plan” perspective
Children using the architectural examples we’ve looked at and their own prior knowledge to inspire their own buildings.
And today, B.W. using her own prior knowledge and what we’ve learned about design to create her own city.
Maybe instead of thinking about inquiry following the rhythm and organization of a unit plan, we might want to think about it more like a garden. Some plants you seed intentionally, other plants just pop up, their seeds carried by the wind or by a passing bird. It’s all about noticing those surprises, valuing them, and seeing how they fit into the bigger picture. Look for them – they’re there!
I have a confession to make (I think I may need a support group).
My name is Emily and I was a gifted child.
Joking aside, it’s something that I always feel awkward admitting – a bit shameful. It smacks of elitism, this gifted label. “What, you think you’re better than me?” I don’t. I really don’t. I know all about the pitfalls of intelligence testing, of narrow definitions of intelligence, of sub-tests that were later thrown out. The day I took the intelligence tests is one of my few clear memories of early elementary school. I can remember tearing through the verbal/analytical part, flying through the general knowledge, and grinding to a halt at the spatial reasoning – darn those puzzles. Was there a puzzle of a duck? I’m pretty sure there was.
I can remember being called to a little room by one of my classmates as she returned from her test and being told to fetch the next child when I came back. Neither of them joined the program. The reasons why we were chosen for testing and why we did or didn’t get invited to join the program were mysterious to us. No one ever explained and the whole thing was spoken of in hushed tones.
My parents were very uncomfortable with the whole thing – embarrassed even. My scores weren’t something I should ever talk about – I didn’t even know what they were until I found them as an adult – I knew not to ask. I can remember telling a friend about what we did ‘in gifted’ and being admonished not to talk about it – I might make her feel badly. As a child it was very confusing but as I got older I started to understand more about the complications of privilege. What we did at school on Wednesdays during our pull-out program wasn’t a subject of conversation at school or at home but, and here’s the kicker, it was, by far, the best day of my week. From grade 5 to grade 8 I lived for Wednesdays and from grade 9 to grade 13 I survived because of the space that the school allotted for gifted students to work and hang out and the events that they organized for us.
So here’s the rub; I’m torn in two directions about giftedness. On the one hand, I question whether it even exists. Aren’t all children gifted in some way? Children have so many gifts, so many talents, and so many ways of communicating them. Doesn’t a narrow intelligence test reduce all of that complexity to a falsely simplistic score that can’t possibly capture all of the miraculous diversity of children’s potential? Yes, yes, and yes. But then, there’s this first hand-experience of being outside of the norm, feeling different, weird even, and of being saved and supported by the very elitist programming that supports children who, popular wisdom tells us, will succeed regardless of what we do, even in spite of us.
So where does all of that angsty internal conflict leave me when it comes to my own classroom and to the children in my classes whose abilities lie outside of the bounds of that famous bell curve? It leaves me flumoxed sometimes, to be honest.
When I was in grade 5, we learned (in gifted class, of course) about Bloom’s taxonomy. We learned that acquiring knowledge about a subject – which was what we did most of the time in our regular classrooms – was only the beginning of learning. We were aiming higher, towards the upper echelons of the pyramid. Analysis… synthesis… evaluation… onward!
This type of learning typified my experiences in those special classes – we were always pushed to go deeper, to think bigger, to look at problems from another perspective, frankly, to do what I now call “inquiry learning.” Subjects were never assigned to us; we got to choose what interested us. I can remember creating personal utopias and doing research in Dance History. I even worked for the local Provincial Member of Parliament – I was 13. Follow your interests, that was the mantra. Imagine if school had been like that every day. Would the program have even been necessary?
Today Bloom’s Taxonomy looks different. A new level has been added to the top of the pyramid: creating.
So where does that leave us in Kindergarten, when creating is at the foundation of everything we do? For our students, knowledge doesn’t come first – it’s not a prerequisite – it often grows out of their creativity, not the other way around. Children are creating from the very first day they come into the classroom; they’re creating from the day they’re born. How do we frame this notion of giftedness when we’re tackling learning from a completely flipped point of view?
Another story: When I was in grade 6, our teacher decided that we needed an extra challenge so she chose a few students who would use a different spelling book for weekly dictations. They were small pink books – hard words lived inside. Each week, we would wait for our turn to have our own, super-hard words and sentences read out for our special dictation. While I am grateful that I can spell chrysanthemum (that may have more to do with Anne of Green Gables than with grade 6 spelling), this experience represents for me the worst of what enriched programming can be. Too often, our attempts to challenge kids just mean giving them more of the same; more surface learning, more rote learning, more but not better.
What I am most thankful for in Ontario’s Kindergarten program is that it gives all children the opportunities that I only got on Wednesdays. In our class we spend most of our time creating and that provides children whose interests and gifts lie all over the bell curve with regular opportunities to problem solve and to ask big questions. Children’s questions are spectacularly different. Their play is as diverse as they are and sometimes what they do doesn’t fall into a neat, academic, curricular box. But I have, without question, observed children who I’m going to call gifted (for lack of a better term) find challenges for themselves in play. I have had students who have led read-alouds in their second year of Kindergarten. I’ve had students learn how to crochet, knit, and play complicated string games. I’ve had students create their own fashion designs. I’ve also had students create marble runs and block structures of incredible complexity. Today I had a student describe a long narrative about her block structure; she has a spectacular imagination. Last week, FI problem-solved how he could create trusses for his roof using tongue depressors.
It is often challenging to stay ahead of them, to remain nimble enough to meet their needs in a large classroom. But I am heartened that, if education can remain focused on creativity, great learning will follow. Like water trickling down the side of the Bloom’s pyramid, we will get to the knowledge if we start at the top.
Our partner architect visited the class for the first time yesterday; what an exciting visit! As MF exclaimed… “a real girl builder!”
She had so many great ideas to share with our students and we all (adults included) learned a lot. As non-architects it’s a big leap for us, as educators, to help the children through this inquiry and her visit gave us a much-needed shot of confidence.
She had a great strategy for teaching perspective drawing. She brought in two green peppers and used them as a substitute for a building because, as she pointed out, peppers have walls and interior space.
She showed us how to draw the pepper from the front (architecture term, elevation), from the top (plan), and with the front wall cut away (section). The children were captivated by the idea that there was more than one way to draw an object. They asked great questions and had amazing ideas about what kinds of buildings architects design (prisons, hospitals, shopping malls).
KC shared that it was important to make a diagram of your building and we talked about how we might measure our drawings so that a builder could follow them accurately. Our architect then showed us how to measure our model buildings so that we could translate them into drawings too.
She showed us how we could draw our buildings from elevation, plan, and section perspectives – this was especially interesting because it got the children thinking about shape; a triangular building looks rectangular when you view it from the top.
After all that learning we got the chance to do our own drawings! The children amazed us by applying their new learning so immediately and by using rulers, for the first time, with confidence and precision.
While A-frames were a popular building style in the 1960s and 70s, most children aren’t familiar with them.
And yet SN built one.
Where did she get the idea?
She says: “I just used my imagination. It was a little bit easy to build cause you could grab the two squares and put them together and then make a box around it.”
In her reflection, she captures the ease of building that made A-frames so popular 40 years ago.
When I was at Bennington College in the late 90s, the college had recently undergone a process known as Symposium. This re-thinking of college life had seen the elimination of Art History as a discipline and the re-evaluation of the reasons for teaching the history of art. In my own dance classes, Dance History was taught as a required, but not-for-credit, section of a dancer’s course work. The rationale we were given at the time was that we were there to make dance history, not to read about it.
What interested me as I moved out into the world was the ways that we, knowingly or not, make and re-make the histories of whatever discipline we are working in. Often what children make, whether they are building or dancing, reflects the history of the form. As in the development of concert dance, children will often make narrative dance/dramas before they are ready to venture into abstraction and post-modern chance dances of pure movement. We are seeing the same kinds of explorations in our Architecture inquiry, as children are drawn first towards the forms that they are familiar with (square and rectangular boxes, with flat and pitched roofs, then towards forms that are different but easy to build and next… who knows?
Good news! We have been fortunate to be selected to undertake an experiential learning project funded by the Student Success Policy Branch of the Ontario Ministry of Education. The project we’ve proposed is focused on building and design, prompted by our students’ insatiable desire to build in more and and more interesting, complex, and creative ways.
Here in Northern Town, we are very lucky to have a brand new School of Architecture, one that is open to working with the community on projects like ours. With our professorial partner at the School of Architecture, we are working on new ways to challenge the children and provoke them to design and build in new and ambitious ways.
Part of this project has been to examine our assumptions about the design process. I’ve always assumed, supported by quite a lot of reading, that we should be encouraging children to first sketch what they want to build before sitting down to work with materials. It’s never worked but I’ve kept trying. I keep asking children: “Would you like to make a plan? How about we make a plan first?” Never… not once… but I keep hoping.
At least, I kept hoping… until last week. When we met with our partner architect – she has a PhD in Architecture – to plan our project, she casually mentioned that they never ask their students to draw before they build. NEVER. They always get their students to create what she called a “3-D sketch”… a rough construction using cardboard and masking tape. Then they refine their ideas by creating a more detailed and precise 3-D sketch using museum board or balsa wood. THEN THEY DRAW IT!
Cue the open-mouthed gape. How did I think that 4, 5, and 6 year-olds were going to draw plans of their 3-D designs when undergraduates can’t do it? Apparently, it’s not just hard for kids… it’ s just plain hard.
So… new plan. Today we started working on our first 3-D sketches, using cardboard and masking tape. We were delighted by the results. The children dove in with enthusiasm. Look!