Category Archives: Constructing and Building

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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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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Welcome to Kindergarten City

And so it has arrived… The unveiling of weeks’ worth of learning, discovering and inquiring about the city.

Behold, Kindergarten City.

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This photo was taken in 3 shots because of the enormous size of our mural and the angle at which I was able to stand in the hallway. The only way to truly take in the full effect and true beauty that this piece has to offer is to come for a visit and admire it in person.

This photo simply does not do it justice. I encourage parents to come in, read the documentation panels that explain how our inquiry emerged and the path it took, find their sons and daughters within the city and take some photos.

How was it made? Over the last couple of weeks, as you know, we have been studying the city – exploring what makes a city a ‘city’, how it compares to the countryside, what types of structures exist within a city and what kinds of places make a city run. Students were then able to brainstorm a long list of places: hospitals, airports, dentist offices, grocery stores, coffee shops, pet shelters, schools – the list goes on. Both classes of SKs then got to choose which place/building they wanted to create for our mural. Some children did some extra tasks such as painting the backdrop. Students used construction paper, Sharpie markers, crayons and markers to create their buildings. We discussed adding texture (e.g., bricks), the use of signage, aesthetic additions (e.g., garden in the front) and other details (e.g., window and door details). To create the ‘residents’, children designed their bodies and we glued photos of their faces on top so they could find themselves in the City.

All of the children far surpassed our expectations and worked for long, concentrated periods of time on creating quality pieces for the mural. Madison and I purposefully did not make any of the colour or style choices for the children nor did we do any of the cutting or printing. We wanted their individual abilities and personalities to shine through and make it something they could be proud of themselves for. We love how each building is so unique and allows us a glimpse into each child’s imagination and collection of knowledge. I think the very fact that it was not handled as a prescribed cookie-cutter craft activity and that the pieces are not perfectly [teacher-cut] shapes is what makes it so magical and full of character and charm.

We have received so many compliments from administration, teachers, students and parents and have been so proud to say that it is a true student-made piece of art. We hope that you like it and will come in to have a peak!

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The City Inquiry Deepens

Combinatory Play’ and the Creative Process

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I’d like to set the tone for this post by highlighting something once said by the amazing, Mr. Albert Einstein: “Play is the highest form of research”. Einstein is credited for having strong feelings regarding the importance of liberal arts within the education system and for his belief that the secret to true genius lies in ‘combinatory play’ – the process of creativity. The more one partakes in joyful play, the more she is able to combine and recombine a collection of new knowledge, information, memories, inspiration, and existing ideas in order to produce new ideas. If you’d like to read more on this, you can check it out on BrainPickings. Within our classroom, children are given many opportunities to play and are also given the tools and guidance to learn how to learn. Discover what we’ve been up to this week…

A City-Sized Inquiry!

Our City Inquiry continues to deepen through many explorations and learning experiences. Although you can’t really read the writing or see the photos, I wanted to give you a glimpse of our city inquiry board that is in the works. Come on in and see it close up!

Documentation boards/panels like this, have several purposes. First of all, they make the students’ and educators’ thinking visible and showcase the processes and pathways occurring throughout the room around a certain inquiry (in this case, the city). A shared understanding is created and ongoing dialogue and reflection is promoted through the display of the photos, work samples and captions. Documentation panels allow educators to celebrate the rights of individual learners (perspectives and talents are vast within every class) as well as make it clear to the children that they are being honoured and respected for having ownership over their learning (the children themselves, decide which direction to take the inquiry based on their interests, wonderings and experiences). By highlighting the inquiry, making it clear what is happening and where it started from (the beginning experiences or thoughts that began the inquiry), children also feel a sense of accountability over their own learning and the learning of their peers.

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An Inquiry Emerges… and Much More!

Welcome back to another update on the happenings in Room 209! The past week has been quite busy and exciting. In my own life, I have begun my additional qualifications course, Kindergarten Part III, which will allow me to acquire my Kindergarten Specialist. As much as I’m enjoying it, it is definitely an extra work load. That being said, my blog posts may be shorter on some weeks and it is also possible that I may skip a week here or there. Rest assured that you will be caught up sooner than later so be sure to check back frequently.

Now, on to the learning…

I’d like to start this post off with a quote from everyone’s favourite neighbour – Fred Rogers.

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Fred Rogers – everyone’s favourite neighbour – had an amazing outlook on the magic of childhood and the wonders of learning.

This has been the week that I’ve noticed some real friendships blossoming in the classroom. It has been such a pleasure to witness and has really added to the quality of learning going on. Collaborating, working together and connecting with others allows children to form their own personal identity as well and to see themselves within the scope of a larger, social group. As toddlers, children generally have not yet grasped the concept of ‘others’ and can only comprehend a world in which they are the center. Establishing social and self-awareness leads children to deeper exploring and better understandings.

And so begins our journey…

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Learning to Build, Building to Learn

Building a Classroom Culture of “Process Art”

This week we had Meet the Teacher night and we worked hard to get our self-portraits up on display. Last week the children learned to look closely at themselves in the mirror and to notice all of the things that are special about their faces and identity. We coached the children through the process to teach them the art of concentrating and really seeing. The results were something to be extremely proud of. I truly believe in honouring children’s hard work by displaying them in professional ways that match their strong efforts. Doing so, demonstrates to the children that their teachers value their their work and creativity. Have a look at how beautiful our room and hallway bulletin board looks with the children’s artwork! The title was created by one of our students, M (from class A) who chose “Our Art-ish Portraits” as a shout-out to the book, “Ish” that inspired the art inquiry.

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The results are stunning and have led us to receive many compliments from children, teachers and parents! Madison and I couldn’t be more proud of our little ones.

Also note the documentation board we created on our closet doors that outlines the intentions behind the activity, the process that took place and the reasoning behind any decisions that were made by teachers and students. The process itself, was definitely the main focus of this art activity (and will continue to be in future activities). Communicating this through our actions, sends the message to the children that their teachers see them as capable learners who have faith in what they can do. We will rarely ever expect them to produce cookie-cutter crafts that limit their creativity and demand a specific, “correct” end result. This has been a dilemma in the early learning education field because often parents enjoy receiving crafty pieces of art that their children made at school. “Process art” isn’t always “cute” or “pretty” like crafts can be. The important thing to remember is to spread the word to teachers, parents and the students themselves, that the most beautiful pieces of art are the ones that allowed the children to gain knowledge and confidence by freely exploring, discovering and playing with art materials. I think this exercise did exactly that.

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Learning to Look Closely

Well, we made it to a second week of school. This week was busier and even more exciting than the first. We’ve finally started getting into the swing of things and the children are remembering most of the routines and basic expectations on their own. Now that most of the children were comfortable with the room and the familiar toys, Madison and I decided it was time to start introducing some new activities and provocations into the mix.

New Provocations

At one table we set up a provocation consisting of a mixture of buttons, clothes pins and ice cube trays. We challenged the children not to use their hands to pick up the buttons in order to promote some good fine motor practice and training (which we know is a precursor to writing/printing). The amount of learning and exploring was amazing! Children chose to spend a long time here, attempting to use the clothes pins as tongs to pick up the buttons. This was no easy task. Some children decided it wasn’t for them and simply sorted buttons into the ice cube trays. This was also just fine. We snapped photos of the children during the learning and then showed the children the photos later on to discuss what was happening in the images. This exercise gets children to think more carefully about their actions and to put words to the thoughts that run through their minds when reasoning or figuring something out. Being able to describe one’s thinking is a higher-order ability that sets the stage for other problem-solving and critical-thinking.

Take a look at G’s fascinating experience with the buttons…

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Learning using buttons and clothes-pins

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Inquiry of a Castle (Part 2)

Let the Building Begin!

After the art show, we had the time to focus more on our giant castle. We had also collected enough larger boxes and felt confident that the students were ready to construct a castle that could reflect their learning. Different students contributed at various times along the process and we could proudly say it was a collaborative process in which all students thinking and skills were involved.

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Top Row: Children painted boxes black and stamped grey bricks on with a rectangular foam block. Bottom Left: It was sometimes difficult to get this boy to participate in classroom activities and we were looking to find something he could connect with. The creation of the giant castle sparked his interest more than anything I had seen all year. He painted boxes outside in the hall for three days straight. Bottom Right: Children went inside of the castle to consider the arrangement of the boxes and what details needed to be added. Here, one boy runs in with his plan that he has drawn on a piece of paper.

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