a little house for the pumpkin

IMG_0390We have been talking about many ways we can be responsible both at home and at school. Back in October, the students were interested in seeing if the seeds from our pumpkins would grow. They placed seeds in plastic bags with paper towel and water. As the seeds sprouted, they decided we needed to plant them in soil because they were becoming too big for the plastic bags. We planted a few of the seedlings and it wasn’t long before we noticed a stem had snapped. An impromptu conversation about caring for the plants responsibility, led to a discussion about planting a garden. Because it was November, the students knew that planting a garden at this time of year would result in the plant dying.

I: “We should make a garden shed. You make it with wood. You get a big piece of wood and cut it. Then get some screws and screw the wood. Then when you’re done doing the nails you have to lift up the wood and screw them together and put a door.”

R: “We could make a little house for the pumpkin.”

I: “And put a rain cloud in the house.”

Mr. P.: “That’s interesting. Some plants are grown in a house called a greenhouse.”

R: “We could make a greenhouse! A little one for the classroom.”

And so, construction of the greenhouse began. The students brainstormed materials they would need.

greenhouse 1

Once materials were collected, they began to construct the greenhouse. Structures, choice of materials and stability were major concepts that were discussed as the students experimented and problem-solved. Tape seemed to be the binder of choice. Regardless of the amount of tape they used, they began to realize that tape wouldn’t give the greenhouse the stability it required. When asked what other materials they might use, “S” suggested they try string.

greenhouse 2

Stability also came into play when constructing the roof for the greenhouse. I found it interesting that despite the conversation about the problems with using masking tape, the students continued to use tape until they realized that it would not make the roof stable. “M” said it needed something underneath it to make it strong.

greenhouse 4

Finally, the students needed to plan how many pots would fit in the greenhouse and how much plastic they needed to cover it.

greenhouse 5

After days of construction, our greenhouse was ready to house a few plants. We are now wondering if a pumpkin will grow.

greenhouse 6


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.

“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.

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!

children’s discoveries and documentation

composter documentationThank you to all of the educators who came out to PDSB’s annual Kindergarten Conference (Inspirations and Contexts, Kindergarten Play and Inquiry) last week. It was wonderful to have a chance to meet and chat with many of you. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to share some of the documentation my students have been involved in. I thought I would post some of their documentation as well as a few discoveries they made about the worms and the composter.

The children were provided with several pictures of different stages of the construction of the worm composter. They chose the ones they thought were important or ones they found particularly interesting. I was thrilled that so many of the boys were keen to write about their experiences. Even though we have a Communication Centre as part of our classroom, the truth is that children communicate through reading, writing, speaking and representing at ALL of the learning centres. I was very intentional with some of the vocabulary I had available for the children such as worm, bin, drill.  A meeting to choose and write about a picture quickly became an engaging and meaningful guided reading and writing lesson.

composter doc1

composter doc2

The children found what they theorized to be eggs and they quickly referred to someworm eggs books to see if their theories were correct. It was important for them to represent their findings, so they became interested in drawing the worms and the eggs. They also began to make connections to the pictures in the books.  They learned that worms have five hearts. One student discovered a diagram and counted the hearts to verify that what he learned was correct. He then became very interested in making his own diagram.


When I asked a couple of the students how they could share with others what they learned about worms, one student pointed to some documentation panels that were in our classroom and said, “We can make something like that.” And so, I handed over the iPad and they decided what pictures they needed to include in their documentation.  student documentationOnce they had taken all of their pictures, I printed them for the children.  It’s interesting that a few days after they had taken their pictures, the focus of their documentation changed.

students documenting 3

After manipulating the pictures in several different positions, they finally decided on how they wanted their panel to look. Once again, what I had anticipated they might do was completely different from what they actually did. One student decided to post a list of things she wondered about.

P-worm documentation

The Worm Composter

Do the worms like water?

Do the worms like soil?

Do the worms like porridge?

Do the worms like bugs?

S-worm documentation

Another student simply stated her observations:

The worm is wet but the worm is still dirty.

What matters is not what they decided to write or where they decided to place their pictures, but the process by which they came to their final decision. They had to problem-solve until they were satisfied that their message was delivered they way they had intended.

We are just about ready to harvest our first batch of castings, so there are many more discoveries to be made and much more to document!

slow down and smell the flowers

hyacinthOne of the major changes I’ve noticed in my practice since becoming interested in the Reggio Approach is the importance of slowing down, watching and listening. I think it’s one of the most challenging things for us to do. I used to think that I always needed to ask questions in order to guide discoveries. But the less I talk, the more I listen and the more the children show me how they think, what theories they have and how they make meaning of their world. Listening allows me to better understand what questions I need to ask or what materials or provocations I can provide that might extend their learning. Having said that, I also believe that it’s important for us to allow and encourage the children to slow down as well. There is a lot to be learned when children have time to engage with materials over extended periods of time.

painting hyacinthsIn preparation for observing the beautiful changes that come with spring, I added some potted hyacinths and pussy willows to the studio. Last year, the children’s investigations around pussy willows led to a planting project which included beautifying our outdoor play space. Since I’m at a different school this year, I thought I would still use the pussy willows to provoke the children’s interest, but they seemed to be much more interested in the hyacinths. At first they touched and smelled them. Our classroom certainly had a natural air freshener for about a week! They did a number of drawings and returned to the hyacinths several times over a number of days. The children represented them in different ways. Some used markers, others used markers and paint, and a few decided to paint their representations at the easel.

hyacinth representations

hyacinth painting 1

hyacinth painting 3

It wasn’t until we went outside yesterday to take a look at what was happening in our garden that I really noticed the time the children took to represent their observations. They garden drawing 1slowed themselves down to observe and the last thing I wanted to do was to rush them. Some drew, some drew and added words, and interestingly, one of the children who often needs encouragement when writing decided to represent his observations in writing! The children were excited to see that the “pyaz” they planted in the fall are now growing and blooming. Many of the children had the same question – how do flowers grow? I think the inquiry that began in the fall and “hibernated” throughout the winter is now reawakening interest in the children. And, like the blooming garden, its growth and beauty cannot be rushed.

garden representations

embracing beyblade play

testing beybladesA group of boys has been very interested in constructing beyblades.  It started with them spinning letter blocks on one of their corners.  Yes, I was hoping the letter blocks would encourage them to read the letters and maybe make some words, but they were much more interested in spinning them.  One of the things I’ve learned from the Reggio approach and about the inquiry process is to question my initial reactions, to honour the things that interest the children, to be patient, and to understand that we sometimes have to step out of our comfort zones.  So, rather than ask them to stop, I looked at the situation as an opportunity for this group to engage in some science and math explorations while developing some literacy skills.  I encouraged the boys to make their own beyblade so they went over to the studio and many of them decided to make them out of cardboard.  They soon found that their creations were not very sturdy and did not spin for long.  A few days later, they moved on to using the linking cubes and there was no turning back.  I asked why the cubes were better.  beyblade pointy part

“Because this thingy can spin on it.”  

“You have to try and balance the beyblade with the pointy part so it doesn’t fall.”

The play soon became about smashing their blades into one another and it was clear that it was time to gently guide the play and to add a provocation that might take the learning to a different level.  I decided to lay out different surfaces and observe how the boys might use their “beyblades.”  Construction paper, cardboard, a woven panel, a section of carpet and a section of the floor became defined testing spaces.  Using SMART Ideas, I also projected a cliplet of a clock to see if they would make use of it.  I sat back and observed.  They immediately began to try the different surfaces.  One of the boys also took recording beyblade resultsthe lid from one of the bins and decided to try that.  It didn’t take long before they were all around the hoop on the floor.  The next day, I posted some pictures of their play on a piece of chart paper in order to encourage them to record some of their observations.  This inspired some of my earliest as well as reluctant writers to record their findings.  I asked them where their beyblade spun the best.  They all agreed it was “on the floor because it’s not so rough and not so light,” and that their beyblade would spin longer.  When I asked how they knew this, they pointed to the clock to show me, but none of them knew how to use the clock.  They all counted at different speeds as their blades were spinning, so we talked about using the clock because it was “fair” and we learned how to count the second-hand as it moved.

After speaking to a few teachers recently, I discovered that students in their classes have also been interested in beyblades.  Another of our Kindergarten classes made a stadium.  It would be interesting to pay them a visit.

Our friend Ms. Babalis from the York Region District School board has a wonderful blog where she has posted what the children in her class discovered about spinners and movement.  I plan to share her post with this group to see if it will inspire them further.