Spiking A Temperature! How Do You Cure Spring Fever?

Things have not been exactly the same lately. Some people call it “Spring Fever.” Along with the warmer weather, the sunshine, and the mud, comes a very different kind of play. The classroom just doesn’t seen quite as settled as it was before. Please don’t get me wrong. There is still a lot of wonderful happening, and every day, we highlight so much of the learning that happens inside and outside our room. Along with all of the great comes something else. My teaching partner, Paula, and I have both felt it.

  • Sometimes it’s a little louder.
  • Sometimes there seems to be more wandering.
  • Sometimes we seem to be managing behaviour instead of facilitating learning. 

Every day after school, and sometimes in the midst of play, we connect and reflect as a team. We’ve spent a lot of time talking about this different feeling. Why is it happening? What might interrupt it, and lend itself to a more settled feeling in the classroom?

On Wednesday night, we decided to make some changes to the classroom space. We wondered if moving a few items around, slowing down the LEGO play, and providing some new learning opportunities might help combat Spring Fever. We definitely noticed a few improvements on Thursday, and we started to see kids interact differently with the materials. The temperature was going down.

Many of our students find sensory play self-regulating, so on Thursday night, we considered an additional sensory option for Friday. Would this make a difference? While numerous students were drawn to this sensory space, and it was great to hear the conversations in this new area, something still didn’t feel quite right. It was a case of masking the fever without curing the cold.

We’re wondering if the key might be a couple of students. They don’t seem quite as focused as they have been in the past. Why? We wondered if part of the problem could be that children are not outside as long as they were before. After the holiday fire, we started our day inside, and while we’re slowly transitioning to the forest space, we often don’t get there until almost 9:45. We used to spend around 1 1/2 hours outside each day, and now we’re down to 50 minutes. We love the connections that we’re making with some kids inside, but we’re also seeing the possible drawbacks to having less time outside. Many of our students look for this outside time as a way to self-regulate. Many of the experiences outside also connect with the learning inside, and with less time in the forest, are our kids also not digging as deeply into certain topics that they would have before (e.g., around living things and the environment)? Maybe it’s time to reconsider our outdoor classroom space, and still connect with kids in the morning, but in an outdoor area.

By keeping the learning materials and experiences “new” in the classroom until our indoor play begins, will students interact with them differently? Will they be more apt to go to the spaces that they may not be going to now because they started the day there before we even went outside? As Paula pointed out to me, “They’re missing the conversation time later around these different areas. This is when they also connected with each other and asked, ‘What could we do here? What do you want to do? What can we do together?'”

After school on Friday, we also looked for the start of some different, small projects, which might allow for leadership opportunities for some kids and more settled play for others. We know that climbing is calming for many of our students, and they love to express themselves artistically. Would it be beneficial to combine the climbing with the artistic expression? This was our thinking behind the provocation below.

This whole process of improvement is about identifying problems, making small changes, reflecting, and changing again. I thought about this today when I read Cathy Baker‘s recent blog post. As I mentioned in my comment to her, sometimes even when we might think that we know the “why,” there’s still value in investigating the changes to make so that we could do better. For often one change is not enough. And often, there needs to be a link between our approaches, the research that we do, and our conversations with colleagues to really make the biggest, positive impact for kids.

What do you think? We’re still in the playing stage. We might be in this stage for a while, but as we continue to play, to modify plans, and to try again, we also notice the benefits for our kids. This makes the playing time well worth it. Now to just remember to give enough settling time to see the impact — if there is one — or to see if we need to explore a new medication option. (I can’t help but get wrapped up in the fever analogy. 🙂 ) While I may prefer mud to snow, right now, I’m eager to find some Winter Calm in the midst of Spring Fever. How about you? Have you found a way to cure Spring Fever? I’m always amazed at the impact that weather can have on learning. It’s now time to rise above the weather and find calm again.


Lessons Learned From The Water Bottle Tree

Last weekend, I blogged about our slow progress with our water bottle sculpture. While we wanted to give this artwork the value of time, we also noticed that after a few days, nobody went back to add water bottles to it with the wire. We thought that the difficulty of working the wire might have had something to do with this. And so, we began to think about how we could interrupt this play and develop a renewed interest in creating this sculpture. Our solution. Tape. Our kids love to tape, and the introduction of tape into this space led to something wonderful. Even more than this though, it was when we added tape and watched the transformation of our water bottle sculpture that we saw the many lessons learned from this experience.

Beauty comes in many forms. The introduction of tape into our water bottle space brought many kids along with it. They were winding the tape around the bottles and exploring how to attach them together. One child came to take a look at the sculpture mid-way through and commented, “This is such a mess!” Others though, felt that it was “beautiful.” It wasn’t about being perfect, and it wasn’t even about the look of the sculpture itself. It was about the message behind the sculpture, and that’s what made it so very beautiful. When one of our youngest JK students thought that it looked like an “alligator,” it was hard not to see the beauty beyond the tape and the random placement of bottles. How we view art is up to us! There’s something amazing, I think, about teaching students to see abstract art in new and creative ways, and to find a little something special in everything.

You can always try again! Seeing the tape mess from Tuesday might have prompted people to give up on this water bottle sculpture idea. I’ll admit that I was tempted. Was this just an “exploration of tape,” and did we simply have to recycle the water bottles and move on? But then something terrific happened on Wednesday. My teaching partner, Paula, did revisit the sculpture with the class, and the kids worked with her on starting again. They cut off excess tape. They used the hockey tape to secure the water bottles. Paula also held up the sculpture, and kids started to see how lovely it looked when hanging. Thank goodness we had a huge log in our classroom, which provided the perfect base for a water bottle tree. Now our water bottle alligator was turned into something new, and the artistic mess became even more beautiful!

Learning improves thanks to constant reflection. As educators, we know this. It’s not just the kids in the classroom who need to reflect, it’s also the educator teams. Paula and I spent a lot of time talking about this water bottle sculpture after school. With the help of the kids, we determined where we might go next. What questions do we have? How might we answer them? While we often reflect in this way, we did something that we don’t always do, and we taped our conversations (as you can see in our Instagram posts throughout this blog post). Lisa Noble shared the #visiblelearning hashtag with me before, and this seemed like a perfect opportunity for some visible learning. 

An activity might ignite a spark, but we also need other entry points. The water bottle tree was not for everyone. Some children have been involved in creating this tree from the beginning, and others have just observed it. That’s okay. Students can communicate their thinking, learning, and messages in different ways, and in the end, all of the ideas can come together. Even when we introduced some loose parts to our creative table this week, we were pleasantly surprised by how many students connected their artwork to our environmental focus. This water bottle tree is already making a statement!

Remember the “why.” It’s easy to get wrapped up in the project. I love this water bottle tree idea, and I’m eager to see the finished product, whenever that may happen. That said, I really saw the impact of the water bottle tree on our way back from the forest the other day. I was near the end of the line, and one of the students veered off into the garden area on the way back to the kindergarten pen. When I asked him to rejoin the group, he told me that he wanted to “go and get the water bottle. That’s littering! We can add it to our tree.” A small action from somebody who actually hasn’t added anything to the tree, but definitely knew the reason behind it. He was committed to helping the earth … the very reason why we’re creating this sculpture in the first place. 

Know when to get involved, but also know when to leave. When we started this sculpture project, Paula and I spent some time in the MakerSpace helping to put the tree together. But then, as the week progressed, we left the space. We let kids lead the learning there. We still looked in. We still observed, documented, and discussed with the children where to go next, but we let them take even more ownership over this project. When learning only rests in the hands of the educator, I wonder about the long-term impact and commitment to that learning.

Our water bottle tree is still in the blooming stages, and it may not be a popular Art Auction item (okay, truth be told: Paula doesn’t think that we can submit this to our Fun Fair Auction 🙂 ), but that’s okay. One of these days, we’ll be able to open our teacher cabinet again 🙂 , and we’ll know that the thinking and learning that came from this project made the experience well worth some heavy lifting, some new beginnings, and a lovely artistic mess. What might you learn from your own water bottle tree experiences? On the day of Earth Hour, there’s something special about reflecting on a small project with a big environmental message!


Caring Caretakers: Connections That Matter!

A few years ago now, I was teaching at a different school. One of my students, then in kindergarten, spoke Spanish. He was always really quiet in class, and tended to play alone. He spent most of his day, organizing cars in a line, pushing cars up and down in a row, and looking closely at different toy cars. Even if my teaching partner and I brought out new materials, or tried to interrupt his play with our presence and some different modelling, he tended to do the same thing again and again with the cars. I began to worry about this. Until one day, the child began to cry. Big heaving sobs. I tried to comfort him. My teaching partner tried to comfort him. We looked to see if he was hurt, sick, sad, or scared, but we couldn’t figure out what was bothering him. We had many students in our class who spoke different languages, but nobody else spoke Spanish. In fact, nobody else in the school spoke Spanish, except for one of our afternoon caretakers. We wondered if she could help.

It wasn’t quite time for this caretaker to start working, but she always came in early, so we went to get her. She happily came down to our classroom, and started to comfort this child. She sang with him, she spoke to him, she even read books in our classroom, translated into Spanish. This amazing woman was surrounded not just by this child, but by so many children in our class. They all wanted to listen to her, sit with her, and hug her. And this child changed. He was smiling, laughing, animated, and he even moved away from the cars. While he never spoke to the other students, he began to interact with them by passing them books and gently touching their arms and hands. He couldn’t stop talking when she was there with him, and he couldn’t stop smiling. She was incredibly happy too, and she offered to come and volunteer in our classroom. Every day, she arrived at the school over an hour early, and she spent this time with our kids. This child started to change. He eagerly anticipated her arrival, and again he spoke, laughed, and smiled with his classmates. I think that my heart exploded a bit more every time that she came in. Her presence on that first day changed my perception of a child, and it changed that child.

I share this story because since then, I’ve realized that connections in schools don’t just happen between children and educators (i.e., teachers, RECEs, and EAs). Administrators, secretaries, and caretakers are all important parts of a school community, and they can all make a difference for kids. Our kids this year love our afternoon caretaker. They also enjoy seeing our daytime caretaker, Lori, but they often don’t see her as much as they see Angelo in the afternoon. It’s usually when the afternoon rolls around that a drain gets clogged, a flood occurs, or something gets stuck in the toilet. 🙂 A few of our students are always so excited to write a note to Mr. Angelo, and deliver it to his room, as they know that he will come right away.

I love that Angelo is starting to learn the names of some of our students. I hear him just before I leave each night, talking to one of our kids that often leaves the After Care Program around the time that he comes to clean our classroom. One day, when this child’s mother arrived, the little girl became really upset about something. She was in the coat room getting ready for home, but all you could hear were heaving sobs. I was just about to leave for home, when I overheard the conversation between the child, her mom, and Angelo. He was trying to vacuum the back coat room. He turned off the vacuum and said, “Oh no! My vacuum won’t work if you’re crying. Can you help my vacuum work again?!” Do you know what? She stopped crying right away, and he said, “Okay! Let’s see if the vacuum works.” Of course it turned right on, and he thanked the child profusely for fixing the vacuum with her happiness. Wow! Minutes later, I saw this child and her mom in the parking lot, and she was happily waving goodbye to me. Crisis averted, thanks to one awesome person: Angelo!

When Paula and I found out that Angelo’s birthday is today, we had to do something about this. We bought him a birthday treat, and mentioned the exciting news to Leah and Mya: two of our students who have really connected with him. They were thrilled to make him a card and deliver the present.

While he wasn’t in his room when they delivered the gift, he came by before home to thank the kids. I wish I photographed their faces when they saw him. They were so happy! Genuine joy. Genuine connections. From one of the most genuine of people.

At our last PA Day, we spoke about caring adults. These two caretakers are such great examples of these “caring adults.” For years, I never thought about extending student connections beyond the classroom, but they are so important. I’m glad that our kids have Angelo in their lives, and I hope that other students in the school do as well. How do you help facilitate relationships around the school? What’s the value in doing so? For some kids, it’s these kinds of positive connections that might make the biggest difference of all!


Rome Wasn’t Built In A Day And Neither Was A Water Bottle Sculpture!

I’ve been doing some thinking recently around the pace in which learning happens. As educators, we’re always so aware of our time in school. How much do we have to teach? How much time do we have to teach it in? It’s hard to ignore the number of curriculum expectations, and I’m certainly not suggesting that we do. But some conversations this past week have me reflecting on the value in slowing down.

Over the March Break, I noticed a great Instagram post from Lourdes, a fellow educator, about the number of water bottles that people use. She shared a sculpture she saw made of 12,000 water bottles, which had me thinking about our ongoing environmental inquiry in the classroom. I Googled “water bottle sculptures” and saw that there are actually a large number of them. At this point, I messaged my teaching partner, Paula, to see if we could combine students’ interest in art and the environment by creating our own recycled art sculpture. She loved the idea, so we decided to email our parents and staff looking for empty plastic bottles. By Tuesday, we had a garbage bag full. 

At this point, we decided to capitalize on children’s connections with Plastic Planet, and encourage them to draw, paint, and write about ways that we could save the earth. We showed students the sculpture pictures, and suggested a “message in a bottle” as a way to connect their artwork with the bottles. Could we then turn the bottles into a sculpture? Perhaps. We wondered if painting the bottles first might help start the artwork process, so as students created their environmental messages, others painted.

While there were some good elements of this water bottle painting, it sounded/felt overwhelming. Before I left for the second nutrition break, I asked Paula if we should just forget the project. She said to me, “Aviva, it’s an ongoing project. It’s going to take time. We need to give it some time. What if we worked on attaching the water bottles first, and then adding paint. We could move the water bottle part into the MakerSpace area, focus on it with a smaller group, and then go from there.” I was ready to give up, but Paula re-looked at the problem, suggested an alternate approach, and had me embracing the project again.

When I came back from lunch, I said to Paula, “What if I show the wire to Joshua? He used it for our stick tree, and maybe he could get started at attaching the water bottles.” This is what I did. I helped him at first, but then I left the MakerSpace area, and he slowly worked through the process on his own.

At this point, Paula was having lunch with another student, Tommy, and she suggested to him that he might want to go and help Joshua. He had other plans. He really wanted to count the water bottles. While it was the end of the day, and we really needed to tidy up, neither one of us could resist this math opportunity … especially when it was child-driven.

In the end, Joshua’s first water bottle sculpture attempt broke, but he reflected on what he tried and had a plan for the next day. Again, I was reminded of the need to take it slow. Thinking and learning were happening, even if we didn’t have a final product … yet!

Moving onto the next day, Joshua was eager to get back to attaching the water bottles. He started with groups of two, and then worked with Paula to put three groups of two together to make the start of a sculpture. Meanwhile, Tommy and Brooke wanted to count the water bottles again, especially since we added in some of the painted ones. Similar activities actually led to some new learning today around counting on, combining groups, and addition and subtraction in different contexts. Talking with Joshua, we also started to look at abstract art, and how “six water bottles” can actually look like something more than that. 

As an unexpected extension to this, a group of girls created artwork out of old plates for Pizza Day, and shared some of their learning connected to Plastic Planet

A lot of amazing things happened today, but come 3:25, we still only had six bottles attached. We’ve collected almost 80 now … maybe more. Again, I wondered, are we expecting too much here? But Paula reminded me, “This is a long-term project. We need to give it time.”

I wondered if time was enough when on Friday, nobody did anything with the water bottles. Is the interest over? When I voiced some of my concerns to Paula, she said, “Aviva, it’s your double prep day. Our day is broken up more, so kids didn’t settle at this today. Let’s revisit it again on Monday. There was a lot of good discussion around the six water bottles during group time, and we can look at them again on Monday. With more time, will more kids go back and add more water bottles? Don’t give up yet.”

Time. This is an ongoing project. We don’t need it all done today, tomorrow, or five days from now. Students might walk away from this, come back again, add more, and leave again. Maybe the addition of a new material, the reading of a new story, or the watching of a different instructional video will reignite the spark. Slowing down isn’t always easy, but this experience is making me realize how valuable it can be. How many projects have I given up on in the past because things didn’t work right away? What about you? We teach children about the value in failure and perseverance, but do we always remember to explore these same values for ourselves? My conversations with Paula this past week have me wondering what opportunities my previous students have missed out on because I neglected to give enough time. For this week, I’m going to remind myself that ongoing really does mean ongoing. Everything doesn’t need to happen now … does it?


Is That The End Result Of Teaching?

As I mentioned in my last blog post, Brian Aspinall‘s Code Breaker caused me to ask a lot of questions and do a lot of thinking. Instead of sharing all of these wonders in one blog post, I’ve decided to break them up, to help dig deeper into individual topics that I think are worth exploring more. One of these topics stems from a comment that Brian makes on page 17 of his book.

“With coding skills, students can get good jobs and be competitive in the workforce. Do you see what we’ve done here? Essentially, nothing. We still think the end goal of teaching is simply helping kids get jobs.”

I wonder though, is getting employed the end goal of teaching?

I’m not saying that this is what Brian thinks, but I wonder if this is the thinking that’s out there. Maybe it’s because I teach some of our youngest learners that I’ve never really looked at school in this way … but I haven’t. I hope that as a result of teaching, kids will,

  • become better problem solvers.
  • become more independent learners.
  • question more.
  • interact more.
  • learn the value of perseverance, and how to persevere through more challenging tasks. 
  • develop a love of learning, for learning’s sake.

These are skills that may result in employment, and they are also many of the skills that will likely make individuals successful at their jobs. But, I worry if we think about teaching (and school in general) as just a stepping stone to employment. With this mentality, do we lose focus on the kids themselves and the joy that can come from learning something new?

I keep thinking back to a conversation I had with my step-dad days before I left for Nipissing University to begin my undergraduate degree. I worried about future employment opportunities, and he gave me some sage advice: “Go to university because you want to learn something new. You can take a post-graduate degree to help with employment. But university is about the learning.” I took these words to heartI read more, questioned more, researched more, and spoke more as I got wrapped up in the learning both in, and outside, of classes.

Even now, as an adult and as a teacher, I take courses, read blog posts, read professional books, blog professionally, and get involved in Twitter chats because I’m interested in learning more. I want to better my practice. Some of the courses that I take now might help me out if I wanted to get a different job in the Board, but that’s not why I’m taking them. I’m taking them because I’m genuinely interested in the material, in the course interactions, and in learning something new. As an adult learner I feel this way. Is there equal value in children feeling the same? I worry what message we send about education if we focus too intently on the job prospects that come out of schooling. Is this why kids become wrapped up in grades instead of in growth? While this job focus may not always be the reality, is it enough of one that it’s worth talking about?