Teaching and Learning Together with Touchpebbles

Dr. Nathan Slife

I am so grateful for the opportunity to volunteer at Kesterson Elementary this summer and introduce so many children to Touchpebbles! It was wonderful getting to know the students and working with their teachers, who are amazing. Each of the teachers sat in during our Touchpebbles sessions and helped me with classroom management as well as kept track of our conversations – using the Touchstones Discussion Map – so that the students could review how we did each day. I ran five Touchpebbles sessions three days per week for three weeks with students going into 4th, 5th, and 6th grades. Out of all of these sessions, two in particular stood out, one on the tale of Pandora’s Box and another on the Hound and Hunter, a painting by Winslow Homer.

The students were immediately drawn to the tale of Pandora’s Box. Pandora’s curiosity to open her box was very relatable, and we had fascinating discussions about why we sometimes give in to our curiosity and sometimes not give in. For example, I asked students what they would do if their teacher was passing back a test and let them know that “maybe you don’t want to know what you got on this test” implying that the students might have scored low. As you might guess, many students had answers to this question! This question was also easily relatable to the story of Pandora and helped us consider why she might want to open up her box just like an elementary student might want to see their score on a test, even if they both knew that doing so might lead to a less than desirable outcome.

The other lesson that stood out was our examination of the Hound and Hunter, a painting created more than 100 years ago. I have never been much of an art aficionado and had my doubts about how the students might react to discussing such an old painting, but each group of students I met with absolutely loved this lesson! The Touchpebbles Teacher’s Guide beautifully guided me and the students through an examination of what we saw and were drawn to in the painting. The students then had an opportunity to create their own story about the painting in small groups and read that story to the class, which we then further discussed. It was amazing how all of the different Touchpebbles activities further brought the painting to life!

I wanted to somehow capture the magic from these two lessons for the students. On our last day – after our lesson was over – I handed each student their own Pandora’s Box! We discussed that while Zeus asked Pandora to never open her box, that I was instead asking the students if they would be able to fight their curiosity to not open their boxes until the end of the school day. I was overjoyed with their reaction. They loved it! Many students considered it a personal challenge to not open their box and proudly showed me their closed boxes at the end of the school day. Other students explained that they just couldn’t help but give in to their curiosity and see what was inside, but that they didn’t tell the other students what they saw. Inside each box was a fruit chew tootsie roll and a mini painting of the Hound and Hunter. I don’t think any Kesterson Elementary students that attended our Touchpebbles discussions will ever forget the story of Pandora’s Box or their experience examining the Hound and Hunter painting!

This idea of fighting against our own curiosity and engaging in self-management – especially during a discussion – is one of the most important learning opportunities that I saw Touchpebbles giving these elementary students. Each day we met up was another opportunity for my overly talkative students to intentionally hang back in order to let quieter students participate. These opportunities for personal development are so crucial for these children and I am grateful to have been a part of it!