Hey, Kindergarten!

Our supermarket build is in full swing, and it is spectacular!

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In this build, perhaps even more than in our other builds, communication and collaboration are key!  (So too is breathing, lol, but that is for another blog post!)

As we prepped for the build, my builders, engineers and architects had tons of ideas, but they directed them only to me – the teacher – even though their peers were sitting with us. So many awesome ideas, and so much potential for collaboration and elaboration, were being wasted!

I couldn’t take it anymore! I said “Eee gads. May I say something!”

They looked at me. The looks on their faces said “Eee gads? Did you just say, Eee gads!?” but no one spoke, they just waited.

I continued, “You have so many fantabulous ideas. But, when I call on you, and you look at me, and tell ME, instead of telling EVERYONE, no one else realizes you want THEM to listen, too! But they should! Everyone needs to hear your ideas. That way we can talk about them, or change them, or use them just like you said them!!!”

I paused, just for a moment, to let that sink in. Then I said, “So, can we try something?”

“Yeah.” “Yes.” “Sure.”

“Ok, so, if you have something to say, and you want only me to listen, say Hey Miss James! But, if you want everyone to listen, say Hey, Kindergarten!

They seemed excited by the plan. They asked, “So we say Hey, Kindergarten! if we have an idea of how to do something, or if we something we want to tell everyone?”

“Yup,” I responded. “And when we hear it, we’ll stop what we’re doing, look at you and say Hey (your name)! Then you can tell us your idea. OK?”

“Ok!”

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We had at least 8 announcements of “Hey Kindergarten!” in that 30 minute building period. It was a bit overwhelming (at least for me, lol). I thought I might have to figure out something to say to rein them in. But, as the days went by, they began using it more judiciously all on their own.

Sometimes I forget and just say “Kindergarten” or some other attention getting rhyme we have established, and get no response. Then one of them says “You should try saying ‘Hey, Kindergarten,’ Miss James!”

The first time they said that I laughed out loud and said “You’re right! I should!!!” So, I did, and they responded immediately  – “Hey, Miss James!” It was awesome.

There are so many things I like about “Hey, Kindergarten!”

  • I love that they are teaching each other by sharing their ideas, reflections and wonderings.
  • I love that they are listening to each other.
  • I love that “Hey, Kindergarten!” shares classroom control with them.
  • I love the joy they express when using it.
  • I love hearing them say it, and responding along with their peers.

But, i think what I love most is how it empowers them. Their ideas are being told, heard, respected and valued. And, THEY are calling their friends — and teacher — to listen. We are partners in this learning journey. I’m glad to give them a way to experience and express the partnership.

The things they have shared after saying “Hey, Kindergarten!” have been remarkable. I don’t think it is coincidental. I think they feel the value, power, liberty, and awesomeness of “Hey Kindergarten!” and it opens them.

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!

 

 

 

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. 

 

Conscious Ink

My diagnosis anniversary date is December 16. My feelings each anniversary are a combination of positive and less-than-positive emotions. I notice, acknowledge and feel the sorrow and other less-than-positive emotions, but I highlight and emphasize the positive emotions by celebrating!

In the past I have dyed a fuchsia streak in my hair with kool-aid, distributed glitter, and shared sparkly temporary tattoos. This year I decided to continue the temporary tattoos, but wanted to find the perfect tattoos. After some searching, I found Conscious Ink.

Here’s the first paragraph from their site “Can a temporary tattoo leave a lasting impression on our disposition? Solidify our intentions and affirmations? Make a permanent mark on the world? Crazy as it seems, Conscious Ink founder Frank Gjata says yes! Conscious Ink is on a mission is to spread love and raise consciousness around the world, one body at a time!” lol! HOW AWESOME IS THAT??!?!

I looked at their many offerings and chose 3 that spoke to me.

  • Breathe
  • Be brave
  • Anything is Possible

Great messages, right?!

I eagerly awaited my package. It made it to me the day before my anniversary. YAY!!

I wasn’t disappointed when I opened the package and examined the stash. Everything had such beautiful spirit, joy, humor AND creative thinking

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The tattoos themselves are great (non toxic, safe, made in the USA), but, the instruction card that comes with them pushed them over the edge into fantabulous! lol. As I read it, and followed the instructions, I chuckled to myself thinking “Wow, this is some cool creative thinking!”

I don’t know what “How might we …?” questions Frank and his team asked themselves, but here’s one I thought they must have considered.

How might we infuse each aspect of the temporary tattoo experience with mindfulness, intention, joy and good energy?

I laughed out loud – not making fun, but from surprise and enjoyment – when I read their instructions for the actual tattooing. As with most things, temporary tattoos don’t just magically happen. There is a process, and it includes waiting. Waiting is sometimes a drag, or something we endure and hope away, rather than experience with mindfulness and purpose. Not so, the Conscious Ink people.

What do they say? “Patience is a virtue.” LOL! That still makes me laugh out loud. They suggest you take the time to think about what it is you want to manifest. I love that!!! Take those 30 seconds or more and be present. Think. Breathe. Have the thoughts (joy, gratitude, hope) and do the things (breathe, celebrate) that were the reasons you chose your tats.

I followed the instructions – patient, mindful, purposeful being, instead of just waiting. It was a lovely 30-60 seconds. I am going to have my K students do this when I share the tats with them in January. I may even have them join in some writing about their tattoos and intentions. We shall see.

I am impressed with the thought and creativity of Conscious Ink. It enhanced my temporary tattoo experience. But, it’s also a wonderful reminder to me of what can be accomplished when we approach our work and life with purpose, intention, humor, joy and creativity.

By the way, Frank has some other nice sites (and by nice I mean pretty cool, awesome, fun etc. etc. etc.) worth checking out. They seem to all be linked from his website Blississippi. Give them a look if you have a moment.

And always remember … Breathe … and be brave.

 

 

 

 

 

Inviting Kindergartners Into My Process and Musing

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My hands will soon be covered in paint –  like hand in this photo. YAY! I cannot wait!

It is super important for me, as a person, and as an educator, to: get inspired, try new techniques, play, and make things. The whole process – anticipating, enjoying, searching, looking, researching, talking, trying, learning, failing, fretting and succeeding – teaches and touches me as a person and an educator.

The preparation is a time of excitement, joy and anticipation!

I relish the trip to the art store! Paper, paint, stencils, cutting tools, canvases, paint brushes invite me to explore, imagine and buy. I usually end up in line with much more than my original shopping list. If I’m lucky, my cashier is an artist. We kibitz over my choices, and share our passion and ideas. On my last visit, I discovered there is 300 pound watercolor paper! 300 lbs! The clerk said it is “Delicious!” (You do know I will soon be purchasing some, don’t you?)

I love scouring bookstores for art books or magazines. It’s a treasure hunt. If I’m lucky enough to find one or two that inspire me, I’m a happy girl! Just thinking about being creative makes me happy. It doesn’t bring me as much joy as actually creating, but it is pretty awesome.

And, of course, after all the prep, I love the doing! Surrounded by supplies. In the zone. Hands covered with paint. Mind buzzing. Spirit soaring.

But, occasionally, I notice less than positive emotions. Sometimes there is a vague sense of angst. Usually it’s when I’m faced with a technique that is new, outside my wheelhouse, or that doesn’t easily mesh with my usual sensibilities. It’s always somewhat surprising to notice the less than positive emotions. I love being creative and artistic, and I’m pretty talented. And yet, I still sometimes feel apprehension, the worry of not being good enough, or the fear of messing it up.

As I notice all my experiences, thoughts and feelings, my mind turn to my students. I want them to experience it all. The positive and the less than positive emotions. I want them to struggle, to think, to fail, to learn, to succeed. I even want them to experience the angst, and the truth that angst can be overcome.

Wondering how I might do that, I am considering these questions:

  • How might we facilitate anticipation, discovery and joy?
  • How might we participate in the excitement of the treasure hunt for ideas and/or supplies?
  • How might we provide inspiration?
  • How might we find the time to allow ourselves to savor the process?
  • How might we structure our time together, to enable more conversation, as artists, regarding our passion, our work and/or our materials?
  • How might we give each other the freedom to adapt a particular technique or project to better fit our own sensibilities?
  • How might we be more aware of thoughts/feelings of angst and fear?
  • How might we better support each other in angst and fear?
  • How might we continue to encourage belief/knowledge of ourselves as capable, awesome artists?

I’m not sure, but I’m wondering ….

 

Note:

My first draft of this blog post had a list of “How might I …?” questions. As I re-read my post, the I was in glaring opposition to the we of creative teams.  Yes, I am the teacher, so, yes, much is up to me. But, we are a creative team – my kindergartners, my colleagues, and I – and it is better that I ask “How might we …?” 

My students teach me, inspire me, problem solve with me, and often see things from an insightful prospective much different than mine. Inviting them into my musing will be beneficial for us all!

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Memories of Clementines

Driving to a late day meeting, I unzip my lovely new cooler bag, and fish around for this …

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Before I even see it, I imagine peeling it, and think of where I might leave the peelings. In my mind’s eye (or is it nose? lol) I can already smell the beautiful, citrus fragrance. I can’t wait to experience it as it fills my car with lusciousness!

At that moment my mind returned to this fabulous little hand …

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This hand belongs to one of my kindergarteners from last year. I loved the exchange we had, so I asked if I could photograph her hand with the peel in it. She looked quizzically at me when I asked, but agreed.

“I love your idea,” I explained, “and I want to write about it on my blog! I never thought of it as a possibility, and I want to share it with others.” She smiled a soft, small smile, and agreed.

Finally, I am sharing.

When she came to me her eyes were bright.

She said “Look, Miss James!”

I looked at her hand, and then back to her face for an explanation.

She responded, “I’m going to use it in our supermarket build!”

(We visit a supermarket, create field guides, and then re-create the market in our classroom with blocks and various other items.)

I reply, “You are? What will you do with it?”

She said, “I’m going to use it to add an orange smell to my paper oranges. You know, like a scratch and sniff!”

I burst out laughing, and with a huge smile say “WOW! That is fantabulous!!! What a great, creative idea! I never thought of that! Thanks for sharing your idea with me!”

Amazing, right? I wondered why she was showing me a clementine peel. It didn’t immediately come to mind that the small piece of peel could be used so creatively.

Often, my students ideas are large, sometimes even bigger than mine. I enjoy their exuberance, and their big ideas. And, I trust that my support, my openness and positivity, and my joy in their awesomeness, encourages them to adopt, trust and live their big ideas!

Hiking Art

I bought a travel watercolor set to have with me in my pack on my hikes this week. It’s a nice Sakura Pocket Field Sketch Box. I got it in an awesome little bookstore on the main drag of Lake Placid that has an amazingly nice art section! It was an impulse buy on a rainy day walk into town.

I’m not a trained painter so I looked for creative ways to translate the nature and inspiration I experienced on our hikes, using  watercolors.

We did a short hike out to Moose Pond. It’s a beautiful spot to sit, breathe, pray, eat, and relax. The water inspired me that day. I thought about wetting the entire page with pond water, but wasn’t sure what I would do next. So, I did nothing! I sat, looked, and just experienced the place. I noticed irises growing between the cracks in a rock on the water’s edge. That sparked an idea! If I used one of the leaves to put the pond water on the page, I might be able to mirror the feeling of the water – movement, sunlight, colors, and flow.

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Baxter Mountain was our next hike. The wind at the top was sensational. It was my inspiration that day. But, how to show it?

The sound and force of the wind is hard to miss. It almost constantly moves the leaves and  actually changes the way tree branches grow. I love the sound and force of the wind, and the shaking of the leaves was a visual cue, so I knew I wanted to capture that … somehow.

It’s remarkable how awe inspiring, and moving (pun intended lol) the wind is to me. I absolutely love it. So, instead of of painting, I found several spots to sit, do yoga, eat, pray, and just let the wind buffet me. I collected a few leaves before we hit the trail off the summit, stuffing them in my pack to use when I got home.

Here’s my first leaf inspired piece.

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It took form as I worked. I wasn’t happy with it at first. But, I ignored my displeasure with the product, and kept going, enjoying the process. As I did, ideas came to me. I remembered a bubble art project I did with my Kindergarteners, and let that direct me.

I really like the abstract nature of the finished piece. And, I love the accessibilty and transferability of the method! I’m contemplating how to incorporate it into my class this year. It has nice potential as an art-science integration.

Rain has interrupted my hikes but not my art. Today I worked on getting watercolor paint to adhere to the leaves I gathered yesterday. My plan was to make leaf prints.

This is much harder than it seems. Close your eyes and imagine rain hitting the leaves. What does it do? Yup, it beads up! So guess what the watercolor paint does … beads up! Ugh! But, with a bit of stubborn persistence – wearing down the leaf it seemed, and getting the paint to the right consistency – it worked. The paint stuck to the water resistant leaf!

I am super happy with the result. The colors remind me of the leaves, sky and sun. The one in the middle is that one brilliantly colored red leaf we always come upon on our hikes. The black is the large rocks that encourage thousands of nature-filled step ups and downs on our hikes, as well as the small stones that sometime weigh down my pack. Next time I may put the black around the entire edge. We’ll see. It’s a process, and I’m loving it!

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Speaking of process, clearly my process involves mess! It never feels like mess while I’m working. It feels like (and is) immersion, beauty, intentness and art!

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But, yeah, my process is messy, and I’m good with that!