The 29th to the 2nd was the final week of career study. It was also the week that I was finally able to test our prototype!!!!! Arriving at this step in the design process was a little surreal after this school year long curiosity journey.
I tested the Curiosity Box prototype with four 7th grade Spanish classes on Thursday and Friday.
The 7th grade Spanish students have been reading a short story called Pobre Ana or Poor Ana. Pobre Ana is about a girl named Ana from California who is dissatisfied with her life. Compared to her friends new cars and clothes, she feels poor. She also wishes for a more “normal” family, as she is unhappy about her relationships with her parents and siblings, believing that she is scolded too often and that her siblings only want to make life worse for her. This all changes when she has the opportunity to stay with a family in Mexico over the summer. After seeing that her host family in Mexico is very similar to her family in California and experiencing daily life in Mexico, Ana learns to be grateful for what she has and to value her family. For each chapter of the story, my career study teacher would read the chapter to the students or have the students read the chapter and then would do an activity with the class in which students would demonstrate their understanding of the chapter and it’s vocabulary words and thus demonstrate their reading, speaking, or listening abilities in Spanish.
I struggled with creating a lesson that would meet these objectives of story comprehension and vocabulary practice while using the curiosity box with students. After a lot of ideation, frustration, and really weird non-concrete, probably really confusing lesson plan proposals to my career study teacher, I eventually came up with the following lesson plan:
- The room was arranged in six tables of four with a curiosity box on each table. As students came in, I asked them to take out a piece of paper and write down any questions or initial reactions they had about the box.
- I introduced the lesson by telling the students that we were going to explore Chapter 8 of Pobre Ana. I told them that the title of the Chapter was “La Nueva Ana” or “The New Ana” and asked them why they thought Ana might be “new”. I asked them if they had any predictions for the chapter or explanations for the title.
- I explained that this chapter was the climax or turning point of the story because Ana’s whole view of the world was about to change. I asked them if they ever had a moment in their life that changed their whole world.
- I then explained that the boxes on their tables were Curiosity Boxes and explained that we would be exploring Chapter 8 through the Curiosity Boxes.
- I gave between 2-5 minutes to open their boxes and explore what was inside.
- Inside each box was a stack of cards with spanish vocabulary for chapter 8, a mask, something shiny (usually some sort of jewelry), quarters and pennies, a ribbon, a newspaper, a mirror, and a pair of glasses.
- After exploring through the box, I then read the chapter aloud, stopping here and there to ask them questions about the chapter or clarify vocabulary.
- After reading the chapter, I asked them to consider what they just heard, reflect on the objects they had, and to think about the vocabulary words they had. I then asked them to pair their curious objects with vocab words to make connections between the objects, vocab, and story. I found that from the first lesson, this wasn’t completely clear due to the abstract nature of the activity. Consequently, here I gave an example: one of the vocab words was “manera”. Manera means “way” in spanish. One could make a connection between the pair of glasses in the box and this word because in this chapter, Ana discovers a whole new “way” of viewing the world. Everything is clearer, like putting on a new pair of glasses. I encouraged students to think creatively and make any connections they could find.
- After giving the groups 10 to 15 minutes to make connections, each group shared the connections they made.
When everyone was coming into the room for class, a lot of students immediately started asking “what’s in the boxes?” “Why are there boxes on the tables?”. When students first came into the room, I told them to take out a piece of paper and write down any initial reactions or questions they had about the boxes. Soon, students asked if they could touch and shake the boxes, which they did while they wrote reactions and questions.
“Why are there boxes?”
“What’s inside the boxes?”
“Is there something different in each box?”
“What does this have to do with spanish?”
“Why is our box shiny?”
In the few remaining minute or two before the end of class, I asked them to write down how the activity made them feel and any other reactions they had about the lesson. Some responses include:
“It made me feel like a miner. I had to dig deep into my thoughts to figure it all out and to make connections”
“It made me feel like Santa because I kept pulling knew things out of the box”
“It was a good way to teach this, to teach vocabulary”
“It felt more relaxed, less stressful”
“Aggravated because I was confused and had trouble making connections together”
It was fascinating to experience this from a teacher perspective. It made me feel as though I got a little taste of what Mr. Heidt experienced teaching Creative Expressions and what he experiences now teaching GHEnglish. Talking with each group and reading their reactions and questions, I was hoping to get a sense of the effect of the curiosity boxes and if it was engaging or made people more curious about what they were learning, even if it was vocabulary. Students did ask more questions, were playful, and even if it was a little confusing or difficult at first, they made connections that seemed to help them reflect on the story and used the objects and the plot to help them learn and remember the vocabulary words.
Despite being able to observe learners interacting with the curiosity boxes and read their feelings and questions about the lesson, I was left wondering a little bit about whether the lesson truly made learners more curious and would lead to more engaging and empowering learning experiences. However, I think to fully observe these effects, the curiosity box might need to be incorporated into another lesson with the same students again. I was also reminded by Mr. Heidt recently that there is no “magic bullet”. There is no single solution that will cover all issues and fix every problem, especially in a complex environment like public school.
But, I think this last formal step in our journey was a good first step in helping to make some positive change in public school and making it a more curious, student centered place.