Do Not Erase Your Etch A Sketch!

Etch A Sketch® Ohio Arts

I read that Andre Cassagnes, the man who invented Etch A Sketch, passed away.  Raise your hand, if you were a lucky owner of an Etch A Sketch... The story reminded me of how I used Etch A Sketch in my classroom.

It started with frustration. That seems to be a recurring theme for many of my great ideas.  This frustration stemmed from students lacking the ability to make connections between greatest common factors and the multiplication facts.  Individually, they “got it” for the day or the week or the test.  Transferring that knowledge to the next concept was like, all of a sudden, I was speaking Latin- blank stares from too many and the usual three or four raising their hands.  

I was sharing my frustration with one of my teammates when it hit me.  I quickly excused myself from the conversation, and headed for the nearest toy store.  I finally found one- a little Etch A Sketch.(Maybe I was looking in the wrong place, but they’re not that easy to find anymore...) 

Fast forward to the next day, math class.  I brought out my Etch A Sketch and asked how many knew what it was and what it did.  I was surprised when several hands shot up.  I called on one of them; he told the class what it was, and I started drawing.  Another student added a bit more; I drew a little more.  Their interest was piqued! 

Setting the Etch A Sketch down, I posted a problem on the overhead projector.  Find the greatest common factor for 24 and 32. Be ready to share your process with the class. I gave them a couple minutes-easy problem, shouldn’t take long. I drew name sticks for answers. 

Here’s the deal... I like using name sticks because it’s so random.  Our inclination is to call on kids raising their hands, and I’m guilty, as charged.  It’s self-affirming to know that someone was listening and understood what I taught the day before, but it’s not accurate.  The ones who don’t get it count on  the others to save the day, while the non-participants slink lower into their seats, hoping not to get noticed.  If they know I’m using the sticks, they at least sit up higher and hope they don’t get called to answer.

Anyway, I drew a stick and a girl in the back knew something about even numbers and factors.  I picked up the Etch A Sketch and drew a little more.  Pulling another stick, a boy in front was able to clearly articulate the GCF and tell how he got it.  “Thumbs up if you agree, thumbs sideways if you’re not sure.”  After a quick visual check for understanding, I picked up the Etch A Sketch and drew an elaborate design.  

They couldn’t stand it anymore. (I love that!)  “Mrs. Kranz, why are you drawing on the Etch A Sketch every time we say something?”

“Oh, glad you asked. I’m adding to my understanding. Every time you answered one of my questions, I added that information to what I already knew, by connecting new lines to my drawing.  It’s turning out to be quite a complicated drawing (pointing to my head) - I’m learning a lot! 

“So, what would happen to all that good stuff I learned today if, at the end of the day, I turned the Etch A Sketch over, shook it up and flipped it right-side up for tomorrow.”

“It would all disappear!” “You’d have to start over.” “Can I see the Etch A Sketch?” (There’s one in every crowd...)

“EXACTLY!  That is how I feel sometimes when I ask a question and you should know the answer, but you stare at me like I have two heads.  It seemed like you erased your Etch A Sketch (pointing to my head), sometime between the time you left yesterday and showed up for school today.”

(Here comes the teacher lecture-)

“Each and every one of you has the ability to have elaborate (who knows what that means?) drawings in your heads.  Sixth graders have six plus years of learning new things and that’s a lot of information to build upon! We will use all of what you’ve already learned to learn new things!”

We talked about how far back it was when they first heard about GCFs.  Oh, yeah, fourth grade.  It’s sixth grade now and they either need to ask questions to clarify their understanding or admit they need extra help understanding, but they do not have permission to treat this as something they’ve never seen or heard of before!  We needed that understanding to move on to the next piece of the math puzzle. 

Learning is all about making connections.  It’s the teacher’s responsibility to present opportunities, making sure appropriate steps are taken and adequate time is given for practice. But the students have a responsibility, also.  They have to own their learning.  They have to ask questions, building on what they already understand. (I’ve said it before- “I don’t get it” is not a question!)  They have to practice new concepts, doing the work.  It has to be important to them.

My battle cry rang loud and clear the end of that day, and many days to follow- “Do NOT erase your Etch A Sketch!!!”

I have to add a final note of caution. Be very careful whom (who, whom, who- pop quiz!)  you tell.  It could come back to haunt you!  This morning my husband and I were discussing what I needed to do to get ready for our taxes.  All our accounting stuff is on his PC and I don't like using his PC, so I put it off until the bitter end.  

Enter the bitter end- it's time for taxes!  So now I  have several months of business credit card and bank statements for my company to download and process before we can do our taxes. I told him I don't remember what steps to take and do you know what he said to me? 

"Do NOT erase your Etch A Sketch!"  

Ouch!  And all this time I didn't think he was listening to me.

"I never teach my pupils, I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn."    Albert Einstein