The SWI coordinator, Professor Thorson gave a talk to theThe Connecticut Science Educators Annual Conference (Professional Development Day) held March 12, 2005 at the New Britain High School. The abstract of his talk explains how stone walls can be used in the classroom.
Children of all ages are drawn to stone walls as if the were iron filings to a magnet. Teachers can use this visceral attraction to reach and motivate students interested in earth science (rocks & minerals), archaeology (above-ground ruins), ecology (corridors & local deserts), physics (structural stability), mathematics (geometry and statistics), and chemistry (tarnish, color & crusts). More importantly, students will learn that the boundaries between history, geography, social studies, literature, geography, aren’t that real after all.
Based on his experience at more than a dozen public and private schools, Professor Thorson has developed two types of half-day programs that seem to work well.
Here’s a typical half-day in-school program for kids, teachers, and staff. Fourth, fifth, and sixth grades are ideal. Successful variants include 8th grade field trips and 2nd grade discovery projects.
- Group Size: The program below is designed to handle a full grade, usually three to four classrooms of 15-20 each.
- Stone Wall Secrets: Normally, schools will have already read the library or classroom copies of Stone Wall Secrets to the children or have them read the story themselves. Meeting the author(s) can then be seen as a reward for their effort. With enough notice, Professor Thorson can make sure that every child has an opportunity to purchase an autographed copy of the book, signed by both authors.
Step 1. After an introduction by a teacher, Prof Thorson briefly speaks to all students and Teachers (10 minutes), emphasizing these points:
- Scientist and writer are the same person
- Writing is rewriting; its creative fun followed by necessary work.
- Teamwork is important, as author, illustrator, editor, and publisher all work together.
- Instructions for what to do next.
Step 2. Break into individual classrooms, where we rotate through these activities in 20 minutes blocks in separate rooms with five minutes passing time (100 minutes). Separate rooms include:
- Room A. With a circle of students on the carpet and rocks in the middle, Prof Thorson works his way through the pictures in Stone Wall Secrets with a rock collection
- Room B. Kids do a math excercise about stone walls heights, sizes, estimations, etc. under the supevision of a teacher, but following a handout I provide.
- Room C. Kids are rock detectives as they explore three to four large, unusual rocks that I have brought, writing down observations and coming up with questions for me to answer by mail. Minimal supervision by teacher.
- Room D. Kids do artwork about stone walls to post up later. They can do this from their own memory or from pictures provided by Prof Thorson.
Step 3. We reconvene at the original site to post and discuss the pictures drawn, answer general questions (not about the rocks) from each group, and wish them well. Prof Thorson signs/personalizes any remaining books.
Step 4. I stick around and talk to students informally, perhaps having lunch with them. Teachers can decide whether this is the happy anarchy of a large group or a reward for a smaller group who expressed previous and sincere interest. Alternatively, it is for the students who were interested enough to buy the book. If there are stone walls on school property, we can walk out and look at them.
Each class can contact me later if they are interested.