The "Aha" Series: 'I Found Uganda!' in LE3

This week, we asked Pattyann Zotz and Caren Baker, our teachers in the Lower Elementary Three class to share some of their favorite stories that illustrate those moments of joyful discovery when an idea really clicks for a student and the “aha!” epiphany brings new life to learning.


Pattyann’s Uganda Story

When I think of “aha” moments the children have, I realize that when they occur they are also “aha” moments for me. I began my teaching in a traditional setting, and although I have been teaching at Inly for 10 years now, I still look around the classroom every day and marvel at what the children do for themselves. I also marvel at their endless desire to learn and pursue great work, and at the freedom that is given to them in this environment that allows for these “aha” moments to occur naturally.

Two “scenes” from this year come to mind over and over as I think about those “aha” moments. The first involves the placement of a world map. Every year we always hang world or U.S. maps on the wall to refer to as we have cultural discussions. This year Caren and I decided to place a large world map at the bottom of the wall, making it easy for kids to walk right up to. Over the year we have sat back and observed the discussions these 6-, 7-, 8- and 9-year-olds have had standing or sitting in front of that map.

“I found Uganda!”…“Look—this is the country I am researching; hey look—it is right next to the one you are studying!”… “I never thought Africa was bigger than South America”… “Let’s count how many countries are in Africa!” The work and learning that has happened in front of that map is something we could never have taught ourselves.

Learning “how I learn” and “what I am good at” are important at this level. Sometimes students are not sure they are skilled at something until the right moment comes along to show them. I was working side by side with a student, editing a story he had written. To help young writers notice missing words or ideas, we ask them to read their story out loud to a teacher. This boy’s story was very entertaining and I started to giggle.

My laughter caught another child’s attention and he came over and hung back to listen. More children overhearing our lively discussion started to slowly gather around us. They laughed too. More children came. I noticed the “author” actually start to get bigger! He was sitting up higher. He was smiling and he was speaking more clearly. He was enjoying this experience as an author. He was beginning to realize that story writing is not only for self fulfillment, but also has the wonderful purpose of entertaining others. His story went on to the final and illustrated stage, and he read it in its entirety to the class while sitting in our “author’s chair.” Not only has writing become a favorite choice for this child, there is now an explosion of story writing throughout the classroom!

Caren’s Penmanship Story

A first-year boy was having a difficult morning concentrating in class. Both mind and body were doing everything but focusing on work, so I tried the usual strategies to break the cycle. Then I decided to have him try practicing penmanship vertically on the white board. That was it—he was engaged making lowercase Ls. About ten minutes later, a sweet little voice said, “Caren, I’ve made 72!” I looked at all the straight lines covering the board. “Awesome!” I said. “Let’s take a picture.” I now have a photo of him standing proudly in front of his 72 lower case Ls.

I love that this little boy could stand there, completely focused on his work after a restless start to the day. It was clear to me that his body needed that gross motor movement and sensory input in order to center himself. In a different environment, the teacher wouldn’t have the options available or the flexibility to be able to allow one child do what he truly needs, and is telling us he needs.

[This post originally appeared in Rhythm & News, the Inly School newsletter, on April 3, 2009.]

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