Monday, January 12, 2015

Wonder Project allows students to explore creativity


Wednesday January 7, 2015 8:35 PM

Elementary students are currently doing a year-long Wonder Project, which encourages creativity and is designed to expose students to concepts and ideas not normally found on standardized tests.

Matt DeMatteis, leader of the project and 4th grade Pinney teacher, said that the goal of the project is for students to identify what they are interested in and then have time to wonder about those interests.

“Students develop skills such as creativity, critical thinking and also use entrepreneurship to eventually design, re-design, create, or practice something that is related to their wonders,” DeMatteis said in an e-mail.

He said that this project is “not in addition to their learning, but serves as their learning.”

Each student conducts extensive research that helps them identify gaps which they feel they can create something new.

Jason Blair, Pinney’s art teacher, said that if teachers are being asked to prepare students for jobs that don’t exist yet, then they need to teach students not what to think but how to think.

“We live in a DIY, Maker Movement, choose-your-own-adventure like society.  So the days of standing before a roomful of students and having them sit back while the teacher tells them everything they need to know to be successful, are long gone,” he said in an e-mail.

DeMatteis said that the project has been a collaborative effort with Pinney’s media specialist, art, music and physical education teachers.  

Sharon Hathaway, Pinney’s physical education teacher said she has enjoyed the relationships the project has helped build.

I see the students throughout the building and they no longer view me as the PE teacher but more as a mentor and coach.  This project has inspired me as a learner to investigate my own wonders and push me beyond my comfort zone,” she said.

Jamie Riley, Pinney’s library media specialist, has noticed a difference in student’s research because they are learning about a topic they chose.

“They are truly engaged in their learning and are working not just to find the right answers, but to learn as much as they possibly can,” she said. “They are working to make connections within their research and their research often leads them to new wonders and discoveries.”

The project started in the fall with several team building activities and will continue throughout the year to help students continue making connections in their learning.

After the student’s research is complete they will work to create something new, like a process or product, that exemplifies what they have learned.  

“Each student will collaboratively share the process of their learning with their parents, and community,” said DeMatteis. “The focus of this exhibition in the spring is to showcase the process of their learning rather than on a final product.”

One of the many skills students learn through the project to be comfortable with ambiguity.

“At first, some students seemed a bit uncomfortable or even fearful because this project does not have very specific outcomes spelled out to them from the get go,” said Sue Casto, a music instructor at Pinney. “As the students have progressed, you can see that are comfortable with the ownership and development of their learning and they are invested in every facet of the project.”

Reid Birkholz, a 4th grade student at Eli Pinney Elementary, is doing his project on why some shoes are expensive.

He examined major shoe companies, like Nike, then brainstormed ideas on creating cost-effective shoes.

Birkholz said he liked the project because he could “apply his outside of school interests in school.”

Another 4th grade student, Isabel Richardson, is doing her project on what people value in a book.

“I love reading and I want to be an author when I grow up,” she said. “This project is very cool because if it weren’t for the wonder project, I wouldn’t get a chance to explore literature.”

One part of the Wonder Project included a class field trip to the Columbus Museum of Art on Nov. 7.

The students visited the "wonder room" at the museum, where kids can create, wonder, design, and collaborate together.

Blair said that creativity is not just something students are born with; it can be developed.  

“Creativity is like a muscle and must be exercised like any other muscle,” he said. “The best way to develop creativity is through open ended problems that require divergent thinking like the Wonder Project.”