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What do engaged learners look like?

What do engaged learners look like?

On Wednesday, we spent the morning wondering about water.  Students had time to play with water in pitchers and in tubs to notice how the water acted.  I invited them to imagine themselves as a drop of water and wonder what that experience might be like.

Then we had a Science Talk.

The prompt was:  What did you notice?  If you could speak from the perspective of the water, what story would you tell?

We ended the conversation looking at the word, current.  We decided that when we got to the creek we would focus on the current, the movement of the water.  Everyone would capture an image of the current in one place along the creek, either mentally or in their field journal.

When we got to the creek, we did a 20 second nature break focused on the current, and then I invited the children to play with the current to see what would happen.

All of the students were engaged in their section of the creek watching and manipulating the flow of the water.  Some removed debris from the creek, some built dams, and some made channels narrower and wider.

I went to the downstream side of the bridge with a group of boys who spend their time at the creek in this secluded section.  The creek here is in sort of a small canyon and is harder to access.  There are small waterfalls and rapids and the creek goes under tree roots and takes all sorts of interesting dips and turns.  You are also guaranteed to get your feet wet – there is no dry shore to stand on.

Waterfall at creek

MM worked his way down to "the waterfall” and called to a classmate to help him affect the current.

MM:  SBM!  Get down here!

SBM:  I’m coming!

SBM worked his way down a steep hill toward the creek, all on his now mud encrusted bottom.

SBM:  These [level spots on the hill] are the things I hollowed out last time as places to put my feet.

By the time I made my way down to where MM, SBM and now also RC were working, they were furiously building a dam out of natural materials on the top of the “waterfall”. 

SBM:  Let’s dam up the water here.

RC:  It’s gonna break.

MM:  Get some more moss on it!

After lots of frantic packing and building and repairing minor breaches, the children were successful in the completion of their dam.  I headed upstream to see what was happening with the rest of the class.


About five minutes later, MM, RC and SBM came running over to me, speaking enthusiastically and all at once.  This is the story they told:  They wanted to breach the dam before we went back to school for lunch, so they pulled a section of it out.  They were disappointed that only a small amount of water came through their dam, so they decided to pull out a little more debris, and…

SBM:  It exploded so much!

He said grinning from ear to ear in spite of his soaked canvas sneakers.

MM:  It was this deep!

He exclaimed holding his hands about a foot apart from each other from top to bottom.

RC:  The flow was this wide!

He shouted, holding his hands equally as wide, but from side to side.

And as their teacher and a member of their learning community and someone else who is connected to this creek, this water and this work, I saw it:  that moment of unbridled enthusiasm, excitement and joy, as a result of their deep engagement in their work in this place, where social barriers break down and the work matters above everything else.  And it’s real work, chosen work, meaningful, authentic shared work, because they created it and experienced it.