Category Archives: Numeracy

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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A Vet Inquiry

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Our Vet Inquiry reminded us that role-playing is a wonderful way for children to act out real life careers and to quite possibly give us a glimpse into each of our little ones’ futures.

A Democratic Classroom

One way that Madison and I like to promote and maintain student voice in the classroom, is through the use of voting. I think that voting is an important concept to grasp as it is a huge part of our society and something that the children will inevitably have to get used to in later grades and every day life situations. Our dramatic play centre had been an unused corner in our room since we took apart our rocket ship. We didn’t want to just slap something together, rather, we sought to thoughtfully plan our next idea with the children. This time, we gave the children total reign over what the dramatic play centre would be. Last time we changed things up in this centre, the children were still engaged in studying space and so it seemed to be a natural response for them to choose a rocket ship once it was suggested by a few of the children. This time, however, it was a fresh start and a bare canvas on which their imaginations could paint.

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We asked the children what their ideas were for the dramatic play centre and encouraged them to think for themselves and to not just go along with their friends’ ideas. This is another major area of learning we are focusing on lately as many of the children are in a very conformist stage of their development, often wanting to do only what their peers approve of and like. We recorded all of the ideas on a piece of chart paper, guiding them in considering ideas that would be plausible and fun for most of the children in the classroom. We then narrowed down these ideas to the four that seemed to be the most popular and/or the most ‘do-able’: Igloo, Vet, Castle, and Hospital. We took a blind vote (once again, to promote individual thinking) using tally marks to reinforce our newly learned math skill. Lo and behold, both Class A and Class B voted for a Vet Office! We weren’t all that surprised as we know how much children typically love animals and pets and recall the few times the children had expressed their desire to have a Vet Office in the classroom. And so it began… A Vet Inquiry! 

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Our Winter & Polar Inquiry Continues

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Our Winter & Polar Inquiry Continues

In my post entitled, The Start of a New Inquiry, I discuss the birth of our Winter & Polar Inquiry. You can see how we began our inquiry with an interest in snow and winter and began focusing our investigation with the introduction of our Animals Shelf (a small-world play area with animal figurines and a winter environment). We began delving into questions about the behaviour of animals in winter time and learned that some animals hibernate, some migrate and some adapt to the cold. When discussing animal adaptations, we naturally began to explore many polar animals (penguins, polar bears, arctic foxes, etc.) and discovered their physical and behavioural differences from those animals who hibernate or migrate. Soon, our inquiry narrowed further and became much more of a Polar Inquiry as the children’s keen interest with “the poles” continued to grow. Below I’ve outlined the evolution of our inquiry – how it began, how it transformed with the children’s questions and interests and where it has developed to at this point.
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Now that the children have learned about the kinds of animals and how they survive in the Poles, we have expanded our inquiry furthermore and have put a spotlight on the geography, land, people and cultures associated with the Arctic and Antarctica. As you will see in an upcoming post, from there, we have put an environmental focus on our inquiry and are now investigating the melting of the ice caps, reasons behind the melting and what we can do about it. For now, let me show you how this all evolved.

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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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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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Kinderbucks + Meaningful Play = Inquiry!

Kinderbucks Continues; Understandings Deepen

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Shaw was an Irish playwright and socialist during the 1800s. In his text, Treatise on Parents and Children, Shaw claims that formal education of the time was deadening to the spirits of children and detrimental to their intellectual development. He advocated for an approach that was child-directed and inquiry-based.

Kinderbucks continues to be a popular spot to play, explore and learn. As the children play, I try to simply observe as much as I can. When the moment seems appropriate, we sometimes enter the play and expand their understandings by having them draw on their own experiences at coffee shops to help them better focus their role playing.

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Here you can see how neat and tidy the children have been keeping Kinderbucks. They take pride in keeping it this way because of the sense of ownership they have over it – it was their idea in the first place and much went into it’s planning! You can also see children taking on various roles such as ordering, serving, baking, and making receipts.

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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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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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