Monday, March 22, 2010


There is the Flatflap, where the arm is extended vertically in the air with the elbow locked. The hand, flat as though ready to high-five, flaps in a north-to-south manner with varying degrees of vigor.

There is the Fingerwaggle, where, irrespective of the arm angle, every finger on the hand in question wildly, aggressively writhes to it’s own inaudible rhythm. The Fingerwaggle is often accompanied by a facial expression that would generally be regarded as intolerable agony.

These are two of the more popular techniques that our students use to attract our attention. There’s also the Doublesingle Sweep, the Diaper Change, the Silent Poutshout, the Straight-Legged Birch, the Bounceypants. The list is quite endless, really, and as there is no end to attention-grabbing methods of a 3rd grader, there is a similarly endless pool of questions, comments and observations that swirl just beneath the surface of their adorable little eyes.

Seemingly from nowhere, our students conjure questions from... whatever’s inside third graders…presumably fruit punch and Funyuns (which is where we come in). After a story or activity, we ask if there are any questions. Instantly the air is full of outstretched hands. Occasionally, the questions are not questions, but rather peripherally related comments or stories. More often than not, we have to move on with the lesson before everyone gets a chance to share. Given the chance, students can generally procure a question at a moments notice, sometimes with no apparent thought process.

This ‘ability,’ shall we call it, can be disruptive to the flow of our lessons, sending the kids’ imaginations off in every direction except towards us. Quite honestly, though, of everything that I’ve experienced in the classroom so far, this ‘elementary expressive ability’ has been the greatest source of inspiration, awe and reflection for me, who supposedly possesses ‘collegiate expressive ability.’

It is fascinating, the way they ask questions, and the process leading up to it. There is generally no discernable filtration process. Just questions. Thoughts. Ideas. There is no self-consciousness. No worrying what the words will sound like floating through the air. No taking notes, writing out the question beforehand, to make sure the wording is acceptable to their intellectually sound peers. Sometimes they start asking questions before they even know what they are going to ask. They just go. Often, it seems to not matter what they are asking, so long as they are asking. A desperate and unacknowledged desire to acquire information. Childhood.

The content and nature of the questions and comments that come out can be markedly profound. Sometimes we have to tweak our corrupted ears to hear the magnitude in their questions, for very often, they are questions that are overlooked and unanswered because of their simplicity. “Ms. Kacie, what is bedrock made of? Mr. Lou, how does chocolate come from a plant? Sometimes their questions force our minds out of their comfort zones, nudging us just a few feet to the left of the perch from which we generally look at the world. “Ms. Anna Beth, do rocks have birthdays? Mr. Andrew, how does the world work?”

The children possess an insatiable curiosity about the way things work. Why things go. So much mystery and wonderment remains in their minds about the things that happen around them on a daily basis. There are significant gaps of knowledge that they are, consciously or unconsciously, desperate to fill. They are not embarrassed to not know things.

As a result, they ask the simple questions that adults are afraid to. They ones that are all but unanswerable to a lowly layperson like myself. The deceptively complex questions that few people can accurately answer. The ones that are easy to dismiss as unimportant and easy to make up answers to. These are questions that I am grateful to have been pushed to revisit by talking with third graders.

“Mr. Andrew…

What kind of bug is that?

Why do bees sting?

Why is it so ugly?

What happens when we find worms in the dirt?

Are bugs the same as insects?

Whysit that color?

Did you kill all these bugs?

What happens if you cut a worm in half?

How old are you? 45. No you’re not! Are you? How old are you?

What happens when the flower gets sick?

What if we overwater the plants?

Is soil the same as dirt?

How is chocolate made from a plant?

Why do butterflies look like moths?

Why can’t we see nematodes?

Why did you kill all those bugs?

Aren’t you scared?

How many bugs live in the dirt?

What is bedrock made of?

Do rocks have birthdays?

How long has the dirt in my backyard been there?

Why can’t we eat these?

Are we going to the arboretum today?

Why do they have pins in them?

Doesn’t that hurt?

How are bugs made?

Do you ever eat McDonalds?

Why not?

Being in the classroom, seeing the faces and processes that these questions have come from have been inspiring to me. Have led me to ask my own questions, revisit thoughts that have been simmering in my own pot, but maybe never looked at them in such terms as a third grader might ask them.

It may seem a little silly, because there are clearly drawbacks to thinking like a third grader. The point, though, is not that we should all start blindly rattling off questions and telling irrelevant stories to strangers on the street. The point isn’t even that I have personally been inspired. The point is that I think that there are underlying aspects of the behavior in question that adults across the board try to retain, or wish they could continue to exhibit.

I think everyone longs for that freedom of expression. Everyone cares because everyone wants, to some degree, to be able to be genuinely curious and open to that curiosity. In adults, I think, we call it innovation and creativity, and it can be difficult to maintain these when one is embedded in a grind, of sorts. A routine. It is easy to fall in and repeat the motions. Childlike curiosity and openness to expressing what is brewing inside are qualities easily lost in daily patterns. Personally, I have felt this at work.

Every one of us wants to re-tap that channel of expression that we once had access to, the one which now rages freely through our third graders’ minds. I’ve come to believe this is one reason that being around kids is so inspiring. Enlightening. Energizing. Smile-inducing.

For this reason, I have come to view our Garden Science program as an exchange, rather than a service. We educate our students and our students educate us. The balance may not be exactly equal, but the sentiment holds true. The idea of inverting the teacher-student dyad is prevalent among progressive education literature (if my resolve is strong enough I may be able to write some more on this/link to relevant information), and is of extreme importance in educational situations.

To see students as peers as opposed to, well, students, may be a more extreme recommendation in the realm of teacher/student relations, although perhaps not a bad idea to explore. Peer, implying a plane of equality uniting the parties in question, may be hard to imagine while said peer, 12 years one’s junior, wildly flails his arm in your face. But take that mentality, the fervor with which the students’ face contorts, and hold on to it. Put it in your pocket, and carry it with you, around the next corner, to where the questions wait.

1 comment:

  1. also...
    where is the end of the world?
    what is at the center of the world?
    do the leaves of the plant take in the sun like when we put lotion on our hands?
    what are those wavy things you sometimes see in the air?
    what if your baby looked like a bug?
    do worms have teeth?
    do butterflies think?