Could All Of Our Classrooms Be Innovation Centres?

Every Friday morning, I start my day by reading Doug Peterson‘s This Week In Ontario Edublogs post. This week was no exception, and I really enjoyed reading all of the included blog posts, but one in particular inspired this post of mine. In this post, Kristy Luker, an educator at the Enrichment and Innovation Centre in Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board, discusses the impact that the physical environment can have on learning. Included in her post is a link to the video (shared below), in which she gives us a guided tour of the Centre and the thinking behind the different components.

Reading Kristy’s words and watching her video leave me with many wonders. My post is definitely more about questions than answers.

  • I wonder … what makes this learning environment ideal for students identified as gifted?
  • I wonder … are there any students that struggle with this classroom model? What might their challenges be? What strategies have worked to address these challenges? 
  • I wonder … in this more specialized program, what role does the curriculum play, and does it play the same role in a regular classroom setting? What impact, if any, might this have on the teacher’s ability to be more flexible in classroom design and/or programming?
  • I wonder … what impact does the environment have on self-regulation? How do all students in the program respond to this space, and would the response be similar if a regular classroom teacher adopted a similar style? Does the age of the student matter in this regard?

Maybe my ultimate wonder is … if this physical environment and program design have such a positive impact on learning, then what ideas can we take from here to help in our classroom designs and programming? How might this vary from grade-to-grade? What might this mean for all kids? I’m left thinking. What about you?


Contemplating Collaboration: What Made Today Different?

Today has given me a lot to think about. During our Phys-Ed period, the students were scheduled to attend a 45 minute assembly on the safe use of electricity. This is the longest assembly that our class has attended, and as I heard from everyone, they did an outstanding job of sitting and listening. That’s a lot of sitting time though. We knew that after so much sitting, the children would need a chance to move around and get some fresh air. This weekend, we made some outdoor learning plans, but the temperature warmed up today, and all of the snow started to melt. We had to change our plansWe decided to bring out some new sidewalk chalk and encourage the children to create using this tool. They love to draw, and are taking a recent interest in writing, so we thought that they might like a different canvas for their drawing and writing. I went out on my prep today and did some experimenting on the blacktop: the chalk worked well on the wet and dry areas. Perfect! There were all kinds of possibilities. This is when our students surprised me.

Initially, the exploration began as I anticipated. Some students drew. Some wrote. One student suggested to another one that she trace her body, and this led to much interest in body tracing and drawing people on the sidewalk.

CZlfa9vWAAYEJoBBut then, students drew somewhere that I didn’t expect. Near the front gate of the playground, we have a pile of snow and ice that’s starting to melt. Last week, the students loved to crawl on the big pile. They tried to stand up. They felt down. They worked on balancing themselves. They decided to crawl around on their knees. A couple of students with shovels, even tried to hit the ice to break it up. The students were fascinated by this pile. With the warm weather, the pile of snow and ice has shrunk significantly, but one student in our class was drawn to it. He took a piece of chalk and started drawing on it. Pretty soon, other students joined him. At one point, about ten students surrounded this pile, drawing different lines and designs. They saw me taking photographs of their work, and they loved looking at the pictures and seeing the impact that the sun had on the colours. When the snowy ice pile looked like a colourful rainbow, one JK student in our class said, “Can we jump on it?” And that’s exactly what they did.


While in retrospect, I wish that I stayed quiet longer and listened to more of their conversations, it was actually my partner’s comment that inspired tonight’s blog post. She spoke about the “spontaneous” learning. For all of our planning, it was the unplanned results that were most spectacular.

What’s incredible about what happened today, is that for months, my partner and I have been looking at ways to help the children collaborate more. Many of them are still focused on “me,” and when it comes to creating artwork, their most frequent question is, “Can I take it home?” We wanted our students to see the value in working together to make something that is not just for one person, but can be shared and enjoyed by many. This is what inspired our collaborative art piece at the beginning of January. While the students worked together for this project, they didn’t initiate their own collaborative piece until today.

  • Maybe today was different because their canvas was a piece of snow and ice. They knew that they couldn’t take it home.
  • Maybe today was different because the art unfolded organically. We weren’t involved, so the students could really take ownership over their work.
  • Maybe today was different because the children could contribute to the project in different ways. While some students drew on the snow, others jumped on it, and others did both. Everybody had an entry point. 

Seeing what happened today, I wonder what could happen in the future. 

  • Maybe we need to explore more natural mediums.
  • Maybe we need to take more art learning outside.
  • Maybe we need to “let go”: providing more blank canvases, stepping back, and seeing what happens.

What do you think made today different? How might we create the conditions for future collaborative learning opportunities? When amazing happens, we want it to happen again.


Colouring: Taking A Risk And Seeing The Benefits

At the beginning of the month, I wrote a blog post contemplating the use of colouring in the classroom. This post led to a couple of interesting things. I had some wonderful conversations through my blog post and through Twitter with Lori St. Amand: a Grade 1 teacher in our Board. Lori decided to give colouring as an option to her Grade 1’s to help them get their “brains ready to learn.” She noticed some benefits when she did so, as she shared in her blog post hereHmmm … is this something that I would also be willing to try? I then read this blog post by Doug Peterson. He commented on my initial post and mentioned that maybe I was being too hard on colouring. It was during this time that I spoke to my teaching partner, and while we were both skeptical, we decided to get some colouring books, and put them in the Cozy Corner to see what happened. What happened was actually quite remarkable.

For the first couple of days, nobody even looked at the colouring books. We put them in the middle of the area. At one point, we even laid them out, but they just stayed there. Then one day, at the end of a nutrition break time, my teaching partner noticed that the students seemed very up-regulated, and she went into the Cozy Corner and pulled out some of the colouring books. Students saw her exploring them, and they also wanted to do so. Pretty soon, I came back from duty, and over half of the students in the class were colouring. This didn’t last for long, but for the students that chose to colour, it helped them calm down. Since then, there are usually only 3-5 students that choose to colour during the day. While we thought that students might like this option at the beginning of the day to get their “brains ready to learn” (as Lori noted in her post), we actually noticed that colouring is more popular in the middle or later on in the day. The students that choose it are usually more up-regulated, and they colour to calm down. They can’t always express this to us, but we’re trying to help them label what they feel. One student actually brought in a colouring book from home, and when he feels really up-regulated, he gets the book, colours for a few minutes, puts it away, and re-joins his peers. Sometimes he asks a friend to colour with him, and this provides an opportunity to socialize while also calming down.

Many of our students never colour. Even those that do, don’t do so at the expense of Art. They still engage in Visual Arts opportunities where they experiment with the elements of design and create artworks. Despite all of our reservations, in the end, colouring turned out not to be a problem, and in fact, to benefit some students that needed a different way to self-regulate. It’s strange to think of allowing colouring as “taking a risk,” but based on our beliefs, it really was that. This experience has been a good example for me that sometimes we have to try things that scare us because they could be best for our students — a few, some, or allWhat scares you? How might you give it a try? Maybe we all need to consider some risk-taking opportunities.


Looking At Classroom Management Through A Self-Regulation Lens

Sixteen years ago, I was in the Faculty of Education and doing some of my first teaching placements. In each of my placements, I still remember the importance placed on “classroom management.” What did a well-managed class look like and sound like?

  • Everyone looked at and listened to the teacher.
  • All students sat properly and quietly on the carpet.
  • Nobody spoke out.
  • The volume in the classroom was never too loud.
  • Children never wiggled in their spot or moved off of the carpet without permission.
  • When the teacher gave an instruction, it was always followed right away.

I always tried to have strong classroom management skills. I heard that many first year teachers struggle with classroom management (I’ve been involved in the New Teacher Induction Program (Mentorship) for many years, and I still hear that), and I was determined not to be one of those teachers. I’m not so sure that I met that goal, but I definitely improved in classroom management over the years.

Then, in the past couple of years, I started learning more about self-regulation. I read Stuart Shanker‘s book and Ross Greene‘s book, and this new learning eventually led to me taking the Foundations Self-Regulation Course through The Mehrit Centre. I just started Foundations 2. These courses are making me think differently about classroom management.

I am not suggesting that a classroom should be chaotic. In fact, I believe strongly in the benefits of a calm learning environment, but I think that how students get to that calm level may vary child to child. For example, in the past month or so, I notice that as we regroup on the carpet at the end of the day, one of my students often gets up, walks away from the full group, and goes to sit on a chair in our Book Nook. He quietly flips through a book or two, and then joins the full class as we get packed up for home. The first time that this child moved away from the full group, I told him to come back to the carpet. The second time, I did so again. But the third time, I let him stay. I watched him. He’ll often join in with our songs and phonemic awareness games, but he does so with a book in his hand. He can’t quite tell you yet that he’s self-regulating, but this is exactly what he’s doing.

There is another child that comes in every morning, and often starts her day at our Free Flow Snack Table. She spends a long time there. She opens up many of her containers, eats some of the food, has a big drink, and talks quietly with the students that sit down. Usually then, after about 30 minutes, she packs up, walks away, and finds a place to learn. For a long time, I tried to get her to clean up earlier. I encouraged her not to open her entire lunch. I even tried to get her to avoid the snack table in the morning, with the hope that she would join a group sooner. But just like in my first example, I think that this snack table time is actually an opportunity for her to self-regulate. She comes in, almost every morning, very down-regulated. The food gives her energy. The small group discussions also help. She’s getting herself ready to learn.

My classroom management learning from the past has me doing a lot of thinking recently.

  • In a “well-managed class,” would a child leave the carpet area, without permission, and make another choice?
  • In a “well-managed class,” would a child continue to sit there and eat if the teacher asked her to pack up long ago?
  • What about in a self-regulated class? What would happen then? 

There is a part of me that wonders what educators and administrators would think if they came into our classroom. Would they understand? Would they support these kinds of decisions? I wonder though, as we gain a new understanding of self-regulation, do we need to start shifting our thinking? What might this shift look like? As an educator, administrator, and/or parent, how do you feel about this kind of shift? Let’s start this very important discussion.


I Thought I Knew, But Now I Don’t. What Counts As A Shape?

On Wednesday, I saw a tweet from Santina Fantetti: a Kindergarten teacher with the Toronto Catholic District School Board. At the time, the tweet seemed like a straightforward question to me: is a piece of paper 2-D or 3-D? I was staring at some photocopy paper at the time, and it certainly seemed flat to me, so I was sure that it was two-dimensional. Little did I know that I had a lot of learning to do. Between the time that Santina sent the tweet on Wednesday until late in the day yesterday, the Twitter conversation kept going (as you can see in the Storify Story below).

These past couple of days, I’ve realized what this discussion really means.

  • If you can’t hold something that’s 2-D, then what does this mean in terms of manipulatives?
  • I like to think of math in terms of real world applications (thanks to one of my previous vice principals, Kristi Keery-Bishop). What are the real world applications then for shapes? I’m thinking of Visual Arts, blueprints, and maps, but is there anything else?
  • For many reasons, I struggle with the value of worksheets. Seeing the connection between “shapes” and “paper,” I wonder if a worksheet will become even more tempting as the best way to teach this concept. How can we move beyond the worksheet and make this learning more concrete for students that need it?
  • I look now at the Ontario Curriculum expectations for Geometry and Spatial Sense. In numerous grades, the specific expectations discuss using “concrete materials” to sort and classify shapes. What would these concrete materials be, if shapes technically can’t be held? Is our curriculum in line with the mathematical definition?
  • Anamaria Ralph‘s comment about 3-D solids and exploring faces, made me wonder if we really should be teaching 2-D shapes in the context of 3-D solids. Then we can use manipulatives while also exploring the concept of 2-D. What do you think?

Days later, I continue to think that I owe many students an apology. In my fifteenth year of teaching, I’m gaining a new understanding of 2-D versus 3-D. For years, I’ve told students that two-dimensional shapes are “flat?” Now I’ve found out that I’m wrong. But what are they then? How would we define them for our youngest to our oldest learners? This multi-day discussion proves to me that we really are life-long learners. What have you learned this week? How will this learning impact on your practices? Let’s celebrate some new learning together!