by MOI Volunteer Jacey Choy
“Is the Captain really on a submarine?” a fourth-grader asked me, looking askance at Max, the leader, who was talking to the field trip group.
I looked at her and smiled. “Yes, of course, he is.”
“I don’t believe it, “ she said, shaking her head.
She was part of a class of students who came to the Mid-Continent Oceanographic Institute (MOI) on a Storytelling & Bookmaking Field Trip to write a story with her peers. Part of the magic when students arrive is telling them that they will be writing for Captain Plankton, a grumpy boss who is in a submarine deep below Minnesota.
Okay, so some of the students are skeptical and don’t really buy it, but they still go along with the ruse. What pulls them in is that they will be creating an original story with their classmates. They are so excited to do this! And, the best part is that after everyone creates the story, characters, and conflict together, they each write independently their own resolution and conclusion to the story. They can’t wait to get to their tables and get started. Eyes light up, pencils start moving, and words appear on their pages.
However, my favorite part is at the very end of the two-hour field trip, after the Captain has read all the student endings for the story. He calls out each student’s name, one by one over a walkie-talkie and compliments each ending to the story. Despite trends that don’t support extrinsic praise, having someone say positive things about you and your writing is truly uplifting – not to mention the cheers, claps, and squeals of delight from your peers.
I love reading what the students have written, and while the range of ideas run from simple to complex, the point is that everyone has an idea to share. Students are excited to not only write their ideas but also to read them out loud to other students sitting at their table. They are confident and motivated writers – a feeling that I hope will stay with them long after they leave MOI.
The MOI Field Trip experience is also rewarding for the volunteers, like me. To see students from second, third, and fourth grades engage with stories and writing is heartening. Literacy at its best. I know it might be one of the few opportunities for students to be encouraged to use their imaginations without constraints, and without worries about what they can’t do. The MOI Field Trip is so much about what students can do, and the joy they get from doing it while learning, which is evident every time a class comes to visit.
At the end of the trip, each student gets a bound copy of the class story with illustrations drawn by an adult volunteer illustrator and their hand-written end to the story. Their picture and name are on the back cover. When they see the books, the smiles and excitement on their faces say it all.
“Bye! Thank you!” The class lines up and gives high fives to us as they leave. We, the adults, all look at each other and smile. Chatting quietly as we straighten chairs and pick up pencils, we are already looking forward to the next group.
Learn more about our Storytelling & Bookmaking Field Trips.