Category Archives: Creating / Tinkering

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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Spring Brings A Worm Inquiry

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Spring Brings a Worm Inquiry

April 2015 revealed the budding beginnings of a new inquiry. From all our talk on caring for the Earth, the benefits of compost and producing nutrient-rich soil, we have begun to wonder about worms and other mini-beasts. I asked the children if they would like to study worms close up by having worms in the classroom and it was a resounding, “YES!!!”. Madison and I decided we could have our very own earth worm tank to enhance our learning. If you’ve read my earlier posts, you know that I did this last year and the children not only loved it but also learned so much from it! Even those who, at first, were timid about touching the worms ended up learning the values of bravery and trying new things.

This post will showcase our journey throughout our Worm Inquiry and reveal how it transformed into a broader study of insects. As always, our scientific investigations were used as a means to also tap into math, language and the arts, allowing us to cover many curriculum expectations. The big idea that I wanted the children to understand was that although worms are small, they are indeed very important to the soil, the plants, animals and to us! I can definitely say that this goal was well reached.

Enjoy!

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Springtime Learning!

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As our students create, explore, learn and grow, they are discovering the world around them as well as who they are, as individuals. Through each choice they select, mistake they make and alternative point of view they encounter, our children learn what makes them, them! The more opportunities we give our little ones to explore their interests, the more their spirits are nurtured and soon they emerge as their authentic, true selves. As the year is drawing to an end, we have been so lucky to have witnessed over 40 different personalities take shape and grow. As Spring brings new light to our days, it also brings with it the development of our little ones’ identities. And so with this post, I bring you some of the experiences that took us through our Spring months when we were not involved in our other inquiries. Some of the experiences may be small but they still played roles in developing our students’ personalities along their journeys.

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The Start of a New Inquiry

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“How do you start an inquiry project?” 

I get a lot of questions about how an inquiry project starts. To address these questions, I will explain my own understanding of inquiry-based learning  while utilizing one of the best pieces on this approach to teaching and learning that I have ever come across from the Ontario Ministry of Education (find the whole article here).

I think many educators are intimidated or at least, not totally ‘sold’ on the idea of inquiry-based learning because they have the misconception that inquiries always start and are fully led by the students, themselves. “How do students know what’s best for them to learn and know? How can they learn the basics in an unstructured environment” they ask. While the students do have a lot of involvement in the planning and executing of an inquiry, it is the job of the educator to teach and model for them, the tools they need to successfully move through an inquiry project. These tools include: how to contribute and extend others’ ideas, how to formulate good questions and in essence, how to take those ideas and questions and move into the investigative stage. The educator, then, is not taking – by any means – a passive role and the environment is not unstructured, just differently structured. The educator plays an active role, creating a classroom culture where ideas and questions triumph as “central currency” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2013). As the educator acknowledges and praises students for presenting deep questions and in turn, creates an environment where students come to love learning, she simultaneously assists students in moving from a position of wondering to a position of understanding and further questioning, sending the message that learning is a lifelong pursuit. It should be stressed that inquiry-based learning does not mean the absence of longstanding teaching approaches like explicit instruction of skills and knowledge not naturally acquired through student-guided explorations. It just means that there is a combination of these approaches along with small group and guided learning in order to best support students in moving forward in their inquiry ventures.

Throughout these inquiry projects, the educator, with her expertise of the curriculum, is able to locate and pull out curriculum expectations from the children’s investigations. So – in response to those original questions often asked by educators – the students are able to explore topics and problems that mean something to them while the educator ensures aspects of the curriculum are being covered (bonus: students’ wonders often exceed curriculum expectations!). This is not as difficult as it sounds, especially when the educator focuses on the “big ideas” found within the curriculum and picks up on students’ interests or questions that, if explored further, would likely lead to the achievement of overall curriculum goals (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2013).

It’s important to understand that inquiry-based learning is not letting go of the class and allowing complete self-direction by the students. After all, “Students’ thinking can be limited when confined to their own experiences. Educators have the privilege of introducing students to ideas that do not emerge spontaneously and from discovery alone, and similarly, they must assume the role of helping children notice things that would not otherwise be seen” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2013). Therefore, sometimes this means that the educator may also be involved in the initial ‘sparking’ of an inquiry project by presenting the students with topics, questions or materials that could potentially grab the interests of the students and give them some direction for their next set of wonders and investigations. Educators “play the role of “provocateur,” finding creative ways to introduce students to ideas and to subject matter that is of interest to them and offers “inquiry potential” or promise in terms of opportunities for students to engage in sustained inquiry of their own” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2013). The idea is to keep things as open-ended as possible and to allow the students to interact with new stimuli in their own unique ways. The educator may assume that by presenting particular “sparks” the inquiry will unfold in a certain way. However, most often it never quite evolves as the educator imagines and the children end up swaying the inquiry in unexpected directions according to their interests, backgrounds or strengths in abilities.

The Birth of our Winter & Polar Inquiry

Encouraging Thinking About Winter

After coming back from Winter Vacation, we found that the students just needed some time to relax and get back into their routines at school. There wasn’t a whole lot of burning questions or major wondering going on at first. Instead of waiting, we offered some new learning centers and invitations to play that we suspected would get them back into their “investigative” frame of thinking. We knew that “Whether inquiry begins with the student, teacher or a shared classroom experience, what matters most is that the initial query sparks student interest and provides the opportunity and resources for in-depth student investigations” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2013). Since we had quite a bit of snow now (as opposed to before Christmas), we decided to work with the topic of “snow” and see where it took us.

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One of my most favourite quotes related to the power of the Arts.

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Processes, Projects & Possibilities

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Well… it’s finished! The project we’ve worked so long and hard on during the month of December and into January: Our space mural! Behold weeks and weeks of learning all rolled into one beautiful masterpiece to showcase not only the knowledge gained, but also the thinking done, the problems solved, and the creativity exercised. Roosevelt truly summed it up so nicely for us. The effort put in is definitely important and where the magic happens. However, when the final result is as wonderful as this – well, the satisfaction is like no other. I think I can speak on behalf of the children when I say: We are SO proud of our mural!

Come and see it in person! From the intricate and captivating multi-media piece of art made by the children… to the facts posted around the mural (in the children’s own words) to enhance each of the features… to the photos, captions and descriptions that document the evolution of our Space and Gravity Inquiry… you will not be disappointed!

So just how did we get here?

A recap and some updates are in order!

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Fallin’ for Fall

The past two weeks can be best summed up using the following quote by marine biologist and conservationist, Rachel Carson:

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In addition to all of the wonderful learning related to our city inquiry, children were presented with a provocation of fall-related items. In our sensory bin, Madison and I put gourds, pumpkins, dried maize/corn, strawberry corn, stones, pine cones and magnifying glasses. At first, only clipboards with paper and markers were set beside the table to encourage recording of exploring, wondering and representing. As you will see in the photos, these two clipboards were not enough and this centre seeped onto other tables and even onto the floor as children needed more room to do their exploring.

Now, if there’s one thing one would need to know about teaching young learners, it is this: you can make almost anything sound amazing and fun if you present it that way and truly believe it yourself. Many people would assume children would find this learning centre boring and be done with it after just a few minutes. By modeling our excitement to look closely at the items, admire their imperfect beauty, and draw/write about what we see, many children kept busy with the centre for days (and weeks!). I told the children that they were all scientists because they were doing exactly what scientists do by observing, examining and asking questions that lead to discovery. The children LOVED learning that they were real scientists. Have a look at what happened…

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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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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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