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THE STUFF OF ENGAGEMENT – PART II

Previously, we suggested that introducing “stuff” into your classroom practice might be the best way to engage students and improve achievement scores. The “stuff” we are talking about are artifacts. The simple definition of an artifact is, “an object showing human workmanship or modification.” “Stuff,” then, could include items ranging from a hammer, a bobby pin or Da Vinci’s The Last Supper, to the Declaration of Independence, table salt, or the Eiffel Tower. That’s a lot of “stuff!” We need to be a little more realistic and pare the list of items to be included in our defintion.

We have chosen to omit written documents, paintings, sculptures, photographs and other works of art from our “stuff” definition. All of This-is-not-artthese items are important and valuable, but they present serious limitations (the Eiffel Tower in your classroom?) the most important of which is that students must have attained a specific reading level or stage of conceptual development in order to analyze them or interpret their meaning.We want our “stuff” to deal with common objects found in daily life. Our definition of “stuff,” then, is, “those items commonly found in and used by members of society.”

We believe that objects transcend the limitations of language, age, gender, and discipline. People of all ages engage almost immediately with objects. As babies – before the development of language or cognitive skills – we explore, examine and “discover” objects. “Educational Toys” are artifacts – items modified by humans for a specific purpose. Babies engage immediately with objects and those objects help them learn. Autistic children engage and interact with “things” more readily than with people or print. Elementary, Middle School, High School, and college students are attracted to and captivated by “things.”

We gather our “favorite stuff” as we grow. We even carry “our stuff” from place to place , hence the need for back packs, luggage, and, touching artifactseventually, U-Haul trucks. Place an object in front of a person of just about any age and they will reach out and touch – physically engage with – it. Ask “What is this?” and they are immediately engaged intellectually with the object. Our fascination with “stuff,” “things,” “objects,” or “artifacts” is a natural, cross-cutural, cross-generational phenomenon. We need to capitalize on this and improve our classroom instruction at the same time. Why not introduce an object into your classroom and let us know what happens?

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