Sunday, 9 April 2017

#kindergartenbioblitz

An Outdoor Education Adventure




Recently our class joined a Twitter movement that was started by an amazing educator in the Peel District School Board who has an incredible passion for outdoor education.

Rob Ridley, or Ranger Ridley as he is also known, works collaboratively with educators and their students to teach them about the beauty of natural spaces.  He also teaches about the importance and the value of getting children outside and wondering about and engaging with the natural world around them.

He has a blog, Epiphanies in Environmental Education (rangerridley.wordpress.com) and an amazing Twitter account (@RangerRidley) that you can follow.



Here is an excerpt from his blog posted on Feb 12, 2017 titled "Weekly Challenge For #EnviroEd #78 'Kindergarten BioBlitz, Seasons Changing Edition":

"Four years ago, in an effort to “extend the experience” of environmental education beyond the day trip we created the #kindergartenbioblitz. Although an insanely large hashtag, it is also an insanely collaborative venture into the realm of natural inquiry for early years teachers.

Although originally meant for teachers within my own Board, it quickly spread to other regions and is now a global phenomenon. Three times a year this week-long inquiry is offered..."

To read more, click HERE


So What Is It?


The #kindergartenbioblitz, in a nutshell, is an opportunity to take your class outside everyday for a week... for an adventure! On each day of the week your class has a challenge, or a lens... through which you view your adventure. With your class, you share the learning and the journey on Twitter using the hasthtags #kindergartenbioblitz  and #EnviroEd so that other educators and classes can see what your class has been posting.

This leads to collaborative discussions! Maybe another class can help to answer something that your kids have been wondering about... maybe your class can answer something that their class has been wondering about!

Sharing on Twitter is also really great because it gave our parent community some ideas of what they can talk about with their children when they are going for walks in the community as well.


Day 1:  Making Predictions about what you think you will see


Our class goes for walks in our local community all the time so this wasn't something new for us... but we had never done it like this before.

It was amazing the kinds of things that the children were noticing for the first time... for example, we had walked past the same dogwood bush a hundred times but they had never actually looked at it to notice that the bark was red...

The children collected things that they noticed when we went for our walk either by taking pictures or by actually collecting treasures in a basket so they could bring them back to the classroom.





Day 2: "I notice..." 


We took this opportunity to bring the learning inside to practice looking closely and making observational drawings. We also encouraged the children to discuss their theories and ideas about the natural materials that they were drawing. We recorded their ideas as they were drawing.















 Day 3: "I wonder..."


These wonder questions still hang in our room ready to be tackled because they haven't all been answered yet. You can't possibly answer ALL of the questions that the children ask in one week if you are going to invite the children to seek their own answers, rather than telling them the answers.






 Day 4: "This reminds me of..."


Making connections is very an important aspect of building empathy for the natural world. If children can learn to see aspects of themselves within nature then they can learn to love and respect it. By making connections to nature on this fourth day the children were developing a deeper connection to place and to themselves.








Day 5: Retelling the journey


Our children retold their journey through artistic expression using the special treasures that they had been finding.

One of the suggestions that Ridley makes on his blog is to make a book as a way to retell the journey. In our class, all of our projects are turned into inquiry binders with the children... so our journey will be turned into a book eventually. With this in mind, we wanted to retell our journey in a different way that was meaningful to the children (thinking of the hundred languages here...)







One of the ideas that had struck us was the idea that many of the children had been echoing throughout the week... that the natural materials looked like decorations. They recognized the beauty of the treasures that they were collecting and had a desire to display them in a special way. We helped the children to realize this by providing a variety of materials and mediums for the children to display the treasures... the decorations.






Many of the children had been asking over the course of the week if the pine cones could be painted. They had painted pine cones in outside educational experiences and had enjoyed this experience, so they wanted to recreate this feeling. They explored colour mixing with acrylic paints to paint the pine cones. Once finished, they decided they wanted to hang them from the trees in the school yard so they could look at them next year and remember being in kindergarten.


By far the most popular treasure that was collected was sticks. Sticks of all different shapes, sizes and colours. The children made this stick sculpture together and after a discussion, called it "The Loving Friendship Garden" because they had made it together and it made them think of love when they looked at it.


The children have been very interested in weaving all year and have woven with many different mediums. Here they wove all of the small treasures that they had used for their observational drawings into plastic chicken wire to preserve and display what they had found.


 The children helped to create this display of their thinking and learning throughout the #kindergartenbioblitz in the hallway as another way to retell their journey.




Have you participated in a #EnviroEd challenge? We can't wait for the next #kindergartenbioblitz adventure!

If you have taken part in this experience, share how this journey was valuable for your children, for your team, for your parent community!



Let's talk,


 
Shannon

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Kindergarten Communication of Learning: A KCOL Reflection



So it has been a couple of weeks (longer for some) since the Kindergarten Communication of Learning (KCOL) storm. Now that things have subsided a little bit, I thought I would take some time to look back at what just happened...

From what I have seen online through various social media platforms, and from conversations with colleagues, I gather that the general feel can be summed up by the following options:

a) this was the worst few weeks of my life and I am considering quitting Kindergarten
b) this was a lot of work but I think I can make it better for next time
c) it wasn't so bad, I thought it would be worse

(I'm not sure who the option c people are... but if you are an option c person please share your magical KCOL wisdom in the comment section below!)

Anyway.

If I had to choose, I would say that I was definitely experiencing the first 2 options at different times. Since I had read the front matter of the Kindergarten Program 2016 (HERE) and I had read the Growing Success Kindergarten Addendum (HERE) I felt at times that I had a pretty good handle on the reports... but at other times I felt defeated.


Key Learning


The Growing Success Kindergarten Addendum p. 14


This isn't the first time I am writing about the KCOL, if you remember (or perhaps you missed it) I wrote a Six Part Series breaking down The Kindergarten Program 2016. In Part 2 (HERE) I spent a large portion of the post discussing the new format and some important things to keep in mind about the process we were all embarking on.

I ended off the post with some considerations that I will remind everyone of now:


Some considerations
  • yes the boxes look huge and daunting but you are writing in prose (paragraphs) so it fills up quickly
  • Since there is a lot of cross over in the four frames it will be easier to fill a box than you think. In the past, if you had a child who didn’t do very much traditional writing, then their language box would be pretty small. In this new format, art is a form of expression and is included in the Literacy and Math box. Trust me, you will find when it comes time to reporting that you will have plenty to say
  • Quality over quantity - If you have said everything you need to say and the box is not completely full, THAT IS OK. It is better to have some white space and an expert comment than to fill the box up with filler that detracts from the learning that you are describing.
  • When you are documenting in the classroom, if you structure your notes in the format of key learning, growth and next steps… you will save yourself SO MUCH TIME when it comes to reporting. Work smarter, not harder.
  • Work together with other kindergarten teams in your building. Remember, we are all new to this… so discuss and learn from each other!

Having a pretty strong foundation for the KCOL is something that I found to be very helpful. When it came time for reporting I was armed with all of the research and documents that I had prepared with. I kept these considerations in the back of my mind as a way to remind myself that it wasn't going to be super terrible.   

I had spent months tweaking my documentation style and trying many different formats for taking notes (sometimes I used an organizer, sometimes I just used lined paper, sometimes I used Seesaw) all to help myself be better prepared for when it came time to write them.


One of my many formats for taking notes. This one was an organizer that I found to be really helpful, I like to think of it as a paper version of Seesaw. I got the template from Sandra Rosekat's blog Sparks and Gems HERE


I will admit that changing my documentation format was really hard to do and made it a little confusing when I actually sat down to write them because I had notes in many different places.

My key learning for my documentation process is this:

1) I was taking too many notes. I had written down a whole bunch of stuff that didn't matter and that I couldn't use. Old habits die hard, I guess.

2) I was taking way too many pictures. The writing that accompanies the pictures is more important than the actual picture. Plus, I have pictures of things that don't really matter and that I couldn't use. For example, do we really need to take pictures of the same play doh creation every time? Just because a child asks us to take a picture... should we really? But that is for another post.


I have way too many pictures like this... when I shouldn't.


3) The considerations that I had written and all of the preparation were good to keep me on track but I at times let myself get overwhelmed with the pressure that I was putting on myself. I needed to just relax and write about what I knew... the children.



Growth in Learning



The Growing Success Kindergarten Addendum p. 14


How did it go, you ask? What was my experience?

It wasn't sunshine and rainbows that's for sure. 

I had lofty goals during the Winter Break to get the reports started... my plan was to have half of them finished so that I could spend January finishing the remainders and then I would have time to go back and tweak them if anything had changed since finishing writing them. 

That didn't happen.


This was how I spent my Winter Break. Clearly not working on the KCOL's like I had planned.

Then my plan B lofty goals were to give myself a timeline to work with, so that I would write 2 reports each evening so that I could then finish with a week to spare.

That didn't happen.

Basically, I made a terrible life decision and gave myself 2 weeks to write them. Luckily for me, I work well under pressure and I don't mind writing (I actually enjoy it, hence the blog) so that helped a little. Plus I had 2 weekends that I could work with, so that was a life saver.

Now for the writing part. 


My desk looked like this, or something similar to it, for about a month as I tried to start writing the reports. Each time giving up and leaving it for the next day... until I was just about out of time.


I found it incredibly difficult to start (that's why my plans had fallen apart). I knew what I wanted to say, I just couldn't get it out of my head.  I had built these KCOLs up in my mind by that point, to be a huge task. I was worried about a lot of things that really didn't matter. The biggest thing that I was worried about was making them perfect.

I wanted the parents in my class to be able to read them and say, "Yes! Wow! She knows my child perfectly. I am so amazed by how far they have come. I can't wait for the next one!"

I also put a lot of pressure on myself because I have had a lot of people ask me for help with the reports. Meaning that they were seeing me as a knowledge holder, rather than a co-learner. I guess that is my own fault because I like to share my understandings and my learning. But that doesn't mean I am an expert. 

A few comments were made to me that sounded something like this, "I can't wait to see yours. You probably have yours all done and it was easy! I don't want to show you mine because they won't be as good as yours." 

These kinds of comments made me die a little inside, because for starters... I hadn't written anything yet. Second, it wasn't easy for me and the pressure of making it seem easy was really hard.

Since I had built up this pressure in my mind, starting to write them was like pulling teeth. My first report... no lie... took me 3 hours to write. I found myself falling back on old report card habits.  I was trying to fit some aspects of the old reports into the new reports.

For example, I chose a few overall expectations that I thought were pretty general for each frame for the basis of my comment. My plan was to then start writing about the child and that the comments would evolve from there so that they would all be different because each child is different. I had good intentions. 


Belonging and Contributing Overall Expectations, TKP 2016, p. 125


So, I chose OE 1 (it's about communicating in a variety of ways for a variety of purposes in a variety of contexts) for the Belonging and Contributing frame. Each child's comment had additional overall expectations that were covered but I did cover that OE 1 for all of them. At the end, each child had a totally different comment, but I did start writing all of them based on the same overall expectation. 

It was an evolving process.

This method took forever. I found it helpful because I had somewhere to start, but I ended up writing each comment twice... sometimes 3-4 times because I had gotten trapped in the old style of reporting. As I said, old habits die hard.

Going forward, I need to let the old style go completely. The idea of choosing a few expectations to write about for each child, while helpful as a time saver in theory, was a massive time waster because I had to go back and change them or I had to write entirely new comments because they were wrong (and by wrong I mean they were starting to sound like old style reports).  I need to focus in on the Key Learning (regardless of what overall expectation it is) and write about that. 

We don't have to write about every expectation so we don't have to divide them up by term to make sure we write about all of them. We need to move away from this thinking and focus on what the child is showing us at that moment. 

“What is the most significant learning demonstrated by this child at this time?” (Growing Success K Addendum 2016, p. 11)

Once I had started to realize that I was not working smarter... (remember those considerations I posted? I guess this round of reports was a classic case of 'Do as I say, not as I do') I changed what I was doing. I started to focus in on what the child had demonstrated rather than following the expectations that I had chosen and my reports started to go much faster. By the end I was spitting them out in about an hour, give or take. Way less than my initial 3 hours. 

I also found it easier to write about one child from start to finish. I know that a lot of people wrote them by frame but when I tried this I found that it was easier to accidentally use the same example in different frames (yay cross over!) and that I was getting really confused. It was easier for me to write about one child, start to finish. 



Next Steps



The Growing Success Kindergarten Addendum p. 14


Shannon will continue to be encouraged to...

Whoa, wait.

 ...


Now that the reports are done, I find myself trying to prepare better for the next set in June. One of my colleagues joked that we should really start writing them now because it was such an undertaking... but maybe she isn't far off the mark. 

Ok so not actually writing them yet, but maybe we should be thinking about preparing better for the next round.

The most common things I have heard are that they took way too long (the average I'd say is probably about 60 hours (so approximately 2 hours per report if not more, depending on how quickly you write) and that the documentation that you took wasn't useful (meaning that you didn't change your style or that you didn't change enough). 

So here are my thoughts for next time,

1) The Time Issue - I had the same problems with the time issue. Like I said, my first one took 3 hours. The bulk of them took about 2 hours to write and a handful at the end took 1 hour depending on the child. Preaching to the choir my friends. For the next round I really need to try a lot harder to stick with the new reporting model. I have to stop trying to fit the old square style into the new round style. It just doesn't work. I heard that a lot of people had tried something similar... some even created new comment banks. This isn't the way that they are intended to be. I am not sure how you can tell an individualised story that celebrates a child's achievements when you are using the same format for each child. I tried but it didn't work for me and ended up making it a lot harder than it needed to be.

2) Better documentation - I really need to use Seesaw more. I stopped using Seesaw because I was taking so many pictures and it became a daunting task to upload everything... plus I was doing our classroom Twitter account. I was finding that I was spending a couple of hours after school inputting things because I wasn't working smarter. Before you ask, our classroom Twitter account is a private account where I have all but 2 families signed on. Our Seesaw is strictly for documentation and it is not shared with parents. Now I am being much more mindful of what I am taking pictures of and why I am taking pictures.  Suddenly I have a lot less duplicates when neither key learning nor growth are being demonstrated.

3) Getting started - I need to start way earlier. Leaving it all to do in 2 weeks was the worst decision. In that 2 weeks I became over tired, over stressed, over worked, edge of burn out and edge of tears at times. How quickly we can fall off the deep end when we don't take care of ourselves...

4) Pressure - the pressure is all in my head. After all of that... no they weren't perfect, but yes, parents were happy and they understood the message and the point that I was trying to convey. No they weren't easy to write, but yes it was worth writing them. No I am not an expert, but yes I am moving in the right direction. Writing these reports has exposed weaknesses in my practice that I can grow from. But they have also exposed the areas that are working well.



Going Forward



The KCOL isn't perfect. There are a lot of things that people would like to see changed.. like doing away with the 4 different boxes. If the learning in our programs crosses over each area, if we are to tell a story... then perhaps it makes more sense to have one box to write in where we can write about each frame in a more connected way? 

And if we are supposed to be engaging in Pedagogical Documentation (see my part 2 post for more on that HERE) then perhaps having interviews and reporting timelines that match the older grades isn't the best... perhaps we should be sitting with parents are reading the KCOL together and looking at the documentation together... rather than sending them home in an envelope and more than likely never discussing the reports with most of them?

Anyway. 

What did you do to make your writing experience easier? What strategies and solutions can you offer that helped to make your KCOL experience less scary?

Let's use this space to share our experiences so that we can find solutions. Yes, ragging on the KCOL makes us all feel better, but it doesn't solve anything. 

Let's work together to make suggestions for next time.



Let's talk,


Shannon














Sunday, 19 February 2017

Part 6: The Four Frames: Problem Solving and Innovating

The Kindergarten Program 2016: Unpacking the Front Matter - A Six Part Series

Part 6: The Four Frames: Problem Solving and Innovating




Welcome to Part 6 of my six part series, Unpacking the Front Matter of The Kindergarten Program 2016.
If you missed any of the other posts, you can read them here!
Part 6: The Four Frames: Problem Solving and Innovating

Can you believe it?? We have made it! This is the last post in the six part series. This has been such a daunting task for me. There is a lot of information and it is dense sometimes, but trust me... it was worth every long long long week and month to get here.

We will all be front matter experts now! Not really though. No one is an expert in Kindergarten, but we will sure know our program inside and out!

So let’s grab our Kindergarten Program 2016 (HERE) and get started on this last post of the series! 
 

The Frame: Problem Solving and Innovating

 

TKP 2016, p. 87

This frame is a deceptively large frame. There are expectations from The Arts, Science and Technology, Mathematics, Language Arts, Personal and Social Development, Health and Physical Activity... literally all of the learning areas from the old draft version of the program. 

This makes it a little difficult to understand this frame because you wouldn't necessarily think that expectations about healthy eating, reading behaviours, identifying what makes you happy/unhappy, sorting based on attributes, building 3D structures and expressing yourself through drama/music/art would all be in a frame about Problem Solving.

So let's figure this out together, because at first glance it doesn't really make much sense.


What is Problem Solving?



TKP 2016, p. 87

Problem solving in this frame refers to the traditional view of problem solving that we have... think inquiry and the design process (prediction, observation etc.). But it doesn't just stop with technological problem solving, there can be problem solving in the arts, in social interactions... everywhere. 

The good news with problem solving is that we are already naturally providing opportunities for authentic problem solving just by running a play based program. That means that word problems on a worksheet don't count. See page 72 and 84 of the document for the official stance on worksheets.

Anyway, "through the exploration and inquiry that are part of play, young children develop these skills [confidence, curiosity and the willingness to take risks and to see mistakes as opportunities for learning]. For example, every time children ask 'why' questions, look for a tool that will help them with their task, ask questions about how something works, or create a game and explain how to play it to a friend, they are showing an essentially creative approach to the world around them." (TKP 2016, p 87-88)

Basically, play is a natural "first hand exploration" (TKP 2016, p. 88) where children wonder and ask questions... then work to find the answer! 

Even though children naturally engage in this type of thinking, as educators we still need to be active play partners where we "provide opportunities, explicitly and intentionally, for children to develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes they will need for solving a wide variety of problems." (TKP 2016, p. 87) 

We can do this by listening to the children in our programs and setting up invitations and provocations that challenge them to solve problems. 


What is Innovating?



TKP 2016, p. 88

This next section is one that I find to be very interesting and very exciting. 

The idea of innovating... creating something new or improving something... has so many different possibilities and directions. It is here where children's ideas and working theories come to life. It is here, where we see why maker spaces are important in our programs. 

TKP 2016, p. 89

So what does innovating look like? How do you know when your children are engaged in the process of innovation... especially when it isn't in the traditional realm of science or building?


(TKP 2016, p. 88-89)
As I mentioned, "play is the vehicle for learning and lies at the core of innovation and creativity... During play, they test initial ideas, ask more questions, and retest their new thinking. Their theories are validated or challenged all through this process. The educators observe and wonder along with the children, and ask further questions to help the children clarify and test their theories." (TKP 2016, p. 91)


So what do we do while the children are playing, problem solving and innovating?


 
"When educators take a purposefully curious approach to new experiences and ideas rather than acting as the experts, children are more likely to engage in creative problem solving and more complex play and inquiry." (TKP 2016, p. 90)

TKP 2016, p. 90-91

 While children are exploring and playing, we should also be documenting. Problem solving and innovating can create some really robust documentation of children's thinking. It is through this documentation that we can also listen and watch for possible projects and inquiries that could be explored more deeply. 

TKP 2016, p. 92

 

Questions vs. Interrogations


One other thing we can do to support problem solving and innovation in our programs is to ask open-ended questions that challenge and extend children's thinking. While this is a fantastic way for educators to engage in an 'inquiry stance' with children, we need to be very careful that we are not interrogating children or making them feel uncomfortable because we are asking too many questions.

It is all about finding a balance.

TKP 2016, p. 91

That being said, the document does provide some very useful questions that educators can use. It isn't an exhaustive list and it doesn't cover  every learning area, but it focuses on the areas that you are most likely to see problem solving and innovating in an obvious way: the blocks area, dramatic play area and visual arts area. 
Don't forget the role that outdoor learning environments play as well! Playing outside (in a forest or a fenced in asphalt hard top area) can lend itself perfectly to problem solving and innovating as well. 

TKP 2016, p. 93

So here are some of the sample questions provided in the document:

TKP 2016, p. 91-93

Can we all just take a moment to notice the last question... "If you could have a conversation with a tree, what would you like to ask it?"

This is the simple beauty and magic of The Kindergarten Program 2016.

The Overall Expectations

 

TKP 2016, p. 255
The overall expectations, conceptual understandings (kind of like the big ideas) and the specific expectations can be found on pages 255-305.

These pages are structured the same way as in the old draft version with:
1. Overall Expectation
2. Conceptual Understanding (big idea)
3. Specific Expectations 
Children: Saying, Doing, Representing
Educators: Responding, Challenging, Extending

Going Forward 


I urge you to read the front matter in its entirety. We have come together to sort through this massive 331 page document, but we have only scratched the surface. It isn't until you read the document yourself that you will gain true understanding and insight. 

As I continue to read the document and continue to adapt to the changes in the program I am constantly brought back to two main ideas that are changing the way I teach and the way I listen to children:
  • Why this learning, for this child, at this time?
  •  Rethink, Remove, Repeat
What are your biggest take aways from the document? What do you continue to have questions about? What parts have you found to be helpful? What parts affirmed your understanding?

I hope that this has been helpful as a jumping off point for you. I hope that this has opened up professional conversations between you, your team and other educators.


Let's talk,

Shannon