Yes, and … in the classroom

Back in July, I hipped you to Uri Alon’s awesome TED talk. (http://creativitylovingeducator.com/2014/07/05/in-the-cloud-with-uri-alon/) I said we’d talk once you watched the video. Well, hopefully you found the time (If not, go now!), because here we go!

So, yes, Uri Alon. How do we transfer his ideas into the classroom? Do his ideas have any merit in a classroom where we are laying a foundation of skills, facts and knowledge? Isn’t it important, and in fact necessary, that we as teachers teach our students what is correct? Wouldn’t we be doing a disservice to our students if we engaged in “Yes, and …” conversations? How is “Yes, and …” valuable in, for instance, a kindergarten classroom?

All great questions. I think it is a matter of balance – not “either or” but, “yes, and!” LOL!

As a teacher I understand the necessity of giving my students a broad base of knowledge and facts. It would be irresponsible of me to never correct a child, but it would be equally irresponsible if I never engage in “yes, and …” conversations with them.

“Yes, and …” conversations provide opportunities for profound things to happen for me, and for my students. Given a “yes, and …” response by me, my students are given permission and space to enter into a dialogue with me, their peers, themselves, and their work and thought.

They must engage in metacognition and  attempt to articulate their thinking. Why do they believe what they believe? How is it true?

By thinking about their thinking, and struggling to adequately express their thoughts, they will practice, and hopefully enhance, many essential skills:

  • metacognition
  • thinking about their thinking
  • critical thinking
  • creative thinking
  • articulating
  • emotional intelligence
  • negotiation
  • listening
  • analyzing
  • comparing
  • evaluating
  • experimenting
  • summarizing
  • valuing mistakes and learning from them, instead of running from them

They may discover their thinking was flawed at a certain point, and upon rethinking, may arrive at the correct answer with greater understanding and knowledge. Or, they may discover why their answer was correct, and grow in confidence and understanding.

Additionally, “Yes, and …” conversations benefit me as a teacher (and learner). By engaging in “yes, and …” conversations with my students I too enhance all the skills listed above. I may discover they are thinking along a path I never considered. I may discover that my instructions, or thinking, were flawed or ambiguous, or, simply different from theirs. Plus, I grow in my understanding of my students’ thinking. Focusing on the process, and the path they took to their answer/understanding, I am more able to encourage, affirm, and/or correct.

house

One year I asked my students to draw a picture of their family. One student came to me, excited to show me her picture. It was a lovely picture, but their were no people in it! I looked at her, and she looked at me. I was perplexed, so I asked her what she drew. “My house,” she replied. “Did I ask you to draw your house?” I asked. “Nope,” she replied. “You asked me to draw my family.” I looked at her with a smile, and a bit of a raised eyebrow and said “So, where’s your family.”

It seemed she hadn’t noticed any problem until I asked her about the whereabouts of her family. She leaned on the table – one hand on either side of her paper – studying her drawing intently. She looked, and thought. I waiting silently.

Finally she looked up, with a huge smile on her face – eyes glowing with the discovery she had just made. “THEY’RE IN THE HOUSE!!!!!” I couldn’t restrain myself, as the answer was so unexpected, and burst out laughing! “They’re in the house? What are they doing in there? Do you think you can draw them so we can see them?” She looked at the picture one more time, said yes, and began to draw faces in the windows.

That was an awesome example to me of a “Yes, and …” type of conversation benefiting both my student and me. She had to think about the task and her response. She had to problem solve. I had to trust her, wait, and re-evaluate my directions.

We both walked away with greater understanding and confidence in ourselves and each other. Fabulous!

 

RESOURCES:

The Art of Focused Conversation: 100 Ways to Access Group Wisdom in the Workplace, edited by R. Brian Stanfield,  http://www.amazon.com/The-Art-Focused-Conversation-Workplace/dp/0865714169

Bubbles Art, Science, Math and Language Arts!

The wider the range of possibilities we offer children, the more intense will be their motivations and the richer their experiences. We must widen the range of topics and goals, the types of situations we offer and their degree of structure, the kinds and combinations of resources and materials, and the possible interactions with things, peers, and adults. ~Loris Malaguzzi, Hundred Languages of Children

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Bubbles are fascinating and afforded us several challenging and fun ways to explore and experience science, art, math, and language arts. There was a plethora of things to notice, marvel at, wonder about, investigate and enjoy!

… The variety of sizes. The delicate and yet strong nature of soap film walls. The colors and reflections that are captured in the bubbles. The many things that can be used as a bubble wand. Do heart-shaped wands make heart-shaped bubbles? The ways we feel when we blow bubbles. Should we blow slowly or quickly? Does that make a difference? Can we fill the room with bubbles if we use a window fan? The joy and sorrow felt as bubbles pop. The way the wind takes the bubbles as they leave the wand. The way the bubble solution feels, and sometimes tastes, as the bubbles pop close to our lips. Can we create bubbles from things other than store-bought bubble solution? How could we create bubbles in art? What colors are bubbles? Which words best describe bubbles and our experience? 

Prior to starting I told the girls we would be scientists, authors, readers and artists, and that the process would take us several days. We experienced bubbles through our eyes, our ears, our brains and our bodies!

  • We did several read alouds.
  • I blew bubbles and the girls experienced them only with their eyes. What did the bubbles look like? How did they move?
  • They blew bubbles. Again, as scientists they tried to observe things about the bubbles, the process and each other.
  • We all blew bubbles, and just experienced the joy of bubbles – much laughing, movement and even some screaming!
  • We created bubble wands using various materials: pipe cleaners, plastic plant mesh, plastic water bottles, straws and string. We tested and observed each – Was it easy to make bubbles with them? Did they make big bubbles? Small bubbles? What shape were the bubbles? Did the bubbles mirror the shape of the wand?
  • After each experience the girls shared words and feelings, which I scribed onto a large piece of chart paper.
  • We ended up with three lists of words. We observed the lists: How many are in each? Which list has the most words? Which the fewest? Why? (We noticed that the words increased as we engaged more fully in each experience and grew in comfort with the process.) We used math strategies to add the lists together and come up with the grand total. We marveled at our abilities to describe our experiences. We used these lists to create our list poems.

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I brainstormed many ways to create a frame for the list poems and finally decided (for ease and aesthetic reasons) to cut a frame to place over the girls paper as they stamped. The frame allowed them to stamp freely while maintaining a clear border for their list poem. I held the frame in place, as the girls used the cardboard tubes and ink pads to create their bubbles.

I was amazed and impressed with the thoughtfulness with which they approached their work. Each girl had her own particular process, but each was purposeful in her choice of tubes (various diameters) and placement of bubbles. My only instructions were to be sure to press straight down so as to get a good print (and not to fret if it was less than perfect, as that added to the uniqueness of each piece) to consider overlapping the bubbles at least a bit, and to not be afraid to overlap the frame.

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I brought in some artist quality pencils to share with the girls. I talked about why I liked the pencils – great colors, nice feel in my hand, beautiful movement across the paper – and why I chose to share them with the girls – they are artists too and I thought they would enjoy using them. I asked them to take care of the pencils as they were special to me. The girls were fantastic with the pencils! They carefully chose the colors, replaced them in rainbow order, only sharpened them as much as necessary, shared them with each other, and really seemed to empowered by using them. (We ended up using them in free choice as well as other projects.)

After the ink dried, the girls worked diligently to fill in each full shape (not the partial bubbles around the edges). We discovered that the ink, though dry, sometimes transferred around the paper, so we used a paper towel to minimize movement. Thankfully any transferred ink erased easily.

bubble words

Once finished with their art piece, the girls moved on to their list poems. The goal was to create a list poem and encircle the bubbles with the poem. (We read, observed and discussed poems from Falling Down the Page by Georgia Heard prior to this project, and emulated the freedom Georgia showed in placing words on the page.) Each girl began by choosing 12 words from the class lists and writing them in the frame of her paper. If needed, she chose more words.

When everyone was finished – and it took some girls many days to do so – we shared our poems and art pieces with each other. Finally, we displayed them on the hall bulletin board, with black and white photos of each of us blowing bubbles as the border.

RESOURCES:

Hiking boot canvases

I found a pair of Asolo hiking boots. Loved the fit, but the color? Not so much … red. I was conflicted. A good feeling boot is hard to pass up, but whew, red? Definitely not my thing.

I walked around the store for a good long time trying to decide what I’d do. Then It hit me – tangle them! If that worked, they would rock! The black sharpie would soften the red, and the tangles would create a functional piece of art.

hiking shoes 1

It worked! (Don’t you think?) Turns out they were a fantastic canvas for tangling.

hiking shoes 2 Now I can’t imagine hiking in anything else.

I am the rockin’, creative, hiking girl in the fabulous, one-of-a kind boots.

 

Sewing, thinking, and creating with Faith Ringgold

Tar Beach is, in my opinion, both simple and profound. it is easy to understand and yet filled with illustrations and ideas that inspire both wonder and discussion. It is an excellent platform from which to explore a female artist/author, and to integrate arts and creativity into the curriculum.

We did an interactive read aloud of the book – actually reading it two or three times at different points along the process of the project. We watched videos of Faith talking about her writing and art – especially her story quilts. We examined pictures of the quilts and noticed that the stories were told in word and illustration. We inquired about, reflected on, and discussed many things.

Why is the book called Tar Beach? What is the tar beach? Have you ever been to a tar beach? Do you think it would be fun? Why or why not? Can someone really fly over the city like Cassie? Do stars come lift you up so you can fly? What could Faith Ringgold possibly mean? Why does Cassie fly where she flies in the story? Have you ever wanted to belong to a club but couldn’t? Have you ever wanted to do something to help others feel better? Have you ever wanted to do something to help your parents feel better? What are your dreams? Where would you go if you could go anywhere?

The discussion was rich, and continued as the girls worked on the art/literacy project.

I combined ideas I found on the web (see resources) with my own ideas to create a project that involved drawing and a certain sense of mapping – choosing and implementing the body position of their flying person, as well as placement of their person on the paper, color mixing, painting, small motor skills (cutting, gluing), sewing, imagining and writing.

The project was not simple. It took a bit of prep on my part and a good bit of stamina and work by the girls. We worked together on this project for several days.

  • I measured the paper and cut many sheets of paper. We needed a background, a piece for the sky, a piece for them to draw themselves flying, a piece for them to write their dreams, and squares to glue around the edge for the quilted part.
  • The girls brainstormed how they might look if they were flying. Once the had an idea they liked, they set to creating it in pencil. Happy with their work, they went over the lines with sharpie markers. (There is something striking about children’s work in black sharpie.) Finally they added color to their person.
  • They pasted the square pieces – in the fashion of a quilt – along the edges of a 12 x 18 sheet of paper. By the way, it takes a LOT longer than you might imagine. I was impressed with the girls perseverance.
  • They created a night sky using various shades of blue and purple and filled the sky with glitter stars.
  • Once their sky painting dried they decided how they would fly and glued their person onto the sky.
  • They were very careful and deliberate with all their work!
  • Finally, after thinking deeply about where they would want to fly and why, they used their best spelling, and writing, to transcribe their thoughts onto the project.

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At first I thought that would be the end of the project – glue all the things onto the background and display them. However, it seemed unfinished, and somehow disrespectful of the strength and capabilities of the girls, to have quilt pieces devoid of any sewing.

I was reminded of a quote by Jerome Bruner. After visiting some Reggio Emilia schools (they are early education classrooms, by the way), Jerome commented on the level of respect afforded the children by the educators. “It is like a seminar at the graduate department of the university, with the same kind of respect, of exchange in talking about what you have just said, and about your former thinking” (Rindaldi, p. 58). While the quote comments on thinking, I believe it can be expanded to include respect for the students’ work as well as their thinking.

I decided I would bring in my sewing machine and have the girls sew their art pieces with my machine. We talked about the fact that I, and many of the adults in their lives, sew on a machine. I explained the way the machine worked – in all its glory as well as it’s potential for harm. (No one wants a needle sewn through their finger!) I told the girls that I was confident in their ability (with my help) to use the machine and generate beautiful things. Then, we got to work.

faith ringold sophia

I sat behind them as they sewed. We had a dialogue regarding where and how they should sew. We talked about going fast or slow. We discussed hand positioning. We agreed that if I said “stop” they would immediately remove their foot from the pedal. They were fantastic! For a five year olds, there was quite a bit of sewing – and it was all straight lines so they had to work on keeping the paper at the proper guide. After a bit of time coaching each girl, I was pretty much a watchful spectator.

When we were all finished, I created a used their pieces to create a quilt on the hall bulletin board. It was awesome to notice all the older girls and teachers who stopped to examine, and marvel at, our words and artwork.

faithringold quilt

RESOURCES:

Inspiration for art project:

  1. http://weskart.blogspot.com/2010/12/faith-ringgold.html
  2. http://pinkandgreenmama.blogspot.com/2010/05/art-in-schools-faith-ringgold-paper.html#.U-FFXoBdUoo

Video:

  1. Making the quilt –  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=794M-mcOJY4
  2. Writing Tar Beach –  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZdPxHvGB1Xo

Faith Ringgold:

  1. http://www.faithringgold.com/
  2. http://faithringgold.blogspot.com/2007/03/faith-ringgold.html

Reggio Quote:

  1. Carlina Rinaldi, In Dialogue with Reggio Emilia: Listening, Researching and Learning. London: Routledge.

Beyond the page with Georgia O’Keeffe

rose“If you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for a moment.” Georgia O’Keeffe

“Nobody sees a flower – really – it is so small it takes time – we haven’t time – and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.” Georgia O’Keeffe

Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings and thoughts about flowers are impressive and thought provoking. Her thoughts suggest mindfulness and reflection.  Her paintings translate the small and easily overlooked, into something large that captures attention.

My students are always impressed with Georgia’s work. But, while they marvel at the size of her flowers, I  think they have a difficult time wrapping their minds around the changes she makes. In Georgia’s hands, flowers became larger than life – even larger than the canvas on which she painted.

I have done Georgia O’Keefe inspired art with my classes other years, and each time they struggled to use the whole page. They made lovely flowers but they made them small – in the center of the page – not covering the whole page. I encouraged and reminded, but still the flowers were smaller than Georgia’s. I loved watching them examine the flowers, but I hated the feeling of pushing them, and constantly having to say “Oh, can you make that bigger?” or “The whole page, use the whole page!” or thinking in my head “eee GADS, that’s not what I asked you to do.”

This year I tried a new method. I wish I could remember the lesson or book that contained the spark which led to this lesson, because I would love to thank them, and give you a great resource, but alas, I cannot. So, you will have to be satisfied with my lesson!

First we looked at her flowers and talked about what we noticed. One thing we noticed was that Georgia’s flowers often look like they go beyond the edge of her canvas. “Oh YES!” I excitedly exclaimed. “EXACTLY!” I told them I had never been able to figure out a way to help my students draw their flowers off the edges of the paper – until now! I told them I read about what other artists had done, and I found something I thought would work perfectly for us.

I explained that I had covered the tables with white craft paper so they would feel free to draw off the edges of the page. I told them their art piece would actually be the piece of watercolor paper I had taped to the white craft paper (I taped them underneath.) but I said they should imagine the whole white space as their canvas. “When you draw your flower, make it big. Make parts of it land on the white craft paper!”

They asked if they would draw a flower from memory. “No! I brought lots of flowers for you to look at!” I dropped many flowers on the carpet in front of them amidst “ooohs” and “aahs.”

“I want you to be like scientists. I want you to really look at the flower you choose and then create it on your paper.” I suggested they try to make their flower have a shape similar to the flower they chose, but told them they could be creative and change things up a bit. The most important things were to trust themselves as artists, really see the flower (like Georgia did) and to draw their flower big so others would see it too.

Armed with a sharpie marker, I chose my flower and began to  draw for them. I made the shapes simple – matching the flower in some ways and changing it in others. I commented that sometimes I changed shapes because it was a bit easier for me to draw, and sometimes I tried really hard to draw exactly what I saw.

They all wanted to know if we would add color. “Absolutely! But, we are going to use a new method.” I brought out a tray of sidewalk chalk, a cup of water and a paintbrush. I explained we would color with the chalk and then smudge it – just a bit – with our fingers. Then, we would use the paintbrush and water to create our a watercolor on the page. I cautioned them against too much water – “Squeeze the brush out like this before you use it. … There will still be plenty of water. Look!” I told them they might have to experiment with the amount of chalk they added and the amount of smudging they did. I showed them a few different possibilities and set them free – with my fingers crossed.

After carefully choosing a flower, and navigating how more than one might use the same flower, they uncapped their sharpies and began drawing. They were fantastic!!! All the girls made their drawings larger than the flower they observed, and all but one extended their flowers beyond the page. And, perhaps best of all, it was so easy for them!!!!

 GO collage5

They were incredibly engaged in every step of the process – choosing a flower, observing it, drawing it with the black sharpie, coloring with sidewalk chalk, smudging the chalk and turning the chalk into watercolor. I wish I could share photos of their faces with you. They were girls – 5 and 6 years old – transformed into intent, focused artists – easily mistaken for students well beyond their years.

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As always I was impressed (and humbled) to be there for the “magic” that took place in that art class. Together, somehow, my students and I found that synergistic space where we were able to become more than … or perhaps just exactly … who we are.

….

Two nice Georgia O’Keeffee resources:

http://www.okeeffemuseum.org/about-georgia-okeeffe.html

http://www.nga.gov/kids/scoop-okeeffe.pdf

Quieting my mind with a good tangle

Wow I had a tough time turning off my brain … and to be honest, my spirit … last night. It seemed everything just wanted to stay wound up a bit too tight to allow for sleep.

Thankfully, as I went up to bed, I noticed my black art squares sitting with a pack of white, gold and silver gel pens. “Oh!!!” I thought, “That’s what I’ll do! A zentangle ©.”

I’ve zentangled – or did my version of a tangle – many times previously. I have always enjoyed it but never really experienced it as zen-like as some suggest it might be. But I have to say, for some reason, last night it was really a zen experience!

I picked up a sheet of paper I had previously discarded because I had been unhappy with my placement of the strings (zentangle boarders). I used the parts of the strings I liked, and casually reworked just a bit of the string placement. I decided to work using only white ink (because I didn’t use any white the last time I tangled). I worked with some designs I’ve used previously, and allowed myself to be inspired by others’ designs, in order to create new ones of my own.

Perhaps it was because I was so tired. (Did I mention it was 1AM?) Perhaps it was because I wasn’t really trying to create something – I was just playing, treating the page almost like a piece of scrap paper. Perhaps it was using the form but not feeling bound by the form. I’m not really sure. But whatever the reason, the process was particularly peaceful, free, and enjoyable.

zentangle

I added the paraphrase of a Thich Nhat Hanh quote as both an affirmation of what I was doing, and as a reminder of what I always want to do…

Breathe, believe, and be. Smile, cultivate calm, and be cognizant and grateful for the present, wonderful moment.

…………….

With gratitude to the creators of Zentangle and the many people doing great inspiring work, here are a couple links:

http://www.zentangle.com – The website of Zentangle Method creators Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas

http://sandybee.weebly.com/ – The website of Sandy Steen Bartholomew.

 

The Cloud … in the Classroom

“The cloud stands guard at the boundary between the known and the unknown, because in order to discover something truly new, at least one of your basic assumptions has to change, and that means that in science, we do something quite heroic. Each day, we try to bring ourselves to the boundary between the known and the unknown and face the cloud.” Uri Alon

When I first listened to Uri’s TED talk, I immediately related as a researcher. I had experienced the misery of the cloud, the benefit of support in my cloud-induced-angst, and finally the joy, relief and wonder of new ideas and conclusions. But, then I wondered, where is the cloud in my life as an educator? Where is the cloud in the classroom?

I listened to his talk again, jotted notes from the transcript, and let the question ferment in my brain as I drove, walked, showered and slept … and, I had a revelation. The cloud is in the classroom every day because the cloud IS education! Let me modify his statement.

“The cloud stands guard at the boundary between the known and the unknown, because in order to discover something truly new, at least one of your basic assumptions has to change, and that means that in education, students and teachers do something quite heroic. Each day, we try to bring ourselves to the boundary between the known and the unknown and face the cloud.” Uri Alon rephrased by Molly James

Think about it! Isn’t that what education is all about? Discovering new things? Learning new skills? Challenging assumptions? Understanding things in new and deeper ways?  Bringing ourselves and our students to the boundary between the known and the unknown and facing the cloud … together.

I don’t know about you, but I think that is SPECTACULAR!!! All of a sudden students are elevated to a new level. They are protagonists in their own learning. They are brave, heroic explorers confronting their own clouds and emerging victorious with new insights, understanding and skills.

Wow.