Empathy, Play, Reggio Inspired

“I Am Who We Are”

Today I listened to a Webinar with Rick Ellis, Bank Street College and EC Consultant on Reggio Inspired teaching and leading. There were a lot of snippets that stood out to me and below I have shared my notes from this viewing. One of the biggest stand-outs was the idea of belonging and identity.

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Often people will say, “I am who I am”. We tend to think in a self-centered way. We focus on our own achievements and our own improvements and where these gains will elevate us to.

Ellis suggests that a reggio-inspired environment challenges us to shift our thinking to a more collaborative, community approach: “I am who we are.”  I am still an individual with my own needs and goals but I am part of a group, a community of learners. What I do reflects on all of us. It also elevates all of us. It moves all of us forward. It lifts us.

How do we ensure we are doing both: celebrating the individual and growing as a community? I think that question is actually pretty easy to answer but possibly much harder to implement. We need to value each other and we show we are interested in what each person brings to our community. We need to listen to each other. We need to make sure we are nurturing learners who realize they do not exist in isolation.  As I have said before, we start with empathy and move forward from there.

More than kindness, more than thinking of others, empathy is, as far as I can tell, the best way to ensure we build a culture of thinking amongst students that is solution oriented, inclusive, and will engage them in meaningful inquiries on their path to greater learning. And the more I think about it, I Am Who We Are would be a great central idea for a whole school unit of inquiry. What better way to show you value the concepts of self and community than by dedicating the first unit of the year to delving into this concept?

How do you build empathy in your school, develop a sense of self, and grow as a community? 

Have you taken on a whole-school inquiry and can share any insights?

 

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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?

 

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?

Innovation, Mindset, Play

Do What You Like, Like What You Do

life-is-good-logo-gray2

I was looking for something and one click led to another, led to this TEDx talk by co-founder of Life Is Good, Bert Jacobs:

Bert’s message is simple:

  • do what you like
  • like what you do
  • be grateful for everything
  • live life with optimism

If you check out the Life is Good website, you will see a section called “Good Vibes” which is a curated mish-mash of inspiration and “a breath of fresh air” for those who also believe that Life is Good.

In trademarking three words, LIFE IS GOOD, Bert and his brother turned $78 into over $3 million dollars. Ten percent of net profits go to charities supporting children, so you are not just buying cute socks or a travel mug, but you are buying hope and possibility for children. Where does the money go?  In part, toward Playmakers:

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The Playmakers are the people doing the work to make childhood a more playful place for at-risk and underserved children for whom life is not always that good.  The emphasis is on play and using play to bring out positive change in children.

The website has loads of resources including:

Redefining Playfulness – A paper on how play can revolutionize the health, well-being and education of children.

Awareness Building Exercises – A series of 3 activities to help you become more aware of playfulness in and out of work

We Got Game – Three fun games to bring out the playfulness in your kids

The website also led me to this video on the Power of Playfulness which contains the important message that we, as teachers, shouldn’t just get through each day, we should be happy and joyful and promote that amongst and within our students too.

More than a cute t-shirt store, Life Is Good is a great resource to remind us all to play more, love more, and be more joyful.

Brain Research, Inquiry, Mindset, Play

Let Them Explore Their Passions!

Passion.  It is one of my favorite topics when it comes to education.  I know that there are people who will say that asking kids about their passion is a fruitless task – they are kids, what do they know about passion?  I tend to move away from those people and ask anyway.  I think kids are DEEPLY passionate about things.  As teachers (and as parents) one of our biggest challenges is to not get in the way and to allow for their passions, their curiosity, their sense of wonder, and their natural inquisitiveness rise to the surface. 

Last year, I worked with a small team at school on exploring the concept of authentic inquiry through Genius Hour.  Ultimately we decided an hour wasn’t enough and as a school, we will be looking into the idea of incorporating Genius Hour into every hour, every unit.  I have no idea how it will work, but I am excited to work with teachers to give it a go and see what we can come up with. 

To that end, I was intrigued when I read an article tonight titled, “Four Skills to Teach Students in the first Five Days of School” via Mind/Shift.  Here is one of the points from the article:

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This is a different take on the idea we grappled with all last year, but I like it.  I think like anything different, it will take some getting used to and some won’t know what to do, where to begin…but they will.  And in doing so, they will learn.  Lots.  About being self motivated, setting their own goals, or even learn how to ask for help when they need it.  

I love structure but I also love the freedom of an idea like this. As I throw around all of my beliefs about the importance of play, of collaborative learning, of cooperative learning, of finding your passion, the more I am becoming convinced that learning comes not as a result of pre-determined criteria and one way of showing what you know via an electronic flip-book or 3D sculpture.  

Learning is messy.  Learning sometimes is when things don’t work.  Learning is hard work. 

Thankfully, we were born to learn. 

Born to Learn

I know some people will argue that putting up posters,  or creating these sorts of posters with kids, or adding self affirming statements to papers or posters, and discussing the idea of a growth mindset with your kids will not do a thing.  Some people will even go so far to say that it feels fake, forced, artificial.  I disagree.  The idea that individuals can shape their destiny and that learning is real work are important things kids need to know to help them through the parts of their passion journey that aren’t so smooth.  

It will be tough.  You may want to quit.  Don’t do that. Today is just the first day….

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Learning, Play, Reflection

Empathy Inside Us

Elisabeth

I have a (gorgeous/beautiful/smart/funny/amazing) 12 week old baby girl. She is awesome.  It is hard being back at work while she is so young, but easier knowing she gets to stay home with her dog and her dad. Most days, she comes and visits me at school and on those days, she will sometimes still be in the classroom when my kids come back from one of their single subject classes, before they go out to recess.

It is fascinating to watch the way they interact with her.

  • They are so loving and gentle and kind – even (especially!) the boys.
  • They look for nice things to say about her: complimenting her smile, her strength when she grips their fingers, her awesome hair, her clothes, how awake she is, how curious she is, how cute she is when she is sleeping – or awake – …pretty much anything.
  • They want her to be comfortable – they try not to crowd her, they want to hold her or tuck her blanket around her or get her a toy.
  • Their sole purpose in those few minutes is to make a connection with her.

After seeing this happen a couple of times, I decided to bring it up to the kids – my observations.  I told them what I had seen (the list above) and then I asked them to think about not when they first met Elisabeth, but when they first met each other.  Did they treat each other the same way they were treating Elisabeth: with the sole purpose of making a connection?

It was interesting and a little sad to hear their reaction.  The overall consensus was that she was a little baby and would be cute and nice no matter what they did (within reason) whereas they didn’t know when they met each other if they would be kind to each other or if the other person would make fun of them or ignore them or tease them.

This sentiment is mirrored by my hero Auggie, from the book Wonder by R.J. Palacio.  When thinking about meeting new people, Auggie says:

The thing is, when I was little I never minded meeting new kids because all the kids I met were really little, too. What’s cool about really little kids is that they don’t say stuff to try to hurt your feelings, even though sometimes they do say stuff that hurts your feelings.  But they don’t actually know what they’re saying.  Big kids, though: they know what they’re saying. And that is definitely not fun for me.

-Auggie

Having Elisabeth at school reminded me of a program our friend Kate and her baby Eli had participated in at a school in Canada: Roots of Empathy.  The premise of this program is to help children become more empathetic by engaging them in a series of ‘lessons’ with a parent and child in which they observe the interaction between the two, the way needs are met and communicated, and how the bonds are created. For more information on this program, take a look at the slideshow of photos from Kate and Eli’s year or read this article on her experience.

Roots of Empath

 

I am fascinated by how my kids react to my baby.  And even more intrigued when I shine a mirror back to them of their behaviors and then sit back and observe their reaction.  How do kids lose this innocence and how can we help them keep it even a little bit longer?

Creativity, Innovation, Play

Children At Play!

On my drive home today, I noticed a sign like the one above as I approached an intersection.  I have some bulletin board boarders in my classroom that say “Caution! Kids at Work”.  I got them because I thought they were cute.  I am now thinking of replacing them with a big sign like this on my door.  Why? As a reminder to myself as I begin the new year to make room for play.

I have posted on enabling creativity, the power of play,  and the idea that there is no purpose without play. I believe that play is positive, play promotes creativity, play unleashes ideas, curiosity, wonder and excitement – and isn’t that what school is for? So the sign will more than likely go up in some form or another.  But a sign in itself is not enough. I want my actions to reflect my beliefs.

We have had two days of school so far.  Teacher days.  No kids. But they are always on my mind.  The actual logistics are still in the making but here are some of the things I want to do in the first day/week of school:

SPOILER ALERT!  *If you are a parent of a child in my class and can promise you won’t share the following with your kids, you may keep reading – but don’t share! 🙂

The Marshmallow Challenge

The Marshmallow Challenge.  This is cool.  It is a TED talk, a challenge, a blog and just a fun, dynamic way to kick things off.  It has been done by CEO’s to Kindergartener’s and soon, by my fifth graders.  Why do it?  In the words of its creator, Tom Wujec:

The marshmallow challenge provides teams with a shared felt experience, a common language and a solid stance to find the right prototypes to build their real projects successfully, to avoid the oh-oh moments and have real ta-dah moments.

Exactly what I want this year: sharing, commonalities, inquiry, and aha moments.  I don’t actually mind if there are oh-oh moments.  They work for me too.  But honestly, what better way to kick off the year than with some spagetti and marshmallows?

Introductions via Voki

I was that kid who sat there, petrified that I was going to have to speak in front of the class.  I loathed it. I don’t know if any of my new kids dislike speaking in front of the class.  I do know that there are some options for getting around that – at least on the first day.  Cue Voki.  This is a fun, online tool that allows you to make an avatar and record a voice for it – your own, or a text-to-speech voice from the US, UK or Australia.  The challenge will be for kids to choose to either recreate themselves as closely as possible (with their own voice) or to create an alter ego avatar and have us guess who they are.  Here is my Voki that took me about six minutes to make:

Click to open Voki page

Voki has a classroom account for a fee.  I am going to start my free trial of the educator account and see after the two weeks if the kids and I think this is a useful tool to add to our belts.

Choose ???

The one assignment that I gave my incoming group of fifth graders was to read Wonder by RJ Palacio.  This book has launched the “Choose Kind” movement.  I want to ask my kids what they are going to choose for themselves this year.  If they have a choice between right and popular, hard and easy, challenge and status quo – what would they choose? These words will become our targets: the things we aim for throughout the year.  I want to incorporate these words into a large piece of group art: something beautiful and meaningful for the children to collaborate on together and make their mark as fifth graders.

I want to share this quote with my class to help them think about the word they will choose.

I am looking forward to combining their words with their images to make something magnificent for our wall.  I am toying with the idea of also sharing one of my favorite poems, “Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou.  I love it. Love it. I think that also will have to be shared – it’s themes of bravery, dreams, hope, strength and courage are all traits I want to build in my kids this year.

Lego!

I don’t even know if we have any lego at school – but we should! I just read a really cool article about a 23 year old from Illinois who has become the fourth Lego Master Model Builder in the United States.  He now works at LegoLand. Here is the video application he sent out to Legoland in order to be considered for the job.  In the video, listen to him describe all the ways lego can be used to foster and strengthen imagination, creativity, passion, innovation and ideas:

I love it! I have done a quick look and in some places, universities and colleges will loan out kits of lego for schools for a 3 to 4 week time period with a refundable security deposit.  I don’t know if we have something like that in Boise, but I want to find out!

Ultimately, my goal is to start the first day and first week off the way I mean to continue: with challenge, collaboration, technology, innovation, thinking, creating, connecting and playing.  Lots and lots of playing.

How will you start the new school year?

21st Century, Inspiration, Play

There Is No Purpose Without Play

This great cartoon just arrived in my inbox from GapingVoid. Here is the text that accompanied the image.  It is worth reading through – and clicking through the links.  Really interesting stuff to help you answer the question, “Are you having fun yet?”

“Purpose” is a big deal in business these days. Finding and having a strong sense of purpose is an important part of having a strong company culture. The blogosphere is utterly awash with it.

My friend, Tony Hsieh of Zappos, really nailed this idea in his New York Times bestseller, “Delivering Happiness”. And another friend, Mark Earls, nailed this idea sooner than most of us with his whole “Purpose-Idea” thing.

With the Olympic GAMES upon us, I was thinking about the idea of “play” in the world of work… (What my favorite future-shocker, Pat Kane calls “The PlayEthic”)…. and how The Play Ethic is so necessary for said “purpose”.

In my experience, the big ideas come from play, not from pressure. Any half-decent artist, hacker, inventor or scientist will tell you the same.

Playing is how we learn to hack, how we learn to invent, how we teach ourselves to create.

How we teach ourselves to SURVIVE.

So as wonderful as the Olympic athletes are to watch, I think maybe it’s time to rethink The Games, not in terms of “achievement,” “excellence,” “competition,” “glory,” but a celebration of PLAY itself.

Just an idea.

-Hugh McLeod

 

It would seem Nike are on a similar train of thought.  Their non-Olympic, Olympic commercial, showcases “all the little leaguers, backyard champions, and living room gymnasts doing what they do for the love of sport with no expectations of being exalted on high and showered with accolades in the form of lucrative endorsements.” (KC Ifeanyi) They are playing. With guts and spirit and determination.  But ultimately, for the love of play.

 

So, how do we embrace this culture as educators at school? I think it has to be a conscious decision. We need to choose play.  We need to make sure we are looking for ways to learn through play – and this is not breaking news!  There will be achievement, excellent, competition and glory.  There will also be failure, mistakes, recalculations and second-tries. There will also be a whole lot of learning.

Millions of people watched Caine Monroy make his cardboard arcade.  We are nearing the one-year anniversary of the flash-mob surprise for the boy with a passion for play and a huge imagination.  In honor of this, everyone has the chance to participate in the Cardboard Box Challenge, culminating in the Global Day of Play.  I have signed up to join in and hope others in my school will want to play too.

I had an interesting conversation recently about “Global Day of _______” type events.  Does having a one-off event hold meaning for a school that is supposed to provide an integrated, student-led, inquiry-based curriculum?  Some would argue that days of fun that support a cause are good fun, a good idea and as teachers, we should be exposing kids to what is ‘out there’.  Totally agree.  But I think we need to go deeper.  If it is good enough for one day, why not all days?  If we are prepared to forgo “normal” school for a day of play, we must think it is important.  If it is important, why not include it every day?  I love the idea of a Global Day of Play.  I just hope it doesn’t start – or stop – there.  I plan on introducing the value of play from the get-go.  It is something I have been looking into and reading about all summer and something I feel passionate about incorporating into my classroom – on the Global Day and Every Day. A new daily question in  my classroom:

 

Are we having fun yet?