Tuesday, May 3, 2011


Fourth graders sure are different than seventh graders—at least in today’s class at Muir Elementary School.

What they really wanted to do, more than anything else, was tell their stories; I kept trying to arc them towards the exploration of concepts, but everyone kept coming back to “this time when I did so-and-so or such-and-such.”

Still, we had a pretty good discussion and I do think some real philosophy was done.

Today was my first day back in Ms. Mazaheri’s class since I went to India; I began by asking the kids how they knew that it was me. “You still have the same glasses.” “Your hair is the same.” “Your voice sounds the same.” “You have the same name.” This led to a discussion about whether or not changing your name makes you a different person. We explored personal identity a bit and wondered together whether you’re still the same person in 4th grade as you were when you were a baby. Again, the name thing came up; a couple students wanted to maintain that as long as you had the same name, then you were the same person.

I segued then into a discussion of bravery; “some people said I was brave to go to India;” I said; “but what does that mean?” I asked the class to give me examples of time they felt brave. They gave answers like, “When I rode a roller coaster,” or “When I dove off a diving board,” or “When I jumped really high.”

We then took on the question of whether or not you have to be scared to be brave. I asked the kids to think about their examples and ask themselves whether they were scared in that instant. The class was sort of split; a bunch of the boys said they weren’t scared when they did something brave; most of the girls said that what made it brave was that they were scared, but did it anyway.

I read the Frog and Toad story “Shivers,” at this point, and that led us into wondering about whether something has to exist to be scary. Again, the class was sort of split; some students maintained that unless something really exists, it’s not frightening; others pointed out that you can be scared by movies, for instance, even though you know they aren’t really.

“Well then, what about ghosts?” I asked. “Can you be scared by ghosts even if they don’t exist?” Here’s where the need to share their stories rose to the fore: pretty much every kid had to give an example of his or her experience of a ghost. To a student, I think, they all were sure ghosts exist and had first-hand evidence to support their beliefs.

Afterwards, I urged them to think of alternate explanations for their ghost stories; a couple of kids said that maybe it was the wind, or a dog, or something else, but most still were convinced that ghosts do exist. We wondered together whether this is what made ghosts scary; even the students who said that they could be scared by something that doesn’t exist allowed that this made ghosts especially frightening.

I ended up with a fill-in the blank “poem.” Students wrote their ending to the line, “I feel brave when I…”

My favorite answer was “I feel brave when I walk away.”

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