Possibility, Power, Perception … and Transformation

Yes, lol, such a long blog post title, but I couldn’t choose just one word. Clearly I couldn’t even choose two! Perhaps you will think of a better title. Good! If you do, share it with me.

I was on Facebook today, and noticed a photo and article a friend shared.

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(photo from Facebook post of http://www.amightygirl.com)

I was pulled in by the idea and the awesome photo. Heading to the website link I discovered this video: (from http://www.Yuwa-India.org)

Let’s Put Every Girl’s Future Into Her Own Hands

Give it a look. It is compelling and joy-filled!

Watching the video, I was struck by something I noticed and loved about Reggio Emilia and El Sistema – two educational systems/approaches I researched for my MA – a deep belief in the transformational power of what is being done.

The soccer coaches are not teaching the girls to play soccer simply to play soccer, or even to become good at soccer. Yes, of course  playing soccer is important, becoming good at it is important, but it is so much more!

Education and creativity are like that, too! Yes, of course education is important for education’s sake, and creativity is important for creativity’s sake. BUT if we leave it there –if we stop at education, or creativity, or sports, without perceiving, and believing deeply, in the profound possibility that is found in them — we miss the opportunity to share, and be touched by, their transformational power.

I’m published!!!

WOO HOO!!!

Please feel free to join me in a happy dance and a lovely cup of tea!

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Then, pop over to Creative Education Journal and take a look at my paper. CE is an open access journal, so you will be able to download and read my paper without the need to subscribe. (YAY!) Here’s the link:

Managing the Classroom for Creativity

It’s a great read – if I do say so myself! My hope is it will help many educators create classroom environments that encourage deep thinking, academic excellence, and creativity.

Mini-C creativity and Me!

Oh my GOSH! I cannot believe how long it has been since I last posted. Teaching, writing, wigging out about my health, and training for a half marathon, have kept me really busy. But, the good news is, I am BACK! YAY!!! (Hope you are as happy about that as I am.)

A while back, I talked about mini-c creativity. Mini-c creativity is beginning creativity that is self-judged versus judged by others. If it’s novel, useful and meaningful to the person experiencing it, then it is valuable and creative.

I had a mini-c creativity moment today. It was fantabulous, if I do say so myself! When I realized it was mini-c creativity, I laughed out loud, and experienced a new-found appreciation for the insight of Kaufman and Beghetto!

My kindergarteners and I worked with clay today. I’ll post photos and talk about the process another time. For now, I just want to talk about the prep.

I had a list of things to do.

  1. Cut cardboard for the girls to use as a working board.
  2. Find the sponges and various other simple tools.
  3. Bring home some clay to make the slip. (Slip is the watered down clay that acts like glue, and is super fun for kindergarteners to use!)
  4. Buy some plastic to use as mats and make clean up easier.
  5. Buy a plastic container to use when making and storing the slip.
  6. Make the slip.

Unfortunately that list was in my head, not on a piece of paper.

When I got home at 8PM ready to make the slip, I realized I had failed to buy the container to use when making the slip. Eee GADS!!! I didn’t want to go back out, but I didn’t have a suitable container at home, but, did I mention, I didn’t want to go back out?!?!!? Ugh, what was I going to do?

I decided to take a deep breath, have a cup of tea, and sleep on it — hopeful that a solution would present itself in the morning

5:30AM rolled around, and sustained by another cup of tea, and some organic sprouted oatmeal, I began the search of my cabinets. “OH!!! A zip lock bag. That might be PERFECT! Easy mixing and no mess!!!” I dumped my clay in the bag, added some water, zipped it securely, and, just to be on the safe side, popped it all into another ziplock bag.

When I got to my classroom I began the smushing process. It was AWESOME!!! What had previously been a rather messy, mildly laborious job, was easy and completely mess free!!!! I highly recommend this method if you don’t have to make a ton of slip.

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I was impressed with my own ingenuity, and was feeling quite creative. Then, I thought, “Hmmm, I’m bet ‘clay-experts’ have probably thought of this already. Or perhaps they just don’t wait until the last minute to prep. They might not be very impressed with my idea”

Then I remembered mini-c creativity. My understanding, my learning, my having a new idea, my CREATIVITY in the way I made the slip is fantastic and useful – for me – and therefore, regardless of the judgment of others it is super creative and valuable.

It was really important for me to experience this, because it gave me some insight into what my students may feel. When they have a new idea that is useful, novel and meaningful to them, I need to let them have that moment, and celebrate it with them. If I downplay their discovery, work or idea, I take some really valuable things from them. I, quite likely, rob them of:

  • joy
  • an experience of triumph or victory
  • a sense of competency
  • a willingness to try new ideas
  • a willingness to share these new ideas with others

Mini-c creativity is powerful. So is our response to it.

 

RESOURCES:

Beyond Big and Little: The Four C Model of Creativity – Kaufman and Beghetto, 2009 https://s3.amazonaws.com/jck_articles/Kaufman,+Beghetto+-+2009+-+Beyond+big+and+little+The+four+c+model+of+creativity.pdf

 

 

 

Possibility Thinking Happens!

yogurt lady bugsI was delighted to receive this email from a parent of one of my kindergarteners:

Last night, M was finishing up 2 small containers of applesauce. She washed them out, put them on the counter, and said, “Save these. I’m turning them into ladybugs after school tomorrow.”

How awesome?!?!!!

What will this become? Clearly, the possibilities are endless.

Thomas Edison and Kindergarteners

They are more alike than you might think at first glance!

According to the Edison Innovation Foundation, Thomas Edison once said:

“I find out what the world needs. Then I go ahead and try to invent it.”

Given the chance, any kindergartener would say that! Ok, perhaps they wouldn’t say “what the world needs” but they surely would say “what I need” or “what my friends need” or “what my dog needs.” They are natural problem-finders, and problem-solvers!

Like Edison, they are constantly observing, investigating, wondering, and asking questions. This, coupled with their imagination, and a rather intense desire to have things that do not yet exist, often leads them to a plethora of problem-finding. This car I just made is too long. We need a zip-line on the playground. Why don’t we have a container that holds all that stuff?

They often also share Edison’s intense confidence, boundless energy, imagination, and love of tinkering. Given the opportunity, time, resources, and a little encouragement, they create many prototypes as they engage in focused and determined problem-solving.

One of my kindergarteners recently discovered a problem she deemed worthy of her thought, time and energy. “How can you open a card without touching it?” Hmmmm …

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“Add some handles!”

We might be inclined to relegate this to the “ah, isn’t that cute” category. While it is cute, it is so much more! It is sophisticated problem-finding and problem-solving. This student took her present knowledge – about cards, sticks, handles, tape, hands – and thought about it in a new way. She used that knowledge to envision something as yet non-existent – a card you can open without touching it. She then took the materials available to her, and used them in novel ways to solve her problem. She created a card with handles. And, it can even be place in an envelope.

Finding problems, thinking divergently as well as convergently, tinkering, testing, and finally, problem-solving are important skills and habits. My fingers are crossed that my students will continue in this way, and one day say, with Thomas Edison “We found out what the world needed, and we went ahead and invented it!”

Resources:

Edison Innovation Foundation http://www.thomasedison.org/

Gustav Klimt and Kindergarteners

Gustav Klimt is a favorite artist of mine. I enjoy finding ways to share his work with my students. Take a look at this work of his.

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It is beautiful! Clearly it’s a masterpiece, and yet in many ways it is a work accessible to my kindergarten students. It is a combination of shapes – both in the detail and the figures.

I always have the girls work on a mixed media project when we are inspired by Klimt. I find it helps them express the detail he expresses when they have many mediums with which to work. Plus, it allows them to explore various mediums at the same time.

Typically, I bring in some of my art materials to share with them. They love the chance to use “real art mediums and tools” and treat all my things with the utmost respect. I love that my sharing expresses my respect for them as people and artists, and, hopefully, encourages them to be generous with the things they value.

This year I introduced them to Klimt while we were exploring shapes in math. I showed them full pieces, but spent most of the time drawing their eyes to the details and shapes found throughout his work. The girls enjoyed finding spirals, circles, squares, triangles, diamonds, rectangles and the many combinations of shapes Klimt created.

I decided to have the girls work on a trio of small art-pieces instead of one large piece. I hoped it might help them be more able to fill the paper with shapes. While I love having them work on large canvases, sometimes the size overwhelms them. We worked on 3×5 inch pieces of multi-media paper. When the girls were finished I mounted their work on a black background to create a triptych.

It was fabulous to sit and work with them. We shared pencils, artist markers, sharpie markers, a travel water color set, gel pens, crayons, pastels and security envelopes (fabulous idea I learned from Dar Hosta and Deb Barends).

“Oooh, I like that!” “Can I try that?” “How did you do that?” “Oh I never thought of that!” flowed across the tables as we admired each other’s work, and were inspired to give the new ideas a try. While they sometimes need a reminder, they are learning to see “copying” their ideas as a compliment rather than a transgression. I encourage those who “copy” to truly be inspired, and to make subtle, or large, changes in order to make the work their own.

I was, as always, impressed by their process and product. They have great, big, beautiful hearts and often it seems that beauty just flows out onto the paper. We learn from each other to be free with our work, loving the process and each other.

While I was working on a piece, one of the girls asked if I would like her to help me. “Sure!” I said, although I wasn’t sure what might be created. Her additions to the piece were wonderful, and made the piece much more beautiful than if I had done it alone!

I’m not sure anyone would realize we were inspired by Klimt, but we were, and we too created beautiful works of art. Here are a few from six of my students. Enjoy and be inspired!

girlsklimts

Resources:

Klimt Museum http://www.klimt.com

Great conversations

Our Thanksgiving Social Studies unit included a huge block build.We divided ourselves into three groups – those who remained in England and Holland, the Pilgrims/Saints who chose to leave on the Mayflower, and the Native Americans who were here when the Pilgrims/Saints arrived.

There were definitely times I wondered what I was thinking when I decided to work on this project. Many days I wondered how I would ever survive the energy, non-stop conversation, inquiry, work, and overall “mess” of the build. But survive it I did! And, wow, what a spectacular experience it was! My only regret is that I didn’t have a tape recorder running at all times. The conversations, questions, problem finding, problem solving, collaboration, joy, struggle, teamwork, negotiation, and creativity were remarkable.

We read books, watched youtube videos, and talked – a lot! The girls made sketches, as well as lists of things they wanted to include in each area. Then, unable to contain them any longer, the build began!

They were relentless in their work. The energy they brought to it was amazing. We usually worked in 30-60 minute increments, but often they wanted to spend more time, and continued to work during choice-time.

Here are some photos of the final product. They do not do justice to the incredible thought, work, and attention to detail the girls engaged in each day, but they will give you a sense of what was accomplished.

An overhead shot. England and Holland are to your right and include a castle, two homes and three windmills. The Mayflower sits in the ocean at center. The Native Americas are to your left and include a river (with a waterfall), a garden, round house and two long houses. 
_MG_4815Looking towards the Native American build from with the castle.

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 Looking at the Native American build from within the Mayflower.

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Looking toward the Mayflower from within the Native American build.

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The build was filled with problem finding and problem solving. How do we create a rounded structure from rectangular blocks? How do we make windmills? How do we create waterfalls? How do we represent fish in the ocean or rivers? What do squash look like? How can we create them for the garden? What do we do when our people don’t fit into our house? How do we negotiate when our neighbors want to add more ocean, or more land, or a larger river, and it crosses the line into our area? What do we do when our ideas are different than others in our group? And perhaps most thought-provoking – Where do we put the dead people?

The discussion regarding the dead people arose days after learning some perished on the ocean journey. Their discussion was practical: “Nope we do not want to store the dead people where we will be sleeping.” and “Maybe we can just throw them in the ocean.” But it was also filled with kindness and empathy: “Throwing them into the ocean wouldn’t be very nice.” They arrived at their solution after several extended discussions with each other and me. I didn’t offer solutions. I simply encouraged them to keep thinking, talking and problem solving. Eventually they decided the cereal box from our re-usable supplies would work perfectly.

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They didn’t only think about death. They also imagined people living – and giving birth! Directly in front of the “going to heaven box” they placed this woman – with her three babies!

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They treated the living with the same thoughtfulness they afforded the dead. “Did they have toys, Miss James?” “Did they have dolls?” After discussions about themselves and their parents, we decided they must have had some things to keep the children happy and entertained. They painstakingly created these cardboard dolls.

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They worked for nearly a month. When it was time to end the build, they resisted the notion of finishing and dismantling their work. “We aren’t done!” they insisted. I assured them their work had been thorough and fabulous. I explained we would do future builds – both exploratory and representational. Then I invited others in to see the build. The girls shared their work and their thinking as they gave the visitors tours of the build.

Finally it was time to clean up. It was a massive undertaking. But, it was a great part of the process. We had worked together to create the build, and now we worked together to “destroy” it.

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Eventually each block was sorted and stored, every piece of tape removed from the floor, each scrap of paper swept and recycled, and each handmade treasure safely stored in a girl’s bag. The canvas is clean, ready for our next creative learning experience! My fingers are crossed we will all be able to lean into the unknown, and experience another incredible build together.

Thinking, photographing, and conversing in the block center

Blocks are a fascinating medium. They provide endless opportunities for exploration, learning, growth and joy. While they have always been a part of our Kindergarten classroom, this year they are an integral part of our curriculum.

Blocks enable the girls to participate in all three domains of learning – cognitive, affective and physical/kinesthetic. The girls engage in mapping and spatial planning, collaborate with each other as they build, negotiate for space and use of blocks, and finally, when finished, conduct tours, as well as answer questions regarding their designs and buildings. The depth of thought and engagement is fantastic!

While building, the girls must think creatively and critically. What will they build? Where will they build? How will they create the various shapes and levels? What if the blocks they want are being used elsewhere, can they create that same block using other blocks? What if their structure is unstable and falls down, how can they re-engineer it for greater stability? Additionally, creative and critical thinking abounds as they furnish their buildings with accessories and special features, and as they create the community of persons who live in, or work in, their buildings.

My absolute favorite part of the process is documenting their work through photographs, and conversing with the girls regarding what I see.

It is incredible what I see, and don’t see, as I look through the camera. And it is fascinating and fabulous what I learn – about the girls, and their buildings – as I ask questions.

  • Can you tell me about your thinking?
  • What is this?
  • How does this work?
  • How did you make that? Is there any other way you could build that?
  • Tell me about this.
  • Hmmm. Could you create a way for …?
  • Why do you think …?
  • Oh wow! How did you decide to do that? How did you decide to do it that way?

Look …

blocks for blog2

Do you notice the two people? The builder was hesitant to add people to her structure – although it had a multitude of spaces where people would congregate, play, and live. Finally after a bit of conversation, she added the larger figure. I admired the figure, listened to her explanation, and continued to photograph the other girls. When I looked back, I noticed she had added another person … on top of the first person’s head! I chuckled and said, “Is she standing on his head?” She looked at me as though I knew absolutely nothing and said “No, Miss James, he’s giving her a piggy back ride!” I responded, “OH MY GOSH! Of COURSE!!!! I get it now.” How else would we show that? She continued creating people – some standing on their heads, some on their feet, and stacked them 10 high on the original person’s head. Evidently, the circus was in town and the acrobats were staying at that apartment building!

Now, do you notice the face with blond hair and a crown? The girl added that to her castle when we were talking about adding people. Hmmm, I thought, I wonder what that is? So, I asked. “Hey, A. What is that? A ghost? A head with no body?” As with the other girl, she looked at me like I was a bit silly, chuckled and said, “No, Miss James, it’s the old queen.” I didn’t get it yet. “The old queen?” She continued her explanation, “Yes, a picture of the old queen, on the wall! Look here is one of the old king!” I laughed and said, “Oh! I love it! Pictures of the people who used to be here. Fantastic! Does someone live in the castle now? Will you be adding them to the castle?” She assured me that she would.

Finally, do you notice the doorway (archway) that appears to have two entrances? I loved it as a structure and architectural detail but I was intrigued to know what the girl was thinking when she created it. “M. would you tell me about this?” She launched into a detailed description – complete with a demonstration – regarding the planning, purpose and use of the doors. Evidently there are good and evil people in her realm – of varying sizes. The good people, big and small, can enter the castle using the appropriate opening. But, should an evil person approach the doorway, the single arch magically moves to block their entrance. And, I believe, should they have somehow made it past that safety measure, there was a trap door waiting for them upon entering!

Fabulous, isn’t it? Their ability to imagine is quite remarkable, eye-opening and entertaining. But, had I not engaged them in conversation with open ended questions, I would not have understood the depth of their thinking!

Squish-squash books in Kindergarten

The other day I taught my kindergarteners how to make a squish-squash book (Special thanks to Dar Hosta for the cool name! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z88mmn_P1Gk).

We worked together (teachers and students) each step of the way. Fold the paper the long way – don’t forget to match the corners, hold the edge tight and make a nice, hard crease. Open the paper. Fold it the short way. Now fold the top paper down to the middle fold. Flip it over like a pancake. Fold the other side down. Now you have an M or a W – depending how you hold it. Hold it so it looks like a W. Now cut the center of the W down to the fold at the bottom of the W. Grasp the top fold on each side of the cut – squish, squash!

squish squash fold

LOL yes, yes, it sounds rather complicated when you just read the words. Perhaps you are wondering – “How on earth did those kindergarteners do that?” Well, let me tell you, with a bit of direction, some encouragement, and a whole lot of respect for them, and their abilities, they did fantabulously!!! (Yes, fantabulously – better than fantastic, better than fabulous … fantabulous! How’s that for creative manipulation of the English language?! My students love the word, by the way.)

The most amazing thing was the response of the students. They were making books and talking with anyone who would listen! They were excited, empowered … giddy even! Some filled each page with illustrations. Some filled the pages with words. Others made many different sized squish-squash books, and gleefully taped them together!

squish squash

Why was this such a powerful experience for the students?

Was it the power they felt as they made their own book-form? Was it the freedom to do what they wanted? (Write, draw, make more books.) Was it the respect of the teachers for the students? Was it the authenticity of the activity? Was it the joy the teachers shared with the students? Was it the fantabulousness of the students themselves?

To be honest, I’m not sure I can pinpoint one thing that made this activity great. I think it was a combination of all of the above – and more – coming together in a beautiful, synergistic dance. And wow, was it great to experience. Fingers are crossed we will experience it over and over again throughout the year!

Munari’s Zoo

I discovered Bruno Munari while attending a conference for educators at the Eric Carle Museum in Massachusetts. Munari – an Italian artist, designer and inventor, and writer of children’s books, – is loved by Reggio educators. I use Munari’s Zoo and Munari’s Machines in the classroom with great results!

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I enjoy using Munari’s Zoo at the beginning of the year. After a read aloud, we surround ourselves with paper, pencils, crayons, markers, scissors, tape, yarn, pipe cleaners, hole punches, and various other art supplies and tools – and set about making an animal to populate our classroom zoo (bulletin board).

Munari’s book starts with several amusing signs, so we all create a sign for our animal. This year the signs were mostly identifying our animal and the artist that created it. But, sometimes we add signs with instructions. This year there was one sign warning readers – “do not pull the lion’s tail!”

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It’s a fabulous exercise. The students are engaged – working hard without feeling strain or pressure. The spirit in the room is light and joyous. Conversations abound between the students, and between students and teachers. It’s a great way to get to know each other and to do some authentic assessments.

Are the students brave? Do they jump in, or hang back a bit? Do they have many ideas that they share and implement? Do they look to their friends or teachers for ideas? Do they need a little extra encouragement and love? Are they leaders – helping friends? How are their fine motor skills (holding pencil, scissor, manipulating tape, pipe cleaners, cutting, drawing)? Do they know the sounds letters make? Can they stretch out words? What do they hear as they stretch out the words? Do they have an efficient motor plan for their letters? Do they use upper case, lower case, or a combination of both?

The challenge involved is positive and self-regulated. The students are intrinsically motivated to create, and caught up in the excitement of seeing their work displayed, even the most timid writers stretch out words to make their sign. The open-ended nature of the assignment allows the children to self-differentiate. Some students make one animal, some make many. Some use materials they are familiar with, while others experiment with some of the less familiar materials. But, one way or another, everyone succeeds at the task.

This project is an easy, and safe way, to give the students control over their work and learning, and therefore increase their sense of agency, early in the school year. My instructions are simply to make an animal, and a sign to accompany it. They decide if the animal will be real or imaginary. They determine the form, color, and size of their animal. They choose the materials they will use to create it. They decide what their sign will say, and write it (with as little or as much help as they need). Finally, once done, they choose where to place their animal on the board as we create our class zoo.

And, very importantly, I do my best to limit my “interference” and simply listen, question and encourage. For instance, the animals at the top right are peacocks. One has to use their imagination and enter into the mind of the child – as best we can – to see how they are all wonderful representations of peacocks – although not ones we might have imagined. But, notice the color, the beginning structure, and the use of the yarn to represent all the color of the peacock feathers.

I even purposefully limit the amount of help I give them as they write. I try to help them hear the sounds in the words, and encourage them to represent each sound. But I resist my adult urge to “tell them” how to write it. By limiting my “help” I allow them to think, struggle, problem solve, experiment and come up with their own solutions. By doing so, we (they and I together) strengthen their skills, increase their ability to persevere, expand their vision of themselves and their abilities, and (hopefully) positively impact their future work and thought.