an update as we settle in

CT72D0dWsAAG6zd[1]Since the last post, there have been a few events which have made this year a little more unique than previous years, so I thought I would post an update. In my last post, I mentioned how excited I was to have the opportunity to teach with Liz Ugolini. It was wonderful to support and learn with children together. At the end of October, Liz became our new Early Years Co-ordinator. While we were sad to see her go, I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to team teach with her. I’m even more excited about things to come as she continues to advocate for children and the importance of learning through play.

We were at a holding school for our first couple of months. A few weeks ago, we moved into our brand new school! It feels strange to be co-constructing our learning environment at this point in the year, but it’s important that the children feel that this is their learning space. I’m very excited to be part of the Castle Oaks community!

creating bonds

IMG_2099 (1)Another school year is on the horizon and after a lengthy hiatus, I’m excited to be blogging again! September brings not only a new year, but also the opportunity to collaborate in the opening of a new school! This year, I’m thrilled to be co-teaching Grade 1 with Liz Ugolini. We’ve known each other for years and have engaged in several conversations about play, inquiry, and creativity. We are looking forward to supporting each other as we continue to reflect on our practice and moving our own thinking forward. As we enjoy our final weeks of summer, we are beginning to think about welcoming our new friends.

Years ago, I read Regie Routman’s Reading Essentials. A message that has stayed with me is the importance of bonding with kids. As I re-read the quote, it also reinforced the importance of authentic learning and the fact that we teach children, not curriculum.

Reading EssentialsCurriculum and standards must first connect with the lives and spirits of our children if we’re to have any lasting success. Unless we reach into our students’ hearts, we have no entry into their minds. Through drill and memorization, we can get students to complete assignments and pass tests. But there is a price to pay for such short-term accomplishment. We will never inspire our students to learn for their own sake and to love coming to school. Bonding with our students is the “human essential,” the intimately personal connection that is the core of responsive, excellent teaching. http://www.regieroutman.org/publications/books/

I’ve watched this TED Talk by the late Rita Pierson many times. I always find inspiration in it. If you haven’t had the pleasure, take a couple of minutes to listen to “Every Kid Needs a Champion” where she explains that “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.”

Rita Pierson

http://www.ted.com/talks/rita_pierson_every_kid_needs_a_champion?language=en

In the past, both Liz and I sent our students postcards to welcome them to school. As a first step in our process of bonding with our children and their families, we decided to create our own postcard complete with a hand-written message that we will send out soon. postcard2 2015 For those of you who have started a new year, I hope it has begun with joy and excitement. For those of us who are preparing to welcome a new group of children, I wish you and your students many adventures filled with possibilities!

cleaning water

water inquiryYou just never know where a child’s questions can lead. Recently, I was demonstrating a watercolour technique for the students. When I asked them what they could do when the water became too dirty, they logically said they should pour it down the drain. I thought that would have been the end of that. It wasn’t. Two burning questions arose:  “But where does the water go?” and “How does the water get clean and come back out of the tap?”

I left them with a piece of chart paper for them to record their brainstorming. A few days later, I presented them with a coffee filter, paper towel, rocks, sand, oil, paper confetti, and containers. It didn’t take long for them to experiment. I gave no direction other than to watch and listen. A couple of students made quite the concoction. Water, sand, confetti, oil and rocks all went into a container and they stirred. Then, in went the coffee filter, paper towel and cotton – and they stirred some more. As tempting as it was to step in, I held back.

water experiment

They agreed that some of the water was cleaned with the materials. They were right. I asked them to bring their discovery to our sharing debrief where we could get some ideas from other classmates. At first, they weren’t sure. Everyone agreed that the cotton and paper towel collected some of the “dirt” from the water, but they needed more time to experiment.

Clean materials were put out for a couple of days for further exploration. Much of the same happened. Since the results were the same, I decided it was time to bring the clean materials and the used “dirty” materials to a sharing meeting for the students to take a closer look. We agreed that putting everything into the container of water did not work, so we needed to look more closely at the materials. “O” suggested, “Put the coffee filter in the top of the bottle and pour in the rest of the water.”

water test

A couple of students went back to experiment further, but decided to test some more of their own theories. “H” suggested putting the water in the coffee filter. They soon discovered that wouldn’t work, so they poured the water back into the container.

 

filtering water

Eventually they tried “O’s” suggestion and the cry of victory attracted everyone over to their station. “It’s working! It’s working!” Everyone was eager to try it. The water filtration area continues to be quite popular and the students are relating their learning to water treatment and our interrelationship with the environment.

uncovering curriculum with help from the food truck

food truckAn interest in the amusement park inspired the students to research things they might find there. As mentioned in the last post, they became very intrigued by food trucks. We googled images of food trucks and the students decided which pictures they wanted to print to use as a reference. A group of students was very interested in finding the proper wheels needed for the truck.  Once they chose an image from which to model their wheel, they decided they needed something round to use as a basic template.  They compared a few different materials and quickly decided that the tree cookie was best.

food truck wheels

Another group of students researched other elements needed for the food truck. They discussed the need for a “sign” to show the foods they could sell. This need for a “sign” led to discussions about a menu board and how they are the same or different from restaurant menus. Our Early Literacy Teacher, Mrs. Pierre, supported the students as they researched and organized their menu board.

researching menu

A problem arose when it came time to prop open the serving window. The cardboard was too thick for the students to cut, so they asked me to cut two strips which they would use to hold up the window. They soon discovered that the cardboard began to bend and would not support the cardboard flap. This provided an authentic opportunity for problem-solving while experimenting with different materials. After trying more cardboard, pipe cleaners, thin popsicle sticks and thick popsicle sticks, they decided on pieces of dowel and string because the dowel was “…long and the popsicle sticks were too short.”

food truck problem solving

constructing food truck

The food truck is now open for business. While engaging in dramatic play, the students have been developing their literacy skills as they refer to the menu and write food orders and receipts. They are counting and adding amounts of money and they are reflecting on the need to revise their play.

food truck purchase “O” decided they needed a copy of the menu behind the counter so they could also refer to the prices as their classmates ordered. She also noticed that “… at the food truck we don’t have any cents. Just dollars. We need cents because I wanted the snow cone and I needed 3 cents, but “S” said we didn’t have any cents.”

“M” decided to work on food orders. He found images on the iPad and decided to use one as a model. Based on the picture, he wrote “010” on all of his copies. This led to an interesting conversation:

Mr. P.: How do you use this order?

M: You give it to the chef and he will know what to make.

Mr. P.: Why do you have “010” on all of them?

“M” looked at the number and read them as the number one. I asked him to look closely at the number and covered the first zero.  He realized it was the number 10.

Mr. P.: “Why do you think it says ‘Your Order Number’ and the number 10?

M: It’s for the customer.  Customer #1, Customer #2, Customer #3 (counted to 10).

Mr. P.: What will happen if they all have the same number?

M: You will get all mixed up! You won’t know who is first, second, third…                            I need to change them.

food order

As the students engage in play at the food truck, I’m noticing that they are not only reflective, but that they can and do evaluate what is working and what changes need to be made to further their play (and their learning). It’s also a reminder for me to be present. If we see the child as capable and as protagonists in their learning, and we see ourselves as researchers, then we will be able to recognize curriculum expectations being uncovered as students and teachers engage in the research together.

“it’s like a big seed”

gourds and cornWhat is a living thing? Pumpkins, gourds, calico corn, potted flowers, acorns, rocks and feathers are some of the items placed at the Discovery Table for the children to investigate. The obvious items such as the flowers and rocks were not given very much attention. The children were more intrigued with the gourds and the corn and they began to compare them. A fresh cob of corn was included with the flint and calico corn.

Here are a few of their observations:

P – This is fake and this is real (comparing the corn).corn

S – Pumpkins are real, but this one (the gourd) is fake, because if you throw it down it will break…I don’t think it’s real.

A – This is real corn!

“S” noticed the calico corn and said, “These are not real!”

“A” took the fresh corn and said,  “It is real. It has seeds inside and it’s real and it’s really hard.”

One of the things I found interesting as I listened to their conversations was just how intrigued they were. They kept comparing the gourd to the pumpkin and the fresh corn to the dried. The children kept referring to the “realness” of the object in determining whether it was a living thing. When they shared their investigations during our debrief, I asked, “How do you know if something is living?” Their attention once again turned to the corn and they began to talk about seeds and explained that living things grow. As a result of their uncertainty about the corn, I asked them how we could find out if the corn was living or not based on their theory that living things grow. “A” said, “If you give them plenty of sun and water, they will grow.” So, that’s what we did. Honestly, I wasn’t sure about the calico corn because it came with a “for decorative purposes only” label. After two weeks I was about to give up on it and then it happened. The dried corn began to sprout and the fresh corn began to dry out.  Their wonderings and observations continued:

corn sproutD – Why is there a red thing?

M – Maybe when it’s dying the colour was that and maybe it’s the same.

D – I see dirt on it.

M – Why is there brown stuff and black stuff on the side? “D”! Look! See?! There’s a red thing at the side!

D – There’s a seed popping up! And one over here!

Another group of students observed the fresh corn which was also sitting in water for the same amount of time.

shrinking cornR – I think it’s shrinking because it’s not getting enough water.

A – It’s shrinking because of the juices gets out (gestures shrinking with her hands).

N – The corn is not growing. It’s drinking water.

H- I think it’s living because when you touch it, it moves. This piece is getting longer.

S- It’s like a big seed because it’s growing.

sprouting corn

The sprouting corn continues to intrigue the Grade 1 students. They have been recording their research using pictures, diagrams and words.  As we continue to learn through inquiry, I’m realizing that the inquiry process itself is a “living thing” and that time, patience, and growth are to inquiry as sun, water and sprouts are to the corn.

rethinking calendar

calendarAt the beginning of the school year, I have very little in the classroom. The first days of school are all about getting to know each other and building community. They are also about inviting the children to take ownership of their learning environment. After celebrating the birthday of our classroom library, we began to discuss special days. Birthdays, Diwali and Christmas were the first to make the list. We also talked about other important events like the first day of school, assemblies and pizza days. “How will we know when these days are coming?” I asked. The students were quick to reply, “We need a calendar.” In groups, they represented what they knew about calendars.

As I was cleaning the room at the end of the summer, I came across an old unused calendar. I knew I wanted to involve the students in co-constructing areas of our classroom. This included the calendar, so I kept it for reference. They immediately noticed that it had boxes and numbers. Some recognized the year. Others noticed the days of the week. “S” noticed empty boxes along the top row of certain months and wondered why they were empty. We also looked at a commercially prepared blank calendar.

observing calendar
A group of students was particularly interested in creating our classroom calendar. They were given bristol board, two sizes of blank stickies and the calendars to use as a reference. It was very interesting to see how their problem-solving unfolded. They began to lay out sticky after sticky without giving it any thought. There was no consideration for how many small and large stickies they would need. Some overlapped, some didn’t. Eventually they ran out and asked for more. I asked how many they needed and they didn’t know. When I asked them how they could find out, it took them a while to decide to look at the actual calendars. They counted the boxes on the calendar and compared the total with the number of stickies they used. It turned out they actually did need more, but before I handed them over, I asked them to take a closer look at their calendar to see if they needed to make any changes. They began comparing row by row and realized they needed seven stickies in each row, so they began to re-configure their arrangement.

comparing calendars

Once everything was re-arranged they could clearly see how many stickies they needed. “O” told her classmates that they needed “five here, four here and three here.” When I asked how many that was altogether, they counted and decided they needed twelve.

calendar stickies 2

With the stickies finally in place, they used metre sticks and markers to draw lines and label the days of the week. After a few days we had our first calendar! We took a class survey to find out if we should keep the calendar blank and stick numbers to it or if we should write on it and make another calendar next month. It was unanimous. Others wanted a chance to make one too. I love when they inspire each other!

constructing calendar This whole process was yet another reminder for me to slow down. The discussion this group had around constructing the calendar was rich and the problem-solving in which they engaged was authentic and meaningful. I’m sure I’ll be frequently reminding myself of this lesson as our year progresses.

constructing a water wall on a hot day

constructing water wallA few days ago we laid out a new provocation for the children. Tubing, funnels zip ties, and bins. We brought them outside and placed them by the fence. And then the magic happened. A small group of children came over and began to look at the materials. Initially, they asked what they should do with them. “What do you think?” I asked.

“This is like what we have at the water table. We should put water in it.”

“We can put it on the fence.”

The zip ties were a little tricky, so I helped them with those as they designed their water wall. The children decided where they wanted to place the tubing. They brought the tubing up and placed it in another funnel. I didn’t know if this would work, but had to remind myself that I needed to take a step back and observe.

testing water wall

“We need water,” they said, and water we went to fetch. It was wonderful to see them test their hypothesis. They filled, and filled, and filled until they proved their theory that the water would in fact go down, up and through all of the tubing.

testing water wall 2

It didn’t take long before a large group of children came over to join in the fun.

Water wall 3Pretty cool!