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Connect with nature.

Student and Chickadee

This photo captures it all. It was taken last week when my students visited an outdoor education centre. Although this student was reluctant to go outside on a scavenger hunt with his peers, he was interested in the opportunity to feed chickadees with birdseed.

I observed various students as they approached the wooded area with seed in hand. Boots crunched in the snow as children moved around for the ideal spot. Arms were outstretched high above their heads, as though elevating their chance to attract the birds attention. Some students giggled, some talked, and others made the call of the bird, chick-a-dee-dee-dee, with no success. When the others left, this student walked into a thicket and hunkered down in the snow. I sat close by and we waited. Although it felt like a long time in our silence, we were soon surrounded with chickadees. It was a magical moment that just required nature, time, and space.

Bringing the outdoors in and taking children outside is a necessary component to any learning program. This is especially true for those who want to support inquiry-based learning and a sense of wonder in their students. Last year, when I had students write about their “I Know Here,” their special place was often a bedroom. A few students named a park, but many settings were artificial and controlled. In Richard Louv’s book, Last Child in The Woods, he says, “Most children are hard-pressed to develop a sense of wonder… while playing video games or trapped inside a house because of the fear of crime” (p 96). Many children seek a quiet refuge, if not their bedroom it may even be a corner in a room. But in these environments they lack the space to move and the natural environment to interact with. Nature inspires children in all their capabilities – athletic, artistic, scientific, and poetic! “Nature presents the young with something so much greater than they are; it offers an environment where they can easily contemplate infinity and eternity” (Louv, p 98).

Connect your students with nature, by:

  • allowing time for unstructured exploration or walks
  • encourage students to just notice their senses
  • integrating with technology by using apps to document biodiversity or natural forms
  • supporting student wellbeing by explicitly recognizing the benefits of nature
  • igniting a sense of appreciation and wonder.

I have been reviewing photos from Kindergarten classes from a few years ago. When I took the photos, I may have been capturing a writing activity in action to post for parental viewing on the class website. Now, as I reflect on some of the photos, I notice how the photos demonstrate the pedagogy of a student-centered, inquiry-based program that allows the child to be and feel capable at any entry point in the activity.

Look at the two photos below. They show an activity that emerged after I read the book, The Hello, Goodbye Window by Norton Juster. Students were interested in discussing the family and their own, so they were encouraged to bring in a photo or make a drawing of their own family. We spread out large banners of paper and the children found a space to paste their picture. Then they labelled their picture. This was one of the first collaborative writing activities of the year in September to October. Some students were already avid writers, using the writing centre daily. But this activity evolved from the shared experience of reading, and even the reluctant writers were interested in writing about a topic they were confident about – their family.

Some of the students added details and names, while others used only initials for representation (M for mom, S for sister). The writing was open for students to access at their level – they were not given names to copy or told how to spell the names. The result was a collaborative piece that framed our classroom, providing an assessment as and for learning that we could refer to over the following few weeks.

Looking at the photos, I also notice how this emergent literacy activity connected with other areas such as drama and art. Students would be playing family in the drama centre, then go to confer about their own family roles. Even the opportunity it provided for students to discuss a topic that they felt confident about, while noticing the similarities and differences they shared with peers, supported oral language development.

Although it can be challenging with students doing different things at different times, allowing the time and space for emerging literacy is necessary for today’s learners. I doubt you will see the same degree of initiative, conferring, and engagement when students are sitting in more controlled environments working at tables on individual fill-in-the-blank family trees. By giving them the opportunity, children learn from one another and feel capable to represent their knowing in a variety of ways and at different entry points.

JK_SK literacy_oral JK_SK literacy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I would like to share with you the link for Re-imagining Literacy and Mathematics Throughout the Day. It is the latest release of Kindergarten Matters (September 2014), the Ministry of Education’s multi-media resource for professional learning.

The DVD or online clips are divided into short segments focusing on an invitation for students in new learning, small-group work, and learning materials within themes of co-constructed inquiry and engaging learners.

Many of the clips were filmed in my FDK classroom in May of 2013. These clips provide windows into the classroom for viewing the environment as third teacher and an established child-centred community of learners.

 

September is for new beginnings. This year, I have another new classroom… and it is not as appealing as some of my previous classroom in its aesthetics. The light gets absorbed by the dull green walls, cupboard doors are missing in various units, the paint is peeling, and the chalkboards are faded and marked with residue of tape.

photo

Hard lines.

 

Divergent green walls.

Divergent green walls.

 

Storage without doors.

Storage cupboard without doors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My first priority for my new room was making it as appealing as I could using some “found” materials. I brought in baskets, containers of shells, glass jars, hanging beads, a small carpet, two (plastic) Muskoka chairs and burlap. This is a grade 6/7 classroom. I wanted to create spaces to allow for some movement away from their regular seating. Currently we have 31 desks, however tables have been ordered and are expected to replace the desks within the month. So, I focused on a library with seating area, a carpet for gathering/discussions, and an atelier or art studio.

The room has a cloak room that runs along the back of the classroom with two entries. The storage cupboard wasn’t needed, and is adjacent to a window. It seemed a secluded yet observable area for a small table with a couple of chairs, to allow for exploration with a variety of materials. So the shelves have been filled with materials that are accessible to the students who want to use the area.

Shelves in the centre of the room along the wall under the windows were previously holding a variety of dictionaries and textbooks. I moved these to the back counter and created a fiction and non-fiction browsing library with labelled bins for organization and an area to display some larger hard cover texts. The chairs are set facing the shelves (and the windows), inviting students to this space. During our reading workshop, students are selecting these seats for reading and also for meeting to discuss work during other times in the day.

photo 1

Class library.

photo 2

View of atelier from classroom.

Atelier

Atelier

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although I was temporarily tempted to hang posters and “decorate” the room to brighten it up, it has evolved quickly in the last week to include the materials that students can use to inspire and support their work that is taking front stage and hiding the peeling paint.

The year I taught a combined grade 1 and 2 was so rewarding for me as I documented the progress and learning of the class and in particular a few students who were struggling. There were doubts when colleagues saw the room set up with centres such as blocks, reading, art studio and a doll house (for grade 2’s!). Then there were questioning parents at the end of September asking, “When is my child going to learn?” The month of September was just community building and learning the independence of centres in the afternoon after a morning of literacy and math. Of course there were times for direct teaching and group lessons around Science and Social Studies, but they were brief. Appropriate for the age group. Then the students were able to apply their learning and questioning during centre time. They were accountable by having a plan of what they wanted to work on – such as building bridges in the block centre or depicting the energy of the sun in the art studio. At the end of the day we would gather on the carpet and students had time to share what they created or discovered. I would record their findings on large paper – the “knowledge building” session – and we would decide to add resources to our Inquiry Board for other students to learn from.

I put the findings from the documentation together in an article – it was published last year in The Canadian Association for Young Children journal (Fall 2013). I am attaching the PDF version as I think it provides a good example of the process from September to June. It is also demonstrates how centres in a Primary classroom allow for differentiated learning and the Hundred Languages. Board_CCFall2013

Over the winter months, our class took their math outside to explore their own immediate community. They worked on inquiry questions that they developed. The topic was broad, as they could measure anything that they could see or access from our school grounds, though it was limited to the strand of Measurement.

At first, the questions were too simple.

What is the area of our classroom?

What is the length of our school?

So, with some encouragement, they developed questions that would require more mathematical thinking. To assist with the questioning, students were able to use iPads to take photos of their wonderings.

photo 2 photo 1

 

 

photo 4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The questions developed. Groups showed various levels of engagement as they worked on some of the following questions.

How tall is the tree?

How tall is the apartment building?

What is the volume of the portable building?

What is the perimeter of the whole school?

 

I learned quite a bit as I reflected on this inquiry and how I would make changes to support student learning. Here is what I noticed:

  • Most of my students were only thinking in terms of linear measurement.
  • Some students simplified their questions when the answer did not appear easily or quickly. They were used to solving “quick math” questions, not revisiting one question for an extended time.
  • Few students drew representations to measure using scale or to show their thinking when problem solving.
  • Students looked to me for the answers, rather than to one another for creative ways to problem solve.
  • Student engagement would have been greater if their was a real-life problem associated with their math questions. I had selected Measurement as a topic of inquiry. Next time, I will open up the questioning for all strands of math.

 

 

My grade 5/6 students were introduced to a Big Idea at the beginning of the school year. It was with intention that this question would be lens for the students to consider their curriculum, particularly Language, Science, and Social Studies. The Big Idea was in a form of a question: How do we balance our needs with others? A bulletin board in the classroom was set-up dedicated for items we may collect that would contribute to our understanding as we worked to answer this question. When I taught grade 1/2s, they enjoyed adding information or images to our research board and watching the accumulation of ideas as the board filled. In the grade 5/6 class this year, the concept of collecting representations of related ideas was difficult for them to either grasp or see as worthwhile. So as we discussed new books or issues, I would add something to our Inquiry Research board. Needless to say, it was more sparse than the research boards I was used to seeing in the younger grades. One of the first additions to the board was to add their initial responses to the question. This provides a good starting point. So, when asked How do we balance our needs with others?, the students responded with: 
  • “Be kind and friendly.”
  • “Cooperate with others.”
  • “Eat healthy.”
  • “Some people in some countries don’t have food to eat, so don’t let your food go to waste.”
  • “Treat others the way you want to be treated, for example, if you’re mean to your brother he will be too.”
 
When I reviewed the responses I had to ask myself if the students understood what needs were and if they were providing answers they thought were “right.” The answers seemed like stock answers for a variety of questions, but not the question that I had asked of them. I realized we needed to backtrack and look at needs and understand them by definition. We considered what needs are (physical, emotional, and group needs).
Then, to understand the meaning of the balance between individuals or groups, we used books such as “The Encounter” and “Sees Behind Trees” to deepen through read-alouds and discussions. I was surprised that a visual of a scale was what really worked to help them grasp the concept. We then used that image to look at the curriculum to consider:
  • needs of First Nations vs. European explorers
  • needs of Space Explorers
  • needs of residents in areas of development (Fracking for gas extraction)
At the end of our inquiry, students provided responses that showed a better understanding of needs and some were able to use specific examples from their learning:
“The Europeans wanted to change First Nations’ culture but what they didn’t know was that First Nations already had a culture – Nature was their god but the Europeans didn’t know that.”
 
“Balancing your needs is how you manage things in your life. The needs of the First Nations didn’t matter (to the Europeans). Nobody cared about their religion. They felt useless.”
 
“Some people need more than others.”
 
“I don’t think that they balanced their needs with First Nations when they took their children to schools far away so they can forget their culture and their language.”
 
Inquiry Research Board
johnaleslietdsb

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