Jacob recently finished his first serious school project. As part of his class's "Living Museum," Jacob had to research Thomas Edison, prepare a written report on him, prepare a speech (to be presented in the first person), and come up with a Thomas Edison costume to wear while giving the speech.
I remember doing lots of projects like this (although probably not in second grade!) so I was excited to watch Jacob tackle this one. He had a couple of weeks to do it, and his teacher provided a suggested timeline for working on it, because it would be too big to knock out at the last minute. I thought about all the fun we'd have reading about the Menlo Park years, pondering what life would be like had the kinetoscope never been invented, and thinking up the perfect Edisonesque costume. I couldn't wait (for him) to get started.
As it turned out, Jacob was not what one might call a "self-starter" on this project. Despite our attempts to convince him that "The Wizard of Menlo Park" was every bit as interesting as the wizards in Harry Potter (his current obsession), there was absolutely nothing about sitting down and knocking out a Thomas Edison report that appealed to Jacob in the slightest.
The Saturday before the report was due, Jacob finally sat down to write. The idea was that he would write the report out on paper, and then type it onto the computer. Every time he didn't like a sentence, though, he crumpled up the paper and started over. I told him that wasn't necessary, that he could cross out words or draw arrows or whatever, because he'd be retyping it. I assured him that NO writer gets it exactly the way he wants it the first time, and editing is an important part of writing. He told me that editing is not an important part of HIS writing, and that HE will get it right the first time. There was also the issue of him wanting to copy sentences out of the books, rather than synthesizing ideas and putting them into his own words. I think that is a pretty difficult concept for a seven year old, and really, there are only so many ways to say "Thomas Edison was born in Ohio on February 11, 1847." Still, I feel like one of my jobs as a parent is to prevent my second grader from being a rampant plagiarizer. But whenever I told him to rewrite a sentence or think about how to put an idea into his own words, he threw his head on the table and accused me of not liking his report. All I could think was that if this is how the school projects are going to go, it is going to be a long ten more years.
Eventually though, Jacob got in the Thomas Edison groove and even seemed to enjoy the process a little. I think the first paragraph of his report captures (in his own words!) the parts of Edison's early years that were most interesting to Jacob:
Thomas Alva Edison was a great and famous inventor. He was born in Ohio on February 11, 1847, near the shore of Lake Erie. When Thomas Edison was seven, he moved to Port Huron. At school, his teachers thought he was dumb. It is weird because he was a genius. It was probably because he could not hear well. If he accidentally kicked the chair leg or did not answer a question when a teacher asked him something, he would get in a lot of trouble. Just like many teachers back then, his teachers thought they could get knowledge into their students even if they had to be ugly. Then one day after school, Thomas Edison told his mother what his teachers were doing. His mother was mad because she had been a teacher too before she got married. She thought students learned better if they were happy, so she took him out of school and he had home school from then on.
We were very proud of Jacob's report, and of his class presentation. It got a little tense for a few minutes there when Edison said that he improved the telephone, and if it weren't for his improvements, people might not use the phone much today. The crowd gasped at that one, and Alexander Graham Bell nearly challenged him to a duel. But all in all, it was a great learning experience for Jacob, and for us, and we're proud of our little inventor.