What’s Your New Learning?

Last week, I had the pleasure to attend a Let’s Talk Science Summer Institute on Nurturing Inquisitive Minds With STEM. I’ll admit that at first, I was unsure what to expect. In our Kindergarten classroom, we provide a lot of open-ended exploration and play opportunities, and I wondered if some of the activities discussed here would be too teacher-directed for us to use. Would this workshop be beneficial for play-based Kindergarten educators? I’m thrilled to report that not only was it beneficial, but it was one of the best workshops that I have attended in a while. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking since leaving Thursday’s workshop, and I realize now that there was actually some unexpected reminders and new learning from this experience.

I’ve always believed that it’s worth reflecting on professional development opportunities and figuring out what you got from them. This blog post is my most recent reflection.

  • We learn more together! I was thrilled that Thursday’s workshop allowed both me and my teaching partner, Paula, to attend together. I love the back-and-forth dialogue that often happens when we learn as a team, and this was certainly true on Thursday. As new ideas were shared, Paula and I would whisper about possible classroom uses. Could we add this chart to one of our play spaces in the room? How might we modify this activity for use in Kindergarten? Would this activity possibly be beneficial for professional learning? Having this chance to talk about our thinking, ask more questions of each other, and even do a little planning for the new school year based on what we learned, was exciting. Yes, if one of us attended this session alone, we could have brought back the information to share with the other person, but then all of the sharing is based on one perspective. Now we both heard what was being discussed, we were both involved in the activities, and we were both able to suggest different extensions that we could then combine or modify together.

  • Look for a little something new in everything that’s shared. Thursday’s workshop was very hands-on, and we spent most of the time working and playing together as part of different sized teams. At first glance, some of the activities seemed very prescribed, and another teacher asked us, “Would you do this in your classroom?” As is, the answer is likely “no,” but that doesn’t mean that we couldn’t get creative with what we saw. So, for example, one activity had us testing a domino and a car as it slid down ramps made of various materials. It was interesting to see all of the material choices, from tinfoil to carpet. What if we added some of these materials to our building space, especially when our students begin to experiment with creating ramps? How might this change the play? Would something other than a block or a car move down the ramp at a different speed? I wonder about something like a penny. How might lying it flat change from putting it on its side? What if we adjusted the angle of the ramp? How does that change the speed of the item that’s rolling down it? When might we use these different materials for ramp use? Maybe it’s time to even explore some ramps in our environment. Now our students might not have as many wonders as I do about these ramps, and they might not take this play in the same direction, but sometimes it’s simply the introduction of one or two new materials, which change the discussion and allow for the introduction of some new vocabulary. Seeing what was available in the kits on Thursday, made Paula and I think about what we might make available in the classroom … which definitely made this “something new,” very useful for both of us.
  • Give opportunities for adults to also play. I’ve blogged about this topic before, but I definitely saw the value of this at Thursday’s workshop. One of the most memorable experiences from the day was when Paula, Anja (another educator that I know), and I made a seed sorter together. This was not an easy task. We had lots of materials available to use, and a pretend budget for purchasing these items. I decided to document our building process — 1) because I think there’s value in the process even if the product doesn’t end up working and 2) because I’m comfortable with this kind of documentation, and in the midst of the uncomfortable demands of making this seed sorter, I felt calmer with my iPad in hand. As we worked through this long process of creating our seed sorter, I was reminded of the need for adults to struggle, make modifications, and try again. If we want our kids to do the same, what do we need to experience first? By not having adults there to solve the problems for us, we were forced to work through the challenges, problem solve together, and eventually meet with success. If, as adults, we don’t have these play experiences though, will we be quicker to save kids when they meet with challenges? Will we know when to step back and when to intervene? I think this seed sorter challenge would be a great one to do at a staff meeting. What might it end up telling us about ourselves as thinkers, learners, and problem solvers?

  • Sometimes “narrow” is beneficial. Paula and I really try to embrace the value in open-ended learning opportunities, and it’s for this very reason that we don’t use signs in the classroom that tell children what to create or how to use different materials. Last year though, we noticed that some students became more involved in artistic learning opportunities when we showed a few examples of some possible finished products. These weren’t posted anywhere, and they weren’t even all of the same thing, but sometimes these examples helped inspire future creativity. And often, it didn’t take long before these examples were no longer needed. Educators scaffold all the time in the classroom. Maybe a few examples act as necessary scaffolding for some kids. Paula and I thought about this on Thursday, when we engaged in different design challenges. While we don’t want to tell kids how to use recyclable materials — or limit creativity because of what we suggest — would some more children use these items if we shared a design challenge to go with them? What if we showed photographs of possible things to create, or even watched an informative video with an idea or two? We could even get kids to start to write up their own design challenges, or make this a possible home extension activity. Thursday’s workshop had us wondering, when might narrowing options be more beneficial for kids? How can we then extend to more open-ended options?
  • Be open for different ways. During some of our design challenges, we were told to draw a diagram of what we created. Paula and I have suggested something similar to our students before. This can provide a great opportunity for some authentic writing, and even math exploration (e.g., around geometry (shapes) and measurement). What I loved though was when Anja borrowed my iPad and used Explain Everything to create this diagram. This was such a good reminder that there’s not one right way to do anything. If one of our students chose to do this, would we be open for this other option? How can we encourage students to explore different options? I so appreciate that our Let’s Talk Science facilitators were very open to the many ways that we shared our learning on Thursday!

As we all get ready to head back to school, is there something new that you learned from some recent PD that you hope to incorporate into your classroom this year? How might you do so? If not, maybe there’s a little something from my Let’s Talk Science learning that may help as a new school year begins. As Thursday’s workshop reminded me, we can always be open for something new!


A Taste Of Leadership

Now that Camp Power has come to an end, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking around leadership. One of the things that this camp allows me to do is to develop my leadership skills. As one of the site leads, I get to support instructors with program planning and implementation, as well as coordinate professional development opportunities to continue to extend this learning throughout the three-week camp program. This position excites me. It makes me think and act in different ways. It helps me see the value in a good question, the need for a positive school culture, and the importance of building community. 

I love watching the growth of children and staff (myself included) throughout the 15 day program, and thinking about everything that was needed to make this happen. But one thing that I appreciate the most about this site lead opportunity is that it gives individuals in a teaching role, the chance to lead. 

I remember a meeting that I was invited to a number of months before the summer program began. Representatives from different local school boards that are involved in the Summer Learning Program came to this meeting. As we went around the table to introduce ourselves, people identified their School Board role. I met many principals and consultants, but I was the only teacher around this table. This is often when I default to the line, “I just teach Kindergarten.” I wonder why I feel the need to include the word, “just.” Is everyone else a better leader because they are one all year round? 

Here’s the truth. I love my job as a Kindergarten teacher. I want to be in the classroom. 

  • Working with children excites me.
  • I may not countdown the number of days until school ends, but I do countdown the number of days until it begins.
  • Our kids make me laugh.
  • I have the best teaching partner in the world, who constantly gets me thinking differently, trying new things, and considering other approaches to better support kids. 
  • Watching children master difficult concepts, learn new skills, and change their attitude towards learning, thrills me. 
  • The classroom is one of the places where I’m happiest!

This doesn’t mean that I want to give up my summer leadership opportunity for an instructor position. Being a site lead comes with its own challenges, its own successes, and its own joy. I’m thrilled that the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board allows a teacher to be a leader in this way, and still go back to the classroom every September. Maybe one day, I’ll want to extend my formal leadership beyond the summer months, but for now, I couldn’t be happier to be heading back to teaching … and with some new thoughts and skills that I have learned this summerHow do different schools and Boards support leadership interests among classroom teachers? I wonder if there are other educators out there like me, who love the classroom environment, while also enjoying a taste of leadership.


Could A “Sneaky Approach” To Professional Development Actually Be Best?

My summer camp position is a really interesting one. You can find me …

  • stuffing hamburgers and hot dogs;
  • signing for food orders;
  • setting up tech equipment in the gym;
  • completing and uploading the daily slideshows;
  • sitting down with a child in the hallway, in the library, or in the classroom, who may just need some extra time or additional support;
  • documenting learning around the school;
  • planning for PD sessions;
  • and/or working with instructors and kids.

In different ways and for different reasons, I love each and every one of these jobs … despite a few texture and scent issues. 🙂

That said, without a doubt, my time spent in the classroom continues to be my favourite! I had a very special — and unexpected — moment today thanks to this time. And surprisingly, this moment didn’t happen in the classroom, but instead, at our after camp PD session. 

We meet twice a week after camp for professional development, and today, we were discussing documentation. As part of this session, I asked every instructor to bring along a piece of documentation to discuss. The goal was to look closely at this documentation, talk about the child, and try to determine some possible next steps together.

As I listened in on these conversations today, a couple of people spoke about things that they’ve tried in the classroom. Here’s what surprised me.

  • One instructor mentioned using an alphabet chart with one of the campers, after she saw me introduce this strategy to him. She said that this child was starting to use it independently, and now she’s using the chart with another camper.
  • Another instructor mentioned that she saw what I did with the alphabet chart — and this would have been through Twitter — and she decided to try it with one of her campers. It worked!

The amazing thing about both of these points is that in neither case did I actually directly talk to the instructors about this strategy. By going into the classroom and working with kids alongside the instructors, they were able to see this strategy in action. They were able to see and hear how children responded, and then figure out, what might work for them. Also, by using social media and sharing what I did in different classrooms, other instructors were able to implement similar approaches that might work for their campers. I think about what Lisa Noble has said before about visual learning, and the value in educators, consultants, and administrators, sharing their thinking and learning visibly. 

I’m not an expert here. For 10 months of the year, I happily get to live and breathe the classroom experience, and it’s this experience that I bring into my Camp Power role. I can’t help but think about the some staff members that I’ve worked with in a school setting over the years, including,

  • curriculum consultants,
  • Early Years consultants,
  • instructional coaches,
  • learning resource teachers,
  • and reading specialist teachers,

and how I’ve often hoped to have these individuals pull out students or provide me with PD in-services. Maybe there was something better — something more — that I could have looked for instead. What if we worked together in the classroom to support students? Could the best professional development happen when we actually work alongside each other? I can’t help but think about how we use documentation in the classroom for kids, and the benefits of observing children closely, and using these observations to plan next steps. Maybe when we work in the same space, together, educators do the same thing, and figure out new approaches and how to use them based on what they see and hear. Might a “sneaky approach” to professional development actually be the most effective one?


Breaking The Rules For The Fifth #5Days5Words Post

Today is officially the fifth (and final) day of the #5days5words blogging challenge, but as the educational troublemaker that I am, I didn’t follow the rules, but instead wrote this post the night before to publish in the morning. I know that I have a full day ahead at camp, and some additional things to do when the day is over, so I won’t have the extra time in the evening to blog. I’m making the time the day before. Rules are meant to be broken — or at least modified — right?! 🙂 I guess it comes as no big surprise then that today’s post is all about rules.

Schools run on rules. If we didn’t have them it would be anarchy. Chaos. Or at least that’s the perception. For people who know me, it’s no big surprise that I can be a bit of a rule breaker (or at least “bender”). It’s not that I don’t believe in the value of rules — or think that we shouldn’t have any — but kids are all different. Adults are different. When our rules are too restrictive, I wonder if we take into consideration these differences, and the possible impact that comes from not doing so.

This summer, I had to break a rule that surprised me. It started on the first day of camp, when one of our campers from last year was eating his lunch in the hallway outside the lunchroom. Why? I went up to ask him, and he said, “Because this was not our lunchroom last year. The music room was our lunchroom last year. I don’t like change. I want things to go back to the way that they were.” Interesting. I did appreciate how much he could articulate exactly what he was thinking and feeling, so I explained the reason for the change: there were no longer enough chairs and tables in the music room for lunch. He went to look. There were enough for him. He asked me if he could eat in the music room. What? The whole thinking behind our camp lunch is that the instructors and the children eat together. It’s about building community around food. Now he was losing out on this community, and he was eating in a room that was not designated for lunch. I tried hard to get him to consider eating in the lunchroom with his group, but he was not willing to try this. He said that he would eat in the hallway instead. I thought that the music room was better than that, so we created a space by the door of the music room, and he ate in there. Alone. So much for community … This did not feel right to me, and it went against the rule of where kids and staff were allowed to eat their lunch.

The next day, this child wanted to eat in the music room again. I just couldn’t have him eating alone, so I asked him, “Can I eat with you?” He replied, “Sure, Miss Dunsiger, but can you close the door for a minute?” I did. He said, “Listen. See how quiet it is. Now open it. Loud. I hate loud.” Eureka! Now I knew why he couldn’t eat in the other lunch room. I asked him if it was too loud in there, and he said, “Yes. It’s much quieter in here because the big door blocks some of the noise from the hallway and the rest of the school.” This was not a child that just wanted to push back on the rules. He knew what he needed, and he needed quiet. I came to realize that we have another lunchroom, which is much quieter. There are fewer kids eating in there, and with more space. I invited him to join me in this lunchroom recently. He actually agreed to sit down and eat. One of the other instructors said to him, “Do you want to come and sit next to me?,” and he replied, “No thank you! I’m more of a lone wolf,” and he pulled a seat up to counter to eat alone. Baby steps. 

I couldn’t help but think about this child in a school setting. The rule is to eat in your classroom. Stay in your spot. Maybe even sit at a group of desks with other children. I understand why many of these rules exist for safety, supervision, the development of social skills, and accountability, but I also wonder in which cases we can bend the rules. I see how calm this child is after eating alone, engaging in some quiet talk with me or with a friend, and then rejoining the group for the afternoon. I wonder if we would see this same child if we had him eat in the noisier classroom with many more kids and adults. Do all children need the same rules, and how do we decide? As we get ready to head back to school, I wonder what rules we might bend or break this year, and the possible value for kids. Maybe at times we all need a few less rules. 


“Play” Comes Next In This #5Days5Words Challenge

It’s another day, and my fourth opportunity for a #5days5words blog postToday’s word is not a new one for me, but it is one that I’ve been thinking about a lot this summer: play.

Last month, I read a fantastic book by Lisa Griffen-Murphy about play. Much of this book aligns with what my teaching partner, Paula, and I believe about the value of play, so even after only reading a single chapter, I was inspired to share an Instagram post about it. 

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I may only be on Chapter 2 of this book, but I cannot tell you how much I ❤️❤️❤️ it already! It speaks to all that we do in the classroom to really support children, build relationships, and value play. The thinking behind the K Program Document is so well-captured in this book … at least in the first few chapters. My note in the book so far is, “OMG! I ❤️❤️❤️ this. I need to get @paulacrockett to read this book.” But why just tell her about it?! Others deserve to hear of it’s fabulousness, even at the very start. (When tree climbing, knowing your learners, and long blocks of unstructured play are supported in Chapter 1, how can I not love the rest?!) ❤️❤️❤️ #ctinquiry #iteachk #teachersofinstagram

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My love of this book continued, and surprisingly for an academic text, I actually struggled with putting it down.

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#summerread2018 and #avivaandfriendsrecos number 17 may be one of my all-time favourite professional reads. Read THIS book. It truly highlights the value of play and the impact that it can have on later academic success. I found myself nodding along to so much in @ooeygooeylady’s book, thinking about how I could do better in other areas, and remembering so much of what my teaching partner — @paulacrockett — has taught me over the past few years. I will mention that Lisa explores play from a preschool lens, but this does align with how we see play from a #kindergarten lens in a school setting. It is also the perfect accompaniment to our K Program Document, and I hope that all #fdk educator teams in Ontario read it and think about it. Would make a great book study with educators from other grades and even administrators joining in. I wonder how it might get everyone thinking differently about play and talking more about it. I cannot tell you how much I ❤️❤️❤️❤️ this book. Even aligns with a lot of what @stuart_shanker has shared on @self_reg. There is just so much good in this book, and I really could not put it down (which is rare for me when it comes to a professional read). I hope others get this book. You will not be disappointed! ❤️ #iteachk #teachersofinstagram #ctinquiry

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In the end I could not praise this book enough, and there’s so much that I could blog about on it, but Lisa actually provided me with one of my aha moments on play. It was towards the end of Chapter 16 that I read this paragraph and added my note.

For a couple of years now, I’ve struggled with figuring out why there is such a huge disconnect between what “free play” seems to look like in different classrooms, when our document is so explicit about the value of unstructured play. I think this paragraph sums up a possible reason.

  • As adults, how do we interpret “play?” 
  • What kind of structure do we impose on it?
  • How do we become more comfortable with the “free play” from our childhood?

I can’t help but think about this wonderful comment from a Camp Power camper the other day. Every Friday, we invite parents into the camp to join us in our learning, and this child was building with her mom when she made this comment. I’m so grateful to her instructor for tweeting it out. 

Contemplating what both Kristi Keery-Bishop and Sue Dunlop said on creativity, I question if we can get to this deep level of creativity, imagination, thinking, problem solving, and application with the more limiting nature of the structured play that we might provide. I wonder what would happen if more school and Board PD allowed educators to get creative and play in an unstructured way. Would we unlock some of the magic from our childhood? Are we ready to do so? With a new school year approaching, I wonder if we could re-look at what “play” means, and what it could inspire in kids of all ages. Imagine the possible impact on all subject areas if we could get to the deep thinking and problem solving that comes from true play.