Grab A Moment

I’ve been thinking a lot about finding time in the day to “give” to my learners — time for them to make and invent, time to think creatively and critically, time to think about possibility, to experience joy, energy, challenge, freedom, and agency. It’s not so easy to find, but I just kept thinking and wondering.

I noticed I sometimes have small pockets of time in morning meeting. Not a lot of time for sure — maybe 5 minutes — but I thought I’d see what we could do in that time.

I searched around for LEGO bricks in the classroom, and found quite a few. I took out most of the pieces that suggested any thing in particular (trees, people, wheels). I hoped by doing that to have the creation be more open to possibility, and the imagination of each maker, and less led by the ideas of the LEGO makers. I found a basket that made it easy to send the bricks around our morning meeting circle, and eagerly anticipated our work together!

lego basket

By the way, we hadn’t used our LEGO bricks in some time, so they were in a need of a wash. I loaded them in a mesh bag, and washed them on the top shelf of my dishwasher on a cool setting. Worked great! Thanks to all the people who posted things online about ways to wash them.

The first two times we gave it a try, we worked together to create one structure. We each picked a lego, and added it to the structure as we passed it around our morning meeting circle. Here’s our first creation.

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Sometimes the girls were quiet, watching each other add their brick. Other times they kibitzed about where to put the brick, or shared with a neighbor what it might be.

When we finished creating the structure I placed it — with a pencil — next to a clipboard reading “Our morning meeting invention might be … ”

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Over the next few days, the girls continued to think about what the structure might be — not what it is, but what it might be — and when they had a moment, they added their ideas to our lists.

The girls loved creating together, and writing their ideas one the lists. In the process we all got to practice and grow in many ways. We

  • used our imagination.
  • thought creatively and critically.
  • were open to possibilities.
  • collaborated.
  • were flexible when our friends accidentally knocked a piece off, and replaced it in a different spot.
  • acted as individuals, and as a team.
  • practiced handwriting, and encoding our thoughts into words so others could read them.
  • were resourceful — figuring out how to create something with a small set of bricks.
  • worked on our communication skills — as we created, as we talked about the creations later on, and as we shared our ideas.
  • enjoyed each other and the process.

It may seem like there is no time in your day to allow your students to invent, create, make, think, dream, imagine, wonder, and enjoy. Don’t believe that. Be open and observant. When you notice a moment or two in your day, give it to your students, and yourself, as moments of possibility.

Often times this is my mantra: “Small moments. Small creations. Big impact.”

Give it a go. Grab the moment! Your students, and you, deserve it.

 

By the way … 

If you find a moment and do something, leave me a comment, I’d love to hear what you did, and how it went.

If you find a moment and have no idea what to do, ask a colleague, or leave me a comment. I’d be happy to brainstorm some ideas.

if you look at your schedule and say “Molly does NOT know what she is talking about. My day is packed, and there is NO WAY I can do one more thing!” leave me a comment. Maybe we can look at your day together and find some time.

 

 

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Kids and Educators Inventing

January 17th is Kid Inventors’ Day.. It’s held on the 17th to coincide with the birth date of Benjamin Franklin — an imaginative and creative inventor. (Check out the link to find out about some of his inventions. There’s even a video of William Zeitler playing  a modern version of Franklin’s glass armonica. It’s pretty cool!)

Prior to the big day we read What Do You Do With An Idea by Kobi Yamada. It’s such a great book — simple and yet profound at the same time. We talked about ideas — theirs ideas.

“Do you have ideas? Do you have good ideas? Do your ideas always work the way you plan? Do you always have ideas alone, or sometimes with others? Are you always willing to tell others about your ideas? Are you sometimes a little worried people may not like their ideas?”  I agreed with them when they said they had ideas, and I encouraged them when they said they are sometimes afraid to share or try their ideas.

Then I showed them my latest invention — an idea book I made for them!

“Yes, I know a book isn’t my invention, we already have them, but,” I said, “this one’s a little different. I wanted  to give you all sorts of places to write, sketch, and store your ideas so I changed some things about a ‘regular’ book.”

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I proceeded to show them some of the different bits of the book — skinny pages, fat pages, pages made from magazine pages, an envelope, blank white paper, blank grid paper, and accordion folded pages in the center. I told them the books were theirs to keep, and they could use them however they liked to store their ideas. The only thing they had to do was record some ideas.

“Can we put stuff on the cover, too?!”

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“Of course!!!”

I also asked them to let me know, after they used the book, if they had any tweaks I might make to make it even better. The book was so different that many immediately asked me to make changes. I asked them to try it first, and then let me know if they still wanted me to tweak things. “This way,” I said “we’ll all be part of the invention process of this Idea Book. I made it, but you’ll test it, and give me suggestions.” They seemed to like that.

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Kid Inventors Day in the classroom was great. The girls were enthusiastic and worked on their projects for hours.  Some of their creations were completely unique, others were recreations of existing items. There was a lot of creative questioning that went on that day! How would their creation be an invention — something new? What tweaks could they make to whatever they were considering to make it even better? One young inventor declared her jet pack better than the existing one because it used Daddy-power. “Because, ya know,” she told me, “my mommy won’t let me use fire and real fuel!” Can’t argue with that logic!

The day was a success, but I wanted them to concentrate on problem finding a bit more. I decided to have us work as inventors in our next science class. We would concentrate on the first 3 steps from this  Invention and Design Process Mash Up poster I put together. (The 1st 3 are in color because those were the ones I wanted to focus on in this class.)

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I had some questions and wonderings as I entered the lesson design process:

  • How might they have the best experience?
  • How might I have a record of their work to share with others?
  • Should they work in teams? In partnerships?
  • Should I give them the choice of working together or alone?
  • Should everyone have their own notebook?
  • Should we create posters of problems? Posters of brainstorms?

I was kind of plagued by the question of wether they should have their own notebook because then they would have something written down to take home. Normally I don’t really care.

I know that learning happens in the making, the doing, and the discussion, so I typically don’t do concentrate on a notebook to take home. I’m not against writing! Tons of amazing things happen with writing, but generally I don’t mind if there is nothing to send home on any one day since I document with photos, and share the photos and explanations after the fact. But for some reason this time I couldn’t shake the idea of an “Inventor’s Notebook” to take home. So, I gave it a go.

I loved our discussions. The girls were enthusiastic and worked hard to understand and express themselves.  It was a ton of  fun to watch them try to explain what brainstorming is — using great facial expressions and hand gestures to explain that the thoughts you have are like storms in your brain.

“”Yes!” I said “You do have lots of ideas in your brains, but how do they become brainstorms? What happens when it storms outside? Is there just stuff in the clouds but nothing else?” “NO!” they yelled ” It rains! Or it snows!” “YES!” I replied, with nearly equal exuberance, “And is it just one rain drop?” They looked, as though stunned, but then responded “NO! It’s lots of drops!” “YES!” I agreed, “It’s lots of drops, and when we brainstorm, we want to share LOTS of ideas.”

The inventions we looked at were awesome. They helped the girls understand that sometimes inventions are a mash up of ideas already existing, and other times they are completely new. And, perhaps most importantly it opened their minds to the truth that KIDS are inventors — with big beautiful brains and hearts — who see problems and work to solve them. We looked at the cereal serving head crane device as well as fabulous, and hilarious, children’s inventions. (Can you imagine having a spider lick your face if you don’t get up on time?! They could!)

But the notebook, and allowing the girls to mostly work alone, didn’t work as well as hoped. As the class progressed, I noticed many ways I wanted to tweak the notebook, and the process.

 

My prototype for the next try will include a notebook for work at home. It will include the mash-up poster, some information for parents, and some blank pages for sketching and note taking. But, for our time together in the lab, we will work with posters and post-it-notes.

We’ll create several Problem Posters. Then, after some brainstorming, I’ll arm each girl with a pad of post-it-notes, and a pencil. This will give them the opportunity for many casual collisions, which will oblige and allow them to interact — sharing ideas, energy, laughter, and angst. Hopefully the size of the note, and the fact that they have a pad of them, will encourage quick sketching, and many ideas. I’m excited that this method  will give us a class artifact of our work together. I’m hopeful it can then be used for further thought and engagement in the invention and design process.

Funny, even though I understand the design/invention process, and I know the girls learned and did great things, I’m unhappy with myself for not thinking  of these tweaks before I did the lesson. But really, how could I have thought of them before? It’s a new lesson, a new creation and invention, and as with all inventions, it gets better by working the process. — think, sketch, make, test, tweak, sell, repeat.

Perhaps we as educators need to share more of our failures, near misses, thought process, design process, thinking, and challenges. This way everyone will understand that everyone needs to work the process, and the process is hardly ever as easy, or mess free, as we make it seem.

 

 

 

 

Courage, Challenge, Learning and Excellence

“Although my students are only five or six years old, I work hard to establish egalitarian, collaborative relationships with them. I am interested in their thoughts and always respond to their questions of “Can I tell you something?” with “Yes, please tell me something!” I value their stories as a way to get to know them, and I really listen to them as they share. I sit or kneel to speak with them so I am not so far above them, and I often sit on the floor with them when I teach them. This helps us develop a relationship of trust, and ultimately empowers courage, challenge, learning and excellence.” (Managing the Classroom for Creativity)

When I wrote that for the Creative Education Special Issue, I was thinking of the courage, challenge, learning, and excellence that my students develop and live in our classroom.

As I re-read the section now, I still believe my students benefit from our collegiality. But, I am fascinated by the realization of how much our relationship of collegiality and trust impacts me as well. It helps me to be courageous and more open to challenge, and it encourages and enables me to develop deeper learning, and greater excellence!

This became very clear to me the other day. I joined a kindergarten alum and her family (she just finished first grade) for an afternoon at Turtle Back Zoo. Part of our day included participating in the Treetop Adventure.  The course is about 15-20 feet in the air. Not too high unless you are afraid of heights – which I am!

My alum and I hit the course together. We chatted with each other as we waited for our turn on the various elements. We watched others and commented on things they did well, and the things they might do better. We talked about being a little afraid. I told her I was afraid of heights. She assured me it wasn’t that high!

We decided I would take the lead for the first half of the course. I cheered her on as she worked each piece of the course, and offered suggestions the few times she seemed a bit stuck.

The second half of the course, my alum went first. This section was a little higher and a little more challenging. Nothing terrible, but I was beginning to feel fatigued from my fear of heights and my effort to overcome it. I breathed in through my nose and out through my mouth – just like I tell my kindergarteners to do when they need to relax and get their bodies to know all is well. As I paused at one challenge — to take one of those calming, strengthening breaths, and decide how I would step — I heard the most awesome thing …

“You can do it, Miss James!!!”

It was my alum yelling to me, “You can do it, Miss James!!” 

How fantastic is that?!?!?

I’m not sure if she was completely confident in my ability to do it. I am sure she was completely confident in herself, and in our relationship.

Our relationship based on respect, trust, collegiality, and love, let her know it was appropriate for her to encourage me. And, our relationship assured her it would make a difference to me.

And it did! It helped me! Her egalitarian and collaborative relationship with me, empowered and enabled me to embrace “courage, challenge, learning and excellence!”

It wasn’t just that day. It happens in the classroom too.  But there, on the ropes course, it was very clear.

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Here we are, on the carousel together. I love the photo for the memory, and the symbolism.

May I always have a beautiful kindergartener, or kindergarten alum, by my side.

 

RESOURCES:

James, M. (2015) Managing the Classroom for Creativity. Creative Education, 6, 1032-1043. doi: 10.4236/ce.2015.610102.

 

 

 

The Crayon Initiative

Have you ever heard of The Crayon Initiative?  Me neither! Until today.

The Crayon Initiative recycles “unwanted crayons into unlimited possibilities for children.”

How cool is that?

I’m sure there are lots of people/organizations who are doing creative repurposing with crayons, but for now, I’m liking and blogging about this one! 🙂 (No disrespect to any of the others.)

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I like the process they talk about as they tell their story …

  • twirling a crayon – deep in thought
  • wondering out loud
  • asking questions
  • discovering a problem
  • being confident in their ability to discover a new way to address the problem
  • accepting the challenge to make a positive change
  • thinking
  • ideating (having ideas! Awesome word, isn’t it? Around since the 1800’s I believe)
  • bringing one of those ideas to life to “recirculate the endless supply of free materials and bring the Arts to children everywhere.

There’s a lot to love about this! The process, the creativity, the crayons (I happen to love crayons, lol.) the openness to possibility, the thought, the action, and the benefit to children and the environment.

Rock on Crayon Initiative!

Let’s follow their lead. Let’s wonder, question, think, ideate, believe, and make positive innovations!