Tag Archives: play-based learning

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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From Melting Ice Caps to a Global Warming Inquiry

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Here, M wears a hat she made with a word bubble that says, “Stop Polluting!” – all her idea! She, along with many of her peers, have become passionate environmentalists over the past month. Read more to find out why!

From Melting Ice Caps to a Global Warming Inquiry

In my last post, Polar Learning Flourishes!, I shared our learning experiences throughout our Polar Inquiry, which had taken place during the winter months. One finding that intrigued the children, was that the ice caps were melting. We talked about what the possibility of melted ice caps would mean for the animals, people and the land in these regions and concluded that polar animals would need to either adapt to the new conditions or they could die off. We were sad to think that the Inuit and other people living in the Arctic would be affected negatively in various ways as well (e.g., the animals they used to hunt could be extinct, their traditions would be changed, etc.). I could tell by the children’s keen interest in this topic that I had to plan some interactive lessons and learning experiences to help the children better understand the situation. And so began our month-long investigation on Global Warming…
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The Creation of our Rocket Ship

The Importance of Thinking Imaginatively

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Einstein said it beautifully – an imagination can lead to an endless supply of possibilities. While it’s important that young children learn the basics and acquire skills in numeracy and literacy, I believe that the ability to think creatively and imaginatively, is the key to success in the technology-rich, ever-changing 21st Century world. For an interesting article on the Kindergarten approach to learning (the spiraling process of imagine, create, play, share, reflect) and how it’s so crucial that it needs to extend to learners of higher grades as well to continue the process, check out: “All I Really Need to Know (About Creative Thinking) I Learned (By Studying How Children Learn) In Kindergarten” by Mitchell Resnick (2007). For now, read about how our imaginations worked together to create our very own classroom rocket ship.

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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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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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Playing to Learn

Playing to Learn: An Oldie but a Goodie

playingtolearnI came across this cartoon a few years ago and it continues to have a powerful effect on me regarding the necessity of play in early childhood. I cannot find the original source of the cartoon to give it the proper credit it deserves but I did find it was now being used on the Learn Quebec website. It has also been a popular resource used in all of my Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario Additional Qualification courses in Kindergarten.

Take a look at the cartoon and see what resonates with you. Perhaps it has given you a better idea about the concept of play-based learning. I want to add that the educators’ roles in a play-based program are critical. This isn’t a ‘free play’ program but a program that utilizes purposefully planned play experiences to engage children and shape their learning in meaningful and authentic ways. As children play, the educators observe, interact with the children, extend and expand their learning and draw out ‘big ideas’ from the curriculum.

After all …

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Halloweek in SK

Halloween + Week = Halloweek 

Halloweek in Room 209 was busy but also filled with a ton of excitement. Although I try to stay away from themes, it was the first time that all of my students celebrated Halloween. For that reason, I didn’t see the harm in integrating some Halloween festivities into our program. Each activity was still open-ended, play-based and inquiry-focused and thus there was no departure from our regular curriculum. Have a look at what we were up to…

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On Monday, we surprised the children by decorating our door to look like a mummy. Madison led the children in creating blow paint monsters. They used straws to blow air onto wet paint to create the splash effect. After they dried, they added details like eyes, mouths and horns. Each one was unique and was added to our classroom mummy door.

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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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Routines and New Learning Experiences!

Adjustments

Being that my students have to get used to two classrooms and two sets of teaching teams (English AND French) as well as full-day Kindergarten, the first week of school was all about adjusting to the routines. I really feel for some of these kids who have more difficulty with transitions but my experience reminds me how malleable children are and how quickly they can adapt and learn at this age. I think a lot of adults underestimate these little ones. They assume that they are all going to take a very long time getting used to being at school all day (and are going to require “nap time” because otherwise they just won’t be able to function) and to remembering rules, routines, expectations, etc. when in reality, this isn’t necessarily the case. There are always exceptions and every child is unique coming to us with different needs and backgrounds. However, most children usually adapt quite quickly. All I mean from this is – don’t be surprised that the children are doing better than you thought so early on in the program.

Learning About School

Nevertheless, in the first week the children needed to learn a lot of the basics of being at school. They learned: the expectations of a student, how to treat the room and materials, where to find what they needed in the room, how to transition from one activity to the next, how to eat lunch at school, how to sit and behave at the carpet during class meetings, where to go at dismissal time, how to play during thinking and learning time and how to meet and keep friends as well as how to play with others and share (this being an ongoing learning experience throughout the year). Madison and I spent a lot of time teaching, modeling and reminding students of these things all week and will continue doing so until we feel confident that our students understand. Patience and a soft approach eases students in at the beginning of the year and we try to add in humour as much as we can.

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Above you can see the children (1) learning to play outside in the Kinder yard, (2) finding their indoor shoes to change into after coming in from outside and (3) placing the rock with their name on it in the “Welcome” basket for attendance. In the second row, children are (1) lining up to wash their hands before they eat, (2) sitting quietly and reading books first thing in the morning or after they eat before going outside and (3) listening and participating during my whole-group lesson or class meeting (carpet time). In the final row, children are (1) eating during nutrition break (putting their lunch bags under their chairs and laying out the food they will eat), (2) putting away their backpacks in the cubby room and (3) packing up at the end of the day, being sure to take home their note totes/mailbags even if they’re empty. Madison and I have been very pleased overall with how smoothly the first week went and how quickly the children have been remembering everything.

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