“To be surprised, to wonder, is to begin to understand.” – Jose Ortega y Gassett.
If you surprise a child and inspire them to wonder, your job as an educator is nearly complete. (Teachers please don’t confuse your job as an educator with your other jobs: classroom manager, statistician, counselor, mediator and general miracle worker.) In the learning process nearly everything that comes after the inspiration of a really good question is the work of the student. This strawberry in a bottle sat on a table at the front of Mrs. Braga’s fourth grade class asking a question. The question was so obvious it didn’t even need to be verbalized. The answer, however, wasn’t quite so obvious. This question sat on the table all morning long, encouraging something we all long for children to experience, the struggle of challenging thought. It did this without the use of punishment or reward, without discipline or pleading.
After lunch the students had a long discussion about how this berry got in the bottle. All theories were entertained with respect, even the ones that fell quickly. Maybe the glass was cut. Maybe the berry was dehydrated than re-hydrated. Maybe it was shoved in really fast. The spectrum of ideas was broad. This conversation was lively and the debate was vigorous. The answer was discovered more than it was revealed and the students felt the pride of solving a problem.
The puzzle that this berry presented, though perhaps more obvious, is no less challenging and compelling than the puzzles that our students find in the garden and in nature. This problem solving approach immediately became a template for their discussion of strawberry pollination (a theory that after much consideration and debate was skeptically accepted) Too often we give children answers to questions they are not asking. If we can present the world to them without filling in all of the blanks, showing them just enough to inspire curiosity, education can become an engaging conversation and not just a lecture.
Today celery soup was on the menu in the kitchen classroom. We have a bumper crop of celery this year and our young chefs have progressed way beyond “ants on a log”. We have two varieties growing in our garden. The one pictured is Green Tango. The other one, Red Venture, can be seen here. Both have a robust celery flavor that really holds up in a soup. Once again, no leftovers.
For some, waiting to get to the kitchen before munching is a challenge.
Dark, tight and very very old. That’s the way my package had been for the last week, until finally the top of the bag ripped open! All of us cucumber seeds spilled out onto the desktop.
The next day I woke up to a blast of sunlight! I was in the hands of a fourth grader named Alex. I watched as my friends were poured into round pots filled with rich, black and fluffy soil then were covered up! Then it was my turn. I was dropped and I landed in the rich, black, fluffy soil and saw the last ray of sunlight as I was covered up.
One week later I pushed my way through the soil until I got to where the light passed through the dirt and finally I was in the sunlight again. I stood there for days and I waited and waited. I waited so long that when I gathered my thoughts I was taller than my friends! But I needed a new place to live. My roots were too crowded. Then I noticed the fourth graders building a trellis out of bamboo. I was so excited!
When I awoke the next morning I looked around me. I was right under the trellis. The soil felt better. I was so happy. When I measured myself again I was taller than Alex and full of cucumbers just waiting to be picked! When my cucumbers were picked, they were brought to the science lab where they were carefully chopped and placed in jars. Salt, vinegar and sugar were poured over me. Onions and sweet peppers were added to the mixture. Then I waited. When it was time the lid was unscrewed and out came pickles that would soon be eaten by the fourth graders and that’s how my life cycle went from seed to pickle.