From Rafranz Davis’s “Embracing Student Creativity with a Wonder Shelf” on Edutopia’s Maker Education blog:
A few years ago, the wonder shelves housed our classroom math manipulatives sorted into individual or group containers. I knew that I wanted our learning tools to be accessible as needed, but I also knew that I needed to keep them organized to save time. Using disposable food containers individualized by purpose or tool, I created a system for organizing tools that kids could explore during lessons, after lessons, and sometimes before or after school.
As I got to know my students, I began learning about their other interests outside of class. I found that many were dabbling in the creative arts, so I added quite a few things specific to those pursuits during the course of the year. Our shelves grew to hold art pads, sketchbooks, air-dry clay, molding tools, various markers, art pencils, beads, string, Legos, K’nex, and glue.
While this may sound a bit much for a high school algebra 1 or geometry class, it was amazing to see students use their downtime to explore their interests, create, and learn. On many occasions, I found them creating items specific to areas that we were studying, like making bracelets or necklaces that involved recursive or geometric sequences, and then challenging their peers to determine the equation. They created structures using Legos and K’nex to build us a geometric city where we explored concepts like taxicab geometry, angle pair relationships, and even measurement…
[W]e inherited a Lego Mindstorm kit and that opened up an entirely new world to students in the area of robotics. We had no idea how to actually program the robot, but the Mindstorm kit didn’t sit idle on the shelf. We learned together, and in the process, we developed meaningful relationships that enhanced our growth in and out of class…
As I talked about this space over the summer, many teachers asked how we did this with administrative holds on creativity outside of the curriculum. Simply put, my students and I had designed in-class learning that adhered to our goals. What kids did when they met those goals or on their own time was fair game, and this space gave room to the idea of learning beyond our standards.
The wonder shelves also meant that my students, with a majority of them falling into more marginalized populations, were provided experiences that they would not have had in any other learning venue.
Love this pragmatic approach to fitting in creativity: have it waiting just offstage, ready to be put into use when a spare moment or two comes along.
Do you have a wonder shelf or something similar in your classroom? Please tell us about it.