Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Ramps: To intervene or not? That is *always* the question!

In my classroom, one of the ways I try to engage our young learners is through investigation. I like to discover (through observation) a topic that the students are interested in, find ways to build learning around it, and help scaffold their learning. The key though, is to realize when the students need you to help scaffold their learning, and when they are able to do it themselves.

From the beginning of the school year, many of us have been fascinated by ramps and building ramps. At first, I thought that would make a wonderful project for us. However, as I continued to observe, I realized there really wasn’t anything else I could add to the discovery. The children, on a daily basis, have helped each other build their knowledge of ramps, and what ramps can do. As I spoke with the children, I learned that the children already knew a lot about ramps. They had already figured out which ramps made the cars go farther, faster, and how to build one with the proper incline for what they needed.

At first, our ramps started out being built from the floor.

We enjoyed pushing the cars over the ramps and bridges.

As time went on, the floor ramps became steeper, allowing for more force behind our vehicles.

Sometime, around a month ago, we discovered that if we lean the block against the bookshelf, we have a steeper ramp, which makes the cars go farther and faster.

Now, we have begun adding extra ramps, so the cars go fast AND jump.

The more we work on this, the more complex our ramps are becoming.
Through all of this, the students are learning not only about force and motion and gravity, but about problem solving. About team work. About trial and error. These are what we call "21 Century Skills." These are the skills we will need as we grow and mature, not only for school, but for life. 

So, I continue to reflect. Do I need to add myself into their "conversation"? Or is what I add only going to diminish the work already done. As I observe I notice that it is true what they say about learning: your peers really do teach and encourage you to learn more than your instructor does. So, for now,  I'll watch to see what I can learn. I will allow them to teach each other -and me.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Kinder blog '13 Assignment #1: Confessions

It's that time of year! Time for the #Kinderchat blog challenge. I love this because it helps re-ignite my desire to blog. Of course this only lasts a few months, then life gets in the way. However, I try just the same.

This weeks challenge is the word confessions. So, here is my confession: I never wanted to teach kindergarten. I never wanted to teach in the public school system. I am afraid someone will finally come along and they'll "know" I'm a fraud. There. I said it!
I was totally early childhood for many, many years. My BA is in early childhood, and I was as happy as a clam in the ECE world. I loved the freedom to go with the students interests without having to worry whether or not I was reaching the right outcomes, or would be stepping on another teachers toes if we covered a subject that might have been taught later on. I loved watching the child develop in those first 4-5 years. It was fun to play, just because. (And I also really loved nap time- it was the best gig in town!)
But, things change, and life happens and all of the sudden I was teaching kindergarten in the public school system! It all happened really fast. One minute I am teaching kindergarten in a community based private not for profit early childhood centre, the next minute, the government of the day decided to move K into the schools. It was a crazy year, we educators weren't sure if we would even have a job the next year. After a long hiring process, all of the sudden I found myself in a place I had never intended.
Here's the second half of my confession: as much as I loved being in early childhood, I could never go back. Although I miss some of the freedom and lack of red tape (and nap time), I have found the challenge I needed in the public kindergarten setting. I find I enjoy creating projects with the children and finding ways to not only fit in the outcomes, but stretch their learning.
My fears about the system were larger than the realities of working in that system. Each year is still different than the last, each class a unique challenge. I look forward to this next year. I love teaching kindergarten!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Literacy in the Sand Box

I have been thinking a lot lately about sand play (fyi: sand and blocks are two areas that I think about often). In this current educational climate of, "if you aren't doing literacy activities then you'd better be doing math activities, and they'd better be real activities that are quantifiable...",  I think about the play based learning that is becoming endangered in our kindergarten classrooms. I often hear the phrase, "purposeful play." Now, I know that all play is purposeful, but what they really means is, "Sure they can 'play' but it better be play that is based solely on the prescribed outcomes..." So I have been thinking of a way to promote play and creativity, while still placating those "purposeful play" mentalities.

What we have been practicing with our sand play (and block play) is a kind of a "build it, draw it, write about it" philosophy. After we build it, we sketch it, then we write about it. Not too complicated, but the results are what I am most impressed with.
We build it:

We draw it:

We write about it:

Instead of trying to come up with something new each day to write about in our writing journals, we are writing about a variety of subjects throughout the day. Instead of having a set time for writing (which we still do at times), we are finding that our incidental writing is more authentic. It is another step in making sure my curriculum is integrated. We don't just have to do writing at writing time. Writing happens in all kinds of ways throughout the day. And, most importantly, I am finding when we are writing about our creations, we are writing more. Instead of short sentences, we are beginning to write stories. We are not writing to get it out of the way, but really putting in time to make sure we get it just right. I am impressed with our effort and our output.

I sometimes get caught up in the idea that if I am doing this, then surely everyone else must be doing this as well, surely I am not that original. But as I reflect upon my practice and my beliefs about education in the kindergarten classroom, I become more convinced that we have to demonstrate in our practice why we believe activities such as sand play and block play are so important. This is just one of those ways.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Hidden Curriculum: What Our Room Says About Our Values

*This post was originally published on January 29, 2013 at http://www.kinderchat123.net/2013/01/what-does-your-classroom-say-about-you.html
for the NabBloPoMo challenge.

If someone were to walk into your classroom while you were out, what would they think about you? What kind of a teacher do your walls say that you are? What are your values and beliefs? All of these work together to become our "hidden curriculum". I was originally introduced to this concept when I was working on my first degree back in the mid-late 80's. Of all of the ideas I was introduced to then, that (and the role of play) resonated the most with me. It resonated because I believe it is true. What I value, what I believe, those things come out not only in what I choose to put on the walls, how I arrange my room, but also how I choose to teach.

 I claim to teach with an integrated curriculum, making sure what we are learning is not taught in an isolated way, but showing my children how math, science, literacy, etc. are all interconnected.
As this year has rolled on, I have been reflecting on my walls and my room. What does my room say about me? My response has caused me to make some minor changes to my room. I have opened it up, tearing down the artificial dividers that I had put up between my "centres". So, instead of having a science centre, an art centre, and a math centre, I have a space for all of these but it is much less defined. Because I see the interconnectedness in all three of these areas, and I want my students to see that connection as well. Because I see the interconnectedness of the world, I want my students to see that too. I "tore down the walls" figuratively, and I opened up my classroom. 

This is an older photo of my room. It is still pretty open, but what I ended up doing was taking all of those shelves that separated the areas and moved them up against the walls or shifted them in such a way as to give the room a bit more flow without making it one large open space.  By opening up the classroom, the students are forced to integrate our subjects because they are all in the same area. The sand and blocks also blend quite nicely in as well. 

But, opening my room up was only part of my "integrated revival". I began to critically look at my curriculum and how I was approaching teaching. For example, I am a lover of science. I enjoy all of the fun experiments we can do, I love to bring nature indoors and the class outdoors. I love investigating ideas about how and why things work. But as I reflected on my day, I noticed I was not highlighting this love. The more I began to read, the more I was convinced I could re-gain this love of science without sacrificing the literacy and mathematics goals set forth by the department of education. I have always had a science journal, but I realized I was not utilizing the journal as best as I could. It had become more of a filler activity. Now, much more of our daily writing is centred around what we are investigating in science. And when we talk about patterns, we can shift over to the science area and see the patterns in nature through leaves, shells, starfish. 

Teaching is always a work in progress. I believe that when we stop reflecting on our teaching, we stop being relevant to our students. So I continue to reflect on ways to integrate my classroom. I reflect on what my walls are saying. Right now, I hope my walls are saying, "This is the classroom that values all of its members. It shows in what she has on the wall, how the room is arranged, and what is written in the science journals." I hope my walls show value and respect, because that is what I have for my kids.