I shared a notion with my fourth grade class last semester. It occurred to me that free range chickens are very good at what they do because free range chickens cooperate well, and live a good life, short as it is, as they scratch and explore about. I pointed out to my class that free range chickens are not contained by a fence, and yet, generally speaking, they do not run off. It is a curious thing. I added the fact that not all chickens get to be free range. Some farmers maintain their chickens very tightly. Some farmers bound their chickens within small areas,and control their experience.
I told my class that I like to be able to act more like the free range chicken farmers. I like to give my students the liberty to explore, but that requires them to be ready to stay on relevant topics, and to make reasonable choices, and to not get lured away by things frivolous, silly, or social, and to make safe choices even when I am there to supervise. The trick, I told my class, is to get this group of fourth graders to use exploration as a problem solving skill. Of course, sometimes frivolous and silly ideas help the problem solving process, but the successful free range skill is to not get carried away by those ideas.
So, driven to thought by this whole comparison thing, my fourth grade students decided, and asked, to make a bulletin board (posted above) to express their need to go out and explore,along with their need to not get carried away. They came up with the slogan/ mantra/ bulletin board title: Be Free Range, but Not TOO Free Range. Each student created him or herself as a free range chicken, and each likeness was set in the scene with two barns and a path. Not all the chickens were placed on the path, but they were all nearby.
I had to point out to the class that the beauty of this comparison of students to chickens works well because students and chickens are so different in so many significant ways. That is what makes the overlap clear. My students are learning that, given lateral opportunity to figure things out, there is an inherent reward that comes with staying purposeful when traditional restraints, and the expectation of traditional restraints are loosened.