Friday, May 20, 2016

the easy thing

The easy thing would be to give them a set of rules to follow.

The easy thing would be to write out a step-by-step procedure or to walk them through the process by modelling it for them.

The easy thing would be to give up when the first attempt fails. 

The easy thing would be to only show them one way, the right way, so that as soon as they have a finished product, they move on to something else.

I've never been much into the easy thing.

I provided the materials and a very brief explanation of a picture I saw of an airplane made from circles and straws. They got to work, asking for help to hold materials in place while they taped. We agreed that the hall was a good place to test our first planes.

The first planes flew a short distance but didn't produce a "Wow!" from any of the engineers. We gathered and discussed what we might change. One student thought the first ones were too big, using a full length straw and paper that was cut into 2" strips.

We discussed how we might downsize the first design. We cut straws in half and used narrower strips of paper. We also made the circles smaller. The second prototype didn't produce a "Wow!" either.

We talked about the variables. Yes, that's a big name for a little dog, as my Grandma used to say. But children ages 4-6 are much smarter than most people think. We realised that one variable we hadn't changed was the thickness of the paper. I cut up some old file folders and the young engineers sat down to build again.

We took these planes outside to test. This time, they flew! Some flew really well, and some just, well, flew. A few children ran back into the classroom to add wings, and even tiny straw rocket boosters.

Then I noticed that one JK student had taped her circles onto her straw a bit crookedly. One was pointing up and the other was pointing down. THIS plane flew in a perfect spiral, covering more distance than the others. This was one variable even I hadn't considered!

We then had the opportunity to talk about science, and life, and the mistakes we make that teach us more than the successes. Deep stuff for Kindergarten! But they are ready to come back to the creation station to build again, this time following the design of another student's "mistake".

I'm glad I didn't do the easy thing. Our whole day was full of statements liked:

Can you help me?
I can help you.
I can do it!
I did it!

And the very best statement of all:

I wonder...

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Orca Beans and Math

Bobble, our classroom "pet" (a rabbit in a hat puppet!) had a little surprise for us this morning: a small cup filled to the brim with beautiful black and white beans.

We've been knee-deep in seeds and planting so the children guessed right away that they were seeds. I gave them the hint that the beans were named after a black and white animal. A zebra bean? A skunk bean? A cow bean? A panda bean?

I asked them if they had ever heard of an orca. A few students knew that this was a name for what is more commonly known as the Killer Whale. I explained that these beans were called orca beans because of their shine and their black and white pattern. 

Our sensory table has been filled with a variety of dried beans and seeds for a few weeks. The children sort the beans into cups, use their construction vehicles to scoop and dump, explore capacity, and just enjoy the sensory experience of running their fingers through the beans.

Today I offered them the provocation of finding 25 orca beans in the sensory table! I showed them the 10 frame tracking sheet that would be nearby and we talked about how we'd know we had found all the beans. I was surprised at how hard it was to spot the orca beans among the black beans, navy beans, yellow and green split peas, and kidney beans!

We started with a huge group of children surrounding the table but as the interest wore off there was a core group left. I loved seeing how they worked together and hearing their conversations about how many more they needed to find (by counting the blank squares on the 10 frames). Their approach shifted from carefully sifting to scooping up handfuls and letting the beans drift slowly as they watched for the orca beans. 

This exploration was a popular centre all day long. Sometimes the same children would find all of the beans only to pour them back in again and start all over! 

When we weave math instruction into play we see students who are usually less engaged (during formal instruction) diving in, asking questions, sharing their ideas, and growing their understanding. They choose to think mathematically and learn as they play. 

This is the beauty of play-based learning!

Friday, April 15, 2016

Let's Go Outside and Play!

The sun is shining, birds are singing.
The sounds of laughter, children playing.
C'mon kids, it's a beautiful morning.
Let's go outside and play.
~Deborah Ashdown

Today we had a much-anticipated nature walk. We are fortunate to have a beautiful, natural outdoor space a short walk away from our school. The children haven't been here yet and felt they were in a wonderland of investigation!

A lot of their attention was drawn by the wide creek that runs through this bush, and we found a shallow area that was safe for play. Everyone found a stick and fished up leaves, to be hung on nearby trees. They were drying their fish! I think if we'd left them uninterrupted they'd have played at this all day.

The textures of tree bark and lichen sparked many "why" questions and we explored a dead tree that was crumbling back into the soil. We remembered the saying, "Leave nothing but footprints and take nothing but photos". It can be hard for little hands not to pick at, break, or in other ways alter their landscape. But they were very respectful, touching gently and using their eyes and other senses to learn about the world around them.

We found a narrow passageway across the water and ice and found ourselves in a cedar grove. The children noticed lots of deer droppings, and a parent who is knowledgeable about such things shared her thoughts on why: deer eat cedar! This glade seemed like a perfect spot for deer, quiet and close to the water as it was.

Free from the bounds of chain-link fencing and play-structure rules, the children ran free, closely supervised by parent and grandparent volunteers. We all came back to school tired in that satisfying way, hungry, and full of words to describe how we felt in our outdoor playground:


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Learning Letters

On Monday the children are always excited to see Bobble, our classroom "pet". He's a rabbit in a hat, and although he doesn't speak, he always has lots to share by whispering in my ear. He also has a letter in his paws each week to add to the bank of letters the children have learned so far!

Once we've used our "magic pencils" (our fingers) to draw the letter in the air, we watch two videos on YouTube that feature the letter and its sound: the first by ABC Mouse, and the second by Bounce Patrol. 

We work together to co-create a list of words that begin with the letter of the week, and the children like to challenge my drawing skills!

The classroom ECE (Early Childhood Educator) sets up a centre where the children can join her to create letter sound charts. The children search through old books to find pictures of things that start with the letter sound. These are then displayed for easy reference, and are used at the play dough centre where the children can create the letters with play dough "snakes"!

In addition to learning the look and sound of the new letter, I spend time with the children modelling and practising how the letter is formed. For our younger students, this might be their first time printing the letter. For the older students, this extends into "slow as a snail" printing, where I give them a word that features the sound, and they do their best to represent each individual sound (phoneme) with a letter or a combination of letters! The children are very proud to show off their wonderful printing skills and we often see the letter popping up here and their in their play and work.

We reinforce the letter learning throughout the week. The children love to go on "letter hunts" by taking a walk through the school and finding the letter of the week in environmental print (on posters, signs, etc.). They also enjoy finding the letter in texts in the classroom. 

It is amazing how quickly the children learn and retain these individual sounds, and before we know it, they are combining the sounds to print and read simple words!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Art Matters: Exploring Art in Three Dimensions

Art projects in our classroom are always offered as a voluntary choice among our centres. Some children come to explore every single offering, while others need encouragement to try new techniques and projects. I rarely offer a sample of a "finished product" to encourage an open-minded approach to art, and an understanding that there is no "right way" to create. 

I invited the children to explore 3D art in our Creative Centre by providing the children with lots of pieces of cardboard cut in different shapes, bits of cardboard tubes, and larger pieces to act as backdrops. Using wood-glue (because it has a stronger hold than white glue), the children got busy creating 3D art. 

With no example provided of a final product, the focus was on the process of artistic creation. Some of the children chose not to use any circular shapes, and others followed my example (because I always sit and create alongside them) of gluing some pieces vertically. The children's conversations revolved around what their artwork "looked like": "This is a fence", "This is a mountain", "This is the dish for the cat".  We also chatted about how 2D art is different from 3D creations.

Creating art for art's sake is not a new concept for children, but as they get older they become more focused on creating art that looks like something. It was freeing for them to just glue pieces on wherever they wanted without any pressure to have their art represent a concrete scene or image.

When the glue was dry, the children were invited to add colour using craft paint. Once again, the focus was on the children's choices
whether or not to add colour, and what colours to add.

Some of the children have asked to go back and add more details to their work in the form of textures and patterns painted on top of the original colours. We'll get to that this week!