Friday, May 4, 2012

Coats-of-Arms (or The Art of The Sneakyteach)

It's a real thing, I just call it The Sneakyteach.  You do it all the time, I do it all the time and schools do it all the time.  Basically The Sneakyteach is where you render knowledge under the guise of something else, like, say... fun.

They boys made a terreirium terarium (I'll just bet you they can spell it) in first grade recently.  They thought they were shoving dirt and leaves and and seeds and bugs (mail-order insects, I kid you not) into a clear plastic box mostly for fun. Yeah, The Sneakyteach.

As they got their hands dirty, their devoted and adored teacher kept imparting facts and hints at the science to come.  Asking hard questions like where does the energy come from, photosynthisis  (damn, I thought I nailed that one) photosynthesis, ultimately the Sun?  They talked about temperature, gauging, I suppose, graphing perhaps.  They spoke of volume and weights and they estimated.

They also giggled, said 'yuck' a lot, looked at each conspiringly thinking they were the ones getting away with something, and they absorbed the information so easily and naturally the learning went unnoticed.  It's like they 'punk' our kids.

When I was kid, math was taught, that's too kind a word, perpetrated upon us, by rote.  Pages of worksheets, chalkboard problems, mass recitation of our 'times tables,' and a lot of calloused fingers and bruised psyches (and an arbitrary abacus, as I recall).  It was hard, and, well... stupid.

Not these days, it's a much kinder and gentler math, with number lines and little drawings of hands and sets and circled answers and "show you work" and happy face stickers and probably lollipops, rainbows and silly bands... no I am not bitter, I am glad for them (little shits).

I am not always there, mind you, I cobble together what is happening in first grade from their less-than-accurate summations of the days' events, usually grunts and long-winded tales of recesses and lunch, rarely anything about the actual learning.  But I do see what comes home and I help them with homework, which usually ends up being them telling me how they're supposed to do it.

These came home the other day along with the assignment to make a family coat-of-arms as well.  These are their personal ones:

I am, of course, obliged to take a closer look at these and encourage you to do the same.  Click one to enlarge it, thanks.

There were four "scattegories" (I straightened that out), a favorite activity, food, color and a free space, anything at all; N chose "camping under the stars with a giant fire" there, bottom right, and Z drew the cats, Crackhead and the other one.  The gratitude I have that they chose those two simple, beautiful things is deep.

Baseball for Z's activity and N went with Skylanders (if you don't know what that is forget I ever said it).

Favorite foods is fairly obvious, a pizza for Zack and fruit for Nick, although I can't remember what he told me that black and brown fruit is, there aren't many things that look like, well, that.

In Z's favorite color space he drew what looks like very mild cartoon cussing and N did some arbitrary "green stuff;"  a truck, baseball glove, undetermined sport racquet and what appears to be a briefcase; things we all associate with the color green.

And there in the center, self-portraits.  And, yes, they both do have freakishly large hands and ears.  And, yes again, they both smile a good deal of the time.

This is like the gold standard of The Sneakyteach.  What a great way to take a look into these kids; what a great opportunity to have the children look inward; and what a great way for us to judge their self-worth.  Oh, and they are really cute, too.

 Think about the follow up assignment as well, a family crest of sorts.  Here we touched on some big themes like ethnicity, religion, geography and genetics laughing as they cut and pasted, colored and absorbed, and tried to say 'ethnicity,' which always sounds like someone sneezing to me.  And they had a blast doing it.

It sure is a different learning landscape then when I was in Mrs. Mays' First Grade class in nineteen-hundred-and-sixty-eight.  I'm glad about that.  I really would have preferred The Sneakyteach to The Pound-it-into-your-head-'til-it-hurts-teach I suffered.

Well-played Ninja-teachers,well-played...


  1. I HATE everyday Math. I get it, it makes math simple so that kids can understand why they need to know it. But then they come home, and I'm supposed to help them with it and LORD help me I have no idea how to divide 3.89 by 6.24 using pictures. WTH?

    I will say though, that the bulk of my kids experiences have come from our ninja like teaching skills. Reading was perfected through comic books, math through stats on the backs of sports cards, and science through nature walks, catching bull frogs (at all stages) in Grammie's frog pond, and growing our own flowers and veggies. This years project... a terrarium of carnivorous plants. :)

  2. Dang! Carnivorous plants. Again I say, Well-played Ninja-teachers,well-played...