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Archive for the ‘outdoor space’ 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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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.

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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.

 

 

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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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The environment is the third teacher when it provides children the opportunity to slow down and take note. One of the questions I often ask is, “What do you notice?” This encourages reflection, conversation, and knowledge-building among the students. For some students, observations take time. They answer without really thinking or noticing – by rushing to give an expected answer rather than a response that is unexpected.

The use of light and projection in the classroom has provided students with new perspectives. They may be looking at a familiar subject, yet they see it in a new way. When they are introduced to the act of tracing an image, they are fascinated with the simple task and it slows down their consideration of the subject.

From our neighbourhood walks, we had observed a variety of trees. The children compared coniferous and deciduous and talked about the differences that made each identifiable. However, when drawing deciduous trees, their observations from the walks were not evident. The trees still looked like trunks with a circle of green set on top. So we revisited the trees and took photos.

neighbourhood tree

 

 

When an image of one of the local trees was projected to a table in the classroom, the children were intrigued with the task of tracing its many limbs. I noticed how this task slowed down their movements and also their consideration of the tree. After this opportunity, the children’s drawings were more realistic in that long limbs were included and the proportions changed.

 

Tracing and noticing

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To continue from the last post about our inquiry including structures, I thought I would share some images that show an example of the process of learning in the Grade 1/2 classroom. There is a walking bridge close to the school that all the children were familiar with, so I asked them how the structure was supported from one side of the ravine to the other. There were various replies, but most students agreed that there were posts holding it up. So we all walked to the ravine with our journals and to their surprise there were no posts! So I asked the children to simply observe and record their ideas about the structure. When we returned to class there was excitement over their discoveries. We took time looking at various representations that they drew and noticed many details in the construction. The children commented on the materials and also the purpose of the design. For days (even weeks), many of the students used blocks to reconstruct the bridge from one chair to another, trying to build a bridge with supports on each end.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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As summer winds down, this is the time that I would start planning provocations for the first week of Kindergarten. In the science area, I would provide a focal point of interest for the children. The best ideas are usually ones from nature: shells, rocks, leaves, or even a fish.

One year, I brought in a container with 3 snails. It was such a wonderful way to engage the children in that first week or two of school. As they gathered around the inquiry table, they would share their observations and joy, as they had no expectations on them but to enjoy watching the snails. Then I would add paper pads and pencils, asking the children to draw what they see. Once a child completed a drawing, it would be displayed in the same area. This encourages other reticent drawers to do the same and it also encourages conversation as the children encounter new representations. The children are encouraged to draw what they see and all representations are displayed. They are drawing to learn about the snails – not learning to draw. In time, I would also add play dough to the inquiry centre for those children who would like to create 3-D representations. Then, I would often watch the children and record their comments and conversations. These could be displayed to demonstrate their thinking and also to read aloud to the class as a whole to encourage more discussion or encourage research for their questions.

This year, I will be teaching a grade one and two class. I am getting a new classroom, much smaller than the last. It is my plan to set up an atelier and an inquiry centre. However, with a more structured curriculum I will not be using provocations in the same way. My plan is to provide the students with a plain, blank journal. And with this journal, we will visit a nearby ravine on a weekly or bi-weekly basis to observe the same outdoor and real world space as it changes throughout the school year. Using our journals as an inquiry tool, I hope that the children will learn to use their drawings as means for learning. The visits to the ravine will begin in September as a free exploration. Then, we will focus on connecting the curriculum to the real world, such as making observations based on our senses, observing energy of the sun and the wind, or observing the effects of liquids and solids in the ravine through the winter. The journals will only be a part of our inquiry/science lessons, but I am hoping that it will also provide a purpose to integrate other parts of the curriculum, such as language, math, and art in a meaningful way for the children.

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Just as the classroom can be made more inviting with the use of intentional materials, the same goes for outdoor spaces. Outdoor activity gyms made of metal and painted in primary colours may be the norm in many school yards, however there are other options. Outdoor spaces should provide places with shade and nooks for two or three children to sit quietly and ponder the natural world or to create imaginary realms. Materials of wood, plexiglass, and steel provide outdoor settings that support the Reggio ideas of transparency and reflection.

Last summer when travelling near Boston, we came upon an outdoor space in Harvard Square that represented to me the ideal playground. The Alexander W. Kemp Playground in Cambridge Common is an invitation to children of all ages. It hosts a carved dragon ship with sail, climbing nets, pumps and troughs for water that connects to an outdoor sheltered centre containing pulleys for sand. What appealed to me most as a parent and an educator, was that the playground promoted physical activity as well as equipment for imaginary play and inquiry using sand and water.

As stated by the City of Cambridge http://www2.cambridgema.gov/cdd/cp/parks/common/index.html  the “redesigned playground was completed and opened in summer 2009. It has a variety of play features to stimulate challenging physical activity as well as creative, exploratory, imaginative and social play for kids of all ages. It builds on the idea that playgrounds are places where children grow and learn about themselves and the world around them.The playground design is a landscape of hills, valleys, sand, wooden branches and stumps, living plant material, and loose wooden blocks to build with. It is a place where kids can invent their own forms of play. Many features are made from naturally decay-resistant wood. Slides are embedded into hills. Turning a crank sends water cascading down a series of tables into the sand area. There is a swing set for toddlers, a multidirectional dish-shaped swing that can be used by several children at once, a see-saw with multiple seats at each end for groups of children (or adults), and a “merry-go-round” that is at ground level to provide wheelchair access.”

Definitely something to think of when designing an outdoor space for children.

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johnaleslietdsb

Our Inquiry Journey

The Third Teacher

reggio inspirations in my classroom

let the children play

reggio inspirations in my classroom

Inquiring Minds: Mrs. Myers' Kindergarten

reggio inspirations in my classroom

leaf and twig

where observation and imagination meet nature in poetry