Play

Just Let Them Play!

I watched two TED talks last weekend, both on the theme of “Play”.

They both were really interesting, but the second one really got me thinking, especially when Peter Grey spoke of all the skills that children can learn through play:

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I am running an after school activity for G1-5 students. It is called “Invitation to Create” and it is based around the ideas from my book and my belief that kids need time to just explore different materials and processes without necessarily working toward a “product”.  On Monday afternoon, with the videos fresh in my mind, I was preparing for my activity. I was planning on reading “The Dot” (as a throwback to Dot Day the previous week) and having the kids put together sculptures in the style of Louise Nevelson. I was choosing the parts, picking the paint color, sorting the objects, plugging in the hot glue – and in my head planning out so much of how I would be directing and managing this mixed age group of children. Every time I walked from my Design Pit to the MakerSpace, I passed this table outside the Head of Primary’s office:

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On the third trip from the Makerspace, I stopped. I popped my head in and asked Marina if I could borrow her wood cookies and stones and I set these, the large wooden dots, and some corks out on the table. I read the book, showed the kids the materials, and gave them the option of cutting the corks into “cookies” as well.

Some spent a lot of time just sawing away at the corks. Most were beyond happy to just take the stones and wood cookies and play. The large wooden ‘dots’ gave their work focus and they just stood or sat and played for the hour we were together. There were collaborations, iterations,  and expansions on the original brief with students using more dots to make stacked dots. There was conversation, cooperation, amazing ideas, and many “oohs and ahhhs” at others’ designs.

It was playful. It was relaxing. And it was fun.

I learned that when I get out of the way, and let kids play, it can be a massive learning experience for everyone – myself included.

How do you create opportunities for play in your day?

 

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Empathy, Reflection, Responsive Classroom

Genuinely Proactive

Today I joined our Middle School teachers for a Responsive Classroom all-day workshop. We have been introduced to RC through faculty meetings but it was great to spend the whole day learning ‘from the ground up’ as this is something our Primary School has been working on prior to my starting at NIS.

The day offered a lot to think about:

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With so much going on, the biggest takeaway for me was to be genuine and proactive in my dealings with kids. I really like that RC gives you permission to “go slow to go fast later” in the way you take the time to set up a strong social/emotional foundation on which to build academic growth and understanding.

I know I need to be more intentional and more specific in my language and continue to look for ways to have kids actively involved in their learning.

Most of all, I really appreciated the time to reflect on how things have started this year and how I hope to improve them as we move on. Here’s one idea that was sparked in our faculty meeting yesterday, percolated in my mind during the workshop and was refined in a 2 minute cafeteria conversation with our Head of Primary, Marina Gijzen:

Rest Area!

During a discussion about regulatory zones and helping kids who have trouble self-regulating, there was a “blue zone” with the symbol for a Rest Area:

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I have taken this idea and have prepared a rest area sign for my room. I modeled to one class how they might choose to come here to take a breath, re-focus, or simply rest. Students were intrigued. As well as choosing to go there, I also said I may invite some students to hang out there if I felt they needed a rest. I was happy with this idea as a proactive way of addressing potentially problematic behaviors. Marina then suggested that when introducing this area to the classes I teach, I let the kids know that “Today, everyone will get a chance to use the Rest Area. When I come by and tap you on the shoulder, just head over there and stay long enough for you to feel what it is like to be there.”  The idea of Responsive Classroom is that redirection is not punitive and discipline and punishment are not synonymous.  There is also an expectation of interactive modeling so students will know what the expectations look and feel like.

I am looking forward to engaging with students in a genuinely proactive way in our coming classes.

Creativity, Design, Learning

#cultivate your learning spaces

My feed is full of great stories from fellow teachers beginning a new school year. Many are inspiring me with the depth of thought that goes into starting a new school year. I especially liked this post from my new 2nd grade colleague, Nora, who reminded me in her post to take a minute to appreciate the special, clean start of a new year before everything levels up.

Today I read a post I have been waiting a year for. My friend Jocelyn in Singapore did amazing things with her learning space this time last year. She is not the type of person to sit with the status quo so I was super intrigued to see where she would head this year. She did not disappoint. Jocelyn has refined her thinking and continued her research all in the name of best supporting her students. She herself even says of her new learning spaces:

I also know that removing the 1 desk & chair per child will encourage me to adapt and broaden my teaching practice to move beyond ‘desk work’ activities.

Jocelyn Sutherland

I really respect the way she is leaning in on the third teacher to help her kids learn best. Jocelyn’s entire post which includes links to last year’s learning environment post, is definitely worth reading in its entirety. My biggest takeaway was the need for a variety of spaces in your classroom. Spaces known as: the cave, the watering hole, and the campfire:

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As per Jocelyn’s post, these spaces are described as:

CAVES: This is a space where students can reflect independently, journal or read. It allows students to process what they’ve learned and allows students private quiet time.

WATERING HOLES: This is the social space where students collaborate, share thinking and can work in small groups. Watering holes foster relationships in the classroom and encourage students to expand their friendship circles through mixed grouping opportunities.

CAMPFIRES: This space is used for whole class gatherings for morning meetings, storytelling, celebrations and presentations by experts. It stands as a ritual for bringing the entire classroom community together in one friendly space.

 

It’s never too late to change. Take a look at your room. Do you have these types of spaces in your learning environment? Could you? How might you #cultivate your learning spaces?

Design, Inquiry, iPad, Thinking, Visible Thinking

TMI

One of the resources that I’m using a lot in my new role as a design teacher, is the book called Invent to Learn by Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary S. Stager. This book details an inquiry type cycle simply called TMI: Think, Make, Improve. This is very accessible language for students and most of the kids who have been in our school are very familiar with this terminology and how to put it into practice.

Here are each of the stages in a little more detail:




I particularly like the “improve” section. Once kids have made something they are challenged to ask themselves are they stuck or are they satisfied? Can I fix it or can I make it better?

Today I was working with Grade 3. Their challenge was to use what they had learned from previous lessons to create a balloon powered vehicle. We talked about TMI and as we talked about the first stage, I sat with the students and modeled how I might document my thinking. Using the Paper 53 app and my iPad Pro with Apple Pencil I was able to think aloud while drawing and projecting on our screen. This was my second time doing this lesson and I didn’t do the same kind of modeling of this documentation process with the first group. We really noticed a difference in quality when the kids were shown how it is possible to plan out their designs. 


I get to do this lesson for a third time tomorrow. I want to make sure that we refer back to the image of all the things that “thinking” entails and identify the elements that we touch on so the kids see that there is not just one way of thinking. Edit

How do you help your children to make their thinking visible?

Approaches to Learning, Design

Partner Frenzy

Today, I was introducing Little Bits to one of my classes. Here’s their tag line:

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Great! I thought. This will be awesome! I thought. I like mixing up teams and partners for working groups, so for this initial task of sorting the kit and then “making something that does something” (free exploration) for the 60 minute lesson, I thought I would just pair off down the register, students 1 and 2 together, 3 and 4, and so on. Total lucky dip.

During lunch I had taken a minute to open the new YouCubed posters:

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I think if you took the words “maths” and “mathematical” these norms could apply to many things students are challenged to do every day. In particular:

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Great! I thought. I will have a lesson in which the kids are challenged to use electronics (something they may not think they can do), they will struggle and grow their brains, and all this will be done under the umbrella of collaborative team work.

Or not.

The class was not impressed with my random pairings. Feet stomped, hands thrown in the air, students started suggesting other pairs, some said nothing, some said they were fine with their partner, one said, “NOBODY likes the person they have been partnered with!”  I had forgotten how dramatic fourth graders could be!

I let them go for a minute and then I stepped in. And in a firm, clear voice, I explained that we can do anything for 45 minutes. And we can certainly work with a classmate for that time on this task. And if you didn’t want to work with your assigned partner, that was your choice, but you would also be choosing to not work at all. All kids were heads down in the kits within 30 seconds.

We ended with a reflection. Short and sweet: “We can do anything for 45 minutes and we can always learn from and with each other or at the least, learn something about ourselves and who we are as learners.”

I want the kids to be challenged. I want them to try new things and do things they haven’t done before. I know this is already super challenging for some and the added dynamic of not choosing a partner adds another layer of stress for some. But how to overcome this when resources are limited and need to be shared? Earlier in the day on a different task for which we have an abundance of resources, the class could choose to work alone, pairs, threes, or fours. I loathe the hierarchy of “being picked” and like to avoid this as much as possible. But I also want kids to put all their energy into designing and making, tinkering, and improving, and I wonder if they don’t need to be in self-selected groups to do this at their best.

How do you group kids for learning groups?

Innovation

Ask And You Will Receive

Last night I posted about Single Subject teachers and I asked the question:

How might we all move toward a more open system of schooling in which the boundaries and delineations that divide us, did not exist?

This morning, the single subject teachers at my school got an email from our head of primary:

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Everything is a two way street. If single subject or integrating teachers want to be included and more than an “add on” they also have to do their part in making this happen. What I appreciate is that the need for holistic inclusion has been considered and is already part of “what we do”.

What systems do you have in place that show all teachers are a vital part of each child’s day? How do you purposefully plan for collaboration?

Learning, Mindset, Teaching

All The Single Subjects

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The lone single subject teacher…

The majority of my teaching career, I have been an upper primary classroom teacher. I am always interested in new things so I have also spent time as an Elementary Art teacher, a technology integrator, and now, a Design teacher. I have mad respect for the homeroom teacher in a PYP school – or any school for that matter. Our job is demanding, hectic, consuming, and typically incredibly rewarding to see growth in our students “up close”. I also have the same respect for single subject teachers. In many cases, teaching upwards of 15 different classes across all grade levels is “typical”. Hundreds of kids coming to you for short bursts, with masses of energy.

My last class of the day, today, they were big. They were energetic (loud!). They were that special kind of giddy that kids get at the end of a long day at the beginning of the year in their first class with a new teacher. They didn’t know me. They are trying to impress each other. They are without their homeroom teacher for an hour.  It’s the potential perfect storm.

The class was chatty. The class was jovial. No one was misbehaving but they were definitely searching this new learning space for boundaries. I know how important those first impressions are and I wanted to keep them enthused but also respectful. The class was successful in the Lego Challenge, Round One, and moved into Round Two (groups). This was more challenging. And then time was up. Almost. And things started getting “excitable”. Almost.

So I had the kids return to their spot, and this is what I told them:

I started teaching when I was 21. I taught sixth graders who were closer in age to me than their parents were and I loved it. Most of my time teaching has been as a homeroom teacher and of that time, I have loved grade five the most (true story). I love your independence, I love your excitement, I love your frustrations. I love that it is hard, but funny, exhausting and exciting. I know what it is like to be a fifth grade teacher.

BUT.

I don’t know what it is like to be your fifth grade teacher, yet and I don’t know what you are like as fifth graders, yet. What I do know is that you get a say in that. You, by the way you speak and work and interact with each other and with me, you get to have a say in who you are as a group. When I look at you, I look at each person but you are also a group of people. Your actions help me to form an opinion. I get to see the respect you have for yourselves, your learning space, your classmates.

I look forward to our next lesson and learning more about who you are.

The kids were quiet. I think they were listening.

Single Subjects are an amazing place for students to grow and learn. We often provide an authentic opportunity for ATLs (Approaches to Learning) to be developed and we get to see the kids in, potentially, a whole new light to their homeroom. But how do we really harness the power of specialist teachers? How do we ensure everyone is included?

Classroom Teachers: How do you work with your single subject teachers?

Specialist Teachers: How to you build relationships as a single subject teacher?

 

Today left me wondering…

How might we all move toward a more open system of schooling in which the boundaries and delineations that divide us, did not exist?

Innovation

Reflection: LEGOs

My previous post, Start With Kindness…And Then Legos outlined the plan for the first lesson with students in the Design Pit. I have done this lesson nine times now. Six to go. And it has been really interesting.

Here is what I have learned:

  • Kids don’t mind working on their own but some will almost always ask if they can work with a partner

  • Kids form really strong attachments to things that they make even when that “thing” is from a cup of lego randomly scooped from a box

  • If kids don’t want to work together or in a group, they won’t

  • Kids are seriously creative

I thought this challenge would be more about the creation of the thing – and to a degree it was when kids would tell animated stories about why they built the thing they built – but it was definitely more about the how kids work rather than the what kids can make. I learned a lot very quickly about the kids in each class and the dynamic of the class as a group. I heard some very clear statements from people both pro and anti working cooperatively, and I saw the power in keeping hands busy with little need for talking when it comes to having a large group of English language learners in the class.

This was a successful starting lesson despite it not heading entirely in the direction I had anticipated. I hope it set the groundwork for a little insight in the wondering, risk-taking, making, working together and having fun that will be Design Class this year.

Would I recommend this: yes. It definitely gets kids active, engaged, talking, and it is self directed enough to allow you the freedom to join in or roam at your leisure. I didn’t push the thinking routine as a “let’s stop and do a thinking routine” but just embedded the ideas into the questions I asked during the lesson.  Overall, a successful intro lesson for the year and would be an equally successful hour in a homeroom class too.

Creativity, Inspiration, Kindness, Organization

Start With Kindness…And Then LEGOs

We just had our first elementary school faculty meeting to kick off the new school year. We did the usual housekeeping, updates, and messages but that came second. To begin, we started with a message rooted in kindness.

We were reminded by our Head of Primary, Marina Gijzen, that first and foremost:

  • You are an advocate for students.
  • People are the first priority.
  • Assume the best in everyone.
  • Be willing to generously dole out grace and be gracious.
  • Take care of each other and yourself
  • Be willing to ask for and accept help

Finally, we were reminded to Be KIND. To “throw kindness around like confetti.” And we were challenged to remember that we will never regret choosing kindness.

Our job is to treat our students with love, with hope, with empathy and compassion, to challenge them, and to inspire and be inspired by them.

This message this morning was powerful. It could have started with a joke or a cartoon or a game about holidays but instead it started with a genuine message of kindness. It was authentic – I have been on the receiving end of so much kindness here already – and it really set the tone for what I hope will be an amazing year ahead. I am grateful.

As I begin preparing for the year ahead and for our students to arrive on Thursday, I want to ensure they leave their first class with me with that same feeling I had when I left the faculty meeting: that they are an important part of something special. To that end, I have designed the following Lego Challenge for all my students. I know they are going to want to touch and look and explore on day one (two students have just walked in while I am writing this and they are touching EVERYTHING) but I don’t want the first class to be about everything they can’t do. I also want to get across the ideas of iteration, collaboration, and communication.  Here is the challenge:

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Photo by Philippe_Charpentier on Flickr
  1. Take legos from the tables and build something that represents you. It could be a model of something or something abstract. It could be in your favorite color or many colors. It is a symbol of you.
  2. Put finished models on the table. Gallery walk and talk. What do you see? What do you think?  What are you wondering?
  3. Partner up with another student. Using ONLY the lego pieces from your two models, create a new model that represents the two of you.
  4. Put finished models on the table. Gallery walk and talk. What do you see? What do you think?  What are you wondering?
  5. Repeat in groups of 4, 8, 16 until we have one model that represents us as a group. All of the models from all of the classes will be on display in the Pit Window as they are created.

 

My friend and former colleague tried this out with her new leadership team. She tweaked the idea to suit the leadership scenario but reported back that by all accounts it was really successful. She didn’t do as many iterations as I will have to do (although we have small classes of around 16 so it shouldn’t be too bad). If you have done this kind of challenge before and can offer any suggestions, I would love to hear them! If you would like to do this challenge with your kids, please do! I would love to see your creations. Stay tuned for pictures of our models!

 

How are you starting the new school year?

 

 

Design, Play

Yes or No?

In a meeting yesterday we talked about the idea of saying no. Specifically saying no to technology when it is not needed, not appropriate, or time for something else. It was a good message of balance and of responsibility and of boundaries.

Today I read an article about saying yes. Specifically saying yes when saying no won’t kill you or harm you, when it will allow choice, when it gives kids the option to try something they have been thinking about, and when saying yes just makes things more fun.

Let Your Child Make Mistakes is a great read in how to help your child develop skills and behaviors that will serve them well as they grow into adulthood. It isn’t about being entitled or spoiling but about learning through being given the option to try something.

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My AMAZING new work space!

We are about to start a new school year. I am sitting in a gorgeous new workspace that is filled with all kinds of things kids are going to want to touch and play with. I am reading Responsive Classroom for Music, Art, PE, and other special areas and I am working on how to frame my introductory explorations in a way that includes more can’s than can not’s and more yes’s than no’s. The urge to touch is real! I want to embrace that.

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“Let’s do this!”

 

How do you empower?

How will you begin the school year in a way that actively involves your students?