Monday, April 25, 2016

Welcome All Eggs

Samuel designed this sign as we anticipated the arrival of our twelve eggs. 
It definitely strikes  an official tone and exudes inclusiveness. 
The excitement was palpable and more children wrote their good wishes on signs and posters. 

We adopted 12 chick eggs and are learning to care for them. We spend time each day making decisions for our eggs and considering the questions that occur for us.

Once the eggs were comfortably sitting in the incubator, we sat to discuss the responsibility that the eggs generate.

Anna: We need some way to take the temperature and make sure that it the environment is good for the eggs.  

Kate: On the weekends the Mary’s can come in and check on the eggs then during the school day we could all check on them.

Cal: Yeah, but we will all want to do it.

Scarlet: The teacher could tell someone who knows how to check the temperature. Cause I certainly don't know how to.

We learned that on average each egg takes twenty one days to hatch. We thought we needed a way to keep track of each passing day. 

Kate: We could make a list and then we could write when we were done with one day we could check it off.

Cal: We make a 20 day chain and once the paper chains are gone then we know it is time for the chicks to come.

Julia volunteered to make a paper chain. Caroline explained that she had used a paper chain to anticipate the start of school. 

Penelope:We could use a calendar but we need a separate calendar (referring to a way to keep track of birthdays).

Syd: The calendar could have a picture of an egg and you could egg off each day.

This calendar  became even more  important when we considered that we would need to note each chick's birthday and  keep track of who hatched on what day.  

Julia: I have a question. Who will take care of the eggs on Sunday and Saturday?

This conversation had bubbled up before and was beginning to weigh heavy. We explained that we purchased a swanky incubator that turned the eggs and managed the humidity and temperature. 

This brought up the discussion of humidity and temperature. 

Samuel: Humidity is like the dew on the grass.

Bryce: There is water in the air. This launched us into thinking about fog and hot summer days. 

Temperature is a familiar term as we often refer to it when we discuss dressing for recess or PE. It is definitely an authentic part of the lives of the children. As a number, temperature may only carry meaning  in its relationship to other temperatures. For example, the incubator must stand at 100 degrees which is hot in comparison to the early morning temperature of sixty.

We also discuss that this level of responsibility, science and meticulousness demands organization and structure. Cal felt the need for rules and a form that would log the completion of temperature, humidity, the number of eggs present. 

Each day,  the children check the incubator several times to make sure that the temperature and humitidty is within the normal range. They count the eggs and watch the eggs slowly rock. This daily habit promotes a beginning understanding of the importance of collecting data as a scientist.

We were finding that our questions were bringing even more questions and sometimes less answers and deeper confusion.

Cal: What will happen if we look at a chick when it first hatches and it sees us. Will  the chick think,  "Hey, I'm  your my mom".   Maybe we should wear a mask.

Syd thought it should be a chicken costume so the chicks would not be confused.

As a teacher, this thinking never ceases to amaze me. It is the great mysteries of our life that are often recognized and debated in the kindergarten. Will the young chicks see the face of a young child  first and then imprint on these faces? 

What's amazing is that researchers have discovered that young birds imprint themselves to the first moving thing they set their eyes on - even if they are inanimate objects. During their study, they found young chicks attaching themselves to gumboots, balls, and even an electric train.
The downside of imprinting is that young animals have a hard time detaching themselves from their adopted 'mother'. That means that they are often unable to return to the wild or socialize with their own species. This is the reason researchers use innovative methods when raising animals in captive breeding programs. At California and Arizona'sCondor Recovery Project, the caretakers use hand puppets shaped like condors to raise the chicks, while researchers at the Hetaoping Research and Conservation Center in Western China dress in Panda suits to raise the criticallyendangered animals in captivity.
This excerpt is from a publication called Dogonews. 

Every living thing needs a name. The Kindergartners made a list of possible names but the prospect of naming twelve chicks generated more debate. 

Bryce: How will we remember all of their names if they look alike?

Annabel: When will we they know to follow? When we call them their name?

Scarlett: Like when you call a puppy they hear their name and then they say,  "Oh, I guess that is my name and then they will follow us". 

How does an animal register a name as belonging to them? 

Avery: We could put paper collars on them.

Zoey: Lets have a birthday circle for them and then tell them their name.

Scarlett is actually correct in some of her thinking regarding animals responding to their name. 

The classical view is that animals learn their names through classical conditioning, viz., what they learn is to *respond* to the name, not recognize themselves as such. Positive reinforcements such as cuddles and treats teaches the animal come to the owner whenever they hear their name. Similarly, the animal learns that if it is in a situation that the owner did not like in the past (e.g., trying to steal food left on the kitchen stove or opening the dustbin), it runs away as soon as it hears its name since the past conjoining of name + bad situation was negatively enforced.
The problem with this view is that recent work has shown that animal (in particular dog and parrot - not much work on cats because they are notably uncooperative in experimental settings) language learning skills are far more sophisticated. Dogs, for instance, can fast map new words for unfamiliar objects. They do this by reasoning by exclusion: if asked "fetch the dinosaur" and presented with a heap of objects, one of which does not correspond to a word the animal knows, the dog will take the dinosaur and remember this word for months to come.
Also, animals have sophisticated conceptual understanding - more sophisticated than classical behaviorism + conditioning has it. Moreover, animals such as chimps, dolphins and even sea lions have shown capacities to learn to map symbols to concepts. Bottlenose dolphins in the wild have signature whistles to denote each other.
So if a dog can learn the word "ball" by fast mapping a linguistic expression to a concept, why would the dog not similarly learn to fast map his name to himself? Typically (this is anecdotical), dogs learn their names really quickly, and at any rate our cat learned his name within a few days. We tried operant conditioning to teach him other simple things and that took months and months.
However, the problem with this richer interpretation is that animals do not seem to have a concept of self, with perhaps the exception of corvids, elephants, great apes and dolphins and whales. They do not recognize themselves in the mirror, which is seen as a standard test for self-awareness

The children thought we could create beds for each chick with their name on it. This would give them a place to sleep and an opportunity to reinforce their names. They also felt strongly that we need to make a large stuffed Mama chicken and place that in the brooder. So they feel secure and loved.

Syd: There should be stuff inside the brooder so they can play  like a miniature playground.

Annabel: We need a little bowl with water and marbles. The marbles make sure that they don’t drown.

Later Kenny drew a water bottle and labeled it step 11 for caring for the chicks.

Scarlett: What do chicks eat? We are going to need to know this. 

Charlie: We need to get in the brooder with the chicks.
Avery: A cardboard bed with a little pillow would work.
Bryce: Yeah how about a bunk bed.
Zach: Maybe they need an elevator because they will not be able to walk up the stairs.
Cal: This is with Zach. We cannot have an elevator. We could have a pulley and pull them up.

Charlie: The top of the brooder would need to be air and no water.

Pippin shared with the class that the chicks need to stay warm and love to have something soft to walk on.

Charlie: How about hay? 
Caroline: This is about how they can keep warm. Like when the first one is hatched they could help the others by cuddling like cheetah moms.
Zach: In my bird cage, I had a cage part and then the bottom had this little thing and tiny wincy holes so you could clean the cage.

Anna mentioned that at the state fair she saw a a short little slide that the chicks were able to  play  with but she also asked the children to maintain their empathetic stance with the chicks. 

Anna: Do the chicks want to actually sleep in beds? We have to think like a chicken. 

After much discussion regarding a wooden brooder,  Pippin asked the children to consider how they would we the chicks if they were inside a wooden brooder. 

Kate: There could be a little circle up on top so we could see if anything is wrong with the chicks.

Eve: My chicken house is made out of plastic with little doors so we could help them with stuff if then need help.

Shayna: There would spaces between the wood with glass so we could see.

Each day we wait and each day we become more excited to see these little babies. We want them to feel welcomed, safe and loved. We hope they have a great life.

Monday, April 11, 2016

A Love Song to the VMFA

            House at Dusk  1935     Edward Hopper         

I believe one of the most beautiful places on Earth is the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. It is spacious, bright, contemporary and houses an acclaimed art collection. Charlie's mom, Courtney Morano, works at the museum and arranged for the Kindergarten to tour the collection with an emphasis on art depicting the people of the city and animals. It was as you might expect an unforgettable day. 

Vea Vecchi, an atelierista at the Diana municipal school in Reggio Emilia for over thirty years and a current consultant to Reggio Emilia, is a rock star for educators. She was one of our speakers at the Summer Institute in Italy and spoke to the need for a "plurality of languages".  Vea insists that children should have access to the many ways to perceive, interpret and express the world in which we live. These languages should not be "hierarchical" but rather woven together to create a context for learning. 

Later that summer, I reread her book Art and Creativity in Reggio Emilia, Exploring the role and potential of ateliers in early childhood education. She invites ateliers to be "situated within the curriculum, tightly interweaving with all other disciplines." 

"The question we should be asking is to what extent and in what ways do the processes of learning and teaching could change if school culture welcomed the poetic languages of and an aesthetic dimension as important elements for building knowledge." Vea Vecchi

As an educator, I have changed in significant ways during my time teaching at Sabot. I now always reach for the arts to depict the humanity present in all that we learn and do each day in the Kindergarten. Anna Golden, as our school atelierista and Cheri, as our Kindergarten studio teacher also tether us to the aesthetic dimension that Vea challenges us to embrace.

Take one moment to look at the above painting entitled  House at Dusk, painted by Edward Hopper . Feelings begin to bubble up, perhaps distant memories, voices or smells of memories of the city are generated. I recall the loneliness that is sometimes a part of living in the city and the essentiality of a green space. How quickly these impressions are made! 

We distributed each child's city journals and a pencil with no formal request. The children immediately began to sketch what intrigued them while others were curious about the moving shadows that the beautiful space generated.

Each face is engaged and curious.  This photograph is a thesis statement detailing the power and necessity of "plurality of languages" in every school each and every day. 

Glass Pavilion 2011   Theaster Gates

Charlie (later telling the class about the significance of this sculpture): There was an architect and he took old pieces of a building and then they would make a structure. He would renovate the old and make it new.

Sam: Scott (Wayne...our first interview) took apart an old building and made it into a new building. He made the garage into a huge window. He is just like the artist. 

Julia: I drew the ceiling of this building. 

Annabel: I noticed the teacups on the shelf. He must have found those too in the houses he was taking apart. 

This piece of art spoke to the children and invigorated their thinking. They entered the sculpture and stood studying and identifying  the images of architectural landmarks that looked like a negative sheet embossed on the ceiling. 

These sketches from the children's journals depict the ceiling of the sculpture and its complexity and intricacies. 

Scarlett: This was a picture of the barn in the summer. There were cows and horses.

Cal: We also had a barnyard in the winter. In the winter on the farm, there are not many animals to see and it is not very busy. The pictures were the exact same except one had snow and not alot of animals. 
Eve: The summer on the farm was very busy.

Virginia 360 Thomas Schiff

Shayna: I drew the circle outside of the white house.
Scarlett: Hey we stood on that circle when we went to the city on the train.
Sam: It is the Virginia State Capitol.
Zoey: The picture is a panoramic picture.
Penelope: The camera goes in a circle and takes all of the details in.

As the children saw the opening photograph in the exhibit, they were struck by its sheer size. It almost gave the illusion that the viewer could step inside the photograph. It inspired much conversation as we unpacked the field trip later in the classroom.

Summer City   1920 George Bellows

 We are conducting interviews of people who live, work or play in the city. Many of these interviewees discuss their passion for the James River. They describe hiking along the James, mountain biking the trails and even kayaking on the water. Many of the children have had exposure to the river but we have yet to venture as a class. This painting was a catalyst for a conversation regarding the many uses of a river.

Oh, the barnyard filled with animals!  This was a favorite for our young animal lovers.

Lorelia:  I wondered how the animal sculptures were made. They looked so smooth.

Bryce: This was my favorite place because there were dogs and pigs.

 Cal noticed the texture in the sculpture and set off to depict it in his sketch. The children longed to touch these sculptures and pet the animals and feel the stone. They resisted their urges and instead channeled their curiosity into their drawing.

Out West    1977      Roy DeForest

Just one look at this painting by Roy DeForest and you can imagine the reaction of the Kindergartners, The colors, depth perception, the size of the animals and their placement in the foreground incited the children to immediately leave their bodies and inhabit the bodies of a dog, horse, cat and of course the most famous cat of them all Maude. 

This was a Vea Vecchi moment....color, design, texture inciting movement, play and exploration. 

Stadia 2004   Julie Mehretu

Abstraction art is such a mystery to so many adults but for children there is often no need to unlock the meaning. They think poetically and without boundaries. 

How does this picture show city life?

 Cal: It looks crazy. There are soccer fields, flags and buildings.
Eve: All of the scribble scrabble reminds me of how busy the city is. I feel like I do when I want to play and do lots of stuff but you can't decide what you want to do next. 
Scarlett; The road and the cars on the road are so busy and I smell coffee.
Cal; When I go into the city for soccer  I see lots of buildings without many windows. I feel wobbly when I look at it. 

This glorious room was our last stop and almost impossible to leave.  The exhibit was called Artcycle. It is a participatory exhibit that encouraged children to take a virtual tour on a bike through the galleries, generate art with parts of bikes, play with specially crafted gears and chains and explore Spirograph. This beautiful space ( an inspiration of Courtney's) brought back memories of the International Bike Race and the play we produced.