Card Carrying Members!

If you read my blog with any regularity, you know I’m a fan of the cloud – blogging about it least 5 times! (In the Cloud with Uri Alon, The Cloud in the Classroom,  Yes And In the ClassroomLittle Tweaks Big ResultsThe Cloud Appreciation Society)

The reality of “the cloud” is super helpful to me as I think creatively, venture into new arenas, learn, create, and live.  About 2 weeks ago I blogged about being a proud card carrying member of the Cloud Appreciation Society!

Remarkably I realized I didn’t think my students were card carrying members of the Cloud Appreciation Society. Crazy, right? I love the cloud. I know it’s helpful. I believe Uri when he says the cloud “stands guard at the boundary between the known and the unknown.” I believe the cloud is a fundamental and essential part of learning.

WHY hadn’t I ever talked to my students about it?

I have no idea. But, I’ve changed all that!

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The other day I shared the secret of the cloud with them! I drew a cloud on the board and we talked about clouds and fog. Then I told them there are a lot of times when learning is all about being in the cloud, and being brave enough to stay there – even though we can’t quite see where we are going. I shared that I am often in the cloud when I am learning new things. I said I’m even in the cloud sometimes when I’m preparing a lesson for them!

Then, I told them I believed in them so much I was going to throw them right into the middle of the cloud!

I told them I was going to ask them to do some math, and not just any math, but math that is even hard for some adults! It’s a math puzzle called the Tower of Hanoi. (You can play it here if you’d like to give it a go.)

I grabbed 3 blocks and a 3 square template, and explained the rules. My kids asked some great questions – showing me they were already thinking of ways to solve the puzzle.

I assured them they would all be able to figure it out. It might  not be easy, but they could do it. If they got stuck they should just remember they were in the cloud – and that was GREAT! If they needed help to guide them a bit in the cloud they could talk with a teacher or a friend.

I challenged them to stay in the cloud. “If it’s hard, don’t fret. Stay in the cloud. Take a breath. Believe in yourself. Keep going. … If working with 3 blocks is easy, throw yourself back in the cloud by challenging yourself to do 4 blocks!”

It was FANTASTIC!!! It was hard for some of them. And the fact that it was hard, was frustrating and discombobulating to some who felt it shouldn’t have been hard.

I’m glad! That in itself is learning. Thinking is hard. Math is hard. But it’s also good, and possible, and fun … exhilarating even … as you struggle through the cloud.

We worked on the Towers for 3 days – reworking the ones we had figured out the day before, adding blocks and trying again. Each day we talked about the cloud. Each day I told them how spectacular it was to be in the cloud with them.

After our inaugural jump into the cloud, we each signed an “I love the cloud! I am a learning superhero!” sheet. On Friday, I presented each of them a laminated card (a reduced copy of their signed sheet) and welcomed them as “card carrying members” of the I love the Cloud Club. It was awesome.

One of the girls asked if she could make an announcement during closing circle on Friday. I said “Sure.”

Confident in her thoughts, but unsure what she would share, I listened attentively. I nearly melted as I heard her thoughts.

She extolled the greatness of being in the cloud, the joy of thinking you couldn’t do it, but then realizing you could.

It was amazing.

Seeing Spelling With New Eyes

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I read this the other day. When I reached the end and read buttufele, I had an epiphany about spelling!

Spelling is a remarkably daring journey into  possibility thinking, creativity and design!

When trying to share our ideas, encode sounds and/or spell words we all go through the following steps:

Possibility thinking: How might we use what we already have/know in a new way? What letters or letter combinations are possible?

Creativity: We have to be brave and take risks.We use what we know to make something new and useful.

Design: We define a design challenge. ( For instance, write the word – beautifully.) We ideate. (butfoolee, beyuootefooly, beeyutyfuly, buttufele), and prototype (see illustration above). Then we test. (Can I read it? Can someone else read it? Can the person I wrote it for read it?) Our test provides us with data, and perhaps, new understanding. The process then begins again for this, or some other, word.

I love this understanding of spelling. It brings an element of play, and ease into the process of spelling. It embraces the fact that the spelling process, like all other design processes, often includes failing.

I’m wondering if approaching spelling this way, might make it easier for our students. Understanding they are choosing a design (spelling) challenge might empower them. Being creative might infuse joy into the process. Embracing failure as a natural part of spelling might diffuse some fear, and increase learning.

I’m going to work on my language and give it a go with my learners. I’m hopeful!

And just a note: Conventional spelling can also be approached as a design challenge. except now the challenge might be “Spell beautifully as it is found in library books, or on dictionary.com.”

Translation in case it is needed: She is very pretty. She is funny and she is goofy. She is a kind princess. She lives in Westfield. She sings songs beautifully.

 

Learning Like A Kindergartner

 

 

Mitch Resnickargues that the ‘kindergarten approach to learning’ – characterized by a spiraling cycle of Imagine, Create, Play, Share, Reflect, and back to Imagine – is ideally suited to the needs of the 21st century, helping learners develop the creative-thinking skills that are critical to success and satisfaction in today’s society.” 

I’ve spent at least 4 hours today doing just that – imagining what might be, measuring, erasing, thinking, creating with various mediums, playing with watercolor and the rule of thirds, sharing my work and thoughts with my brother, reflecting on the process and product, and imagining what I might do next with this project and others.

I explored and learned about the remarkable, and often surprising, properties of water color. I experimented with wet on wet, wet on dry, overlapping, the golden ratio, the rule of thirds, contrasting colors, tones and hues of the same color, and lots more. It was super fun, and filled with discoveries and learning.

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My long creating jaunt made me think of another thing Mitch said GIVE P’S A CHANCE: PROJECTS, PEERS, PASSION, PLAY. (Cracks me up each time I read that title!). But, that reflection will have to wait for another time. I’m starving and need to step away from my play-filled learning, (Or is it learning-filled play?) and find some food!

Rest assured I’ll be thinking of ways to increase this type of learning in my classroom — working my innovator’s mindset — to innovate inside, and outside, the box!

 

 

 

Little Tweaks, Big Results

Innovation is not about the stuff; It is a way of

Our number of the day routine includes writing, spelling, and making a given number. We build math-muscle as we explain our thinking to each other – answering questions raised by our partner.

I love math and want my students to love it, too! Hoping to infuse a bit of passion into their routine, I tweaked the process last Friday.

Me: “Pick a number, over 20, and complete your number of the day booklet.”

Them: (with equal amounts incredulity and excitement): “Any number?”

Me: “As long as it’s greater than 20.”

Some jumped head-first into the cloud – challenging themselves more than I might have challenged them. They worked with excitement – fending off any negative feelings – as we sprawled on the carpet, and navigated the cloud together.  

Others chose safer numbers. But, they too were stretched and challenged as they wondered, discussed and devised methods to show numbers greater than 20 given only 2 ten frames and blank space.

At first glance perhaps it seems like a very small innovation. Choice. But, the result was stupendous. Trust, freedom, choice, joy, thinking, learning and growth experienced by all. What could be better?

My thinking cap is on, imagining ways to continue to tweak and innovate within our routines!

The Cloud Appreciation Society

“In the middle of my Ph.D., I was hopelessly stuck. Every research direction that I tried led to a dead end. It seemed like my basic assumptions just stopped working.” (Uri Alon)

Yay, baby, me too. When working on my MA, and again yesterday!

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I was all set: overhead projector rigged up, design sketched out – fabulous! Then I stepped back to admire my work, and …. hated it! Everything that had been clear and lovely, was now out of proportion and displeasing. What had happened? Why hadn’t I thought about the distortion that would occur when I enlarged the design?

Frustrated I thought “Eee gads! What am I going to do now?”

I'm in the cloud,- and I say, -Great, you must be feeling miserable.- (Laughter) But I'm kind of happy, because we might be close to the boundary between the known and the unknown, and w

Thankfully I recalled I’m a card carrying member of the “Cloud Appreciation Society!” I said “Come on girl! Acknowledge you’re in the cloud. Be happy. Breathe. Trust the process.”

24 hours and several attempts later, I’m back on track.

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But, now I’m thinking about the cloud and my students. Have I told them about about the cloud? Are they card carrying members of the Cloud Appreciation Society? I don’t think so.

I’m going to make some cards and remedy that ASAP!

Would I want to be a learner in my own classroom?

I’m in the second week of the Innovator’s Mindset MOOC. I’ve been thinking about George Couros’s Critical Questions for the Innovative Educator(Chapter 2, pages 39-41). They are fantastic!

I love the first question!

Would I want to be a learner in my own classroom?

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This question implies a deep sense of respect for our students. We are treating them as ourselves. We are acknowledging and treating them as:

  • people who can learn.
  • people who love to learn.
  • people who, when given the chance, will choose to learn.
  • accomplished learners.
  • people who know things.
  • people whose ideas are valuable.
  • people whose needs and wants are respected and considered.
  • people with interests and passions.
  • people who are good at some things, but not so good at others.
  • people who deserve, and are given,  reasonable freedom, choice and agency.
  • people who are teachers as well as learners.
  • people who inspire others.

What a fantastic way to approach our students and inform our practice!

I ask myself three additional questions when I reflect on my practice.

Will this increase my students’ love of learning? 

Will this empower my students to achieve their academic and creative potential? 

Will this position them for greater thinking and creativity in the future? 

My goal is to be able to answer, “Yes!” to each of these questions. Most of the times I can. Sometimes, though, I have to say “Hmmm … not so much.”

But, since I’m asking the questions, the answer “Hmmm … not so much.” isn’t so bad. In fact, maybe it’s actually good!

Now I have the opportunity to think, learn, ideate, iterate, and come up with new ideas. Ideas that will make me want to be  a learner in my class, and that will increase my student’s love of learning, will empower them to achieve their potential, and will position them for greater thinking and creativity in the future!

 

 

 

Relationships and Inspiration

 

“Education is always about relationships. Great teachers are not just instructors and test administrators: They are mentors, coaches, motivators, and lifelong sources of inspiration to their students.” (Ken Robinson) I love this quote and try to live it everyday. 

There is an equally strong and powerful benefit for us as teachers. When we build relationships with our students, we are forever inspired by them as well.  

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My kids and I do yoga together each week. We end each session with a ritual of gratitude and relationship. We go to each other – hands in the yoga prayer position – look each other in the eyes, and say:

Namaste (name). Thank you for practicing. You are awesome! 

It is a super powerful moment of relationship, caring, and affirmation.

As I affirm each child, I take their hands in mine  I want them to know they are important to me, and have my full attention. I want them to be assured I have them in my hands — now and always.

Several of my students have begun to take the lead in this ritual, and grasp my hands in theirs.

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I love the symbolism. I am not the only one who values relationship. I am not the only one offering inspiration, or holding others in my hands and heart. My students – these 5 and 6 year olds — hold me in their hands and heart as well.

This reality — and the image of their small, but mighty hands, holding mine — inspires me every day.

 

Note: I’ve wanted to capture these moments in photographs for some time now, but couldn’t figure out how to have both of my hands held, and take a photo!  Today I realized, “Ask the hands that are holding you!” After yoga today, I asked my students to take some photos. These are two of the photos they took. 

 

School can be amazing!

I’m reading Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros aka the Principal of Change. I resisted buying it and reading it for quite some time now because, whew, I am one busy girl. But, then I discovered the #IMMOOC – an Innovator’s Mindset Massive Open Online Course!

I was hooked!! Yes, I know, you are wondering, “Hmmm, Molly, perhaps I’m mistaken, but didn’t you just say you didn’t have time to READ the book? Isn’t a MOOC more work than just reading? Have you, by chance, lost your mind?”

What a great question! I do feel in some ways, that I have fallen over the edge into some sort of madness, lol. But, I know that feeling is not exactly accurate. My decision feels a bit mad because it will mean I get less sleep, more struggle, and more work.

However, feelings aren’t always truth. In reality the decision to be part of #IMMOOC is actually quite sane and wonderful. I get to be part of, and interact with, a huge network of people invested in their own personal learning, and passionate about impacting education (and the world) for the better!  How could anyone, much less me, pass that up?!?!!!!

So, here I am, in the midst of the #IMMOOC, unsure of where exactly we are supposed to be in the book and our blogging, but loving where I am! I’ve read some of the book, reflected, engaged in the twitter chat (And might I just say, the #IMMOOC twitter chat people had incredible energy and passion. It started at 9pm my time. By 9:40 my eyes were bleary and my head was exploding. I took the gems I had read so far, reveled in the excitement for a moment longer, toyed with the idea of staying, but decided discretion is the better part of valor, and quietly left the chat for some much needed sleep.) and now have begun blogging about the Innovator’s Mindset. So, with that said, let me get to it.

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My first “You go, man!” came in the publishers forward, when I read “School can be amazing.” Before I continue, I’d like to suggest an edit. I think it should read, “School can be amazing!” Or, even, “School can be AMAZING!”

All too often I hear people comment — in support of school NOT being amazing — “It is school after all.” Eee gads, people. School can, and should be, amazing! If it isn’t, we are doing something wrong. Learning is awesome. Exploration is amazing. Discovery is exciting. How do we go from that to “It is school after all?”

I heard Ken Robinson speak at the NAIS conference on Friday. (Magnificent as always!) He mentioned a horrifying statistic. He said “According to the World Health Organization, unipolar depressive disorders were ranked as the third leading cause of the global burden of disease in 2004 and will move into the first place by 2030.” I thought of that as I read the introduction to George’s book. George says:

“Inspiration is one of the chief needs of today’s kids. … our responsibility isn’t solely to teach memorization or the mechanics of a task but to spark curiosity that empowers students to learn on their own.  To wonder. To explore. To become leaders.” (Innovator’s Mindset p. 4)

I would add to that list, if I may be so bold:

To struggle. To fail – and  through the failure, to learn and thrive. To consider possibilities. To find new answers and new questions. To know the joy of learning. To inspire, challenge, and teach each other, and us.

I believe in the profound work we do as educators, and the (to quote my El Sistema and Reggio friends) transformative power of education. It is not, in my humble opinion, that schools can be amazing. It is that schools should, and must be, amazing.

We have the power to positively impact the future of our youth and our world. The transformative power of education, in the hands of innovative educators who believe in the incredible beauty, goodness, power, and ability of all our students, can change the future, and cause the WHO to have to reassess and change their prediction for 2030.

A girl can hope!

 

 

 

Sometimes it’s magic!

Back in December 2015 I blogged about the hard fabulous work involved in the creative process of designing, burning and painting my bathroom door. I reveled in, and blogged about, the “angst, sweat and splendor” of creativity.

Fast forward to today! I’m working on the other side of that door. Same door, same creative process, same art medium, but, significantly different awareness and observations!

Today I experienced the intense magic of creativity and the creative process! I know it’s not real magic, but, wow, it sure feels like it.

My idea was to design a tree for the door. I thought it would be cool  if the tree seemed to begin, and continue, past what the eye could see. Problem was, I couldn’t quite figure out the layout. The shape of the door was too skinny to accommodate my design.

There was no way the tree I imagined was going to fit on the door. It was impossible. But for some reason, I couldn’t let go of the idea. There had to be a tree on my door. And, not some skinny, little tree, but the big bold tree of my dreams.

I wasn’t being stubborn, or trying to force my design upon the door. I was simply doing what seemed right. The tree already existed, right there, on the door, in my mind’s eye. It seemed completely inconceivable that it wouldn’t, at some point, be on my door in real life! Somehow I knew it would work out. I just had no idea how or when. So, without any real plan, I kept thinking about it, believing in it, looking for it, and frankly, often just forgetting about it, as I waited for the answer to find me!

And, today it finally did!

This afternoon I was overcome with an urgency to sit down and design my door. No matter where I turned, or what I did, I couldn’t escape the feeling. I finally just gave in.

I gathered up a large sketch book, a favorite pencil and eraser, a cup of tea, and my laptop. I did a bit more online research, and printed out a few trees and branches that struck my fancy.  I measured the door, and prepped my sketch book with some boxes of the correct ratio.

I made a few iterations of possible trees. I looked at my creations and the images I printed, from various angles. After only 3 or 4 tries, I developed a design I liked. It is both similar, and completely different from, my original idea. But, despite the differences, it is ideal in its ability to bring me joy, and fit on the door!

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Once I reached this point, I could move no further. The time of clarity, inspiration, and ease was past. For a few moments I struggled to press on, and felt the angst of being unable to do so.

So, I just sat, holding my pencil, breathing, looking and thinking. Slowly the angst dissipated. What remained was wonder and gratitude. I was amazed by the drawing before me, and even more so, by the process. That process, those moments of creative lucidity and productivity, were beautiful, and mysterious.

I want more, and I believe they will come.

Meanwhile, I trust in the process and proceed accordingly.  I think. I look. I notice. I breathe. I work, and I walk. I love the suggestion that my walks in the beautiful outdoors will help my tree to bloom on my door!

For now, my sketch waits in my bathroom … close enough to be seen, far away enough to be forgotten …

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as I await the next time of creative magic, angst, sweat and splendor!

I can’t wait!

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Student Voice in Art

I enjoy Andy Warhol’s use of bold, sometimes unexpected colors in his photographic prints. Some of my favorites are his flowers and Marilyn Monroe. Oh, lol, and his pink cow on a yellow background!

I pondered many Warhol inspired art projects for my Kindergartners. I wanted the project to have Warhol’s repeated images and use of bold colors, but I also wanted it to be child and time friendly. After many iterations I decided I would have them use their hands as the repeated element.

The steps I decided upon were:

  1. Trace each hand, with some overlap in order to create spaces on the page, and then go over their tracing with sharpie markers of their color choosing.
  2. Use liquid watercolor paint to create the background – filling the different spaces with different colors.
  3. Place their hand-print inside each drawn hand. (Painting each palm with a color of their choosing.)
  4. Use colorful dots and rectangular pieces to create bracelets on each of their wrists.
  5. Finally, create something to glue onto the palms of their hands.

I was very happy with the process, and mildly happy with how my sample turned out. I wished I could be very happy with my sample, but no matter how I tried to change it, I couldn’t get it to a place I loved, so I decided to stop fretting, trust the process, and see what my young artists were able to create.

Soon after beginning someone expressed alarm, “I painted the watercolor on one of my fingers. I wasn’t supposed to do that, was I?” All eyes looked to me. “No worries,” I said, “Look at the art Andy Warhol did. Does it look like he stayed in all the lines?” They responded with a relieved “No.”

Shortly thereafter, someone noticed a friend painting the inside of her hands. She seemed to have forgotten, or not really heard my instructions, or was just enjoying her process. “You’re not supposed to paint inside your hands with the watercolor! Right, Miss James? She’s not doing it right!”

The hand-painting artist looked up with a look of dismay. I took a breath and thought … What is really important here? Is it OK? Might she, and any other, paint inside the hands?

With that brief moment to think I realized what was important, and I said, “Well, I did say we weren’t going to paint inside our hands with the watercolor. But, do you think she is being inspired by Andy Warhol? Is she using bold, unexpected color? Is she making each hand different in some way?” They all responded, “Yes!” I smiled, and continued “I didn’t think about painting inside the hands with watercolor, so I didn’t do it. And, I didn’t suggest it to you. But, I think it’s a great idea. If you like it, give it a go. Let’s see how they come out.”

Everyone went back to work. As I walked around the room I was amazed by the beauty and depth in these Kindergartner artists work. It was far more lovely than mine. I told them “Wow! I love your ideas and your work. Painting the insides of your hands, and using so many colors for the background were really beautiful ideas! I think what you have created is so much better than mine. Thank you for sharing your ideas and art courage with me! I’m going to share your ideas with the artists tomorrow! (Art is done in half groups.)

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I could have easily said “No!” when asked if they could deviate from my process. I could have required them to work with my ideas, my thoughts, my creativity. But, I – we – would have lost so much if I had! Being clear about what was important – following the big ideas of Warhol’s prints, and finding our own artistic voice – I was able to let go, quiet my voice, and let their voices grow strong.

I’m so glad I did.