Thursday, September 28, 2017

My Teaching Now

Warning: Reflection ahead. Thoughts may be smaller (or larger) than they appear.

I love teaching. I love watching boys and girls think and play and explore. I enjoy talking with them and just listening to them. But lately I'm wondering about my teaching.

I like to find different types of materials. I like trying new things. But lately it seems that I've just been sticking with "regular" stuff and not bringing lots of different new things into the classroom.

In my church class, things have changed over the past few years. A couple of years ago, we had about 10 or so children coming regularly. This group liked to do different things and were interested in anything new or different that appeared in our room.

Last year we had about 5 or so children who came regularly. This group liked to play and explore. They REALLY liked blocks and building. Oh, and cars. They liked cars. They didn't do much art. They would play games or work puzzles from time to time - and liked new games when I brought them in. They liked new ideas...sometimes. And other times they ignored what I had put out and built towers to knock down or jump over.

This year we have fewer than 5 children who come regularly. And all of those haven't been there on the same week - we have just a portion each time. This group likes using the dishes and setting the table and feeding the dolls. They enjoy blocks or a game or art from time to time. But I'm still learning about them and their interests.

I've been judging my teaching. I don't bring a lot of extra stuff to the room. We haven't done anything really "cool" or different or unusual. Does that make me not as good...or even an almost bad teacher??

As I reflect here, thinking about what I'm doing and how I'm feeling, I think it's just part of developing as a teacher. I'm working to understand a new group of kids. I have fewer kids so I don't need as many different things to make sure everyone has choices and things to do. And maybe it's a time for me to think more about my cocoon until my next big new burst of teaching insight and practice.

Whatever it is, I want to enjoy the season I'm in now and work to move to wherever this journey takes me next. And I'm going to stop comparing myself to other teachers and to my past self. Embrace today and push for tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Play Isn't Just a Luxury

Reading Purposeful Play (Brick by Brick)
I have started reading a new book - Purposeful Play by Kristine Mraz, Alison Porcelli, and Cheryl Tyler. Vanessa at Pre-K Pages put me onto this book - and by the title it seems like just the book I need to be reading. So, let's get started!

Chapter 1 - Play Isn't a Luxury. It's a Necessity.

This first chapter made me nod throughout. Let's start with this quote:
"There is an argument in the world that suggests that play can happen only when work is done, yet children show us time and time again that play is the way they work."
 In their support of play, the authors show that play supports Common Core standards or any other standards that need to be addressed. Play is the child's own method of instruction - the way that children teach themselves. Teachers can use this child-directed method to teach all kinds of concepts and meet standards.

Punching Paper (Brick by Brick)

Rigor is another current educational focus. The authors say that play fits right into rigor...the true meaning of rigor, that is. "Because play is safe and familiar, children feel free to take risks and try on new learning." Children will push their learning to the edges of their ability, rigorously trying to master what they are doing.

Exploring Shape Patterns (Brick by Brick)

Another great quote:
"The thinking that occurs in play fits the definition of work (active engagement toward achieving a goal) and often provides impetus to continue working long after the official 'play' time is done."
I see more focus when children are exploring what they have chosen to pursue. The freedom to try and fail and try again encourage kids to push their ideas. Play allows children of different abilities and strengths to be successful...and to learn from others.

Spelling with cubes (Brick by Brick)

I've watched kids try something, observe others ideas, and attempt new things without any intervention or comment from me. I've heard kids use a wide range of words to express their thinking. Play is truly work - and rigorous work at that.

And that's just the first chapter of this book. I'm excited about reading further and learning more about how play helps children learn deeply.

Drawing on paper with eyes (Brick by Brick)

Reading and Reflecting: Purposeful Play

Fall 2017

Purposeful Play
by Kristine Mraz, Alison Porcelli, and Cheryl Tyler

Chapter 3: Creating Playful Environments

Chapter 4: Caring Kids: Teaching Empathy Through Play
Chapter 5: Playing Together: Teaching Kids to Collaborate and Negotiate
Chapter 6: Play and a Growth Mindset

Chapter 7: The Power of Tapping Into Student Interests
Chapter 8: Lighthearted Teaching: Supporting Meaningful Goals with Playful Tools and Charts
Chapter 9: Inquiry Is a Play Mindset: Learning How to Learn

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Sticky Note Collage

Sticky Note Collage (Brick by Brick)

Making a collage is a standard type of activity in preschool and kindergarten rooms. Assembling a lot of different materials to create a larger visual item is a time-honored art form. In fact it is so familiar that often we overlook it as a creative endeavor. But preschoolers still enjoy making collages and experimenting with this visual art form.

In our art camp last summer, we created a collage with sticky notes. These collages were group efforts with different colors, sizes, and shapes of self-stick notes. We got most of our notes from the dollar store.

Sticky Note Collage (Brick by Brick)

We used our magnet boards as a base for the collages. But you could use large pieces of paper. Or even create the collage directly on a wall.

Sticky Note Collage (Brick by Brick)

Sticky Note Collage (Brick by Brick)

This activity is great for all ages of preschoolers. Since no glue or other adhesive is involved, younger preschoolers can easily enjoy doing this activity. And our pre-kindergartners and kindergartners really enjoyed it, too.

Sticky Note Collage (Brick by Brick)

Just make sure you have lots of notes on hand!

Sticky Note Collage (Brick by Brick)

If you leave the collage out for several days, preschoolers can add to it or rearrange it. They can take notes off and replace them later.

Sticky Note Collage (Brick by Brick)

Add even more creativity with pens or markers. Children can draw or write on the notes before or after sticking them on the collage.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Play Is the Way They Work

Play Is Way They Work quote (Brick by Brick)
from Purposeful Play by Kristine Mraz, Alison Porcelli, and Cheryl Tyler

The job of children is play. They do not need to be taught to play...or to learn for that matter. They are born doing it and it is their natural way to gain knowledge about the world around them.

Play is not the opposite of work. It is (and should be) intwined with work, the work of true education and learning.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Inspiration from the Blogosphere - Making Me Think This Week

I always get inspiration from the blogs, tweets, and posts I read. Here are a few things I read in the past week (or so) that have me thinking.

How to Get Kids to Clean Up (Pre-K Pages)
I work with Vanessa, helping out on her blog. On of the perks is watching some of her videos for posts. (She hosts live videos each week on her Facebook page. Check out the great topics there.) What I like about this video/post is that most of the tips focus on preparing the environment so kids are successful in cleaning up. I'm thinking about what other ways I can make the environment more successful for the kids in my classroom.

Valuing and Enjoying the Process of Learning (Studentcentricity - BAM Radio Network)
Speaking of an environment that makes kids successful....listen to this podcast with Rae Pica and Amanda Morgan (of Not Just Cute). The discussion focuses on process over product - and not just for art activities but for the entire classroom. Great stuff! (And lots of thinking!)

The Tragedy of Emotionally Abandoned Children (EdWords - BAM Radio Network)
This post by Debra Pierce discusses the effects on children of living in a neglectful home. A lot to think about here - and to wonder and worry how children can cope with these types of internal monologue. But, as Debra points out, we as teacher can give hope and perspective by the way we interact with them. You may never know the impact of your kind words and loving attention.

The Rules of Counting (Erikson Early Math Collaborative)
I love math play and encouraging children to play with math concepts and build ideas through exploration. This article helped me think about the "rules" that young children need to learn and can begin to learn about counting. And challenged me to think of ways I can encourage counting play in my classroom.

Bundled Q-Tip Fall Tree Painting (Pinterested Parent)
No inspiration post would be complete without at least one activity! When I saw this post - using bundled cotton swabs to paint - I began to think of all the different types of painting experiences I could encourage: use yellow/white paint on black paper for a starry sky; use green shades of paint to make grass or hills or mountains (or, yes, trees); cut shapes to lay on paper and paint around the shapes to create negative space pictures; and so forth. A cool new painting idea (at least new to me!).

And one more thing I saw...this book by Rae Pica!
Active Learning Across the Curriculum: Teaching the Way They Learn!
I haven't gotten it yet, but it's on my list to get soon.

What inspired you this week?

Thursday, September 14, 2017

A Flexible Room Environment

When I think about teaching, I think the room, the learning environment, plays a key role. The room should have materials that are engaging and will encourage children to explore and experiment. And the room must be a neutral space, ready to accept whatever ingenuity grows from the learners' minds.

The room must be a flexible environment, ready with engaging ideas and ready to be a part of a completely different engaging idea.

And in this flexible space, the children repurpose materials to create their own ideas. In this flexible room, blocks become letters and words and sentences.

Spelling with Blocks (Brick by Brick)

Spelling with Blocks (Brick by Brick)

Or the blocks center becomes a place to write your name.

Spelling Name with Blocks (Brick by Brick)

Containers become building materials

Basket in block structure (Brick by Brick)

Headbands (strips of cloth) become doll clothes

Swaddling clothes on doll (Brick by Brick)

Food become bricks in a pyramid tower

Food tower (Brick by Brick)

Masking tape becomes a hat

Masking Tape balanced (Brick by Brick)

A block bin becomes a hat

Container head (Brick by Brick)

Tables and chairs become a tunnel

Masking tape roads under table (Brick by Brick)

Tile becomes a lake

Boat on tile "lake" (Brick by Brick)

Green Lego bricks become landscaping

Lego bricks landscape (Brick by Brick)

And gems become pizza toppings

Play dough and gems pizza (Brick by Brick)

Kids have great imaginations and great ideas. They can take just about anything and reimagine it into something completely different. 

But there's one barrier to this - ADULTS. We can dampen those ideas with a just a few words. Or a mindset. (Well, maybe it's not you. Maybe it's me.)

Often we say "no" when we could say "yes." Or at least "Hmm. Let's think about that."

As you work with a group of children or survey a classroom, think about ways you can say yes. Yes to creativity. Yes to fun ideas. Yes to repurposing. Yes to a flexible classroom.

I learn some of the best ideas that way!

Blocks from floor to windowsill (Brick by Brick)

Monday, September 11, 2017

Play = Math

Play = Math (Brick by Brick)

Sorting, matching, grouping, classifying

Counting, moving spaces, patterning

Exploring symmetry, exploring volume, exploring shape

Check out these posts:
Hands-on Graphing
Math Play
How Many Blocks Long?
Rocks and Scale
Add a Little Math
Lids as Counters
Life Sized Board Game
I Detect a Pattern

Friday, September 8, 2017

Some Shiny Blocks

I love blocks. If you've spent any time here on the blog (or even with me in person talking about preschoolers), you'll probably already know this. Since I love blocks and I've had groups of kids who love blocks, I'm always looking for ways to supplement or create different experiences with blocks and building.

This summer in Vacation Bible School, we had shiny blocks. Well, we wrapped some of our blocks with aluminum foil so we would have shiny blocks.

Just a little change...a small revamping of a familiar item...can create some new exploration and play experiences. Some girls in our VBS group really were interested in these blocks. They built castles (princess castles, I think) with these "new" blocks.

Since this was an unfamiliar group of children, I didn't know their block building habits. I don't know if the shiny blocks made building more interesting or attractive to these girls. But they did enjoy building with them and reused them on more than one day.

We were using the blocks (and the room) where my church kindergarten class regularly meets. We didn't unwrap the blocks after VBS so we still had some silver shiny blocks for my regular class. I told the kids that we could unwrap them, but they wanted to keep them for a while.

I noticed that sometimes the shiny blocks were just part of a building, with no particular function or special place. But more often, the shiny blocks became a feature or special part of a building. They were using them as part of an overall design. This really interested me.

Just wrapping a few blocks in foil caused the building and creating to change.

We kept the shiny blocks for a few weeks. Then we unwrapped them and had our "regular" blocks back. But because of my experiences with two groups of kids, I will be wrapping foil around them again some time. And maybe searching for other things to wrap around my blocks and spark some new creativity.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Curse of Knowledge

Curse of Knowledge (Brick by Brick)
For more about the Curse of Knowledge, see Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath

Once you know, you cannot unknow. You cannot put yourself in the place of someone who doesn't have the knowledge that you have gained.

We build our knowledge and understanding upon what we've experienced plus insights (from those experiences). If kids haven't had experiences or built previous knowledge, they cannot understand. And they don't grasp understanding just because we've "explained" it.

Friday, September 1, 2017

The Thinking Behind the Knowing

Thinking Behind the Knowing (Brick by Brick)
On my bookshelf is a picture of one of my first grade friends. (Well, he's not in first grade now.) His picture is there to remind me of many things as a teacher. But recently it's been reminding me about learning, knowing, and what lies beneath it. 

It was a day in first grade that I will not forget. My student struggled to understand and I struggled to help. 

For a while in our math lessons, we had been practicing single digit addition. We were working on becoming least some of us were working on that. Others of us were working on really understanding the concept of addition. I sat with my friend, working through some addition practice. We had worked through several addition problems until we hit a wall. My friend was struggling with adding zero.

I pointed to the problem (because, you know, pointing at it makes it so much more understandable). I asked: "What is 7 plus 0?"

My friend stared at it and then looked up at me with his large dark eyes: "8?" he asked in a voice full of hope.

Thus began our great odyssey. We drew pictures of the problem. He drew them; I drew them. We pulled out counters with the problem. He manipulated them; I manipulated them. We looked at a number line. We tried all kinds of different ways, creating visual and mental representations of the problem.

Counting quantities (Brick by Brick)

I heard the frustration and dismay in his voice. I felt my own frustration grow, frustration not at him but at my inability to help him. Each time his answer would be 8 or 9 or 10. I couldn't fatham what his thinking was and he couldn't voice it enough for me to know. Then a light dawned. I don't know what we were doing at this point, drawing or counting or what, but he sat up a little bit and said tentatively, "7?"

"Yes!" I said (hopefully not too loudly). I immediately wrote down another problem with 0 and we were at it again. A hesitant guess and then the correct one. We did several. We talked that adding 0 was easy because the quantity didn't change. My friend worked on through his math practice until it was time to do something else.

Of course, we reinforced the next day and so forth. But that's not the point of this story.

I sat thinking about my friend - at the end of that day and through other days. I talked with other teachers but they mostly just nodded and said that they were glad he got it.
Counting 10 mats (Brick by Brick)

Then...from somewhere...I got a thought. Every time we approached a problem with 0, his first guess would be a slightly higher number. (He did this every time until he got the "rule" about 0.) I wondered if he had developed an understanding about addition--that whenever you added, the answer would be a higher number. Was that the thinking behind his understanding of addition?

It makes sense; it's usually true, especially in kindergarten and first grade. Was his expectation that if there's a plus sign the number would go up? If so, no wonder he struggled with this 0 business.

I also thought about my frustration. And I was reminded about something I read in the book "Made to Stick" by Chip and Dan Heath. They write about the "Curse of Knowledge." Once you learn something it is impossible to put yourself in the mindset of someone who doesn't know it. It is impossible to think like someone who doesn't know. 

Roll and count game (Brick by Brick)

Sometimes I think we adults forget this as we teach and talk to young kids. We say something, explain something - and expect that they know it. We draw a logical conclusion because it's logical to us; we have lots of stuff in our head and the conclusion just makes sense. But those young children don't have all that stuff in their heads. They will believe us because we are the adults but they may not understand it. They may form an alternative understanding about it that makes sense to them - and that they'll have to unlearn later.

In our classrooms (both younger and older), let's think about what we are doing and saying. Let's listen more than we talk so we can understand what children know and how they are thinking. Let's not just assume that something is easily understandable because it makes sense to us. Let's remember that we cannot put ourselves completely in the new learner's shoes.

Let's encourage exploring and playing. Let's help children construct a real and true understanding of concepts. Let's help build the thinking that lies underneath the knowing.