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.

the “changes” project

brainstorming changesIt has been a particularly busy couple of months. During that time, “planning” for inquiry has continued to evolve.  When I looked at the big ideas in the curriculum, one that I saw repeated in different subject areas was the notion of change. We began November discussing what we know about change…and the Grade 1s know a lot. Through their brainstorming they shared that leaves change colours, caterpillars change into butterflies, the weather changes, clouds change, years change, seasons change, and the sun and the moon change. We went on a “changes” walk to see what changes we could find. One of the things the students noticed was that their shadows changed. Based on this observation, we went outside one day to trace and measure our shadows. We decided to use our feet as our unit of measurement. The students discovered that in the morning, their shadows were one size, in the afternoon, they were shorter, and by the end of the day, they were very long.

measuring shadows

During our second visit outside, “J” compared his shadows and had a theory about why they were different and what he might find on the third visit:

“The sun was at the top, then at the middle, then after it’s going to be lower at the bottom.  Then our shadow at the bottom will get shorter, but when it’s (the sun) high in the middle, it’s (the shadow) getting a little bit smaller and when the sun is getting lower it’s (the shadow) going to be small.”

In order to allow the students to continue their investigations of light and shadow, I put some flashlights out for them to explore and make connections to their experiences the previous day.

exploring shadows

They soon discovered that the size of the shadow had to do with the distance at which they held the flashlight:

H:  When we do it higher, it looks different.

S:  Look.  If you do this (raises hand) it grows big.  If you do this (lowers hand), it goes small.

H:  You can make any shadows with light. Look! The shadow comes on the wall!

Mr. P.: Why do you think that is?

H:  I don’t know. Maybe because there’s no light and this is like the sun because the sun glows and a flashlight glows just like the sun.

The investigations of light and shadow also led the students to explore colour and light. They were fascinated at how the light changed colour and projected onto objects.

flashlight and colour

They also began “mixing” colours by laying different coloured tiles on top of one another to make new colours.  This reinforced their Kindergarten experiences when they mixed primary colours to make secondary colours using paint. This was an opportunity to make connections to their prior learning while exploring colour using a different medium.  We will no doubt continue with colour exploration in the new year.  Our “changes” project will also continue to evolve.

“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.

more dots, curriculum, and inspirations from Goldsworthy

goldswrthyAround the time we were embarking on our 3-D dot project, we were also exploring creating dots using natural materials. We looked to land art and Andy Goldsworthy for inspiration. The students were quite amazed at the different ways Goldsworthy created dots and “not dots” and they took on the challenge of creating their own versions. As you can imagine, there was a lot of compromising, troubleshooting and problem-solving happening. Many of the students worked in pairs or small groups to create their own unique versions of their nature dots.

goldswrthy inspired1And so, the question arises…Why do you continue to play in Grade 1? Aside from the inspiration of watching the students engaged in this play, I began to think of the curriculum expectations. I knew we were addressing them, but I’m always surprised to see just how many are uncovered through one experience. Some of the obvious mathematics expectations around sorting were addressed in addition to the other 4 strands and the mathematical processes. Also uncovered were expectations in art, science, and language. While many of the children were interested in using these materials, some preferred to demonstrate their understanding in different ways and were given the opportunity to do so. Gr1Goldsworthy inspiredWhen I looked at our math text book, I realized that the entire unit was covered in just the first two weeks of school and we didn’t look at the textbook once. We talk about the importance of giving students experience with manipulatives and exploration, yet we often resort to, or begin with, textbook lessons where everyone is expected to do the same thing.  Reflecting on this experience is yet another reminder to me that “play” is powerful and definitely has a place in Grade 1.

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.

new grade, new room, new considerations

classroom beforeThe journey through play-based learning has brought us to Grade 1 which will continue to be a place where children’s wonder and curiosity is nurtured and where we will uncover curriculum through inquiry. This school year brings many changes.

New Grade: While Grade 1 does have a formal curriculum, inquiry and problem-solving will continue to be at the heart of our learning.

New Room: The steps in setting up the room have been the same. A new classroom inspired me to rethink, remove and repeat certain practices encountered on my journey as a Kindergarten teacher. Less – a lot less – is more. The teacher’s desk was removed. I didn’t use it last year in Kindergarten and really didn’t miss it all that much, so it found a new home. Another piece of furniture that was taking up far too much real estate was the “guided reading” table. Since guided reading and learning should be happening everywhere and not at a designated table, that too found a new home.

reggio-inspired classroom after

Grade 1 art studio

New Considerations: Having taught Kindergarten for a few years now, I found myself reflecting on how the children were involved in co-constructing several areas of the classroom. I realized that much of this happened or began to happen weeks, if not months, into the school year. As I prepared for Grade 1, I decided that the children would be involved in co-constructing elements of our classroom from day one. This will begin with our classroom library. In Frank Serafini’s book, Lessons in Comprehension, he suggests co-constructing the library and offers the possibility of celebrating its birthday. classroom library

I thought I would keep it simple at this stage and limit it to the small bookcase. My intent is to encourage the children to look more closely at books while giving them ownership. At a later date, I’ll revisit organizing the library and add more books and genres. I also decided to put out blank index cards with question marks in the hopes that children will want to represent their reasons for choosing certain books for our library. I’m hoping the concept of “birthday” will spark an interest in the co-construction of our calendar, which I plan to share in another post.

Another important consideration is how to further engage children as 21st century learners. This year, in addition to the blog, we will have a Grade 1 Twitter account in order to further make our learning visible and to continue to make connections with other classes. The new blog header is representative of a meaningful connection made through Twitter with Laurel Fyne’s class this past spring.

I’m looking forward to an exciting year!