sticks and shovels

I was out on recess supervision yesterday and I noticed something that made me think a little outside the box. I wondered about why and why not. Shovels. As the snow lays now permanently on the ground, some fresh, some leftover and frozen, students are playing, all bundled up warmly with every piece of their skin protected and enclosed, save for the rosy cheeks and running noses. Shovels. The students bring shovels around to move snow, dig snow, and make semi-permanent snow forts and structures. Watching the students use the shovels, reminded me of a time, not long ago…but still hard to remember now in December.. without the snow. Students don’t use shovels in the Fall. They don’t use shovels in the Spring or Summer (at least on the school yard.) What is around; sticks. But wait, NO STICKS ALLOWED!

Students dig in the dirt with sticks, they draw maps in the ball field, they make forts, create structures, all the same, but without snow. But we’re so careful that children don’t “poke out each other’s eyes” with the sticks, so what is the answer. NO STICKS ALLOWED.

Back 24 hours to when I was outside in the snow at duty, watching shovels being used, as some students nicely shovel and push snow around, some students wanted to bang the shovels on the ground, sharp corners close to faces…..hrmm…

So…are shovels glorified sticks to some degree? Are they both tools to get something done? To be creative? To learn? To grow?

But what are tools without teaching and learning around them?

There are many educational tools we use each day to foster and develop students’ learning and growth: SMARTBoards, iPads, FlipGrid, Twitter, etc. etc. the list of amazing tools goes on. These “tools” can be helpful; however, they also can be just a device that can have a negative effect or an undesired effect, if not fostered and applied properly.

I made a connection to this through a passage I read within A Guide to Documenting Learning. Here is my take away, (a little out of the original context, but where my thinking process began.) I created a visual of my thoughts using a new strategy “tool” to show and amplify my thoughts, a BookSnap.

Tools. Floaties, Sticks, Shovels, etc….

Tools are just tools. It is what you do with them, and where and what they lead to, is the bigger picture, and the one of meaningful and significant importance.

It’s not about the tool, but what the tool can produce.

Whatever tools come and go, we as teachers need to become educated, learn, try, TRY, TRY again… new ideas to properly learn ourselves to then learn with and from our students each day to put their best feet forward. If we’re afraid of posting items, (as I once was), nervous for students to use something inappropriately… I’m learning to take a step back and ask myself why? Is it because I haven’t had the experience to learn from the process myself? To see the benefits? My fear becomes a hindrance for the growth of those I teach.

Teaching and guiding students to use what they have, what is available, and whatever the new “it” device or instrument is at the moment, to show, guide, and learn from, is crucial.

Why students fight with sticks? Use them as swords? Maybe it’s what they’ve seen on TV, are exposed to in some part of their world. What if they were shown other ways and purposes for sticks? What if, kids used sticks to create, manipulate, or design forts and structures? What if

The 22nd century will be nothing but overwhelmed and saturated with new technologies, devices, and instruments. It’s okay to look back to a simpler time, not forgetting the first tools of the earth. Paying attention and playing catch-up to these will be a challenge. A challenge worth accepting, and joining to not become experts, but to better our own learning as teachers, as we ultimately begin to see and guide a shift in education, where students are the experts in the tools, and teachers connect their growth and learning to leave an impression and documentation of growth, next steps, and coaching.

The thinkers of tomorrow are exactly that…of can we get them there if we’re not thinking of tomorrow ourselves.


  1. I am so inspired by this, C! It’s incredible to see the connections you are making from the classroom, to the cohort, to everyday life on the playground. Thank you for sharing!!


  2. @Chelsea
    You have a gift in making connections, then making the connections visible for your readers and pushing our thinking in new directions that we might not have thought of on ourselves. Your documentation of your own thinking and learning process are lined with gems FOR the learning of others. I am hoping that you are also reaping the benefits of documenting FOR your own learning… amplifying your own learning…

    Thrilled to see you experiment with booksnaps!


  3. Chelsea, Your post voices very beautifully what I have been thinking for a while now and could not put into words like you did. I am so pleased to see your connection to the outdoor use of “tools for learning,” because as you know, I have always been vocal about my frustration with simply taking these (very important tools) away when not used properly… 😉


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