Last week, Akira and I played a trick on the class that I have to share: partly because we think we’re really funny; partly because it highlights something wonderful about our school; and, partly because it may help some of you at home to understand why we went on a field trip to see the boiler.
We were reading a book called Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, by Virginia Lee Burton, a follow up to another book by her called The Little House. (You can see three boys enjoying this one in the Gallery–who says boys don’t like to read fiction?) These are wonderful old stories, and fit nicely with our exploration of community and how communities grow and change.
We had got to the point where Mike and Mary Anne (the steam shovel) had completed their amazing hole for the basement of the new town hall.
The students had written and drawn some excellent ideas for how they might solve the problem of getting out. It was now time to find out what idea the author had come up with, through the character of the little boy, whose insights twice save the day.
Why Akira and I think we’re really funny is that Akira arrived at school with a copy of this book translated into Japanese with which he was very familiar. So, I—with our digital projector that I’d been using so that we could all read the book together—said to the class, “Okay, let’s see what the little boy suggests,” and opened to the Japanese page. Jaws dropped in surprise, then some children recalled that Akira had said he knew the book in Japanese and correctly surmised this was what they were seeing. Then… I ran my finger along the Japanese text and read the corresponding English words which were quietly sitting just out of camera view. Exclamations of “Mr. Caldwell can read Japanese!!” ensued.
Something wonderful about our school is the opportunity to learn from the many children who speak other languages than English. In our class we have speakers of Arabic, Hindi, French, Mandarin, Spanish, Greek, maybe a little Cree, and Japanese! I am often struck by how readily these new language learners embrace the structured word inquiry we do. They are motivated (and reassured, I think) to discover the logic and order of a language so different from their own. And, they often have things to teach us about our own language. Our resident Greek speaker, Orestis, has helped us to understand the spelling of several Greek-rooted English words, such as <school> or <alphabet>. Lately, a number of our students have shared something of their language and country of origin on the daily announcements, which the rest of the class has loved.
After our joke, Akira got up and actually read the Japanese, which was wonderful to hear. We could see that, like English, the Japanese words are separated by spaces on the page, and that the characters represent phonemes: we were able to identify the symbol for /m/ by noting which word represented “Mike”.
And so, the reason we went on a field trip to the boiler in the school’s basement is…wait!. Maybe I shouldn’t tell you, for fear of spoiling the ending of the story for some. Ask your child. I’m returning my copy to the library this Friday–go and get it! Suffice it to say that the children were delighted and fascinated to see that our school is heated with the same technology that drove Mary Anne (in 1939, when the book was written), and that allowed the little boy to save the day.