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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Don't Say Can't, Say How Can I?

I use a lot of inspirational sayings in Room 116. Some are verbal, some are printed. Some are for me, some for the kids. The one on the wall opposite of our whiteboard that says "Don't say good luck, say don't give up" came from a song by "The Roots" that resonated with me this past summer. That sign is for me, and was also painted on the roads of France this past summer by Nike's chalkbot during my beloved Tour de France. The phrase aligns with part of my personal philosophy that you can't count on luck to come your way. Make your own way by working hard. The sign with a big red circle and red bar crossing out "Boring Words" is for my aspiring writers. A visual reminder to not be an ordinary in your writing.

The spoken inspirations are more familiar to my students, probably because I repeat them often. Some phrases though, veer into frequent-flier territory. One of those phrases, "Don't Say Can't, Say How Can I?", is one of my favorites. I want my students to believe that they can do anything, that sometimes it is just a matter of finding a way. If saying "I can't" becomes a habit at six years old, well...it scares me. I use the phrase as a challenge, for encouragement, and for celebration. Many times I just use my "Don't say can't, say how can I?" look, and yes, I have a "Don't say can't, say how can I?" look. The kids know that the "Don't say can't, say how can I?" look is asking them to find a way, figure it out in their own way, take hold of their learning. When I say the phrase, they know that it's time to get back to work.

Recently we were reading "Frog and Toad - the Kite" as we learned about cause and effect. The story was not helpful in landing the concept, which didn't happen until we read the 'Itsy Bitsy Spider". Frog and Toad did give me a bit of inspiration though when very few hands were raised when I asked if they had ever flown a kite. It was a moment similar to last when year a 4th grader told me that he had never been to a zoo. It broke my heart. I quickly arranged a virtual field trip to some of the finest zoos in the world. Matt thanked me later for making the effort, but he still wanted to see my favorite animal - the African Wild Dog - in person. My kids were not going to leave 1st grade and be able to say that they had never flown a kite.

I was hoping that last summers $2 specials were still laying under the bike racks, paddles, and assorted summer gear in my truck. I retrieved them and assembled them during lunch and shared them with the class just prior to our specials block late in the day. The class favorite was Buzz and Woody although the Bumblebee one from Transformers was a hit with some of my car crazy boys. I showed up at the Art door with kites in hand and told them that we had to make it back to class at "Fire Drill" pace, pack up and get down to an empty gym, because we were going to fly our kites. "Mr Johnson we can't fly a kite inside!" Out came the 'look' and they quickly realized that I had found a way. The squeals and cheers erupted when they realized what we were going to attempt, but the jubilation had to subside before we could travel in our school's usually hallway.

We quickly packed up the day's papers and packs and made our way to an empty gym. I held the kite over my head and ran as fast as my leather bottomed dress shoes would let me on the slippery floor as 20 or so six-year olds ran screaming and laughing behind. Pure joy. Of course we were never able to participate in one of the joys of flying a kite outside, when you just watch the wind play along with you as it makes the kite dance and sway. Webster's needs to add kite flying to the definition of calm as a e.g clarifying detail. 

The kids loved it.  I was disappointed though, just a little, until after dismissal when I found a way that might recreate a more authentic kite flying experience. Our school's upstairs drinking fountain had recently blew a line sometime after 6pm on Friday and the time that first teacher came in on Saturday to do some extra work. The water had completely flooded the first floor, creating which I'm sure was a nice little cascade down the stairs to the music room, which got it from the bottom and the top as the water made its way through the drop ceiling as well. The emergency cleanup crews equipment was set up along the back wall of the lobby awaiting deployment once the kids had left for the day to try and dry us out. The armada of large fans would clearly create a high volume of air once turned on, in fact they sounded like an airplane sounds in a movie. Clearly enough to hold Woody and Buzz aloft, as it turns out.

I hauled four of the behemoths to our class during lunch and set them up on a couple of desks. I didn't have time to test out the product of my inner mad-scientist before the kids got back, but how could it fail? Well it turns out you have to have them facing the right way Einstein. After that minor adjustment was made we were off on a learning exploration. I turned on the fans one by one until there was a small roar coming from the configuration. I held the kite in front of the indoor windstorm in various positions, on my knees, crouched down, hunched over, long string, short string until I found consistent and predictable flight. I actually tried to teach a mini-lesson on force and velocity, but classroom management was blown away as well, and I gave in to the jubulation.

"Mr Johnson, you can fly a kite indoors." Yes you can! Did. Awesome.

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  1. Oh, this is awesome! Your students are so lucky to have you, and this "kite flying experience" taught them a great lesson too.


  2. Eric, hurray! This one brings tears of joy! Thanks for sharing this serendipitous adventure with the world.
    You are a genius,

  3. Absolutely wonderful! From your inspirational words to the lengths that you went to let your students experience flying a kite. I think it was best that you did not have a chance to test the outcome of the fans because the modifications made gave the children another chance to see your "How can I" in action. Well done, Mr. Johnson!

  4. I am now singing "Let's Go Fly a Kite" from Mary Poppins! Love that you gave your students this experience. It would have been so easy to just gloss over the fact that your students hadn't ever flown a kite and move onto the next thing. You gave them the opportunity to learn, explore, and ask questions. Bravo!

  5. Looks like tons of fun...It is really wonderful..

  6. This is a great example of going from "I can't to How Can I?" I love it and I can imagine that day will live with your students forever! Wonderful!

    Thanks for sharing!

  7. This is an excellent example of the phrase "I can't to How Can I?" I adore it, and I have no doubt that your students will remember that day for the rest of their lives! Wonderful! However, I'll also suggest ways to complete assignments using the argumentative essay writing service while saving money. It is available whenever you want.