Category Archives: SK 2013-2014

This category contains posts about teaching Senior Kindergarten EFI English students in the 2013-2014 school year.

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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Inquiry of a Castle (Part 1)

After the worm inquiry, my SKs explored castles and Medieval Times. The journey we went on together was magical and filled with wonder and awe. Along the way, I kept digital documentation of how it all came to be and what unfolded. To give you a sense of my documentation style, I will insert clips from my “castle file” for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!

The Provocation:

Since the release of the Disney film, Frozen on DVD, I observed my students routine engagement in role-playing games involving princesses, knights and Medieval Times castles. One day, I put on a video clip of the movie’s theme song, “Let it Go” and watched in awe as all of my students sang along word for word, drinking in the colourful images of magic and castles found within the scenes. My students’ interest in this subject matter did not diminish and it was days later that they were still fully inspired by the movie, singing the theme song and integrating ideas of princesses, knights and castles into their dramatic play, drawings and construction (some of the boys were even constructing shields and swords with building materials). I finally asked them the question that sparked our journey, “How can we make our “princess” and “knight” play more ‘real’?” The children almost unanimously replied,  “Let’s build a giant castle!”. 

Making a Plan & Engaging Families:

After presenting the question, I asked the class how we were going to go about building this giant castle. We made a list of things we might need and decided to send this list to our families to ask for donations. Items on the list included: large boxes, paint, fabric, costumes and books that could help us with developing a better understanding of castles. I sent the letter out to all of the families in an email that night and the response was overwhelming. It seemed almost everyone wanted to contribute or be a part of our giant castle. Throughout the weeks, parents volunteered their time to come in and assist with our inquiry in various ways (helping to construct, reading to the children, helping children with their designs, etc.). One parent donated a book that was precious to her and her family called, “The Story of Castles”. She explained how wonderful the book was and even wanted to read a chapter to us one day.

Donations poured in over the next couple of days after the letter was sent out. While we waited, I asked the children who were interested to begin drawing ideas for our castle. These were pinned up on a collage-style board in the middle of our room.

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Left: Children filtered in and out of the drawing station at will to create elaborate pictures of castles and plans for our giant classroom castle. Right: This child sat drawing her castle for an impressive 40 minutes! She was so careful and precise in her design and utilized books for accuracy.

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This is a shot of our collage-style, “work-in-progress” Castle Board after the first couple of days into preparing/planning for our giant castle. It was interesting to see each child’s initial idea of castles before much teaching had been done. I didn’t see this as my inquiry board, rather just something we threw up there as children were completing drawings quickly. I wanted to show how excited the prospect of this inquiry made the children. The actual documentation board that highlighted the focus of our journey began a few days after this was put up.

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A Worm Inquiry (Part 2)

Picking up from where I left off in which I explained where this worm inquiry came from and how I prepared for it (see the last post), I will now describe what happened when the children were introduced to the worms. Enjoy!

Engaging Students at the Science/Worm Centre:

My prized worm tank was complete and ready for its worm inhabitants. This new provocation was, at first, hidden from students when they came into the classroom the next morning. I started off reminding them of their wonderings yesterday about why there were no worms in the soil at the mud table. I told them I wanted to read them a story about a worm to get them thinking more about worms. I read, “Diary of a Worm” by Doreen Cronin.

As we read the story, certain questions arose about whether or not the book was giving us real facts about worms. Initially the students stated that the book was fiction because they could tell it was more like a story and did not have a table of contents like the non-fiction books we have looked at did. As students asked questions or made predictions as to whether or not something in the story was a real fact about worms, I recorded their thinking on chart paper. I was surprised when some children talked about worms being good for the soil and the environment! This was something I kept note of because it told me that some children had a fairly good background on worms. The chart paper became quite crowded and messy but the children know from me reminding them, that thinking is sometimes ‘messy’ and not always ‘neat and tidy’.

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Our ‘busy paper’ as we wondered and talked about worms.

After the story, we review our thoughts from the chart paper. I asked the children how we could find out the answers to our questions as well as find out more about worms. The children are becoming very familiar with this process of “researching” or “exploring”. Some answers included: Look on the iPad or iPhone, look on the computer or Internet, ask Scientists in Sweden (yes, Sweden!), look in non-fiction books, and finally…. look, study and feel worms by bringing real worms into the class. A few children actually suggested this last idea. A few children immediately stated that this would be impossible because there’s still snow outside and the ground is frozen. Other children brought up that fisherman have to buy their worms from a story so maybe we could buy worms from a store too. The children discussed a possible plan of action with one another for a few minutes while I left the circle to go grab the tank.

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A Worm Inquiry (Part 1)

Introduction & Pre-Inquiry

The worm inquiry developed from smaller inquiries surrounding the topics of farm life, dirt/soil and mud. It grew into something we had never expected, integrating so much of the curriculum and developing, within our students, a tolerance and respect for other living things, an understanding of the careful balance of systems within our environment and for some, the courage to step outside of their comfort zone and open their minds and hearts to these tiny (but important) creatures. This post will set the stage for how it all unfolded. 

As we moved into the spring this year, I read the story “Stuck in the Mud” by Jane Clarke as directed by the Early Literacy Intervention Program (ELIP) that my school’s Kindergarten team was taking part in. The program and the books utilized are geared towards improving language development for Kindergarten-age children.

Both of my classes of students really enjoyed the book but seemed to be most interested about the subject matter – the farm, farm animals and farming in general.

We found an old farm toy in storage and brought it out along with some farm animals to see what the children would do with it. They absolutely loved these toys and said that we should build the rest of the farm like in the pictures from Stuck in the Mud (the fields, landscape, etc.). We asked how this could be done and some children suggested putting the farm toys in the sandbox.

That evening my teaching partner and I emptied the white sand from the sandbox and filled it with real potting soil to make it more like a real farm. We also thought it may be interesting to add soil to our water table and let the kids mix in some water to discover what would happen.

The children were ecstatic over the more ‘realistic’ farm landscape and brought other materials over from around the room as they saw fit (e.g., tree/wood pieces, rocks, etc.). They set up the farm in various designs over the days. They were also over the moon about adding water to the soil at the water table. They easily predicted it would become mud and played for days at this table, mushing it between their fingers, using different mixing/measuring tools and molding shapes with it. I also read them a book about mud and after, we made a word web of words that describe mud. They began to use many of these words at the ‘Mud Table’ while playing. A DECE from another Board visited our classroom to learn more about inquiry and took careful notes about what the children were saying/doing. She concluded that surprisingly, many of the children had admitted to never actually playing with mud before and told her how interesting and fun it was for them.

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Top Left & Bottom Left: Our water table/sensory bin filled with mud. Top Right & Bottom Right: Our sandbox filled with soil and farm toys

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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.