Monday, December 8, 2014

Searching for an Inquiry Question

Our Kindergarten learning community has spent most of the Fall considering our city, Richmond, during our project time. We have traveled into the city and unpacked our experiences, perspectives and questions. What did we notice on our trips? What questions do we have about our city and the many things that we have seen? We have listened carefully to the conversations of the children, brought the pertinent topics back to our circle and reviewed the documentation with the children to spark new thinking. 

We listen for concepts that could sustain months of investigation. We are looking for topics that spur an emotional response and answer the children's personal questions. We are seeking an inquiry question that provokes debate and research.

We shared the photographs of our trips into the city with the children. The expressions on their faces reveal the excitement and curiosity that these trips generated for each of them.

We retraced our journey and sketched what we saw outside the windows of the train

After the children drew the landmark we asked the children, "Did you see this place in the beginning, middle or end of your journey."  The intention of this question is not to determine accuracy but rather to build a shared perspective of our journey and our city. This shared perspective will anchor our conversations and research in the months to come.

Identifying the shared perspective is a priority during investigative research but we are simultaneously  listening for what we like to call the "knotty problem". The questions that light a fire, build momentum and create contagion within the classroom.

Anna asked the children to consider designing a city for children. It was a challenge that generated interesting conversation and work. The children began designing places for the city. Many of these places satisfied their desire for fun or were inspired by the field trips to the city. 

Mary Tobin overheard several children considering the role money played in a city designed by children. She brought the question to our project circle.
Where do you get the money to pay for the candy in the candy factory?

Nathan: The government puts your money in the bank and then you get the money and go to the candy store to buy what you want.
Miles: Everything is totally free and you do not need money.
Harper: We could make our own money and then put it in the bank.
Dyson: I have lots of money in my piggy bank but I never use it but we could use construction paper to make money.
Luke: The government calls someone to make the money. We could make money for the city we are making.
Lenore: My thought is that we do not need to get money from the government we could make our own.
Brian: There could be a money factory.
Nathan: Or we don’t use money at all.

The children were obviously giving thought to the frameworks that exist in  society and support order and productivity. As the conversation continued the children also began to consider the idea of a city without adults. A city designed by kids might allow for too much freedom and circumstances might become chaotic. 
'You might get too much toys in your kid’s house and there would be no place to walk."
"Your house might explode."
"We need parents because they could say no more toys and no more ice cream."
"It would be hard to stop without parent telling you to stop."
"I have another question. If you don’t have parents you would need community members (referring to police and hospitals) to stop you."

As the teachers reviewed the documentation we found this conversation interesting. Did the children feel that the only way for them to feel safe or in control was to have adults monitoring the environment and managing their choices and behavior? Where did the children perceive the locus of control?

Later that week the children began to consider the needs of the city and the children's wants and desires became less of a priority. Tucker had created an Electric Station for the city. He was one of the first to consider the needs that  young citizens of the city might need to function together and live.

Lenore: I don’t need electricity from the electric station because my Target has light bulbs.
Tucker: But how do your light bulbs turn on
Lenore: Well I guess I need some energy.
The children asked for wire and attached the wires from the station to each building and location.
Lenore drew a waterfall next to the station and explained that this is how the electricity is created. She also suggested that all wires did not need to return to the station.  “We can get power from other  lines.”

We returned to the discussion considering the needs of young citizens in a city. A group of children determined that power (or energy sources), food, water and taking care of our bodies are needs that should be addressed. 

Lenore: We haven’t put light into cars, They need a wire connected to them.
Dyson: Cars have batteries. If they have a wire attached they won’t be able to drive. Cars have gas too. They only have one at a time though. They are both power.
Evan: I think we need Chick Filet.
Brian: Yeah if they are hungry they can eat there.
Mary: Will  the citizens just eat out all the time?
Brian: Hey we need a grocery store.
Lenore: If you don’t eat food your throat would get dry and you would  not be able to talk.
Luke: We need clean water with ice. You get clean water from a company and it will send  the water to our houses in pipes.
Dyson: We get  clean water from washing machine.
Luke: There is a pipe inside your cabinet and you can see it going out of your cabinet. The river water goes into a company and the company cleans the water and it goes through the pipes and the pipes are hooked to the river.
Dyson: Refrigerators can make fresh water.
Brian: If ice is in a hot place then it melts into water. You have to wait until winter and then get ice and then you let it melt.
Evan: We need toothbrushes because if we do not have toothbrushes our teeth will rot and fall out.

It feels like things are bubbling. Connections are being made. Opinions are forming and debates are occurring. The Kindergartners are definitely feeling some cognitive dissonance. As Kindergarten teachers we welcome this state of discomfort as ripe conditions for learning.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Rigor and Resiliency

The forest fosters a "can do" belief system.
Representation, relationship, research, reflection and rigor.   
 These five words drive our decisions as educators and are the lens through which we view our classrooms.  In early blogs we considered the ideas of representation, reflection and relationship.                                                                                   
 I have been thinking about the word rigor. In Kindergarten, this word means persistence and resiliency. As an educator and a parent, there is a perplexity and reverence surrounding both words. When a child bumps up against something hard, untenable and outside their immediate reach how do they react?  Supporting children to be resilient and persistent in Kindergarten provides the fuel to stick with goals and intention that are rigorous as they grow older. These are not traits but rather deep resources that students tap when they are pursuing intentions or surviving adversity.

Research tells us that relationships, high expectations and opportunity to participate and contribute are necessary for students to move forward and persist. In the classroom, educators can shape resiliency through their approach rather than the curriculum. We can work with a child's strengths as they identify the gaps and problems and then outline incremental steps to solve the problems and close the gaps. We can influence their perspective to view these problems as opportunities to grow. 

Cultivating curiosity and imagination within children provides the inspiration and motivation for learning and striving for answers.

The ability to listen to others and communicate ideas connects children to their peers and community. Children acquire patience as they wait for others to find their voice. They develop empathy for others and begin to perceive the world as others see it.

Kindergartners are asked to take initiative. How can you discover the answer to your question? What resources are available to you? How can you assert your independence and solve a problem that you are encountering?

Is this a tepee or a lean-to? It was a hot debate between the boys building the structure. We all checked in and listened to each others perspective. The boys are learning to lead through influence. 

Collaborating demands that children adapt and remain open to change. If problems arise then assumptions need to tested and reviewed critically. Options need to be analysed. 

It is always hard to avoid the Happiness Trap with our children. I try to keep the idea that childhood is a journey not a race...slow, steady and consistent. It is a process that may not have immediate results. The seeds we sow now may not be reaped for years. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

An Expedition to Richmond

The excitement was contagious. 

All moments were captured through the photography talents of Molly Booker, Brian's mom. She documented our trip with energy and thought. 

On Wednesday, November 6th we ventured into the city for further exploration. This time our mode of transportation was a train with the destination Old City Hall. This castle-like structure appeared in the students' drawings from our last field trip and seemed to garnish much curiosity. We boarded the train at Staples Mill station.

We waited patiently for the train at the Staples Mill station. 

It was with great dismay that we heard that the train was delayed. Our excitement was impossible to contain. 

Thank goodness Mary Baxter began to sing. The station master liked our sound and
asked us to return at Christmas to sing carols.

Our train was announced and so we headed to the platform. 

"Dinah, won't you blow your horn." Our ride into the city arrives.

We boarded the train with great anticipation. 
We spent some time drawing the sights and
architecture that we saw at the train station.

We left the  station and embarked on our trek up the hill to the Capitol.
Our weaving caravan included a red wagon piled high with lunch boxes and necessities. 

"It looks like the white house." As we considered who might live in this house, we
decided to take a run up the long and inviting staircase.
The Kindergarten ate on the Capitol lawn and enjoyed the statues, view and soft grass.

We shared a picnic and explored the grounds together.

We studied  the Capitol, the tall buildings in the distance and the spires of Old City hall. 
This building  appeals to the children. They seem to be attracted to the
unique architecture and the idea that there are two city halls, an older one and a new one
It was a day that put smiles on all of our faces. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

A Collective Perspective

The Kindergarten ventured into the city on a train this week.  It was a big adventure with much to absorb. Their senses were bombarded with the life, energy and vibrations of an urban environment. 

The children have been developing a schema or thinking map of the city in preparation for this trip. 

 Each child arrived in the Kindergarten this Fall with their own experiences and perceptions of the city. The work of the classroom currently is to gather data and listen to each other with understanding as we create a common schema that we can tap into during our study of Richmond.

We are developing a model of the city on the block table using a variety of materials to represent the landmarks, terrain and life of the city as documented during our field trips. This process will help us get on the same page.

We asked the children to sketch landmarks that they would like to recreate.  Their choices are varied and are not confined to anyone neighborhood or area in Richmond.

The Science Museum     Evan

The Pony Pasture     Sadie
Maymont     Harper

We are building a collective context as a class but also as a school. First grade has explored the Fan and second and third grade have visited the river. All of these beautiful places are part of  our city of Richmond. It has an urban center with green spaces and surrounding neighborhoods. It has a deep history and a wide culture.

As we begin to share a common language and perspective regarding the landmarks of Richmond we are also asking the children to evaluate what they are seeing as we walk the city. What is their interpretation of the images that they are seeing?

The City through the eyes of a Kindegardener....what do they think when they observe and consider the city?

Anna posed a question to the Kindergarten during Circle. Is the city a good place for kids to live?

Lenore: The city is a good place for kids because I live in the city.

Nathan: The city is  a good place for kids but downtown is not good for kids. It is busy and there are alot of cars and there is not much fun to do. The speed limit is fast and the cars are going faster. It might be hard to stick with the Marys. There are a lot of big buildings.
It is not a good place for kids because they might get run over by kids, trains, and buses.

Brian: It is a good place for kids because there are toys and games.

Cole: I know it is a good place for kids because Reed live in the city.

Reed: It is a good place for kids because there are carnivals.

Sabine: There might be crosswalks in downtown. 

Dyson: I live in Virginia and it is a good place for kids

Gabriel: I live downtown and we go to get lots of pizzas.

Carter: I think it is bad because the cars go really fast and make some smoke and will get the kids sick.

Harper: At downtown they have lots of ice cream and purple ice cream too. I went to a festival and they had a maze.

The children are evaluating Richmond on the criteria appealing and vital to life as a five and six year old. Does the city provide fun things to do and eat? Is it safe? 

Cole notes that Richmond must be a good place if his friend has made the city his home. Homes provide safety and security and love.  

We had many moments of high excitement on our field trip but there was also moments of reflection. We will unpack this reflection and the children's documentation of what they saw. What memories are most salient? What connections are drawn? What questions exist? 
Eating lunch at the capitol

Our view from the train station in Richmond
Gazing at the majestic tiers and light within Old City Hall
Sketching Old City Hall on a lit floor space

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Enchantments of the Forest

Forest  Day is a day to exhale.

The children have the freedom to run, shout, sing, swing, stomp, climb or just sit without transitions or the demands of a schedule.

As we observe the  children and the energy, we notice that the environment and the play exudes a confidence that makes risk taking palpable to many. These risks include crossing a log, jumping from a rock, climbing a tree, building a shelter, forging a pool of water and leading a group.

We marvel most at the children who are reserved or hesitant in the classroom. The forest provides a leveled playing field and anonymity easing the anxiety of making a mistake or collaborating with a large group.

We place great value on the environment in the learning process. The Forest is an environment that presents shifting variables instilling flexibility and creative thought. It is also an environment open to possibilities and demanding flexibility.

We have linked two videos providing a glimpse of several children playing and stretching their comfort level.

One child jumps as other children watch. This observation leads to one child accepting the challenge and another considering it. The passwords for these particular videos are sabotkindergarten.
Seeking Challenges

One child requests scaffolding from another as they climb trees together.
The Forest Changes Everything

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Rethinking math in the Kindergarten

The intention

After spending years hosting a math circle and workshop in the Kindergarten each afternoon, we decided to make a concerted effort to embed literacy and math into our morning and afternoon experiences this year.

The Reasoning

Young children have a curiosity that is contagious. They are intrigued by problems in their environment and enjoy solving these problems with their peers. As the co-construct meaning together, they propel the inquiry process forward. We always seek best practice that engages and motivates the Kindergarten children.

The environment and routines are  equally important to the effort of embedding literacy and math and provoking inquiry. Story Workshop emphasizes the studio languages of expression and story development. We are looking for similar experiences that consistently stretch strategic, logical and mathematical thinking.

How does this intention translate to practice?
                       Gabriel  loves nature and notices the daily evidence of the Fall season. He has been collecting acorns. He filled a jar with acorns and presented his classmates with the challenge of estimating the number of acorns in the jar.  We later read the recorded estimates, counted the acorns and decided which estimate was the closest. C. is estimating our second challenge. This time Gabriel has filled a larger glass container.                                                    
Reed estimated 54 acorns in the jar.

Counting has many perils. Remembering the sequence of numbers is one such obstacle. We also try to assign only one number to each object counted and avoid skipping objects. Our class has developed several strategies to support counting. O. and G. were counting the floors in a skyscraper they built. They disagreed regarding the number of stories. 

They both counted separately several times. O. noticed that G. skipped a floor and G. noticed that O. counted out of sequence. Finally they decided to count together and agreed that there were 16 stories in their skyscraper.

The sensory experiences of a rice table inspired thinking regarding measurement. Tucker noticed that there were markings on one of the cups. When he put a "teeny" bit more in the cup and the rice rose to the number one but when he put more rice in the cup it moved to ten. Cole said that he filled all of the containers up to the top. The biggest container was the heaviest. Carter suggested that we get a scale and weigh the containers to see which container was the heaviest.

The next day....

Tucker: I kept scooping until they were the same size. This side is holding the other side down even though it has more rice.

We compared the size of the containers. Cole felt that the containers that were wider would hold more rice but Oliver disagreed. "If we filled both containers one would be way heavier because it is made of glass."

A week later we are still recording discoveries.
S. works meticulously to measure equal amounts of rice into the same containers achieving balance between the scale.

N: This is weighing the scale down because it is the tallest container.
S: It is because it is tall and made of glass.

S., N. and O. decide to use containers made from the same material to try to achieve a balanced scale. They realize through trial and error that they must continue to add rice and then weigh the containers.


The Scaffolding
We to meet in small groups during the morning and afternoon, as we have done in previous years, to consider the skills that support mathematical thinking and literacy. Mary and I notice the  challenges that exist for each child as they solve problems mathematically . Small groups provide an opportunity to tailor an experience to fit the needs of a particular student or group of students.

Working this way does require an understanding of the development of mathematical thinking of five and six year olds. This process also demands a vigilant level of listening and documenting. The questions that we choose to ask are also crucial.

One questions leads to another....
On Friday, a large noisy crowd gathered at the estimation jar. The children noticed that one of the acorns was sprouting.

Evan: Gabriel, look what is coming out of the acorn. It has a tail and is growing.