The Uncommon

“We react to weather in relative rather than absolute fashion,” said Laurence S. Kalkstein, a professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences at the University of Miami. “The uncommon is what bothers us.”
(From the Washington Post article, Shriver or shrug: On a bitter cold day, a telling personality test)

But, I wondered, what if the “uncommon”  polar vortex that changed the DC metro area could be transformed into a temporary wonderful, magical, and stunning curiosity?
For the children and community of SWS, this small poetic gesture was offered.
Frozen Sun catchers.

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May you encounter the uncommon with all your senses
May it fill you with wonder
And joy
May you pass it forward
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Out into the Universe

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THIS IS IT, THE PREMIER OF RAINBOW BEINGS FLASHMOB VIDEO! Click this link[fve] [/fve]Rainbow Beings PreK Flashmob from Marla McLean on Vimeo.[/fve]

Yesterday was summer solstice. Yesterday was the last day of school. How perfect that this was the day the children got to watch the Rainbow Beings video and then dance. What a great ritual for the most colorful light filled day of the year.

And to add to this auspicious post, tonight and tomorrow is The Super Moon, when the moon is brightest and closest to earth for 2013.

All are a metaphor for the random acts of joy and light  that these rainbow beings brought to Union Station.

It is also a metaphor for our school community and the web of light it creates within, throughout, and out into the Universe.

Paths of light come in so many forms…

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.

(Dylan, PreK)

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?

This blog?

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?”

Tillie, “No.”

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!”

Me, “Yes!”

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

#1

 

and

 

#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.

I’m serious.

 

Happy precious New Year!

May the light always outshine and overcome the darkness.

And may you notice the many small paths.

 

 

 

 

“Light is more than watts and foot candles”

Just a few weeks to winter break, and more than anything it is the change in light that seems so important. Light and dark literally change life in Washington DC in December. Street lights are on by 6:00pm, and the playground is deserted. Dinnertime is dark and evening and morning are pretty darn cold. Routines change.

One ritual at SWS is our annual Solstice celebration. It is time to make the one project that is done every year, Lantern Creating. Of course, it is never the same lantern. That means this year the kids are creating the 15th different style lantern in the history of the school. Just because it is a product project, does not mean that depth is eliminated. So I take you on a journey of  this process.

It starts with a self portrait. The kids did not have a formal chance in the studio to revisit looking at themselves yet and finding something new within their faces. This is always rich, just having individual mirrors creates experimentation and discovery! For many, there was a lot of conversations how to draw a nose. I had them use their hands and feel their nose bridge. This was the first time for many to touch and look and feel the wonders of something they don’t look much at, their own face.

This is Kenneth’s first time doing this type of work. He just stated at SWS a few weeks ago, and look at his concentration.

In each small group there was conversation about light and dark, day and night. I asked them what symbols they thought represented these opposites. I then asked children to choose to be “Kenneth Day” or “Kenneth Night” and suround their self portraits with these symbolic marks.

Archer chose to be light. This is him adding bees and insects. Because this is an all school project, it is thrilling to observe the pre-K’s intent as they do this very challenging symbolic thinking. At the same time, it is also thrilling to watch Kindergarten students who have had an extra year and a half in the studio (and life!) to tackle the same challenge.

The following part of this project is to think about which colors are day or night, light or dark. I asked the children to sort crayons into two categories which led to rich debate and thoughtful dialog.

“Yellow is a day color! It’s the sun!”

“No, yellow is the stars glowing!”

“White is a day color it’s clouds.”

“The moon is white it’s a night color.”

“In the day there is a blue sky, and the ocean in the summer is blue.”

“Blue is the night sky.”

It was discovered that perhaps it is all how you think about color that makes it what it “is.”

This conversation repeated with each small group.

I usually attend to color provocations on a separate day then line or drawing provocations. This is because I want the children to have the opportunity to dedicate each type of thinking without rush or stress. The richness in thought and choice is able to emerge when you have the luxury of time to ponder one at a time..

Since I assured children that this was no longer an observational self portrait but an artist becoming day or night, they were able to explore the feeling of color. Joseph, Kindergarten (above) makes his face a rich blue. A tree stands to the left, with no green leaves. To the right planets and stars and a firefly glow.

Jasper, Kindergarten (below) thinks about the light at night as richly colored and multi hued. As he chose colors he elaborated about planets , spaceships, and that the sun is still present in the solar system even when it is night.

Maya, Kindergarten (below) imagined fireworks, something you view at night.

Those who chose to “be” day  also were thoughtful.

Zander, PreK (below) used the same bright green color to show leaves and his face. He added a bumble bee, something that is now a thing of the past season.

Matteo Z, PreK (below) uses color and line that shows the energy of the sun in his face.

While Claire, Kindergarten (below) also is day light, she adds some symbolic imagery like the green heart which looks very similar to a summer leaf.

Moving from an observational self portrait, to graphic representation of an idea (day  or night) to the symbolic use of color offered intentional ways of thinking with media.

The next part, I always call the magic part. I asked the children to flip over their finished work and see how much of the drawing they could see through the paper. I asked them to hold it up to the light and asked how much light could get through. Since their drawing was to be turned into a lantern, it was time to transform the paper into translucent paper. Lanterns must have some way to let light shine through.

By brushing vegetable oil on the back side of the paper, an exciting thing happens. Katie is thrilled as she sees her “self” magically appear.

Below, Natalie, Brigid and Maya experiment to see if the picture can be seen on both sides at the same time.

The next part of the project is the adult part, hot gluing the transformed paper into a cylannder and onto a round piece of cardboard. Thank you to all my parent volunteers who took home cardboard to cut into circles or came in and tag teamed the construction.

The very last step is more social. Children sit around talking and socializing while stringing a beaded handle and gluing strips of plastic recycled newspaper bags as a tassel or wind catcher. A funny story: I asked one group “Does anyone know what beading is?’ One child replied and said : “Yes!” and stood up and play acted hitting or beating his own behind. I had a good laugh and assured him that we were doing a different type of beading!

Kiran as Day, Kindergarten and Jack as Night, Prek (above)

Kindergarten students as Night (above) used different approaches to color. Anja on the left chose deep, mostly cool tones to represent night, while Adinath on the right used warm colors to show the glow of things in the night.

There were some really overcast and dark days last week. So I used the opportunity to slip a small LED votive light into Gus’s, PreK lantern. The reaction was so gleeful from classmates Zuri and Eva that their jumping up and down  created a photo blur (I think I joined them). I still posted it because  you can see/feel the joy and energy that occurred. That small little flicker glowing in the child made lantern on a dark dreary day filled all of us with smiles, laughter and warmth.

Ever since we crawled out of that primordial slime, that’s been our unifying cry, “More light.”  Sunlight.  Torchlight.  Candlelight.  Neon, incandescent lights that banish the darkness from our caves to illuminate our roads, the insides of our refrigerators.  Big floods for the night games at Soldier’s Field.  Little tiny flashlights for those books we read under the covers when we’re supposed to be asleep.  Light is more than watts and foot candles.  Light is metaphor.  Light is knowledge, light is life, light is light.  ~Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider

The Honor to Witness

This blog post is a collaboration between myself and Kindergaten Teacher Jere Lorenzen-Strait. In a whirlwind of adrenalin fueled by immediate happenings, we furiously and joyfully created this documentation. It is my hope you feel the energy of our shared dialogue.