Caterpillars are turning into butterflies in the elementary school, in more ways than one. A multi-age butterfly-themed project is serving the dual purpose of allowing older students the opportunity to work with younger partners they wouldn’t ordinarily pick – and learn about trust, focus and leadership in the process. “It’s kind of a really big deal, because we normally never do things with them,” says Nicole, one of the older children. “We have a chance to know each other better.”
Her classmate Devyn agrees. “Our class has been learning about trust and responsibility, and it just continued on into the butterfly project.”
Elementary teachers Eve and Jonathan Wood started the unit by finding out what students already knew about the subject. With Eve, they drew pictures demonstrating their understanding of butterfly anatomy; with Educational Assistant Jan Ferrari, they told stories of butterfly encounters; and with Jonathan, they identified any butterfly facts they were aware of. Then each student got their own caterpillar and began recording observations about changes that were occurring.
“The next week we got together and talked about picking good partners from the other class and choosing someone that maybe you hadn’t been friends with yet or spent time with so that you could build that trust but also focus well and be a good leader,” says Eve. “We talked about the difference when you pick a friend to be your partner. The way we have this set up is that there’s a leadership position and there’s a younger student. The older students are the leaders, and sometimes if they try to be leaders with their friend, that becomes a conflict.”
Meanwhile, the caterpillars had begun to spin webs and strange things had started to appear in their cups. On Tuesday, the classes came together for the first time to pick their partners and form hypotheses about what was happening. Some guesses about the balls on the cups’ bottoms included eggs, shedding of the exoskeleton, poop, and spit (as it turned out, poop was part of the right answer, to everyone’s delight). The partners made webs out of yarn to protect themselves (the “butterflies”) from the PRS administrative team (the “birds”), who wanted to attack their chrysalises. Finally, they practiced hanging upside down in a J-shape to get a sense of what it’s like for their caterpillars. “It was so fun making that shape,” says Charlotte. Azura, a fellow student, agrees. “It was really fun hanging on the monkey bars,” she says. “It helps you remember.”
While the students are observing the butterflies, their teachers are observing them. “It’s been really neat to see the older kids with the younger kids,” says Eve. “Because they chose people they didn’t know very well, they were able to focus and be true mentors instead of just talking about other things. The partnership has been really nice to watch.” Jonathan has noticed similar effects. “It was successful in the regard that kids were working with kids they normally wouldn’t have and they were building trust and relationships. They were generally just a lot more on task when they were with kids they didn’t know,” he says.
The project will culminate in a butterfly festival, which will include art projects and reports. Meanwhile, new friendships are continuing to form. “Knowing them better you can make friends with them, maybe close friends. If you weren’t friends you couldn’t help, them but if you’re friends you can help.”
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