Monday, September 29, 2014

Umbrella Day in Richmond, Virginia

This is a skyscraper and those are too. These are people parachuting from the sky. Oliver

OUR RICHMOND is the Umbrella project this year for the community at Sabot at Stony Point. Families, teachers and students will explore the city they call home, Richmond. This project prompted all lower and middle school classes to venture off campus on September 24 and travel into the city.

The Kindergarten boarded a city bus and rode for nearly an hour into Richmond. Our final destination was City Hall.  Elevators delivered the class to the observation deck and a view of their city that few students had seen. This provocation was organized by the teachers with the hope that the experience would inspire questions, inquiry and representation regarding the city.
As the children considered the approaching trip into  Richmond they predicted where the bus might take them and what it would be like to ride a bus?

Le: We will go by my house because I live in Richmond. 

Lenore did not consider Richmond a distant location but rather a PLACE that was a part of her daily life.
We may ride in a bus with two floors because there are alot of us.     Luke

L: I drew two skyscrapers one with my dad in it. I have been to my dad’s office.
Le: We will see lots of people in the bus. I am behind the bus you can’t see me.
M: I have been to a bus stop before and there is a sign that says bus stop don’t park there.

The children boarded and rode imaginary buses during project time and then shared their thinking  during our circle and discussion.

N: There are basically benches and sometimes there are fold up tables and places in the back where wheelchairs can come on. You feel like you are going really fast but when you stop you feel like you are still going.
Anna: When I go on the bus I have to hold on so I stay up.
O: Are there any chairs in buses?
Anna: Nathan and I have seen benches on a bus.

The next day several children offered more information.
H:  We need to give the conductor the money for the ride.
Co: I was looking for quarters from my bank.
Ca: Cole has three dollars. There are four quarters in a dollar.

The children practiced putting the money into the "bus machine" and realized that some of the money was for the trip to the city and some of the money was for the trip back from the city. After counting the coins for the trip to the city and then counting the coins that remained they realized that six coins were needed each way.

Then a concern was raised. What if you fall asleep on the bus? This possible peril generated much discussion and also spurred sign making to alert passengers to other potential safety issues.

"No falling asleep on the bus and do no ride on the roof of the bus." Nathan
"Do not forget your seat belt."
"No getting off the bus when cars are driving or when the bus is driving."
The rules and safety regulations helped us safely arrive at our destination. We saw Our City from one of the highest perches available. 
The children sketched with deep concentration. 

The contrast of old city hall and new city hall seemed to pique interest.
"New city hall was built because Richmond became so big"
"Old city hall looks like a castle."

Look who we found at the top of city Hall.

The infamous crane was documented by many students in their sketchbooks.

Later in the classroom

Co: I saw a building that it looked like a person was  upside down on it.
Ei: I saw a field that had cars and grass with a big pool around it.
E: I saw a car go into a building. Maybe it was going into a building. 
Co: It may be a place to put your car or something.
Br: I saw a building connected together.
a car crossing a bridge  
Ha: I saw a jeep and I saw person who was waving to another person and they were on the street. I saw a construction worker building a building.
Ta: I saw a truck go onto of the building. They guy drove it to the top of the building

an air conditioning unit on the top of a building
Men working on the roof
We will slowly peel back the layers of the trip in the weeks to come. Revisit our documentation and memories and also begin to to consider our next adventure in the city. 

What pursuit or inquiry will the children find most alluring and intriguing?

Monday, September 22, 2014

What Kind of a Mary are You?

In our kindergarten class, there are three teachers including myself and we are all named Mary. This can be either comforting or disconcerting for our students. One day I was asked by one of the Kindergartners, 

"What kind of a Mary are you?".  

As I sat with this question I began to see its many dimensions. 

I ask myself a version of this questions each night. What kind of a Mary was I today?  Did I listen? Was I present? Did I react with compassion? What choices did I make today, how will it effect my decisions for tomorrow and  did I positively contribute to the communities that I exist in? Each night I reflect.

Applying past knowledge to new situations and thinking about thinking are two of the Habits of Mind that children adopt in Sabot's classrooms as they question and approach problems they encounter. These habits demand reflective thinking.  Each day students consider the ideas, concepts and learning generated in their work , their actions and their mistakes. 

John Dewey, a powerful thinker and educator reformer writes the following:

"Reflective thinking, in short, means judgment suspended during further inquiry; and suspense is likely to be somewhat painful… To maintain the state of doubt and to carry on systematic and protracted inquiry — these are the essentials of thinking."

The Kindergartners , even in small steps, exist in a "state of doubt" each day as they ask questions of their peers, collaborate and look for answers.

Telling a story about a loose tooth started with a conversation about their own experiences with wiggly teeth. What will it feel like to loose a tooth? Storytelling is a playful accessible process of reflection.

Strategic thinking begins with reflection---What do I need to do differently from my last game and what are my options for my next move?

"Getting to the root of the matter" involves focus and reflection

"One man’s thought is profound while another’s is superficial; one goes to the roots of the matter, and another touches lightly its most external aspects. This phase of thinking is perhaps the most untaught of all, and the least amenable to external influence whether for improvement or harm." 

                             John Dewey

Expressing a sketch in collage means diving deeper into the expression of ideas

The children reflect on their prior experiences riding buses and offer some predictions regarding the approaching bus ride into Richmond for our umbrella project.
C: I have been on a bus, you don't wear seat belts.
G: They are so bumpy. I hit my face.
M: My dad rides one to work.
N: We got on a bus in New York City.
E: We went on a bus to the Greek festival. A taxi driver got on the bus and hooked his taxi up to the bus.

Their reflections conjure up images of bus riding for their classmates. 

This process of daily reflection and problem solving occurs during our Project Circle.
"I didn't think I could do it but then I did", L. said after observing others climb trees in the forest until her own curiosity propelled her up the limb.

"Curiosity rises above the organic and the social planes and becomes intellectual in the degree in which it is transformed into interest in problems provoked by the observation of things and the accumulation of material. When the question is not discharged by being asked of another, when the child continues to entertain it in his own mind and to be alert for whatever will help answer it, curiosity has become a positive intellectual force. To the open mind, nature and social experience are full of varied and subtle challenges to look further." 
                                                                    John Dewey

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Way We Spend Our Days

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.

Annie Dillard

This quote holds such wisdom. Time may be the most valuable commodity that we have in our lives.  There are obligations and expectations that demand our time. We prioritize and  remain anchored to our vision for our family and life but often drift off course and find ourselves committed to things we do not value. 

The way we spend our days in our classrooms shapes the habits of learning and engagement in our Kindergarten community.  How do the children respond to the provocations, experiences and rhythm of the day?  We  protect large spaces of time and limit transitions so the children may dive deep into their imagination and connect to others. Managing our time in the classroom conjures the image of piecing together an intricate puzzle. 

In early September, the children are acclimating to the flow of the day. What comes next? When do we eat? When do I see my mom? Their  bodies are also adjusting to the schedule, The routine of the day reveals the priorities of our classroom ...time to play, time to sketch, time to build, time to read and be read to, time to count and time to collaborate or play in the forest. 

The work of each day presents challenges and  opportunities for inquiry. We observe children communicating ideas with clarity, creating and innovating, applying their understanding to the obstacles they face and striving to do their best. As we catch them in the act we name what we see them doing and encourage them to notice these behaviors in their community members. As teachers we consider what provocations might best develop these propensities. 

Listening to others as we sketch the sights of a city provided an experience with flexibility of thought. As we tour our school, we realized that we were a part of a larger community and felt empowered by the energy. 

How we spend our days listening to others and existing in community is of course how we spend our lives listening and existing in community.

Acquiring and practicing languages of expression has supported children to  bridge gaps in their understandings and  share their thinking with their community. The children capture their stories and thoughts in collage, drawing, and building (and many more).

As we immerse ourselves in these languages we become more proficient. 

How we spend our days expressing and communicating, is of course, how we spend our lives expressing and communicating.

The children are deeply engaged when the environment and experiences are open and yet layered with sophistication. Games appeal to children because they are fun, social and offer opportunities to think strategically. The children persevere and working through conflict to continue the momentum of the game. 

How we spend our days persevering and collaborating is how we spend our lives persevering and collaborating.

How we spend our days connecting to others is of course how we spend our lives connecting to others. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Our Richmond: The 2014-2015 Umbrella Project

What is an Umbrella Project?

Each year our school selects a cross grade exploration of a single idea that spans a year.   The Umbrella Project offers  inquiry for all students preschool to middle school age. Grades, groups, and individuals develop their own journey researching and investigating the project but are supported by the faculty and studio teacher.
This year our school is venturing into the city of Richmond. The 2014-2015 Umbrella project entitled Our Richmond will bring Sabot at Stony Point students into the city and ask them to observe and document their experiences.

 The children will begin to see themselves as citizens and community members of their city. What do they perceive as their responsibility to the city? What parts of the experience will ignite their interest and imagination? How will they develop a voice so that their ideas and thoughts are expressed, heard and considered. 

Our Richmond is a long-term documentary research and design project in which children use photography, writing and graphic design to learn about and become advocates for their  community. 
Where to begin such a venture? 

Anna shared a story. In the story, a young student was asked to describe the place where he lived. He drew a map of his home, a nearby park, the location of his violin lessons and his favorite pizza joint. Our Kindergarten was intrigued. 

The children began to create a map beginning with what they know and in a context that had meaning.  Many of us joined Anna in the studio (others followed the next day).

Just a small sampling of the maps of the places that have meaning to the children.

These are angry birds. This one has a helmet on. They are following the marble run. This is my house and my preschool and my Dad words next door in the tall building. I park my car in the parking ramp.

This is my garden with my purple flowers. These are the stairs to my garden. This is my big red house with red bricks. This is the big pool. This is the deep end and this is not the deep end. Those are the stairs into the pool. This is the hot tub.

This is Papa Johns. This is my grandparents. We are getting some pizza. My dad is watching tv and my brothers are sitting around. I am playing. My mom is doing laundry.


Building contagion in Project Circle
The next day we shared the maps that were created by the students during our project circle. The children asked many questions of the young cartographers. There was contagion and so many children elected to create another map.

A problem begins to bubble.

Evan, Miles, Nathan and Reed left the circle with the intention of making one collaborative map of New York City. They began to add a marble run, a Yapple soft serve yogurt shop, a large sign for the city name, a sunset, people with babies and a robot dispensing money. Nathan felt strongly that he had never seen robots on the streets of NYC. Reed shared that his mom had seen these robots. 

Nathan: This map needs to be true. We can't just add anything to this map.

Miles: Yapples are everywhere. There is probably one in New York City. 

Ethan: It is true that there is a moon and a sun in New York City.

Reed began to sketch a picture of a train and declared that this signified the landmark Grand Central Station. 

Nathan (with a relieved look) That is definitely in New York City.

When creating a map can we only include the landmarks, people, foliage, animals and birds that exist and live in the area?

As teachers we eagerly listen for questions like this. These questions generate disequilibrium...a precursor to learning.

We will bring this question to circle and consider the thoughts of our community members.