Thursday, October 6, 2016

Project Solar System with nine planets

My son, who is in eighth grade was assigned a project in his Science class this week.  He was to create a three dimensional model of the nine, yes nine planets of the Solar System.  That was the assignment.  He was then to write a short description of every planet.  He and I were both very disillusioned by the assignment.  I have been a third grade teacher in the past and this was the exact replica of the project I had assigned, before I was a Common Core teacher every year (well I had only assigned eight planets, but that's beside the point).  So my son and I both thought the same thing, "Really?  Five years later, the same basic art project?"  But I got over my negativity quickly.  I was told before my son entered kindergarten some very wise advice.  A mother from a Mom's group I was involved in said, "School is just icing on the cake.  The real education happens at home."  I have believed in that advice from day one of kindergarten, and nine years later I am happy to say that my son is thriving academically in school.

So I couldn't let this rudimentary assignment go to waste.  I took my son to JoAnn's and I let him walk the aisles, getting ideas for how he was going to design his Solar System.  I didn't say a word, no matter how badly I wanted to.  I decided then and there that since this project was so very easy, he would do every part of it.   He liked this freedom of creativity.  He was excited about picking out the  art supplies.  He was never really into art before so this was something new for him.  He chose clay, ceramic paint, Crazy Glue, and a lot of other materials that I never would have chose if I were to help him.  We went home and he got to work immediately.  He made nine planets (yes, the assignment said nine) out of clay.  He made them a little, or actually a lot bigger than I would have, but true to my word, I didn't say anything.  I gave no advice whatsoever.

  The planets came out beautifully!  Then he researched the planets and wrote up their descriptions and posted them near the planets.  He put on some finishing touches such as the many moons and rings that the planets had.  He was extremely proud of his creation.

Tonight is the night before he has to turn his project into class.  He has this idea that the project must be propped up vertically, he can't deliver it horizontally.  It doesn't say this on the instructions, but he has it in his head that that is how his project will be.  So he lifts it up vertically.  You know what will happen.  We all do.    Well actually that doesn't happen.  Only one planet, Jupiter falls hard to the floor.  Luckily it doesn't shatter into pieces.  My son takes it well.  He decides he needs to add more glue.  Once it is dry, he props it up again, and down it comes, pounding to the floor.  So he analyzes the situation and decides that Jupiter's rings, which are pipe cleaners can be used to sustain the heavy clay ball from falling.  He makes some calculations, finds some duct tape, and Voila! he solves his problem.  When he props up the poster board, Jupiter doesn't fall.  I am so proud of him!  I even begin to change my mind about this project that I deep down inside feel is not worthy of an eighth grader.  I see my son solving problems, working with gravity, and even thinking like an engineer.   I think, "Wow!  He's using 21st Century Skills now!

By now its late at night.  We're both tired and ready to go to bed.  He props up the poster board again, and, yes, you now guessed right, all the planets fall to the ground.  My son gets so upset!  Three days of work come crashing to the ground.  He is completely ready to lose it.  Now is when I see it is time for me to step in.  I have been hands off for this whole project.  Now it is my time to be a mom.  But I don't help with the project.  I help his state of mind.  I realize now since I have become a Common Core Demonstration Teacher, and have done so much research, that I have given him the Fixed Mindset.  He is the typical super smart child that has never had a challenge in his life.  He's feeling it for the first time tonight.  Here is my chance to make up for all the times I encouraged that Fixed Mindset.  I tell him to take a break, and then I tell him that he can persevere.  He can overcome this obstacle, even though he is dead tired and wants to give up.  He can solve this one last problem.

So he does!  He gets up, glues all the planets back on and tells me that this is now a horizontal project.  I am so proud!  I learned a lesson too right along with my son.  Every project, every assignment, can encourage 21st Century Learning.  You just have to be open to the possibility.  Here is the finished horizontal project, Our Solar System with nine planets. 

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