What is the magic of toys? The enduring magic of toys, as well as what we might imagine their magical lives to be, formed the inspiration for the Toy Story project.
Janna Anderson, Ruby Rodrigues, and Jami Saville knew that all second graders love to play and imagine; they also wanted their students to learn the elements of a story. They thought an authentic way to combine these two ideas would be for students to create their own toy and imagine what that toy does when no one is around. To make the project more meaningful, they partnered with a local pre-school so that the second graders could work with the younger students to design a toy and a story with their particular buddy in mind.
This project was featured in the 2021 book Changing the Subject: Twenty Years of Projects from High Tech High. You can learn more about the book and the projects within by visiting the official website.
On the project’s first day, the children arrived in their classrooms to see that a mysterious mess had been made. They were challenged to imagine what roles the stuffed animals and various toys in the classroom might have played in the wreckage and why. As they shared their imagined stories, the teachers revealed the details of the project.
Second graders visited with their pre-school buddies multiple times during the course of the project. First they played games and read aloud to get to know each other; then they surveyed their “clients” about the kinds of toys and stories they liked. Back at school they collected their data and created graphs. They organized the types of toys into three groups — stuffed animals; toys on wheels; and block puzzles. Students selected which kind of toy their buddy would most like to have.
Meanwhile, teachers shared and mapped many stories with the students to help them understand story elements and characters. Then the students brainstormed and wrote their own stories that featured their pre-school buddy as a main character, and the toy they were making as a part of the story. Through many rounds of critique and revision, they wrote and illustrated a board book especially for their buddy.
Throughout the project, students and teachers co-created rubrics to help them assess how well they were doing on a number of fronts:
The final toys and books, along with the project’s process were exhibited to parents and the school community. Shortly thereafter, the students celebrated with their pre-school buddies and presented them with their toys and books.