Category Archives: 21st Century Learning

Caterpillars to Butterflies to Goodbyes


Goodbye Worms, Hello Caterpillars

Moving into June, we said, “goodbye” to our worms and said, “hello” to our Painted Lady caterpillars! The entire kindergarten division ordered these ahead of time so we knew they were coming. However, since we had studied our worms so closely , had the inquiry steps almost down pat, and were always full of wonders, we were more than ready for our next study. Having caterpillars also inspired us to broaden the scope of our inquiry from one exclusively focused on worms to one that included the entire subject of insects and creepy-crawlies.

When we received our caterpillars, Madison gently placed them into their new temporary home (a laundry hamper with mesh sides). She showed us the mushy food that we needed to put in the hamper so that the caterpillars could get big and strong enough to climb up branches or the sides of the hamper, attach themselves to something, and form chrysalises.

The caterpillars didn’t lend themselves to as much of an interactive study as the worms did since they needed to be left alone inside of their mesh hamper. However, they taught the children the art of careful observation and patience.

We set our new friends up where our worms used to live. This became our little observatory. Every day the children would come in and check to see how the caterpillars were doing and if any of the caterpillars had formed chrysalises. We made a predictions graph to guess when we thought our caterpillars would form chrysalises and later on, we made another graph to show our predictions of when we thought they would emerge as butterflies.

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Math & Proportional Reasoning in FDK

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As a student, I was always afraid of math. To me, it was hard and that was that. I can’t recall too many teachers who tried to make it fun or meaningful to me and instead, I just remember a lot of textbook work and rote learning that never quite ‘stuck’ with me. Math just seemed so abstract and since I relished in creative tasks, math was just not interesting to me and even a bit scary because of how far away from reality it seemed. I can honestly say that I learned more about math after my school years than when I was in school.

The real mathematical learning came when I had to use numbers in everyday situations and when ‘playing with numbers’ took place within authentic experiences. I learned a lot, for example, by simply becoming a cashier at my first part-time job. I had to add, subtract, multiply and divide quickly and on the spot. I learned how to round numbers, estimate but also how to be a careful counter. Being off, even by a few cents, meant I had to do some major backtracking in order to catch my mistake and that definitely wasn’t how I wanted to spend the last half hour of my shift. As I’ve gotten older and began earning money, paying bills and making larger purchases, I’ve continued my learning, now really ‘feeling’ the direct consequences of any miscalculations or poor spending choices. As a result, most of my mathematical knowledge and understanding of numbers has come from my own day to day living – not from school.

But becoming a teacher has made me realize that my experience of math as a student was extremely unfortunate and it’s definitely not how I want my own students to experience math. Had I been given the chance to learn math through play and hands-on investigations, more meaning would have been given to the math facts I was learning about. Perhaps math wouldn’t have been so scary. Better yet, I might have grown to love the challenges math provided.

As a teacher, I want to create learning experiences that can be accessed by all of my students, regardless of their abilities or learning styles. I know that the explorations need to be as authentic as possible for children to ‘connect’ to them and find practicality in them. Rather than frame math as a separate and abstract subject or set of skills, math needs to be woven into all parts of the day to show students that math really is everywhere. For instance, just as I enjoyed creative pursuits as a student, I want to integrate this component into math-based activities to attract and inspire other children who have similar interests. Most of all, when I invite children to participate in math-based activities or when I intend to ‘draw out the math’ in a spontaneous teachable moment, the main thing I want to accomplish is to make it fun. It sounds so simple and so obvious but I think it’s so important.
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In this post, I will highlight some of the math games and activities that my students took part in this past spring. Hopefully you will be able to see how I made special efforts to keep learning about math hands-on, authentic and fun.

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Polar Learning Flourishes!

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Einstein understood that the ability to imagine is what opens our minds up to possibilities we never considered before. When we imagine the so-called impossible and seek to discover or uncover new truths, we create new knowledge that leads us to more questions. The reality is that we, as a human race, are never finished knowing and understanding all that there ever was, is or will be. We need to keep that fire to search alive by continuing to ask questions. This habit of mind, I believe, is best developed young so that our children – our future – can grow and develop into thinkers, explorers and innovators and go beyond the acceptance of every day facts at face value. This sense of imagination and disposition for questioning is something I aim to instill in my students as young learners. Even if all I do is plant a seed…

Learning About the Inuit Peoples & Culture

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As our Polar Inquiry continued to deepen and as we looked at more and more books that contained pictures or stories about the people who live in the Arctic, the children became fascinated and we became knee deep in new questions that neither I nor Madison could answer.

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Blasting Off Into Inquiry!

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I may have gone a little overboard there but you get the idea: Our Space & Gravity Inquiry has not only taken off but has become a richly engaging learning opportunity with limitless possibilities for our SKs. I must say, this inquiry has been one of my favourites to facilitate. I can shamelessly admit with a sense of pride and honour that I have been learning alongside my students every step of the way and it has been utterly rewarding.

As a child I did not have much exposure to this topic area and I’m not sure scientific concepts were ever explained to me in ways that captured my interest and motivated me to explore more. As an adult I’ve come to understand how much of that was partially a result of the kind of education I received. Back in the early 90s when I began my schooling, inquiry-based learning was definitely not “on trend” nor understood by Ontario’s education system. I learned primarily from textbooks or chalkboard lessons and rarely participated in interactive activities. The topics covered were the same ones that were covered the last 10-20 years and were delivered in mostly the same way. To me – and probably many of my classmates – school was where you went to listen to and then remember information being presented by your teacher. I was marked on how well I retained that information and was expected to demonstrate it and “prove” my understanding at the end of each unit in some form of a test or big assignment.

Now, coming from a family of artists, I loved art. I loved drawing, colouring, painting, crafting, experimenting with line and texture and form. My teachers often took notice of my talent and that began to define me, as a person and as a student. As much as I loved art, when I reflect back on my childhood, I question whether or not my abilities outside of art were ever noticed and nurtured to their fullest potentials. In fact, I would argue that they simply were not. I was that kid who made the eye-catching art displayed in the hallways. As I grew older and entered University, I started to feel that my art was not all I wanted to be and began exploring what else I was capable of by pursuing a degree in Sociology – completely shocking my friends and family who assumed I would’ve went into the Arts. I learned so much about myself in those years but what was most life-changing was my realization that: I was, and could do, more than one thing; I could use my mind in other wonderful ways. I found out that I got so much personal fulfillment from learning about the world, researching, reading, analyzing, teaching and creating through my writing as opposed to exclusively through my art.

All of this to say that – what I want for my own students is something more than what my childhood school experience offered me. I don’t want my students to go through school being pigeon-holed into one area of strength in their abilities – or worse, being labeled based on their weaknesses. I don’t want them sitting and listening to my voice all day long. I don’t want them being forced to learn things that are completely irrelevant or uninteresting to them. I don’t want them to be afraid to ask questions and to question even their own teacher when they’re unsure. I don’t want them being assessed only at the ‘end’ of a unit or inquiry and in only one way.

What I want is for them to be thrilled about going to school to learn new things. I want them to be inspired to share their own ideas, thoughts and opinions and to allow these to evolve. I want them to realize that they have a ton of knowledge, understandings and potential within themselves and to offer the world. I want them to ask questions – lots of them. I want their understandings of curriculum content and larger concepts to be assessed using authentic strategies that recognize the many ways and opportunities people can demonstrate their learning. I want them to learn to think about their own thinking and to push their thinking further. I want this to happen while they are still young enough for it to all make a difference and shape their future. This is what I want.

So now, as we begin to unravel and witness the magic and wonderment that has been made possible by this Gravity & Space Inquiry, I encourage you to consider how all of us – in each of our different roles – can contribute to the educational experience I’ve described above. Educators, administrators, families, community members – we can all teach children to love learning. How can you help to shape a child’s vision of herself as a strong, capable and courageous learner?

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The Evolution of a Project

In my Halloween post, I left off with the image of our class pumpkin and explained how the dripping wet wax made us think of gravity. The children then began asking questions about gravity and the related topic of outer space. In this post, you will see how our newest inquiry has emerged and evolved since that day. Prepare to be inspired…

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Setting the Stage for Investigating & Learning

As I’ve explained in previous posts, Madison and I run a program based on the philosophies of Emergent Curriculum, Project-Based Learning, Inquiry-Based Learning and Reggio Emilia. The melting crayon wax on the pumpkin began a conversation we had no idea would come up prior to the moment. It all started when I posed the problem to the group: How come the wax is dripping down the pumpkin and not dripping sideways or upwards? Many of the children immediately responded that it was due to gravity. I was quite impressed and so to find out more about the children’s conceptions of gravity, I asked them more open-ended questions and invited them to share with me what they knew about the topic. Naturally, some children began to connect the idea of gravity with the subject of space, believing that in space, there is no gravity. I then moved on to remind them about something we had talked about before: Scientists look closely at things but they also ask lots of questions. I welcomed them to ask questions about gravity or space that they would like to know more about. As they asked their questions, I recorded them on chart paper.

The next day when I had Class A, I showed them the pumpkin and posed the same question about the wax. To my delight, they too, were quick to explain the phenomenon of the downward drips with the concept of gravity. A similar discussion arose and we added more questions to the list from the previous day. You can view the collaborative inquiry questions in the photo below.

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Learning About ‘The City’, Learning About Life

Happy Thanksgiving Weekend everyone!

Something to Contemplate…

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Carlina Rinaldi is the President of Reggio Children – the International Center for the Defense and Promotion of the Rights and Potentials of All Children – and has worked closely with Loris Malaguzzi, pioneer of the Reggio Emilia Approach to teaching and learning (the approach that inspires my own work). You can learn more about the Center and this approach by visiting www.reggiochildren.it

Essentially, this quote captures nicely, how adults – parents and educators alike – need to slow down and simply listen and observe children. Rather than demand responses from children, we need to give them the time they need to process, ponder and ask questions, themselves. Likewise, rather than immediately provide answers to children’s questions, we need to give them the time and space necessary for them to come up with an array of possible solutions and to consider where and how they can search for answers that make the most sense to them. Giving children these opportunities sets them up for a future of lifelong learning and teaches them how to function in a 21st Century world where so much information is available. By doing so, they learn to consider multiple perspectives and solutions, to sift through those possibilities and to choose which ones speak to them. Like my website’s slogan states, it is our duty as those that watch and guide our future generation, to find ways to ignite the spark for learning within children. This approach empowers children in becoming courageous learners – learners open to taking risks and appreciating the various pathways to seeking answers. You can read more about this within my post, A Little Bit of Courage

Now, keeping all of that in mind, onto this week’s learning…

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A Little Bit of Courage

It was during a class meeting one afternoon that S.S. piped up out of nowhere with her realization that blew me away and practically moved me to tears. Prior to this, I had invested so much time and energy ensuring that I got across to my students, that each of them was uniquely special and smart. So far in the year, various small and large inquiries surfaced and the curriculum emerged as children came in with questions, shared their experiences, or joined in discussions that we had together during class time. At this point, we had experienced a Restaurant Inquiry, small Chinese Culture Inquiry and currently were involved in a class-wide Shape Inquiry (very popular!). During these inquiries, I allowed each of my students to explore the topics and to participate in the projects in ways that most interested them as individuals. None of my students were ever forced to be a part of an inquiry unless some aspects “spoke to them”. Entry points into the inquiries were therefore vast and everyone felt welcome, included, and capable of being a successful contributing member.

And so it was on this day, after showing the class various photographs of themselves participating in the Shape Inquiry – some painting 3D shapes, some constructing them, some creating diagrams with words – that S.S. exclaimed with gusto and insight, “Hey Ms. Fleras, I just realized something – everyone learns in their own way and with their own talents!”

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Hello & Welcome: My First Post!

Hello world! 

Welcome to Spark the Learning… A place meant to provoke deeper thinking and inspire other educators and parents alike.

This blog was created as a space for me to share some of the highlights and reflections I experience as a Kindergarten teacher in an Ontario public school board.  Being influenced by a plethora of educational theories and research, including the Reggio Emilia approach to early learning, project-based learning, inquiry-based learning and emergent curriculum, I utilize each in ways that make sense for my unique groups of little ones.

My hope is that readers will gain insight into the new play-based and inquiry-rich, Full Day Kindergarten program within Ontario, find ideas for their own children or students and begin to share with me, a similar passion of student-centered learning that has driven me along my journey.

This is a safe place for others to share their own ideas, ask questions (even the difficult ones!) and advance as educators to 21st Century learners. If there is one theme that has remained central for me over the years, it is that continuing to learn and grow as a professional (and as an adult) is just as crucial as expecting the same from my students. Cultivating a genuine love for learning within my little ones is made possible by modeling this quality as their teacher but also by truly living it and allowing it to permeate my very persona and become a part of my identity. By reaching out and never simply accepting traditional teaching methods, I actively seek out ways to make connections to each and every one of my students, honouring their varying learning styles, needs and strengths.

As they all move on in their educational adventures, I am optimistic that I have given my students reasons to be excited about learning as well as the tools and skills they need to be confident and courageous learners, to ask questions and to find answers but to never stop there.

Please feel free to use my site as a source of inspiration and as a starting point for your own teaching and learning journeys. Comments and questions are always welcome!

* Note: All children who appear in photos on www.sparkthelearning.com have attained signed permission from their families.