By DAVID GREEN
Sew a button. Make a grilled cheese sandwich. Memorize a poem. Do the laundry.
Those aren’t topics ordinarily covered in the fifth grade classroom, but Melissa Elliott’s “Life Long Learning” class is anything but ordinary.
When students complete the one-trimester class, they will have learned some new skills that
aren’t generally taught in school.
By moving from the lower grades to a fifth grade classroom this year, Mrs. Elliott took on the duty of teaching something outside of the core studies for one trimester.
She didn’t see art or music as something she would excel in, but she did recall a life-long learning class that she taught several years ago at an Adrian school.
She remembered that it required a lot of work on the teacher’s part, but she also remembered that it was a lot of fun.
She presented the idea to principal Kelli Campbell who gave it her backing and planning got underway.
Mrs. Elliott had her own ideas for projects, but she’s getting suggestions from others, too. Another teacher, for example, suggested teaching everyone to tie a necktie. Mrs. Elliott’s mother wants to come to class and teach some basic dinner table etiquette such as setting the table and learning how to use a fork and knife.
“I love how other people are getting excited about the class,” she said.
That includes a set of parent volunteers who help out with certain projects—both through time in the classroom and with the donation of materials.
The projects lead to interaction between the adults and the kids, Mrs. Elliott said, and she thinks the class is great for the parent helpers, too.
Last week students divided into groups and worked with parent volunteers to make a batch of Chex mix and create corn flake holiday wreaths. They finished the session by cooking and eating oatmeal to complete the “Three Things with Cereal” project.
The middle school has a room with stoves, sinks and counter space that hasn’t been used much since Jennifer Griffith retired.
“The kitchen lab is amazing,” Mrs. Elliott said. “I like all the learning that’s involved.”
Even for something as simple as the project last week, there are directions to read, verbal instructions to hear, certain steps to follow.
“I’m amazed at all the little things that we need to know,” she said.
From another project, Mrs. Elliott learned that many fifth grade students have never before cracked an egg.
“You take so much for granted,” she said.
After the session two weeks ago about cooking a grilled cheese sandwich, several students went home and prepared them for their families—much to the delight of their teacher.
Parents will be involved in other ways, too. The laundry project—sort, wash and dry clothes—will be graded by a parent.
Michigan is one of many states pursuing Common Core Standards to make learning expectations consistent across the country.
“Many of the standards link to this class in many subtle ways,” Mrs. Elliott said.
She’s also attempting to find projects that mesh with the Search Institute’s 40 developmental assets for children, to help them grow up “healthy, caring and responsible.”
One of the 40 addresses the importance of adult relationships for children, other than their parents. The culminating project—the Dabble Fair—requires students to work with another adult (see details below).
From what Mrs. Elliott has seen and heard, the class is a hit with the kids.
“It’s really neat to hear them talking about it,” she said. “They’re enthusiastic.”
That goes for their teacher, as well.
“I like to teach things I can get excited about,” she said.
She’s found a new opportunity for that during the third hour period every day at school.
The Life long Learning class ends Feb. 29 with Dabble Fair—a celebration of learning something about a topic of interest.
To dabble in something is to take part in an activity in a casual or superficial way.
Mrs. Elliott’s dabblers will study a topic with an adult and then follow up with a how-to guide.
“I’d like it to be something they’ve always had an interest in,” she said.
The reports might show the product via a photo essay or in some cases a finished product will be shown.
In the final classroom project, students will prepare desserts for Dabble Fair. The show will be open to the public from 3 to 6 p.m.
One student heard about the upcoming class last trimester and dove into her dabbling before the class even started.
She learned how to sew from her grandmother.