When Skills (Not Product) Are the Focus

Eric Curts post that inspired the lesson
I recently introduced an activity in my 2nd-5th grade classrooms that involved making mosaic art via Google Drawings. It was a great activity that I first saw on Eric Curts' blog, Control Alt Achieve. I was excited to be delving into a lesser-used app among my teacher colleagues and was looking forward to seeing some of the creative pieces my students would be producing as a result of this study.


I readied my presentation (complete with some background information about mosaic art, examples, etc.), set the parameters of the assignment (every student in the class would have to pick a picture from a given topic; while the topic had to be the same, they had creative license to pick a picture they wanted to recreate), and then waited for the masterpieces to take form.

It didn't happen during that first lesson.


Now, the students were on task, dedicated to choosing the right image. They were using keyboard shortcuts that we had discussed in previous lessons, manipulating shapes (also discussed in a previous lesson), and using the polyline tool (where was this glorious tool when I was growing up?) in Drawings - something new. They were asking questions, exploring the app, clicking around and finding out what worked...and what didn't. Everything that a teacher of technology hopes students will do during a lesson.


Student samples from Julie Lyle's classroom

But masterpieces take time. I understood that (which is why I had planned on dedicating a few lessons to this endeavor). However, some of my teaching colleagues did not.
They wanted to see the product. Like, RIGHT. NOW. They wondered aloud if it was too hard for their students...too complicated for them. One teacher gave me a look that I couldn't quite identify - something along the lines of confusion and "Good Lord, honey...you're in way over your head." And their doubt took me aback


I think as teachers we sometimes forget how resilient our students are and how capable they can be when given the time to just create and explore - and truly be students and inquirers. (I've been reminded of this quite a few times already this year in my new role.) I often remind myself that - despite what the naysayers say (or not say, through non-verbal cues) - I want to challenge these kids. I want to expose them to things they may not get to see or participate in otherwise. I want them to explore and get excited about the things we do with technology. I want them to learn things that four or five lessons later they remember and say, "Hey, I know a shortcut for that" or "I know how to do it better." I value the skill practice, refinement, and mastery of said skills over any product that might look good for Open House.


And - not one of my students (including those in the special education classrooms I visited) ever said that it was too hard for them. They persisted...and isn't that what we want as encouragers of a growth mindset?

I know some of my colleagues won't understand this approach. They will think that these activities aren't worth much in the long run. But I will know better. I know that my little Michaelangelos are well on their way to creating their own Sistine Chapels...in time, once they refine their technique and learn how to use their paintbrushes.

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