The 2012 new school year has been an exercise on how a community of people can truly make change. Personally, it has been both exhausting and extremely inspiring.
Using our new space, neighborhood and place based learning as a framework for planning curriculum this year, stretches me. So many concepts and questions have emerged.
(Ellie transforms the map of our school neighborhood)
While space, place and neighborhood are intertwined ideas,
for the PreK’s I am thinking and questioning how they observe and explore.
For my Kindergarten aged children, I am thinking and questioning around the idea of construction.
For the 1st graders, I am interested in how they become proficient in expressing and telling their stories and understandings through 100 Languages, provoked by the neighborhood we are inhabiting.
I noticed the children making gingerbread houses in Ms. Ricks class.
It’s the season of these magical constructions. Our very own Margi Finneran (assistant to Kindergarten teacher Margaret Ricks) is a White House Pastry Chef who creatively constructed the White House Gingerbread Garden! Take a look at this slideshow on Huffington Post! Margi will be sharing the experience with the Kindergarten classes who are expansively exploring the idea of construction this year.
I went with Sarah Burke’s class back to the construction site documented in the last post.So much had changed.
This time, each adult had a small group. After a period of silence each adult asked first, What do you see?
Amelia: There are no windows. The crane is inside the building
Fionn: A giant white crane waits for the cement truck to finish pouring cement and then the cement is dropped at the top.
Tessa: When the cement carrier, when it’s done, they bring it down.
Eva: The crane moves the big pot forward and backwards. Some are landing down and some are not.
Colleen: Cement is going down the white chute into a basket. It’s connected to a cement truck. I saw someone waving to us!
Mikal: The crane is moving the handle back and forth. And then it goes and stops and then it picks up another cement .
Mikal: I see a reflection of the crane in the mirror of that building.
Gus: They were fiddling around the bucket of cement.
Wesley: I see a little house.
Mira: I see one of the workers talking to another worker.
Then we asked, What do you think?
Mira: I think the workers are tired at the end of the day.
Zuri: I think the cement truck is going to empty out the cement.
Bella: I think those (beams) are for the building so they can build on the top.
Lane: I think they are thinking about safety. I think they are trying to be careful.
Mikal: I think when the crane moves, the bottom part goes back and forth.
And then each adult asked
What do you wonder?
Amelia: I wonder why they have all those poles.
Mikal: I wonder how they stop the cement. I wonder why the crane shows up in the window?
Eva: Are they going to have stairs? Or elevators? Or escalators?
Gus: What made the crane sway?
Bella: I wonder how they get the white posts through the next floor?
Michael: I wonder if the crane can hurt them (if they are wearing) with a hardhat.
Brian: I wonder if they are building a house or a school.
Remi: I wonder when the building will be done.
Mira: I wonder if the workers have to work a lot.
So why have many of the SWS teachers adopted this protocol for responding to visual artifacts or events?
From the Harvard Project Zero site, Making Learning Visible is this printed answer.
Purpose: What kind of thinking does this routine encourage?
This routine encourages students to make careful observations and thoughtful interpretations. It helps stimulate curiosity and sets the stage for inquiry.
Too often adults ask What do you see? and then the conversation is over. Or what do you like? Or Yes/No questions like: Do you see the cement truck? In which case the child says “Yes.” And the conversation is over.
One of the most difficult parts of inquiry based learning is thinking about good questions to ask and developing thinking and listening routines based around questioning for the children to engage in with and even without adults.
A powerful statement and metaphor came from Eva during the construction site visit:
Some of the children were having a hard time when asked
What do you think” and “What do you wonder?”
I suggested that if they just look and concentrate silently for a while, ideas would start coming.
“Just like you have to concentrate on the stones when you balance them!” Eva offered.
These types of moments let me know that the transdisciplinary approach of learning is working. She was able to connect balancing rocks to construct Stone Cairns in the studio to concentrating on inquiry during a classroom fieldtrip to a construction site.
“Where transdisciplinary learning is different from traditionally themed or integrated units is that students not only have an opportunity to work in depth, through a range of disciplines, but also recognize, through practice and reflection, the innate value and challenges in applying a range of disciplines to a topic. This quite naturally opens important questions about thinking, and provides a perfect opportunity for students to realize that disciplines are constructed, are continuously changing and can be questioned.” Complete article here by Darron Davies
A small anecdote to the adventure, one of the consruction workers, Mr Ricky came over to talk to the children. He explained he had a radio for the crane operator.
“Are they listening to music up there?” asked Amelia. He explained the radio was for communication.
You can ask the crane operator a question, he volunteered.
“Well, are there girls up in the crane ever?”
Yes, many women work in a crane.
Thoughtful looks from all the girls as they imagined.
Back to the Gingerbread houses… I started to think about Hansel and Gretel and the metaphor of leaving paths when you go into the woods.
In the context of my work at SWS, the children, myself and the community are constantly going “into the woods.” The woods being the unknown, the wild, the untamed.
With the PreK children I have been curious how they explore and observe in the context of a project. There is still so much magical thinking that happens combined with reality for our youngest students here.
When Jere, Hannah and I took both PreK classes to the IMAX Monarch Migration film at Smithsonian, they sat in the theatre and reached out their small hands into the 3d images, into the air trying to catch the butterflies. It was beautiful.
Is the “unexpected” a vital component of exploration and observation for young children? Is it the necessary thing that keeps one searching (at any age?)?
(Riley becomes a butterfly)
Kay Taub, an entomologist and educational specialist brought her insects, specimens and expertise to the SWS Atelier/Studio.
Handing out live insects to two groups of twenty 4 year olds was definitely an experience of “going into the woods.”
Here are some of the photos documenting this riveting experience.
(That is a Leaf Bug!)
(That’s a Stick Bug, so fantastic.)
It was breathtaking (and at times nerve wracking) watching as crickets jumped, children exclaimed, and a few screamed. One child managed to suck his thumb while supporting a worm perilously close to his mouth!
I am wondering if the richness of the unexpected moments from this provocation will lead to deeper inquiry and deeper imaginings.
I quickly segued into Solstice Lantern Making without fully revisiting these moments with the children. Solstice was nearing and it was production time with a deadline.
(Augie, PreK holding up translucent wings to light.)
I am thinking all these interactions will connect as long as a pebble path is laid down as we go.
I wonder what constitutes a pebble path?
Documentation at SWS?
Revisiting experiences with small groups and reflecting/remembering?
Using a myriad of languages (the 100 Languages) that trigger new and deep understandings?
I asked the children, “Why do you think this year we are making lanterns that are inspired by Butterflies this year?”
Samuel, PreK, “We saw the movie!” (Monarch Migration)
Noah, PreK “I think cause we painted them with water paint.”
Amira, First Grade “There’s the Honey Vine so the butterflies were here (in the SWS school yard).”
Isaiah, PreK, “There was one in here! (the Art studio)
Levi, PreK, “Well, our Monarch died.”
Matteo Z, Kindergarten, “Last year we had butterflies (at our Peabody location) and now we are HERE, and the butterflies are HERE. I wonder if that’s why?
I think these responses indicate small pebble paths are being laid. I wonder how to make sure they are not in fact, paths made of breadcrumbs that will disappear.
School expansion means 127 lanterns this year. At first I had to engage in deep breathing. It is not in my nature to have everyone make and complete the same object by a deadline.
The nature of light took away my fears. The plastic bottles crackled, and some of them when being painted made a wonderful percussive sound.
Using transparent and translucent materials mesmerized all grades.
Maddie, PreK, “Mine is glowing!”
Aksel, PreK, “I think mine is glowing because the paints are magic.”
Fiona, “Look, which side did I draw on?” (When holding up the translucent paper the image replicates on the back side.)
Tillie, “Look how it looks with the body and the wings together.”
Me, “Oh you really thought about making the drawing go with the painted body. It’s very coordinated, do you know what that means?”
Me, “It means it goes together really well, without being exactly the same or matching”
Ms. Scofield (who had walked into the studio and sat down), “Like peanut butter and jelly!”
Me, “Yeah, but not all people would agree.”
Ms. Scofield, “Like peanut butter and chocolate!”
Tillie, Kiran and Sylvie, big smiles.
(Mikal’s Ninja Butterfly Lantern)
(Emma A.’s Lantern)
Sometimes it is not so academic. Sometimes threads are just so very sweet, shooting the breeze, and sharing life together. Although I would say Ms. Scofield’s example of peanut butter and chocolate to illustrate the word coordinated was pretty brilliant.
I tell all the children that 1000’s of years ago, people who lived near where we live noticed how dark it bexame at dinnertime, how cold the weather felt, they said, ” Oh no, all the flowers have died!”, and they noticed the leaves fell off the trees and died. But then, they noticed one tree stayed green. And they thanked Mother Earth for leaving the Evergreen Tree to remind us that Spring will come. And they did this by singing, lighting candles and decorating with pine. They did things to make their own light and warmth.
Through this story comes a sharing of their traditions and celebrations they know about.
While many shared their Chanukah and Christmas traditions, Dominic shared a moment quite different.
Dominic (PreK) shared a story of light.
“When I go to my grandpa’s farm, we have these hats with lights on them. We go out into the dark and we see deer. And the deers eyes glow.”
I asked many of the children to create “Shiny Happy Things” in addition to lanterns to hang from our teapots and trees around school, since most of the plants died. You can see from these drying pieces the generous spirit and care that went into making gifts for the school.
And some more magic happened with the experimentation of materials.
And then came December 21st. Our very special Solstice Celebration. Preparation seems a littlr crazy, but then the day comes and yet another transformation happens.
The annual Moon Ceremonies in the art studio fill my heart.
Some of the children’s Solstice wishes they shared around the moon:
My parents and family are always healthy.
That all of us here are friends forever.
I wish for joy and happiness for everyone.
I wish I can live with my mommy and daddy forever.
I wish that everyone’s light shines.
Even when we’re far away, my love is everwhere.
I wish to play with all my friends always.
As Louise Chapman, said to me, it’s like these good thoughts become contagious.
The weeks before Winter Break and the build up to our school Winter Solstice Celebration always brings much reflection. Half the year has come and gone. Am I being intentional? Am I doing enough? Is the work rich and meaningful? Have I overlooked something or someone? Where do I go next, while still staying connected to what we have done? What can I do better?
And then surprisingly and magically, small little spontaneous moments were left in the studio. Many times.
Translation: Dinosaur Village. Do not touch. I’m serious. Patrick, Xavier
#2 a week later, built by Patrick, Xavier, Amira, Carrington
Many adults have walked by these small worlds, and exclaimed, laughed, or taken photos on their IPhones.
Dino Village has become viral, everchanging from grade to grade, group to group. After one of Ms. Scofield’s created a new Dino Village, some of Mr. Tome’s class stood in awe.
“Look what they did!”
“I wish we would have thought of that!”
It was a great opportunity to talk about how Patrick and Xavier started Dino Village, and it in turn inspired others, and then came back and inspired them!
It reminds me of the work of the artist, Slinkachu. Slinkachu is a talented artist based in London (a former art director) who now creates tiny scenarios in public places, then photographs and abandons them – to be discovered by no-doubt bemused passers-by.
“The street-based side of my work plays with the notion of surprise and I aim to encourage city-dwellers to be more aware of their surroundings. The scenes I set up, more evident through the photography, and the titles I give these scenes aim to reflect the loneliness and melancholy of living in a big city, almost being lost and overwhelmed,”
Human beings have left paths of connection and understanding throughout civilization. From architecture, literature, inventions, musical scores, recordings, films, rituals, remembrances, paintings, to sculptures and research. It is when we as humans are at our best, when we search for meaning and purpose in the woods.
It is impossible to not be affected by the Newton, CT tragedy. It is darkness that is possibly too dark. I can only continue to be dedicated through work to making the world a better place in small ways.
Perhaps Patrick and Xavier and friends are aware of “the woods” in their lives, and perhaps they have figured out how to leave pebble paths for the rest of us. Pebble paths that won’t disappear. Pebble paths to follow, to be inspired by, or even to just notice.
This is important and good and beautiful.
Happy precious New Year!
May the light always outshine and overcome the darkness.
And may you notice the many small paths.