Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Big Dig: Reflections

Our Big Dig experience came to a close.  My favorite moment of the week was not the artifacts that were found or the maps that were carefully kept or even the great games that my girls discovered (like Lost Cities and Settlers of Catan) came from something very unexpected, like most memorable moments usually do.  During a lecture the myth of Zeus and Ganymede came up.  Lilah popped out of her seat and came over to ask me if this was the same Ganymede from Shakespeare’s As You Like It.  Because we recently studied this play, watched the movie, and saw her friends perform in the play, she was ready to apply this new bit of information to her prior knowledge.  I smiled and told her we would talk about it but she should ask this question to Geof.

Unbeknownst to me, she did.  As we are just beginning a study of Shakespeare, focusing now on Romeo and Juliet, we have not delved into classical references made by Shakespeare.  Geof challenged Lilah to question whether Shakespeare was mocking the myth, or giving homage to it.  We will have to ponder that and see what Lilah comes up with.    This is how I know my children are learning.  I know when they are able to remember and reference something that we have studied and ask how it fits into the context of information they are receiving for the first time.   
The information they were presented with this week was challenging.  Some nights Lilah came home exhausted....Grace did not come home because she was enjoying every minute of her very first multi-night sleep over!  There were times when I was listening that I was amazed at the level of understanding some children have of ancient history.  Because our group spans ages of 8 to 13, the children came to this event with various levels of attention, knowledge, interest, and maturity.  My children have learned about ancient Greece, but not to the extent that others have.  They know the basic mythology, have read the abridged version of The Odyssey, understand how our society is based on many Greek philosophies and the like, but they do not know the details of the Peloponnesian War or the importance of the Oracles or how Achilles betrothed was scarified by her father, the King.  This may have limited them in what they could connect to in.  
For me, the benefit of this class was not how many facts or details they could remember, but how they approach a new situation.  Do they freeze and say I don’t get it, or give up because something just does not make sense, or do they learn the right questions to ask that will lead them to uncover knowledge layer by layer like the peeling of an onion?  Will they be able to work collaboratively with their peers to lead when appropriate, understand the workings of group dynamics, question, discuss, question some more, try theories, accept failure and through it all persevere until they achieve success?  Will they understand that they end is sometimes just a new beginning?  
This group of children has the unique advantage of working together so often and on many projects that they have an ebb and flow to their day.  Most are part of various Destination Imagination teams which encourages the pursuit of creative thinking and problem solving.  Most belong to the same coop where they attend weekly classes.  Many have acted in plays together and attended nature class together.  They are not in-the-box thinkers.  I have to laugh when I think of the conversation at level III, when the children were looking at a stone floor with a crater mark in the middle.  They were brainstorming what could have caused it.  Rather than say a falling rock, or a dropped piece of pottery, Grace blurted out “A Bomb!”  Really?  Her dear friend looked at her incredulously and reminded her there were no bombs in ancient Greece.  But here my daughter took her understanding of damage from the stories her uncle who is a Marine told her and applied it to this situation.  A bomb causes damage.  Hopefully now she knows a bomb could not have caused THIS damage due to the historical context.  This amazing group never criticizes or scolds.  They just keep ebbing and flowing.  Unlike when I was in 4th grade and got an answer wrong on a verbal multiplication quiz and to this day still remember the embarrassment of being laughed at, Grace will reflect on this lesson and be left with a much kinder, gentler memory.   

This was a very good week.  The kind of week that makes you grateful for the opportunity to explore and learn and discover.  The kind of week that bonds you a bit closer to your friends.  The kind of week that allows you to witness your children grow.  My hope is that Grace and Lilah will look back on this week and know that at times it was hard for they were asked to delve deep into their brains and form new synapses but growth cannot come from stagnation.  Growth comes from stretching, thinking and pondering, and striving to reach a bar that is set high.  
They now have an understanding of various sense making systems, of new myths and legends, of the importance of geography, or the intersection of geography with culture and how it influences history.  History came alive for my girls.  I hope this week has encouraged them to be passionate, be knowledgeable, be inquisitive, be creative, be wise, be thoughtful, and be the type of learner that understands when something ends, it is really just beginning.

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