Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Sound of Scissors

It was the last week of my summer programming up in the city and it was quiet.  Really quiet.  I had never seen such a large group of five- to nine-year-olds so collectively intent on something.

Maybe it was the stories I had just told them about my square friends (documented in detail here).  Those squares were incredibly jealous that the hexagon in the middle of our space had transformed himself overnight with some yellow tape. I mean, come on!  Everyone needs a change of pace once in a while, why couldn't the squares try it too?  After a little folding, a little cutting, each square was thrilled with their newly transformed, and utterly unique, paper selves.  I put them up on display so they could show themselves off.

When it was the kids' turn, they took their scissors, glue sticks, and paper and went for it.  I didn't do much else other than remind them of how I folded the paper during the stories and tell them they could have as much paper as they needed to experiment and make mistakes. 

Once they had a design they liked....

...they could glue the transformed square onto another square of a different color. 

When they came to me with three or four designs I asked them to put them in an order that they liked, or that made sense to them.

Even when their scissor skills were not the greatest, the overall effect was really fun and amazing.  It's obvious that they tried different things each time.

And, my favorite thing about letting kids explore a medium: the activity, but also not the activity.  This boy devised a layering technique that looks incredible.

And then there was the five year old boy who cheerfully adapted the activity for himself.  The red square was the first effort (so lovely) and by the second square he had fashioned something completely different. 

Ultimately, it was probably 35 minutes of focused concentration.  All you could hear was paper being folded and the sound of scissors.  Now that is the kind of quiet you want in math class -- not the stuck, frustrated kind, but the kind where kids are intrinsically motivated to find solutions and discover structure all by themselves, one cut at a time.  Just listen:

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