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Archive for the ‘integration’ Category

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.
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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.

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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

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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

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A simple walk in our neighbourhood was all my students really needed to demonstrate their sense of wonder and play. It was also what I needed to in order to determine what was meaningful in their world. How can I make connections to their world, if I don’t really discover it with them? All I had to do was listen. I just listened to find out what was important to them and observe how they interacted in different places within their community. I was surprised to see them run for the swings in the park.

Inspired by Laurel Croza’s book, “I Know Here,” the students shared the school iPads to take photos of the structures and streets that were meaningful to them.

student: “Can we go to the park so I can take a photo of the slides?”

student: “I took a picture of the beautiful flowers.”

student: “I want to get a photo of the train as it passes here.”

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They were enthusiastic and engaged. The children were eager to capture the essence of their own place, their neighbourhood. They were also sharing stories. I listened to the students as they debated the best way to the park or described where their friends lived – they were sharing stories.

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Collaboration is one of the Reggio principles that has required some support in the classroom. However, when we returned to our classroom, the students were enthusiastic to work together in small groups making webs of their community photos using the Popplet App. They negotiated how many photos to use and whether to add text. Some groups even added photos of themselves.

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Even though I knew the importance of shared experiences, connecting to the outdoors, and slowing down the pace to make time for “walks” – I forgot the benefits until we went on our first community walk last week. Needless to say, we are going on another tomorrow. And another next week…

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September has been a month filled with community building in our Grade 5/6 classroom. We have slowed down the back to the books rush with activities that are building relationships.

Coming from a Kindergarten class last year, I immediately noticed that the students seemed to have lost their sense of wonder. Many were looking at me for instructions, ready to respond appropriately – but not to ask questions and be curious. Our inquiry question for the next two months is “How do we balance our needs with others?” This will incorporate our learning in Language, Social Studies, Art, Media Literacy and some Math and Science. In addition to this project, I am starting another Literacy/Art inquiry project that is based on the book, “I Know Here” by Laurel Croza.

I Know Here by Laurel Croza

I want to encourage the students to wonder about their own community, then interpret it and present it in their own unique way (hundred languages). We read the book together. The next day I took them outside to the front of the school to record what they could see, hear, smell, feel and taste. It was amazing to see how their response were more guarded and limited than what some younger children would offer in the same setting. We then made showing statements rather than telling statements, similar to the author’s style of “I Know Here”.

The next day we discussed possible representations that the students could do. They came up with a variety of ways that they could show what they know. We recorded them on the whiteboard.

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Our next step is to ask ourselves questions about our community/neighbourhood and hopefully access that sense of wonder…

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In Kindergarten, my favourite integration of subjects is probably language, science, and art. The children are always fascinated with nature and our surroundings. We have looked at trees, squirrels, clouds, plants, and birds as topics of study. The tangible subjects provide the best science subjects – as the children can observe and predict first hand.

A few months ago, one of the books we were reading introduced hibernation. This was a concept that we explored further. Then we found we were comparing hibernation with migration. I was amazed at how much the children understood in our group discussions. I wanted to provide an opportunity for those with other strengths to also demonstrate their understanding of these concepts, so I thought about a class mural. This would provide an open invitation for those children to contribute and it also allowed them the opportunity to collaborate and discuss their ideas and understandings.

Setting out Kraft brown paper as the backdrop and providing the children with a variety of materials, they were invited to add signs of hibernation or migration.

Hibernation and Migration Mural

 

I noticed that some children were more interested in contributing their ideas as visual representations, while others were more interested in providing oral comments and discussing the work of their peers. They wanted to add clouds, snow on the ground, and a sun. Once the mural was complete, I asked the children, “How do you know whether the animals are hibernating or migrating?” Here are a few responses:

  • “The bear is hibernating because he is sleeping in the cave.”
  • “The frog is hibernating in the pond.”
  • “I know the birds are migrating because they are up in the sky flying to where it is warm.”
  • “I see a butterfly that migrates.”
  • “The bunny has a path to get out and in of his tunnel.”

Completed Collaborative Mural

 

Not only does this make their thinking more visible, it also demonstrates how well the children are learning in relationship with one another. All year they have been working side by side showing their ability to not only share materials but work on shared representations – representations that demonstrate their ability to collaborate.

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