Transdisciplinary Learning: The Power of Making to Help Stories Come Alive
In the last six weeks of school our year four team of teachers did the unthinkable – we decided to start an entirely new literacy unit with the expectation of students completing and publishing an original fairytale, a completed piece of coding, and a creative art sculpture. Any teacher knows that the countdown to the end of school is manic, to say the least, but this project truly tested our limits. That being said, it quickly turned into one of the most rewarding projects we worked on all year, for numerous reasons.
We started off the unit with some brainstorming of fairytale stories and structures. After a class-consensus outlining the elements of a fairytale (as well as plenty of choice reading time exploring classic and fractured fairy tales), students set out to start designing a setting to their story.
In groups of four, students began negotiating and developing ideas. Within 15 minutes they were ready to start building. This aspect of the project took place during our art time and, given that we only had a limited number of sessions to create the pieces, the time constraints helped students become more efficient and decisive of their artistic elements. They used recyclable materials to begin construction. It is important to note that at this stage, students only had a very brief outline of their story. Creating the setting first was helpful in that it gave them more context to their story when it came to drafting their stories, their ideas were more concrete and planned.
Drafting our stories soon followed. Students worked in collaborative groups given the choice to work individually, with a partner or in their complete four-person group. The only constraint was that their story had to contain the elements of a standard fairytale based on our class-consensus (a magical element, climax/resolution, groups of 3, characters represented as good and evil) and that the setting had to match the sculpture they had developed in art class. Using Google Docs was such an important element to this part of the process. Working collaboratively has its challenges but using shared apps like Google Docs helped ease the process.
Then came the coding element. We told the students that the expectation at the end of our four coding sessions was for them to code at least two scenes from their fairy tale. Luckily, our school has a brilliant tech integrator who helped immediately quell all of our coding fears (there were many!). He recommended that we start with pair coding and initiated an exploratory lesson with each of our classes.
Most students had a basic understanding of the coding program Scratch (from either using the program independently at home or in previous classes), and those who had no experience were quick to pick up basic coding elements through online tutorials. I was amazed at how students not only found new shortcuts to code but through pair-coding they were so quick to share their methods with their peers. After four sessions, multiple share-outs and discussions, it was truly incredible to see what our class had created. We had audio, movement, even player-controlled codes that manipulated their fairy tale characters.
The project culminated in a gallery walk across all four classes, displaying all of the elements to their fairy tales. Integrating art, tech and literacy brought this project together in a way that respected student agency and choice, making this unit one of the most engaging aspects of our English curriculum this year.
Jade Gardner is a Year Four teacher at the Chinese International School in Hong Kong. She is passionate about student-directed learning and tech integration. You can follow her on Twitter @jadeegardner.