The Children Got the Closest.

The Children Got the Closest.

There is a symbiotic relationship I have with my profession/s. Artist and Atelierista.
When I am both teaching and creating art I am immersed in and blessed with: aha moments of discovery, the anxiousness of the unknown, the struggle and challenges of making ideas into something visible, the struggle and challenges of materials, tools, and media, limitations of time, deep thought, play, experimentation, expanses of altered time, introspection, reflection, conversation, mistakes, mistakes that are paradigm shifting, collaboration, the feelings of exhilaration and fear within expression.

I start this blog off with these thoughts because, the children conceptualized, experienced, and sketched the music of Bach played live by Joshua Bell on a Stradivarius Violin in Union Station surrounded by a gazillion people, and it is breathtaking. Every part of this experience is breathtaking.

This is Liam’s sketches while listening to Joshua Bell perform live at Union Station.
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This year, the Kindergarten classes are engaged in a year-long exploration and encounter with Union Station, located about 8 blocks from School.
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The poetry of these pictures illustrate the connections, interactions, observations, and encounters that the Kindergarten Citizens experienced in the last few months. In and out of Union Station, the immersion, awe, and thinking is evident in the Historic gem of a building, teaming with humanity. The children’s presence seamlessly adds to the hustle and bustle as they sprawled and pointed and pondered.

But wait, this blog post is about the children’s conceptualization and making visible the music of Joshua Bell.

Perhaps you have seen the viral video clip  of Joshua Bell, one of the best concert violinist in the world played for free, for 45 minutes, on a violin worth 3.5 million dollars  at a subway station in Wash DC. Over a thousand people passed by Bell, only seven stopped to listen him play, including a 3-year old boy, and only one person recognized him.

So imagine my excitement when a week after taking the Kindergarten children on another excursion to Union Station I saw this headline in the Washington Post: 

Joshua Bell to play again in DC after 2007 stunt

By – Associated Press – Tuesday, September 23, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) – Joshua Bell wants a do-over in Washington.

The Grammy-winning violinist played for change in a D.C. Metro station in 2007 during an experiment with The Washington Post, and almost no one paid attention. It made for a good magazine story that won the Pulitzer Prize. But Bell hasn’t been able to live it down after seven years.

Now, Bell tells the Post (http://wapo.st/ZGRQRm ) he is planning another public performance in the main hall at Washington’s Union Station. And he hopes to have an audience this time. The performance is set for Sept. 30 at 12:30 p.m.

I love my colleagues at SWS! When I squeeled that we HAD to take the kids in just 3 days, both Kindergarten Teachers, Margaret Ricks and Laura McCarthy took a breath and made this last minute hustle with chaperones and schedule changes a reality.

But first: I showed the kids the above video about all the grown ups who walked by a world class violinist, because he looked like just some guy in jeans and a baseball cap. Here’s their faces as they watched:
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They were flabbergasted. 
Parent, Emily Greif told me there was a childrens book made about what happened, and how it was the child who heard and wanted to stop to hear the music, but the Mom was too much in a hurry. The child noticed.
She lent us the book. Here’s a short trailer about it: The Man with the Violin


The children wanted to hear the book again and again. The day before the Joshua Bell concert, the children would yell out as they passed me, “We’re going to Joshua Bell tomorrow!”

The day of, many parents in excitement pulled up some Joshua Bell music for their children to listen to. Even before the concert, children were doing this at home:
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Finally the day arrived.
The kids had to eat quickly and then walk briskly to Union Station. Spirits were high. They sang as they walked. And then we arrived.
You cannot imagine the adult crowd. Almost 45 minutes before start time and it was packed!
Being a short person who can readily scoot to the front, I attempted to part the crowds like Moses, shouting out, “Please make way for the 5 year olds! Excuse me can I lead these children through so they can see?” I was almost to the inner circle just one row of people to go, I had 40 5 year olds and a dozen adults protecting them from the throngs. And then a voice rang out. “It’s first come first serve and we were here first. We are not moving!!!”
“Can they please just scoot in front of you and sit? The adults will stand back.”
“We were here first!!!”

And so I signaled, to go back the other way. 
As the crowd capacity grew I finally said, “Everyone sit! We are claiming our ground!”
The adults encircled the children with love and passed out the sketchbooks.
It was loud and chaotic.
And then something completely magical happened…
IMG_4650IMG_4675First, they started sketching the noise and the crowd.
IMG_5316Lily’s diagram or map of the concert.

IMG_4671photo 2 (2)And then the second magical thing happened. The music started. And the din of the crowd silenced. The haunting and soaring, the joyful and the somber sounds of Bach surrounded us all. And this is what I witnessed:
IMG_5335Sasha F.’s sketch

Edwin’s sketch (below)

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Bryce
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Auden
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Apolena
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Milena’s sketch
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Please watch this brief video clip of what is was like there, in the moment these images were taken. The magic of making sound visible.


The experience was seemingly spiritual, as the sounds and the sketching melted away the sea of adult legs pressing in on and around the children. Their being, their presence as participants in this historic moment solidified and confirmed their citizenship. In fact their sense of noticing and hearing surpassed the majority of the crowd of almost 1,500 who were  jostling to get closer and closer and closer. In fact, the children managed to get the closest…inside, in their hearts and souls.

The newspapers gave great reviews to the event, but I wanted Joshua Bell to know about these small folks and their experience with his music. I sent Joshua Bell’s “people” an email with some photos of the children and their sketches of his music.

A week later I received this response, and a package in the mail.
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Dear Marla,

Thank you so very much for your email to the Joshua Bell team. I am based in Los Angeles and just returned today.

I found the children’s drawings quite fantastic and thank you for sending them along. How lucky they are to have you as their teacher,  someone who thinks “out of the box” and knows a good teaching moment when there is one.

I’d very much like to send you the new Bach CD for the children to listen to and an autographed photo of Joshua if you will kindly provide me with your mailing address.

 With sincere thanks and best wishes,

 Jane
Jane Covner

Press Representative / JAG Entertainment

4265 Hazeltine Ave. / Sherman Oaks, CA 91423

jcovner@jagpr.com

 “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind,

flight to the imagination, and life to everything.” …Plato

Her response moved me. She also validated the depth of young children and the importance and beauty of their collective voice.

The very first time I handed out the Union Station Sketchbooks,
“real artist sketchbooks” to the children,
and the first time the children sketched into them
at Union Station, Mason Grace turned to me and said;
“This journal is like a bible.”

And I say to that, Amen.
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One heart at a time

This year at SWS, I have three new classrooms of children to interact with. For the first time we have two 3 year old preschool classrooms and one classroom with non-categorical medically fragile children.

leaves modge podgeScarlett, one of our children from our first SWS 3 year old PreSchool program
and
Ayanna, who is in Ms. Maureen’s non-categorical class next door
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Because they are located on the ground floor, many people have not had the opportunity to greet the possibilities that grow with these new populations.

 In a Reggio context, this has been an opportunity to truly believe in the concept of the 100 Languages.

 The idea that children are able to express themselves through 100 Languages and that teachers/facilitators need to be “Visual Listeners” to observe, understand and extend that conversation (especially non-verbal conversations) has always been a tenant that I embrace.

 In the context of our new classes, the pre-school children do not necessarily possess the strongest ability of expression verbally and with the medically fragile children, the majority are non-verbal.
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With the preschool children, my goal has been to engage the senses, develop their capacity to be in a small group that gives and receives, and the experience/environment to express themselves and their theories and for them to find value in this.

 Using the outdoors and the garden as a provocation to “see,” I set up this provocation in the studio.
green star

“There’s something on the round carpet for you to see. Please walk around it, look closely, have a seat, and think about what it is.”

“It looks like a snowflake!” Abbey

“Green stripes!” Joe-Joe

“Green pictures!” Oskar

 “A flower and the petals.” Miles

“Like the sun!” Emily

“It looks like a spider.” Coby

“I think it looks like a spider web.” William M.

“It looks like a diamond.” Elana

The previous week I had the children paint and asked them what they “saw” or imagined in a painting. Because of this, they returned to this type of thinking and few children noticed or verbalized that everything was green without prompting.

 “There are 100’s of greens in the world, and we are going to hunt for them in the garden today.”
green matchgreen matching

I attended a conference where a presenter shared that because of the extended time young children are spending on ipods, iphones, and other close range viewing screens- children are not developing full spectrum color sight as well as full long range distance sight.

As an artist and human this appalled me. To counter this possibility, the intention was to get the children to observe all the nuances of color outside, especially in our vibrant garden.
After an exciting and intense green hunt, the children engaged in painting only in green. It also was an opportunity to introduce small brushes and small paintings, another way to make marks, learn to take care of paint colors, and have a shared experience in the studio.
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“What do you think of your small green paintings?”

“This one (green color) is kinda blue. The dark green, it is melting all the light colors up.” William T. 

“Mine is beautiful.” Jillian

 “They look like the grown up paintings.” Simon

Continuing the provocation of nature and the garden, I facilitated embodying leaves and the concept of metaphor within the concept of the fall leaves and three year old children.
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With the non-categorical medically fragile children I began a journey of non-verbal communication and relationship through materials and the senses.

My goal is to develop a relationship of caring and trust, a community of “makers” and an awakening of senses through projects and materials.

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At first I was a little timid. How much can I touch, move, adapt with these young children. What is safe for them? What is a good risk? How much can I expect?
shakers dakari2shakers dakari(Making musical percussive shakers)
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The beauty of eye contact and a pat from a child who initially stayed across the room and by week three began to join me and “make”, observing a child realize they are making marks instead of watching others make marks, the reactions to cause and effect, the feel and sound of materials, the lightness of being when I began spontaneously singing to engage them in a new project, the non-verbal greetings of joy when I walked in by week four, the deep beauty and surprise of touch (both human and materials.) The richness in these small moments of connection is vast. 
shakers ayannashaker dakari1shaker angel shaker angel2 shaker angel3 shaker angel4 shaker angel5paishance shave creamhands shave creamshave cream omari

The continuity of the garden and nature explorations and inspirations continues with the Prek 4’s and Kindergarten classes.

 I have such gratitude for the community (led by Jennifer Mampara and Nicole Mogul) in creating and maintaining the garden that greets every child, family member, friend, and visitor as they enter our school.
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At a staff meeting last month, 2nd grade teacher Erika Bowman spoke with great admiration and awe at a community who makes it a value to create and grow a bountiful garden, the first year existence in new location.

draw swiss chard
For the PreK 4’s, all the project work has been about facilitating the development of visual voice to express their observations in the garden.
Each small group picked a vegetable to touch, observe and then sketch. Before beginning each child was asked to observe their plant silently and think about something they noticed after looking really really really closely. Then we took turns sharing and listening, learning that listening to your friend  is an important part of the curriculum. Listening to another child gives the group new ways of thinking, seeing,  and doing.  This is a practice that I want the children to value.
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Here’ a radish conversation:

“Whoa, there’s a pink thing down there!! Charlie B.
charlie copy“There’s spikes on the stem.”  Liam
“The leaves are a little pokey.” Priya
“There are lines on the leaf.” Julia
“The shape on the leaves is blurry like, wiggly.” Santino

One of the cabbage groups had a very interesting conversation that developed into theory building:

“I can see little holes in the leaves.” Myles T.
“Caterpillar must have ate it.” Quinn
“I see a bubble. It’s a bubble of water.” Melin
“Why do you think the leaves have those bubbles?” Ms. McLean
“I think maybe a bumble bee came. I think a bumble bee came and sting the leaf to make a bubble”  Edwin
“I think it’s juice that someone spilled.” Quinn
“I think it’s bumble bee honey. I think a bumble bee ate the leaf, then licked it and the bumble bee made a juicy on the leaf.” Anais.
“Yeah, I think it’s from a bumble bee licking it.” Myles T.
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In the following  weeks children used their sketches from the garden with a corresponding photo of the vegetable and used paint to make an observational painting in the studio. 
This time the children had to be extremely observent not only about line and form but color. 
observe paint isla2

swiss chard sasha
swiss chard masonGoing through the same thinking process, children were asked to silently look closely and observe the color and then we went around the table and listened to each other’s observations.
“The white on the leaf is cause the sun is shining.” Mason

The following week each group progressed to making Observational Art of the same vegetable, this time using materials.
First they had to shop and collect materials. Next they had to arrange the pieces so it made sense using their photo, observational drawing and observational painting as a resource.

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“Why do you have all the colors if we only need greens and red and pink ?” asked Gabriel. He had a radish and was a little disappointed when I asked him if his radish had all the rainbow of materials color that he had placed on his paper.

“Because then I would be doing all your thinking. You get to make your own decisions and this is how I can see your thinking. It’s hard but your brain will grow.” Ms. McLean

Before gluing, I ask children to place the obkects on the paper, allowing them to edit and change, unti shape, form and space begin to come together and make sense into the form of their vegetable plant. When I see they have solid ideas forming, I place the glue down for them to use. Because of this process, children usually continiue to add and delete objects as they observe nuances not noticed before.

Sometimes a child will need what is called scaffolding.
“I see the red stem very clearly. What do you see inside the leaf?
“Red lines!” 
Andrew then went back, getting more materials to show his new observation. (below)
sish chard andrew

Children are learning to make visual metaphors by using objects to represent and symbolize real thinking and observations. This is no different then learning that letters symbolize words that can represent thinking and observations. This is literacy.

cabbage cora materialsCora’s cabbage
casbbage melinMelin’s cabbage

swiss chard julia photoAva’s Swiss Chard
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When looking at their representations, I avoid having children at this stage present their own work.

Here are the two “scripts” I give them:

 

“Please share what was difficult or hard about making this observational painting.”

 And/Or,

(With the Materials Observational Art project, each child was asked to “read” the art of another child’s work in the group and respond,) “When you look at Ingrid’s Observational Art, what is it telling you she noticed.”

reflect on ingrids lettuce
This intentional reflection practice encourages children to utilize visual thinking strategies (instead of “I made a stem.”), listening (the artist is eager to hear what his/her friend sees in his/her art) and another layer of observation development. It also illustrates the belief that every child has something to learn from another.
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Using the garden and nature as a provocation with all grades, (but with a different approach) allows for a continuity and collective understanding for the representations throughout the school.

The Kindergarten children were challenged to tackle symbolism and meaning through color and objects. 

In this provocation, they were asked to make a plan for a collaborative sculpture where every color or image had to represent or symbolize something from our garden or nature experiences.
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These plans stayed up on the big whiteboard in the common are. They were a constant reference point and guide as children made choices as to which part of their plan they wanted to create to be added to the collaborative group sculpture.

Here’s Noah working on wrapping blue fabric around sticks he had painted yellow. “It represents the sun and the sky.”

making the sky

As children progressed in making all the small symbollic pieces, the counter became a bounty  and source of ideas.

in process
Each week Kindergarten children returned to see visually what the next step was.
Last week many of the small group sculptures were assembled.
The process was truly an act of trusting the group, as the head became unbalanced and balanced as the children took turns drilling and adding pieces.
An unintentional lesson was in fact Balalnce.
anabel drillred collab

Nature Garden Centerpiece/Sculpture (Orange/Gold Variation) 10/22/13

 

My sticks look like flat oranges. It represents oranges. –Lilah

 

I planned to do the stick. I painted it gold. The gold represents the sun. –Dorian

 

I made it be like an acorn tree. I painted it blue like water around the earth. –Aksel

 

 I painted the head golden like hot lava. –Gabriel

 

I made the thing about some flowers that are in our garden. They are kind of colorful and they are are very soft. And they are small. The petals are warm. Flowers are important in nature because they are beautiful. –Anabel

 

I painted the golden part on the head.  I was thinking of rocks. Some rocks are golden.

-Kamrin

 

The acorns represent the sky, the blue acorns. The sky has clouds. The sun shines on it. –Sofie

centerpiece ryan and lucinda
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Nature Garden Centerpiece/Sculpture (Blue Variation) 10/22/13

 

I made flowers. They help bees and butterflies live. –Mira

 

Flowers make the world a beautiful place. –Willa

 

I did the sun. It helps flowers grow. –Dylan

 

I made grass. Grass is good for the world because it makes people walk on it. –Willa

 

I made a flower. Flowers help butterflies and bees. Butterflies make pollen. Bees make honey for us. If they weren’t alive we would have no pollen or honey. And then we wouldn’t be happy because if there was just plain yogurt, you would want honey in it. It doesn’t taste so good, if you mix it up with honey it’s good. -Ibby

 

I made some sticks that I painted yellow. It represents the sun. And the blue that I put on, represents the sky. –Noah

 

The red roses, they can grow good and live like if you water them a bunch they will be good. They will grow better. –Isaiah

 

The blue face represents the water and the sky.

-Ainsley 

tree make2engaged collaborange

Nature Garden Sculpture/Centerpiece (Orange/Blue Variation) 10/16/13

 

The flowers represent nature. -Isabel

 

Flowers make earth look beautiful. They bring pollen for bees and butterflies, to help other flowers grow.

–Aurora

 

The leaves represent flowers. If there were no leaves then the flowers would never have water. Cause the leaves have little tiny strings that go into the tree that gives water to the flowers.

–Gabriel

 

After you grow cucumbers you wash them. You can cut it up and then you eat them. You can turn them into pickles and eat them too. –Benjamin

 

The tree represents growing things.

The head represents the sun. The glasses represent water. The water makes things grow.

–Liam

 

The carrots symbolize eating. And they also help you grow. –Samuel

 

The leaves give us air. -Madeline

handsgreen profilegaels birdevans carrots

Nature Garden Centerpiece/Sculpture (Green/Brown Variation) 10/15/13

 

I painted the head green and brown. The brown symbolizes dirt. The green symbolizes leaves, spinach, and grass. –Riley

 

I made the sticks like with the tomatoes. The beads represent the tomatoes.  -Lusa

 

Birds like gardens because they like fruit and stuff. –Gael

 

The apples represent a tree. When you eat apples you get very healthy. The apples stick on a tree for a reason, so they don’t get bruised. –Dominic

 

The carrot grows. The root grows from the bottom, and the carrot is part of the bottom. You pull it up from the leaves. You wash it, and then you eat it. –Tate

 

So leaves, they survive on trees. So it is beautiful.

 –Rowan

 

The caterpillar and the butterfly symbolize nature because they live in the dirt and nature is in the dirt. -Audrey

purple

Nature Garden Sculpture/Centerpiece (Purple/Brown Variation) 10/15/13

 

 

The brown paint represents the dirt in the garden and also the earth. –Harvey

 

The carrots go in the dirt. –Eric

 

The necklace represents the rocks of the ground.

–Sonora

 

On top, the stick represents trees with berries.

–Hazel

 

It symbolizes a flower to the branch. I see a carrot tree, there also might be an acorn tree.

–Issa

 

The purple is for the whole wide world to grow. If people die, the purple takes their spirit and buries them.

 –Geraye

 

The flowers symbolize prettiness.

–Tali

 

The jewels symbolize a shiny thing, like the sun shining down. It also makes music, like a jingly.

-Ryan

purple brown detail

I no longer am teaching the older expanded grades of (this year) 1st and 2nd.

The growing pains of a Reggio Inspired school are , How do you keep the continuity, caring and intimacy of a small community, while at the same time expand to secure a vital future and create a new revolutionary model of public education?

This questions helped me to develop some small “interventions” to cross-fertilize the entire community through creativity.

 

The first small intervention I just recently tried, is inviting two first grade children to be studio assistants for an hour while I have a 3 year old group.

My first two friends were Kayden and Remi from Ms. Scofield’s class. I wanted them to experience being in a different developmental bracket, so I asked them to visit while a had 5 three year olds in the studio.

 

I broke their time in to two segments. Before I went to retrieve my three’s, I invited Remi and Kayden in.

“The three year olds have been exploring nature around the school. They have such wonderful ideas about the changing of the seasons and the leaves right now. However, you have the experience to illustrate and respond to their ideas, like an artist who does the pictures for another writer.”

 

Here are there responses.
leaf kayden simonleaf kayden
leaf remi willleafe remi

They took this work seriously. They didn’t laugh or question the validity or ideas of the three year old children, they simply, responded visually.
I will continue to explore the possibilities of these types of new interactions.

Last week many of the teachers attended a professional development at Washington International School, in conjunction with the DC-Project Zero (Harvard Grad School of Education Research Collaborative/Institute.)

One of the speakers, Ben Mardell said, “We can make children (young children) big or small.”

At SWS, our youngest smallest children are not considered small. We see them in big ways, as individuals and as part of the community.

liam and mom

The first ever SWS Yarn Bomb was the second intervention or act I facilitated to bring the community together in a creative cacophony of joy and color.

 

As I view the images of children/adults of all ages equally participating, it clearly makes visible the strength of honoring every individual at their current stage of development.

almost done boys Bridget burst buttons carrington chair tree cherry blossom done fringe katie margi katie krista nicole scarlet sew the smallest

 People stop by and ask me, How’s it going? What do you think of this big place? How’s the change? Do you like it?

This is a great experiment in expanding the heart. It is beating, it is warm, it is vigorous non-stop beating, it is at times exhausting, but it is, truly wonderous and just the beginning of a ripple of change. A ripple that will keep on moving outward, one heart at a time.

kiran and the heart

 

 

 

 

The greatest small gifts

Last month I attended a tremendous conference in San Francisco called  Educating for Creative Minds: Using Brain Science to Ignite Innovation and Imagination.

From the conference I have a long list of books to read and pages of notes to refer to, and inspiration and knowledge to keep me busy for a long time.

I will be referring to speakers and ideas from this conference in this and subsequent blogs.

“We are unable to  measure creative and divergent  thinking in a standardized way. Nationally, we teach what we can measure so we can teach it.”

“I can force you to pass a test and memorize, I cannot force you to write Hamlet.”

“Everyone has to become creative. If you want to be managed, you are not employable. Necessary traits for creativity and entrepreneurial qualities are; active engagement, resilience, agency to believe you can do it, original ideas, passion, empathy, uniqueness, alertness to opportunity, friends, confidence,  and global competency.

Here’s how traditional schools kill these traits and qualities:

Demand everyone to be the same

Rank them

Reward and punish accordingly so children can lose interest, confidence and curiosity.

And don’t give them time to play and explore.”

“We treat Reggio, Montessori and Waldorf as boutique education. Progressive education is a NECESSITY.”

-Yong Zhao, Phd

In this blog, I want to share and convey the depth and intention of the work in the studio, and implications for learning and developing creativity.

I am trying a new approach, two short videos.

 

Here’s video one, Developing Authentic Creativity , an overview of what many weeks of work looks like on the Shad and Insect project in the studio.

 

Here’s video two, Engagement and Ability., an opportunity to be a fly on the wall for a moment in the studio, an opportunity to see what it is really like.

 

I’d love to get feedback on your thoughts, what you see, and the effectiveness of sharing children’s work through video.

Just a quick end-note.  In the studio, the Shad fish project  was introduced in January. Kamrin, (pictured below) completed his wire Shad fish mobile this week. He finished, and went off to explore freely in the studio. About 3 minutes later, he came running back to me, gave me a big hug and looked in my eyes and said, “Thank you Ms. McLean”, and ran back to his free-time. The importance of honoring each child’s ability individually through daily interaction and relationship can never be underestimated. These are the greatest small gifts.

 

 

 

 

 

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.