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!

 

 

 

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Using Creativity to Boost Young Children’s Mathematical Thinking (MindShift)

I am SUPER excited to share this article with you!

MindShift author, Deborah Kris, did a spectacular job. She asked thought provoking questions that encouraged me to continue to research mathematics and creativity, and to reflect again upon my beliefs and practice.

I loved immersing myself in the research and reflection. As I did, I came to believe even more deeply that creativity in thought and action increases the power and beauty of mathematics. I hope you enjoy the article, and that it enhances your thought and teaching practice.

Using Creativity to Boost Young Children’s Mathematical Thinking

By the way, there is a link in the article to my paper – Managing the Classroom for Creativity. If you haven’t read it yet, give it a look.

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

 

 

I’m published!!!

WOO HOO!!! My first academic paper is published in the Journal of Creative Education (June 2015). It’s based upon my MA Creative Thinking research.

Here’s all the info:

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

AMAZING to see my name – Molly James – as the author in a research journal. I hope it is the first of many.

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.

A Tree Grows in Kindergarten

I recently attended a workshop at Bank Street College in NYC. They have a tree growing in the middle of their lobby! A BIG TREE! If I remember correctly, it actually goes up to the second floor.

It was fabulous! I wanted one in my space. It would add to the classroom environment. It holds incredible possibilities for all sorts of learning and playing – science, history, literacy, math, art, morning meetings under the tree, and puppet shows in front of the tree. And, the students would love it.

I chuckled as I wondered how I might convince my school to architecturally recreate the kindergarten and library (above our room) to allow a tree to grow within the school building. Realizing that was not likely to happen, I set about thinking how else we might have “a tree grow in kindergarten.”

Ages ago, a friend gave me all sorts of wire to use as sculpting material. I still had a lot of the wire left, in a beautiful basket, on top of my cabinets, waiting. “Woo hoo” for keeping things that have creative potential, even when I can’t figure out how to use that potential.

That wire held the answer! If I couldn’t grow a tree, surely I could make one out of wire!

In my mind, I imagined a grand tree. A wire trunk with real tree branches  “growing” out of the wire trunk. It would be spectacular!

I built the tree in my mind several times – often changing the structure on a long car rides. Finally, I was ready to give it a go.

There was a lot of prep work the night before the build – find fishing wire, fight off mosquitos to get branches, take the leaves off the branches, gather tools (wire cutters, clippers, pliers, a hammer, pencils and a tape measure), load the car, and, perhaps most importantly, try not to forget anything.

The day of the build also held a lot of work – including tons of measuring and re-measuring, a failed try at anchoring (which, thankfully, led to a better engineered tree), an incredible amount of wire work, the realization I had to cover the pointy wire ends (yay for silver duct tape), and many other niggly details and tasks.

tree collage

The process was an interesting combination of frustration, invigoration, exhaustion, perseverance and psych. It was an exercise in patience as I pro-typed, failed, thought, re-thought, tried again, looked, looked from another angle and perspective, adjusted, tweaked and took untold number of relaxing breaths. In the end, my fingertips and back were screaming, but the tree was there, “growing in our kindergarten room.”

I will, no doubt, rebuild it again in my mind. I am already imagining new ways to connect and support the branches to allow for greater artistry and larger branches! But for now, a tree, made of wire, paper, actual tree branches, hard work, and imagination, grows in Kindergarten .

(A close up of the wire bark – complete with knots.)

tree2

 (The tree ready for our first day.)

tree1

I trust the tree will bring joy to those who experience it, and encourage them to be open to possibility, creativity, imagination, hard work,

I hope, now, and throughout their life, they will be inspired, and empowered, to create something new and fabulous — perhaps, something incredibly useful and valuable.

 

Yes, and … in the classroom

Back in July, I hipped you to Uri Alon’s awesome TED talk. (https://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

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.