Alumnus makes learning fun for young students

The way you know if something’s engaging your students? Simple, says kindergarten teacher Andre Rush: think like you’re a kindergartner.

“If I was in the classroom and I was one of the students, would I be interested in what I was teaching?” Rush said he asks himself. “Would I want to learn from me? Is this fun for me?”

All important questions, Rush said of how he approaches teaching every day at Bloomington’s Summit Elementary School. Rush is in his fourth year, and said teaching very young children comes somewhat naturally to him because he considers himself a “kid at heart.”

Still, it was a skill developed at the Indiana University School of Education, where Rush earned a master’s in elementary education in 2006. Rush investigated ways to reach young learners that wasn’t confined to pre-set plans and long-developed curriculum.

“My philosophy is teach through play,” Rush said. “That was my focus for my master’s thesis; just finding new ways to teach what we get handed down without having to use pencil and paper and have them sit at their tables for 30, 40 minutes doing work when we could be up doing an activity by moving around and doing it hands-on and getting into the lesson."

Making the classroom experience worthwhile is what the work is all about for Rush, who left a first career to begin shaping young minds. Rush was a business major as an undergraduate, earning his degree at Harding University in Arkansas. After leaving school he spent several years in the business workforce, managing a Kroger grocery store and working at a Irwin Union Bank in Bloomington. But he longed for a change and thought about teaching, because he had been a volunteer coach. “I worked several different careers before I found what I really wanted to do,” he said.

With teaching credentials in hand, Rush hoped for a teaching position after student teaching at Grandview Elementary School. He eventually landed a spot teaching kindergarten at Summit Elementary, where he could use his teaching through play ideas. Soon, one of those ideas would earn his class considerable attention.

Looking for some ideas on Pinterest to engage his students, Rush and a student teacher, Amanda Wolford, came across something that looked like a lot of fun for kindergartners. “We both looked at each other and we were like ‘We could do that,’” Rush said. Checking a little further, they found a video to show them how the class could construct an indoor igloo, a replica of the real frozen thing made out of plastic milk jugs.

Collecting empties from a nearby Starbucks daily and getting donations from school families and others, Rush and his class constructed a magnificent igloo to go in the classroom. While the project called for 428 jugs, Rush decided to go big—making it 721 jugs, all counted by the students. Keeping track of the numbers and the process, students made it into a learning experience. They practiced mathematics while calculating the building materials and wrote about what they’d do in the igloo in their journals. When it was complete, it became a nice, quiet, and well-lighted place to do reading, small group meetings, and other class activities.

The project ended up going at least a bit viral. The Monroe County Community School Corporation shared a picture of Rush and the class in its igloo on Twitter, followed by retweets from plenty of others. Rush wrote about it for the Bloomington Herald-Times newspaper which featured a picture of the project. “It turned into a little bit more than what I expected,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting all the notoriety that I got for it, but it was just a fun thing to do.”

And while Rush said he’s still learning about teaching at this point, he knows this much: making it fun is good and helps his students learn.

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