Hardware and Tools in Kindergarten

I’m always thinking of tools I can bring in to the Makerspace for my students to experience, and learn to use. I’ve brought bread knives to use as saws (always using clear and easy to remember rules, and always supervised by an adult), carpenter pencils and pencil sharpeners, tri-squares, mechanical rulers, mechanical tape measures, and levels.

This spring, as we began our supermarket build, I decided to enrich our world with nuts, bolts, machine screws, adjustable wrenches, phillips head screwdrivers and square head screwdrivers. When my students entered the Makerspace and noticed the new things sorted into our maker-trolly, they immediately began experimenting, asking questions, and sharing thoughts.

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Not all of them knew what the wrench was, or how to use it. I quickly swore those who knew how to use the wrench, to strict secrecy. I told them they had to keep it a secret for one week. If by Friday, the others hadn’t figured it out, they could teach them. But, until then, they had to let the others use their big beautiful brains and experimentation to discover it on their own. Many figured it out, and any that didn’t were happily taught by those in the know.

They loved using the tools and the hardware. Sometimes they would put the bolts/screws, washers, and nuts together using their fingers as the tools, at other times, they used the wrenches and screwdrivers. Our first foray into using them in the build was when they realized they could plunge the bolts/screws into the foam shelf they had created.

foam shelf

This required me to help them because the foam as actually a bit too thick for the size bolts/screws I had purchased. Cognizant of how impossible it was for them to succeed at this task on their own, I began thinking of specific projects that didn’t require so much help from me.

I came up with two.

The first  was an art project. I thought creating people with articulated arms and legs would be a fun way for them to learn about the nuts, bolts, and washers. It required a good bit of thinking, risking, imagining and creating as well as significant manual dexterity and work.

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We talked a bit about how to use the hardware, and what was possible because of it — movement, and tightening the arms and legs into particular positions. We also discussed the possible pitfalls — poking yourself with the pencil that you used to make a hole for the bolt, making the hole too close to the edge thereby ripping the cardboard piece, and putting the bolt on backwards which would make hanging it darn near impossible because it was too far from the wall.

They were fantabulous workers, thinkers and creators! They were careful about positioning their holes, and making them. They persisted — counting out their hardware, changing bolts if they put them on backwards, and taking the time needed to accomplish their personal visions for their people.

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And gosh, did they imagine and create! Mothers with babies, a girl in a tuxedo, Draco Malfoy, girls with 3-D curly hair, a baby sucking a binky, and designer boots are just a bit of what they did.

Here are some of their people hanging in our art gallery:
 cropped dolls

The second project was creating sturdy shelves for the supermarket. By now they were pros at using the tools and hardware. With intensity and proficiency, they worked together to secure the shelves to the boxes. One climbed inside to install the washer, and tighten the nut. Another worked from the outside, holding the bolt in place to allow it to be tightened.

shelves

Meanwhile, the girls developed their own use for the tools and their skills. I loved all they thought of doing.

As they played with the hardware, they discovered many interesting configurations outside the normal purview of nuts and bolts. One presented me with this:

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Me: “Thanks! What is it? How do I use it?”

Student “Well, it could be jewelry … (significant thought) … or it could just be a fun              rolling toy!”

Me: “Indeed it could! I love it.”

Finally as they progressed even further in their comfort with the tools and hardware — and their belief in themselves as capable of doing anything necessary with them —  they enlarged their scope of projects. Seeing me unboxing two new sensory tables, one of my girls noticed the bolts, nuts and washers.

Student: “What’s that, Miss James?”

Me: “New sensory tables.”

Student: “What are you doing with them?”

Me: “I’m going to put them together.”

Student: “I can help!”

I love that she declared her ability to help. She didn’t ask! She knew I would accept help, so she just jumped in as my furniture building colleague! It was awesome!

I am particularly fond of this photograph as it captures the truth of the moment. The tip of the sneaker in the left hand corner is mine. I like that it indicates my presence, but the hands holding the tools are the hands of a 6 year old girl! That is one empowered girl!!!

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“Rock on with your fantabulous self, my girl. Rock on!”

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Label Your Build

Labeling is part of every build in our classroom. Sometimes my request for labeling is met with a bit of grumbling. “Labels? Do we have to label? Why do we have to label things, Miss James?”

I always respond the same way. “Yes, you have to label things. Everyone find at least three things to label.” and “Why label?!?!!! You have to label things because when you label them, everyone else gets to know and understand your great ideas and creations!” Once they get over the need to stop building in order to label, and any hesitancy they have in their ability to write things that others can read, the labels begin popping up all over the build site.

Here are a few from this year’s Thanksgiving build.

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(bed, home)

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(bed, pillow, home)

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(food place)

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(person, Lilly)

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(mountain)

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(person)

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(crib)

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(trap door)

There’s tons of value in each of their labels. I can assess their phonemic awareness, and their ability to encode the sounds they hear. I get a deeper understanding of their thinking and building. And, perhaps best of all, they get to share their thinking and work with everyone who visits the build.

My favorite thinking shared this year (and mind you, they are ALL fantabulous and bring me great joy) was this one.

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(For you, Mayflower. This corn is for you.)

We learn that the passengers of the Mayflower stole corn from the Native Americans. At first, the girls respond with outrage. “That wasn’t very nice! Why did they do that? That’s mean!” I acknowledge their observations and feelings, agreeing that it does sound mean, and not very nice. But then, I encourage them to think a bit about what the passengers of the Mayflower might have felt — and what we sometimes experience in our own lives.

“How do you think the Mayflower passengers felt when they arrived?” I ask. “They were on the boat for 66 days. The Mayflower wasn’t very big and there were a lot of passengers.” My students are silent, clearly trying to figure things out. They begin to share their recollections and thoughts — “There were storms. People died. A baby was born. Maybe they didn’t have enough food. They were probably cold. Maybe they were hungry.”

One asks “Why didn’t they just ask the Native Americans for some food?”

“Good question.” I respond. “Why didn’t they?”

At first they are silent again. Then I ask them. “Did the Native Americans and the passengers of the Mayflower looked alike? Did they dress the same? Do you think they spoke the same language?” They quietly and thoughtfully respond “No.”

Now I am silent. For a moment or two I let them sit with that information. Then I ask them “How do you think they felt?” With a greater of empathy they respond, “Maybe they were scared.” I shake my head, “Yeah, maybe they were scared.” Wanting to bring the two ideas together, I continue “It wasn’t nice what they did. They shouldn’t have stolen the corn, but it’s good for us to remember they might have been afraid, and hungry, and didn’t know what else to do.”

When the girl made those bags of corn, she showed them to me. “I decided to make these for the Mayflower. I’m going to leave them by the boat so they see them. Then they can just have this corn, and not steal ours.” I responded, “That’s a great idea. I bet they’ll be happy to find it.”

There is so much I love about her thoughts and work. Kindness. Empathy. Problem-solving. Offering without being asked. Leaving it with a note — therefore forgoing a thank you. Believing this will help them, and keep them from taking your things — without telling them not to take yours. Lastly, I love that the build, and the labeling, allowed this student to show the depth her understanding, empathy, kindness, and problem solving. May she keep it, grow it, and use it all her days!

Bringing Ideas to Life

Creativity is an interesting mix of thinking and doing. It’s about having new ideas, conceiving of new ways to do things, imaging a particular physical product — and then working to bring any, or all, of these things to life.

Both the thinking and the doing require a significant amount of

  • curiosity
  • wonder
  • imagination
  • team-work
  • risk taking
  • confidence
  • playfulness
  • resilience
  • perseverance
  • knowledge
  • research and learning
  • struggle
  • pro-typing and iterating
  • the seemingly magical, but often hard won, moments of “aha” and resolution

My girls worked on their Thanksgiving build from the beginning of November until winter break. They had a plethora of ideas. Some were created, some were not. Through out their thinking and work, the girls exhibited all the things listed above.

Some of the most interesting observations for me, occurred as they struggled to negotiate, and embrace and enhance each other’s ideas and thoughts. It’s a tough line to walk — advocating for your own ideas while at the same time being open to the ideas of your friends and fellow workers. It’s especially problematic when other’s ideas are significantly different than yours. Emotions occasionally ran amuck, and sometimes required interventions — with recommendations of alone time, breathing, thinking, listening, and sometimes suggestions of how to speak to one another to understand and resolve differences.  Particularly interesting to me is how similar these young work groups are to the work groups I belong to as an adult. New ideas are not always welcomed, different ideas are sometimes hard to imagine or embrace, old patterns are sometimes very strong, and emotions often make things more complicated.

I loved their conversations and subsequent research as they wondered, and imagined things they would have liked to have as a citizen of England and Holland, a passenger of the Mayflower, or a Native American. — Would the castles of England and Holland have had elevators? What about trap doors? Where did the Native Americans get their food?  Did they have toys? Was there a hospital on the Mayflower? Did people fall in the water? How did they save them?

So much about my students, and their thinking and work fascinated me! I often laughed out loud in awe and enjoyment of the fantabulousness of their ideas, and their beautiful confidence.

This person did it for me this build:

IMG_9226I don’t recall any other student making a person with  three-dimensional components. I exclaimed “Wow. I love that! What a great idea!!” when I noticed her work.

She responded as though surprised by my awe. “I just think it, and I do it, Miss James!” I think I laughed out loud AGAIN when she said that to me. That is some beautiful confidence — in her thoughts, and creative ability.

Other times, my delight and fascination came from stretching their thinking, as well as their belief in their own abilities. One student this year wanted to make a dog. Her first try was lovely, and she was quite happy. I chuckled to myself as I opened my mouth to speak. “Would you mind getting your person? Let’s see if this would be a good pet for her.” She looked at me with a bit of incredulity, and perhaps even the slightest annoyance, but she quickly went and retrieved her person. Her dog’s head was the bigger than her person was tall. She reacted with amazement and a bit of disequilibrium! But, she was used to making dogs this size, didn’t believe she could make it any different, and told me it was fine. I laughed and asked her to stand up. When she did I asked if she would want a dog this big (and showed her how big her drawn dog was compared to her person). She laughed and said no, but when I suggested she re-draw her dog she said she couldn’t. I pushed back a bit and told her “Of course you can! Give it a go.”

She redrew that dog at least 10 times. The first 6 were almost identically sized. We cut the paper smaller, and she only fit the on the paper. Finally at about try 12, she created this:

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Perfection!!! She added a speech bubble filled with barks, and gleefully added her dog to the build.

Both experiences are valuable parts of creativity, thinking, learning, and life. Sometimes you simply believe in yourself and know that you can “just think it and make it!” Other times, when it seems impossible, and you doubt your ability, you have to struggle, and keep trying over and over — sometimes embracing the encouragement and pushing of someone you love, even when it’s uncomfortable  — until it happens.

With luck — and reminders from me — the one with belief in her abilities will be able to access that confidence when she has to work hard in order to succeed, and the one who had to struggle will experience those deliciously magically moments of creative ease.

Firetrucks Fuel Thinking!

My Kindergartners visit the local firehouse each fall. Prior to going, we do a bit of research, share knowledge, wonder, ask questions, and make our own fire trucks!

This year we made our trucks out of shoe boxes. Using the boxes was super fun because by their very nature, the boxes opened up new avenues of creativity! The cardboard offered structure and strength, but also yielded to scissors, serrated knives, and hole punchers. Glue, paste, paint, crayons, tape and markers all adhered to the boxes with some ease. And, spectacularly,  the lids – connected or free – invited the kids to engage with the outside AND the inside of their truck.

Once we began creating, I allowed my students a great amount of freedom. I didn’t do much directing, but instead offered myself as a resource. Sometimes they borrowed my hands to hold things, my strength to cut or hole punch, or my brain for some brainstorming and collaborative problem solving.

I did my best to allow the ideas and suggestions to come from them. In this way, they are able to take ownership, learn about themselves, and really show me (and themselves) what they are able to do, what they know, and how they think.

Making the firetrucks was a fun and fascinating process. The creations displayed a depth of knowledge and understanding. The students displayed an eye for detail and a willingness to work to achieve their vision.

Take a look at this firefighter.

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She is decked out in firefighting gear, and most amazingly, she is in a seat with back bracing AND a working seat belt!

Some students engaged deeply with the open-ended part of the creative process, but not as deeply with the critical thinking part of the creative process. Their trucks were filled with a plethora of beautiful creations that didn’t immediately suggest a firetruck.

To encourage the critical thinking piece, our creative process includes adding labels, and giving tours of their truck. During the tour we look at what they’ve made, and talk about what the firefighters might still need.

Take a look at this truck. During the tour, the student told me these things were “decorations.”

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Decorations? Hmmm. Where did I take that? I didn’t want to belittle her creative work, but I did want her to remember the goal, and work towards it. So, I decided to embrace every piece of her creation, and push her towards figuring out what each thing might be on a firetruck. What do the firefighters need? How could her creations fill those needs.

My approach invited her to look at her own work with new eyes. It was a form of possibility thinking. She had to move beyond what each item was. She had to think about what she knew firefighters need. Then she had to look at each “decoration” and consider what it might be. She did an awesome job.

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Decorations turned into motors, sirens, buckets, hoses and windows!

I learned a lot from that encounter. I was affirmed in my choice to trust myself, my student, the creative process, and possibility thinking.

There is such awesomeness and power in each one of us – especially when we trust and engage in creativity and possibility thinking.

Creativity in Unexpected Places

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My students have been cleaning up the building area this week. 

This is what I found when I came back into the room today. Beautiful isn’t it!?!!

With a bit of freedom, growing love for aesthetics, and joy-filled support, even cleaning up can be filled with moments of creativity and beauty.

 

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 …

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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!