By HOPE CAITLIN WETTER, TJS Storyteller/Writer
Celebrating international Talk Like a Pirate Day began as one of the many ways The Joy School helps our students rediscover the joy in learning. Before attending TJS, many students dread going to school – seeing it as a place where they are never good enough or can’t keep up with their peers. By incorporating fun, silly dress-up days into our school year, we help change those students’ outlook on school to a place that’s fun rather than frustrating, and where students are celebrated rather than penalized. These days benefit our students in many ways, such as easing the burden on our students who experience anxiety, knowing they have something enjoyable to look forward to; and for our students who have diagnoses such as ADHD, knowing they’ll be able to engage in active, tactile projects.
As we have continued to focus on creating an engaging school day, student-centered learning, and incorporating technology and other real-life applications into our curriculum, our Instructional Technologist, Mrs. Dinh, helped evolve Pirate Day from a fun dress-up day into a comprehensive “makerspace” event (where we still dress-up and have fun!). Makerspaces, which have skyrocketed in both familiarity and popularity in education over the past several years, are collaborative workspaces for hands-on making, learning, exploring, and sharing, that use both high-tech and no-tech tools.
“Makerspace events require students to employ their 21st century skills (collaboration, critical thinking, communication, and creativity) in projects based across the STEAM umbrella,” said Mrs. Dinh. “We have challenges, tasks, and experiments set up for students to participate in prior to event day, during the makerspace time, and within their classrooms.”
Our big “maker” challenge this Pirate Day required students to create pirate ships out of only man-made (cardboard, foil, plastic, etc.) or naturally occurring (twigs, leaves, natural sponge, etc.) materials, which were then tested to float. Students made lists of materials, constructed several types of vessels, and added “loot” to their vessels in the form of treasure (plastic doubloons, necklaces, gems) and coins to represent pirates and/or cannons as added weight. Students discussed why they thought some vessels were stronger than others and improvements that could be made to help fortify their vessels for longer floating time.
“We got an idea and picked out pieces that we thought would work to make a boat float,” said one fifth-grade student. “The four of us worked together on the boat, and it floated! We added airtight straws at the bottom to keep it afloat, tin foil above it so it didn’t let water on, a traditional raft floor, and a paper plate that stopped the raft from leaking.”
Makerspaces are particularly helpful for students with learning differences as many of them are kinesthetic learners. Because of this, our new Mary and Dick Watt Activity Center will include a dedicated makerspace! The makerspace will expand our student’s ability to be creative and innovate with experimentation; and the tools and materials that will be housed in the space will always be available for their manipulation rather than being limited to specific days. The space will accommodate a much larger number of students at once, with ample room to spread out and give their tasks or challenges more attention, work in groups to learn from one another, and display their progress or finished product. It will also allow us to facilitate more opportunities for teacher support and guidance in larger, in-depth projects, cross-curricular collaboration between classes, and even host grade-level collaborations to give our older students opportunities to help our younger students work through projects under adult supervision.
We are so excited to continue helping students rediscover the JOY in learning with expanded facilities and learning opportunities!
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