The Beauty of Imagination

A colleague of mine — who is equally enthralled with imagination, curiosity, wonder, and creativity — shared this article with me. It’s a nice article, with things that made me go “Hmmm…” as well as ideas I definitely want to work with my girls.

My only tsk moment happened when I re-read the article for this post and noticed the subtitle is “Three strategies for helping upper elementary and middle school students develop their mind’s eye.” Perhaps the author thought lower elementary and early childhood children don’t need to have strategies to stir their imaginations. Perhaps she thought her strategies were beyond their young minds.

My experience says nothing could be farther from the truth! (If you’ll allow me to be a bit hyperbolic!) My Kindergarteners enjoy using their imagination, and they benefit from language that values and encourages it, as well as strategies to use it in new ways in their learning and life. So, that said, I hope all grades will give the article a read.

The author of the article, Diana Rivera, studies imagination in the field of psychology. Who even knew you could do that? I think it’s fabulous, but I had no idea! Now that I do, I’m going to be doing a bit more research!

Anyway, I like her suggestions for “stirring students’ imagination.” I will definitely be using her thoughts to enhance my own practice of stirring my students’ imagination. But first, I allowed her ideas to stir my imagination!

I was prepping a read aloud and connected project. I love the Gus Gordon picture picture book — Herman and Rosie. and had decided to use that for my read aloud. I discovered this amazing AUSLAN online reading of the book. If you do nothing else, watch the video, and read along with the book as it shows in the background. It’s really a joy.

I wondered what to do as a project. I’m not one for specific “do this” kind of projects, and everything I thought of left me a little blah. Then I received and read Diana’s article.

Dare I just let the girls use their imagination? Did I trust them, and me, and the process that much? What if it didn’t work out? What if they were disappointed?

I took a breath, or more precisely let out a big sigh, and thought “What’s the worst that can happen?” They may not enjoy my idea. They may not be able to imagine anything they would like to create. I may be disappointed in myself fi I cannot help them imagine, create and have fun. I may have to say, “”It’s an experiment, and sometimes experiments don’t work out as planned — at least not on the first try.”

So with really nothing to lose, and lots to gain, I decided to give it a go!

It was fantabulous!!! At first they seemed a bit perplexed as I explained the project.

Them: “What are we doing for project?”

Me: “We’re going to use our imaginations and think of what we might create that has a connection to Herman and Rosie.”

Them: “But what are we going to make?”

Me: “I don’t know! We have to think about it. Use your imagination. What can you think of in your brain that we could make?”

Them: silence …

Me: “It could be anything. Maybe we want to imagine a place we’d explore and make a map like the one in Herman and Rosie. Maybe we like to sing so we’d make something for singing.”

One of them: “Maybe we can make musical instruments!”

Me: “That is an awesome idea. We can make musical instruments!

Them: “Musical instruments? We can make musical instruments?!”

Me: “Sure. Let’s give it a go.”

It was a beautiful day so we moved outside to our play area. Several girls crowded around the table and set work. As they worked they had to also problem solve how to keep the papers from flying away — it was beautiful because of a rather strong breeze.

The first to make a guitar brought it to me.

Her: “How do I get inside it?”

Me: I was stumped. “Get inside it?”

Her: “Yeah,” she said, as her fingers moved along the string lines she had created, “Inside it. So I can play it.”

Me:”Oh! You want strings?!!”

Her: “YEAH!”

Me: “Wait right there!” I hurried inside to get a pack of rubber bands and some more cutting tools.

We worked together to decide on the number of strings she wanted, and the number of strings that could fit on her guitar. We problem solved — adding popsicle sticks for strength and stability — when the strings caused the guitar to bend in half. Finally we basked in the glow of a mini working guitar.

As she strummed it, she looked at me and said, “Maybe tomorrow I’ll make a guitar pick.”

WOW!!!

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She wasn’t alone in her imagining and creating. Several others created instruments too. Many of them created guitars and my original young guitar inventor was able to act as expert and help them. 

One of the next days as she was dismissing, she popped her head back into the room and asked “Why are so many people making guitars, Miss James?” “I’m not sure, but I think it’s because they really liked your idea, and your guitar.”

She didn’t say anything, just looked at me.

I continued, “What do you think? Do you think maybe you inspired them to create guitars?” A smile I will remember forever illuminated her face. She  shyly shrugged, and left the room, aglow, saying “Maybe!”

Perhaps, along with asking myself “What’s the worst that could happen?” I should have also asked “What’s the best that could happen?”

Several remarkably wonderful best things that could happen were shown to me by all my creators — most especially the smiling, glowing girl.

We can imagine things and create them.

We can help each other.

We can inspire one another.

And best of all, we can learn that we are inspiring!

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Breathing and a Kindness Circle

The week before winter break was filled with changes to our classroom schedule. It may not seem like much, but extra rehearsals, making and wrapping gifts for parents, making cards for parents, and adding glitter to the cards, were filling our already full days to overflowing. We were all feeling excitement, joy, anticipation, and let’s be honest, some stress. And, if you’ve ever experienced that, you know, it’s all good, until it’s not.

I had recess duty the last full day of school before break. The lunch duty teachers greeted me with smiles and shaking heads. “Good luck with recess. They are really having a hard time.” I raised an eyebrow and thought “Alrighty, then.”

Out on the playground I carefully watched to see if the time outside would help them regroup. Sometimes they just need time to run around, be free, and get rid of their extra energy. This was not one of those times.

What was I going to do? I heard the voice of a former professor in the back of my mind, “If you’re having classroom management problems, look at yourself, not at your students.” Ok, what was I asking them to do that wasn’t appropriate for them at this time. What was I missing? What could I do to help them?

I had less than 20 minutes to figure this out. I went into creative problem solving beast mode. Have you ever experienced that? For me it means relentlessly pursuing a solution, with the energy and drive of a big, powerful beast — cloaked of course, in the gentle trappings of a kindergarten teacher! I thought laterally, divergently, creatively, critically. Heck, my brain was standing on its head trying to figure it out.

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It was time to ring the bell and return to our classroom. I didn’t have it all figured out, but I did have the beginning of a plan. I took a leap of faith. I rang the bell, and trusted my big, beautiful, creative problem solving brain would continue to work as I moved the girls forward.

I stood — breathing — and calmly waited for them to join me. Then I began to speak in a rather quiet voice. I could see the ones in the back of the line straining to hear me. I paused, and with only the slightest elevation in volume, I asked if they could hear me. Many answers of “No!” filled the air. I responded, “Ok, I’ll speak a bit louder, but you’ll have to listen closely, because I’m not going to yell.” They strained with body and brain to hear every word I said.

“When we go in, we’re all going to take off our coats and get a carpet square. We’re going to be silent when we do this. Once we have a carpet square we’re going to find a spot to lie down and breathe. Find a spot that’s comfortable, where you have some space to just be, and breathe. Are you ready?”

There were some quiet questions which I answered with the least words possible.

Them – “Get a carpet square?” Me – “Yes.”

Them – “We’re going to lie down?” Me – “Yes.”

Them – “We’re going to breathe?” Me – “Yes. Once we’re all set I’ll set a timer for about 3 minutes. Then we’ll come together at the carpet.”

I asked again if they were ready. They quietly responded “You beddy!” (Our call and response to “Are you ready?”)

Once we entered the learning space, I barely spoke above a whisper. I encouraged them to find a space, breathe, relax, and just be. Most of them did it easily. Some needed a bit of help. Still others asked “Can we do this every day?!?”

In those few minutes, while they breathed, I was still in silent beast mode —  thinking, problem solving, and breathing. My inner conversation went something like this. “Yes, the curricular content I have planned is important, but will we actually be able to cover it? Will it be a time of joyful learning, or will it be a time of distracted learning punctuated by my constant call to learn? They need time to breathe. They need time to practice self regulation and pro-social behavior. They weren’t going to do it on their own. I need to help them. I need to give them time, and a structure that allows them to succeed. They need to experience success, and the joy of pro-social behavior.”

By the time I rang the chime, my plan was set.

While they put away their carpet squares and gathered on the carpet, I quickly collected my supplies. I joined the circle and began. “I’ve noticed that you’ve been having a tough time these last couple of days. It’s seems like it’s been a lot harder to listen, and harder to be kind to each other. I don’t think that’s the best way to end our time together before we go on break. I’d love if we could leave each other with a time of peace, love, and kindness. So I thought we’d give a kindness circle a try.”

I’d never done a kindness circle before, nor had I ever heard of one, but it sounded good to me. I took another breath, trusted in the power of my words, my intention, and my students, and continued.

“Each of you will get a name — not your own — and you’ll have 10 minutes to make something nice for them on this card. Do you think 10 minutes is enough time?” They all agreed it was a good amount of time.

I forged ahead, “You can draw something, write something, or even make something. It’s up to you. There are only 2 rules — You must keep your name a secret until we come back to the kindness circle to exchange kindness with one another. And, you have to do your best with whatever you make.”

They liked the rules and waited — with some impatience — for me to give out all the names. With names in hand they set off to work.

As everyone was settling in, I noticed some angst and tears. I popped over to find out what was wrong. The girl who was crying said, “By accident I said the name of her person. I didn’t mean to do it. I want to switch with her so everything is still a secret.” I affirmed her act of kindness in admitting her mistake, being sorry, and  wanting to correct it. They switched names, and all was right in their world.

The 10 minutes zoomed by. I rang the chime again, and they gathered back together on the carpet with quiet excitement. Before we started, I mentioned that both the giver and the receiver of the card were practicing kindness. The giver was kind by working hard for her friend. The receiver was kind by being gracious. “Perhaps it’s not what you hoped to get. Or maybe you can’t read what they wrote. That’s not what really matters. What matters is that they worked hard to make something nice for you.”

It worked out better than I imagined.  Each exchange was lovely. Givers and receivers were kind and gracious. They practiced beautiful pro-social behavior. They looked each other in the eye. The givers said a little bit about what they made and why. The receivers accepted the gift, gave it a look, commented that it was very nice, and said thank you.

I sat back, took another big breath, and basked in the glow of our kindness circle. My inner conversation was calm, satisfied, and affirming. Taking a risk; pursuing a creative solution like a beast; trusting myself and my girls; taking time to breathe; giving the space and opportunity to be kind, is fantabulous! I gotta find a way to include these super powerful happenings more regularly in our days together.

Beast mode has been called off, but rest assured, the thinking continues. A solution will present itself in due time.

 

 

Borrowed Creativity

I found some fabulous origami paper at a local bookstore. I had no need for it, and didn’t have any origami plans. But, after picking it up and putting it down several times, I bought it.  I decided I didn’t need plans. It was enough that I liked it. If I actually folded the paper into origami, it’d be a bonus!

A few days later the allure of origami folding became too strong to ignore. It was time to collect my bonus. Without a second thought, I borrowed the creativity of others. If you’d like to join me in borrowing some origami folding creativity, check out these links for an open box, a vase, and a cube and octahedron made from sonobe units.

I’m always intrigued and amazed by the way a flat sheet of paper transforms into a three dimensional object through a series of folding and unfolding.

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My origami folding was a creative exploration, a fact finding mission, and a problem solving journey. Through it all there was intense focus, several missteps, flow, and joy. It was awesome.

I’ve often wondered what it is about making that jazzes my kindergartners so much.  This evening of origami folding gave me an inkling of an answer. What I experienced felt like what I see in my Kindergartners when they borrow my creativity in the makerspace.

My Kindergartners love making things. They enjoy working on their own as they follow their own paths. But, they are differently stoked when they borrow my creativity.  I think they experience what I did as I folded.

With borrowed creativity we are able to go places we can’t go on our own. My Kindergarteners and I aren’t lacking in ability or creativity. Instead, we are as yet unaware of this particular path and destination. By sharing and borrowing creativity we find new possibilities, new paths, and new destinations.

These new experiences are ours because others are willing to share their creativity, and allow us to borrow it.  This freely shared creativity is a gift, and I think, a sign of friendship and collegiality. By sharing and borrowing, we are — in one sense — made equals.

I am grateful for the generous creative beings who are willing to share their ideas with me. The new vistas, processes, and products, as well as  new experiences of myself are quite fantabulous. I think my kindergarteners feel the same way.

Long live generous creative sharers, and grateful creative borrowers!

 

 

It’s All in How You Look at It!

I read to my Kindergartners everyday at lunch. It’s always an adventure in listening, laughing, noticing, discussing, wondering, and, frankly, making proclamations.

Yesterday one of the reads was Happy Dog Sizzles by Lisa Grubb. Part way through the story, the characters begin creating. Lisa used the term “junk” to describe the things used by her characters. She did not misspeak. In many ways, the items being used could be characterized as junk — a broken instrument, a broken lamp, an old hat.

As I read the word junk, one of my girls proclaimed, “That’s not junk!”

Me: “It’s not?!?!

Her: “No!” she replied emphatically. “That’s maker-stuff!”

Her voice seemed to call more of her peers to the page. All about the room there were echoes of agreement. “Yeah, that’s not junk. That’s maker-stuff!”

Me: (heart glowing with love and pride in their fantabulousness) “You know what? You’re right! It is maker-stuff!”

I read the rest of the book substituting maker-stuff for junk.

My Kindergartners are right. It’s all about how we look at it.

As I considered a photo for this post, I gathered up some things forgotten in the back of drawers, or placed in the trash/recycling bin — contact lens containers, a pebble from a walk, a bottle top, the inside roll from tape, an old marker lid, part of a security envelope, the top of a canning jar, a bent paperclip, and an old hair tie.

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With my Kindergartners words and emotions fresh in my mind, I interacted with these items, not as junk, but as items with untold potential.

I purposefully staged the photo. I considered each piece, and placed it carefully on a gold-lined dish. I created pleasant ribbon swirls. I arranged and rearranged the items several times until I was satisfied. Then I photographed and processed the image to emphasize the feeling of importance, beauty, and art.

My kindergartners were right. In our awesome hands — animated by our big beautiful brains, fantabulous imagination, and spectacular hearts — it’s not junk, it’s maker-stuff.

 

 

The Joy and Power of Making

The girls and I worked on making banners this past week. We each worked on our own creation, sharing space, materials, tools, and energy.

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It was a choice based activity — join me for the project if you like, don’t join me if something else brings you more joy. The choices continued as we worked on the project.

  • What color shall I use?
  • Do I want one hole or two in each triangle? Will they be right-side-up or up-side-down?
  • Which yarn will I use?
  • Do I want to use washi tape? What color? How much? Where?
  • Will I decorate them? Add words? Images? What will I use for that?
  • How many triangular shapes do I need for my banner?

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A friend gave me three plastic mason jars of washi tape for my birthday. She hoped my girls and I would create something beautiful together. I shared the tape and information with my girls. I told them my friend was curious and excited to see our process and final product. They seemed energized by the information and my sharing of my gift with them.

The makerspace was blazing with creativity, bravery (trying all sorts of things), negotiation (Can I borrow your scissors? Can someone start this washi tape for me? I want that tape too, can we share?), imagination, collaboration, (I can do that! Do you want me to help you?), thinking, sharing of ideas, physical work, laughter, and joy!

At one point, one of the girls brought me her tray and banner.

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“Nice. Did you just want to show it to me?” I asked.

“Would you string it for me?” she asked.

“I can.” I replied. “What are you going to do?”

 

“I’m going to invent another project! Can I do that? Invent another project!”

Invent another project?! How fantabulous is that?!?!!! I made a split second decision to lend her my hands to string her banner, so that she could use her hands to do something more important.

I responded with a big smile, and a good deal of enthusiasm. “ABSOLUTELY!”

She responded with a small smile. Her eyes locked with mine for just a second. Then she moved off to begin her invention.

I love that the gift of washi tape to me, and then to my girls, combined with freedom and joy produced such beauty! Beautiful banners. Awesome experiences. Desire and empowerment to invent new projects!

YAY!

 

We Are All Beginners

I had grand plans, this summer. I would create art, progress on the ukulele, nap, travel, read, learn, and refresh my body, mind, and spirit. I haven’t done nearly as much of any of those things as I might have liked, but I have done some, and it’s been wonderful!

Lately, I’ve developed a love for watercolors. I’m no pro, but I enjoy dabbling. I think my love affair started when, on a rainy day, unable to hike, I wandered into a local bookstore in search of a literary diversion. Instead, of a good book, I discovered a wall of art supplies — real, professional grade art supplies. Paint, paper, watercolors, pencils, pens, rulers, paint brushes, and more! No lie, for a moment, my knees went weak! I adore creating art, and all the tools and supplies connected to it. It brings me great joy to simply touch beautiful art tools and materials. I left the store with a simple watercolor travel kit, and a watercolor paper block. I was hooked.

The other day I discovered these beauties. 37635898_10217065659493192_6164546794509303808_o

If it were appropriate to describe watercolor as delicious, these would be the ones! Of course, perhaps there are other, more expensive, more professional ones that are even more delicious, but for me, I was satisfied.

I enjoyed looking at, and admiring them for a few days. Then, as luck would have it, I found this wonderful artist online — Watercolor Wednesdays. She has some fabulous videos on youtube.

I watched a few, and was impressed by her process and product, as well as the spirit she brought to the table. I decided to break out my supplies and give it a go. Here are my products from today.

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Nice, right? Not perfect by any means, but I think I am beginning to understand more of the essence of watercolors. By that I mean, I am beginning to understand a bit more about how they work, and what they are meant to do, as well as how I might work with them.

It was a fascinating experience to take a breath and jump in. Don’t get me wrong, it was mildly daunting. But, it was fun!

In one of the first lessons I watched, she said she doesn’t worry about the end result.  “Really?” I thought. “You aren’t concerned about the end result?!!!” I decided to set aside my skepticism, embrace her point of view, and not worry about the product. Instead, I would just paint. Removing my focus and feelings from the final product, I was more able to be in the moment. Existing more fully in each moment as it happened, I was more able to experiment, observe, notice, learn, and do.

It was fun, but not particularly easy. It’s tough sometimes, to allow myself to be a beginner. As a beginner, I’m vulnerable. I must embrace my foibles as well as my less than perfect products. I have to be brave, and not fret about what others may think about me, my process, or my product. Perhaps most difficult, I must not be hard on myself as I experience all of the difficulty of learning something new. If I can manage to do all that, or at least some of it, I am more able to enter into the joy of discovery, and the exquisite, child-like joy of one who is discovering something new and fantabulous!

As I sat and looked at my finished paintings, I had an epiphany!

This is what I ask my students to do — every moment of every school day. Try new things. Embrace being a beginner. Be brave. Celebrate your successes, no matter how small. Don’t worry what others think. Don’t fret. Be kind to yourself. Keep trying. Be in the moment. Experience the joy!

Wow, right?!

It makes me think differently about the work educators and students do every day. It’s profound. Learning to read, doing math, writing stories, interacting with each other. It’s all like my experience with the watercolors. We are often beginners, and that can be intimidating. But it is also powerful. There is joy and incredible potential in being a beginner. Perhaps even more joy and potential than in being an expert.

I have a lot to think about!

I want to take this epiphany and let it help me grow as an educator and lead learner in my learning space. For now, I am going to think about how I might give my girls more time and opportunities to experience the joy and potential of being a beginner. I want to think how I might shine the light more brightly on the ways I learn, struggle, try, persevere, find joy in little things, and embrace me as me.  And, I want to find time for them to be in the moment — able to explore and try, without fretting about the product. Hopefully this will enable them to more fully understand and experience the essence of whatever it is they are exploring.

I’m excited to see where this light will lead me — and you!

Comments, thoughts, and stories of your own journey are always welcome!

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.

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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.

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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!”

A Joyful Rebellion of Kindness

Awhile back I participated in the UC Berkeley’s MOOC The Science of Happiness. It was a great course — a ton of work — but a great course. One of the interesting things they suggested is that children have innate altruistic tendencies. Their research and information was compelling and hopeful!

The other day, my Kindergartners and I watched Joyful Rebellion by Brad Montague (Kid President’s brother-in-law).

It’s a great little video with encouragement and challenge. He invited us to to acknowledge our greatness and power, to dream big, and fill the world with more hope, more love, and more beauty.

After we watched the video, and talked about it a bit, I shared the idea of  Mirror Messages with them. I asked them what they thought about them. Could we do that for others at our school? They were intrigued, and asked many questions.

I told them our messages might not look exactly like the mirror messages. We might use index cards, or regular paper. Perhaps we’d place them on desks, or lockers, instead of mirrors. Maybe we’d pick a particular grade to gift. They were remarkably excited at the idea that we might encourage first graders, or *gasp* 12th graders! They responded with an enthusiastic “YES, we can do this!” But, their questions continued.

Them: “What about each other? Can we make them for each other?!?”

Me: “Sure! That’d be great.”

Them: “What about you? Can we make them for you?!?”

Me: “Absolutely! I’d love it.”

I got these that day …

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And these in an envelope the next day.

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If my experience is any example,  the Science of Happiness people are right. Children are fantastic, altruistic beings, who find joy in encouraging others. All they need is the opportunity. Let’s provide them with many!

I’m excited to see how this plays out for my girls — and those we gift with our messages.

Steinways and Snow

My first Kindergartners are now 10th graders. Hard to believe, but true.

Recently, I had the pleasure of seeing one of them participate in the NJ Poetry Out Loud finals. She recited three poems. Each was filled with pauses, inflection, breath, emotion, and gestures, which drew me more deeply into the words and meaning of the poems.

My favorite was Undivided Attention by Taylor Mali. It’s a fun, and thought-provoking poem for an educator. An added sweetness was that  I was introduced to it by my alumna!

If you’re unfamiliar with the poem, take a moment to go read it now. Especially if you’re an educator, read it — right now.

I’ll wait.

The whole thing is glorious. But, if you ask me, the most striking part is:

So please.

Let me teach like a Steinway,
spinning slowly in April air,
so almost-­‐falling, so hinderingly
dangling from the neck of the movers’ crane.
So on the edge of losing everything.

Let me teach like the first snow, falling.

(Mali. Taylor. “Undivided Attention.” What Learning Leaves. Newtown, CT: Hanover Press, 2002. Print. (ISBN: 1-­‐887012-­‐17-­‐6)

Fabulous! Right?!?

As I listened to my alumna recite the poem, I imagined the educator asking permission of her administrators, coordinators, and colleagues to allow her teach in this fashion. As I listened, I heard her imploring others to share her vision.

Later that day I read the poem to myself, and then aloud to others. I heard it differently. I’m not completely sure why.

Perhaps I heard it differently because  it was my own voice that spoke the words. Or, perhaps it was because Mali’s words had been floating in my brain since the morning, somehow becoming my own.

“Let me teach like the Steinway …so almost-­‐falling, so hinderingly dangling … let me teach like the new snow, falling.”

The word I heard, with soft, encouraging, invitation was me. It felt like a quiet manifesto.

Much like the piano movers I need to move my personal Steinways. My Steinways are lessons, ideas, inspiration, motivation, classroom culture, design experiences, creativity, and much more. Similar to the movers in the poem, occasionally, my eye-popping, jaw-dropping, risky, awesomeness has to hang out the window. Scary, but also a huge blessing, because, hanging out the window, others can see it, engage with it, and be excited by it.

First snow, falling, is nothing new, and yet each time it falls it feels new. The snow beckons all who notice it to come and look with long interested looks. It reworks the view out the window. It offers the opportunity for play, and the necessity of work. And, when examined closely, it reveals the marvels of each unique flake. That is a profound way to teach.

Yes. Let me teach like that Steinway — big, brave, bold, and fantabulous. Let me teach like snow falling — offering play and work, changing views, and surprisingly breathtaking wonders.

Let me

Let us.

 

 

 

Learning through Rapid Prototyping

I recently presented a workshop on Design Thinking with a fabulous NJAIS colleague.  It was an incredibly thought-provoking experience for me. Teaching educators about using design thinking in the classroom forced me — or, more correctly, allowed me  — to immerse myself, again, in a plethora of creativity and design thinking resources. I read, listened and thought deeply, as I searched for the connections, and inspirations to share with the participants.

The idea of rapid prototyping was particularly provocative. It’s not the norm for education, and yet it has the potential to be profoundly valuable. By prototyping rapidly — with ideas, strategies, or products — we gather large amounts of information in a relatively short period of time. In the process, we discover our own strength and agency, and we experience the hidden potential of failure.

Rapid prototyping and gathering information from each failure, is a natural mechanism for learning, problem solving, and innovating.  I experienced its value as I watched my students attempt the Tower of Hanoi math game.

I prepped them for the process. I emboldened them in their willingness to try. I told them they might not get it  — the 1st, the 5th or the 100th time —  but they should keep trying, and learning with each move, mistake or failure. After listening to the rules, they gathered their three blocks, and set to work figuring out the puzzle.

One of the  girls was  the epitome of rapid prototyping. Rarely taking her eyes off the blocks, she moved them without discussion.She made hundreds of moves. She appeared undeterred by her failure to solve the puzzle, and seemed to find joy and interest in the process.

The number and quickness of her moves, might suggest her moves were aimless or unstudied. Someone watching might  wonder whether she were learning anything, or making any progress. But, looking at it with the eye of a design thinker, it became clear she was rapidly prototyping.

 

towers 2

Her movements were speedy, and many. But, they were definitely not without observation, noticing, thought, or purpose. As she made her moves, she clearly learned about the blocks, the puzzle board, and the ways in which everything worked together. After what seemed like hundreds of moves, she paused, looking at the board. Then, she  made the seven moves necessary to solve the puzzle!

(I particularly love this photo that captured the rapid movement of her hands as a blur of motion.)

towers 1

It was fascinating and a bit humbling to watch her! I was struck by how wonderfully it illustrated how we learn, as well as my role as an educator.

I must create a culture and environment that supports my students. A culture with resources that bolster their knowledge and understanding, while encouraging them to be brave, and to believe in their ability to work and learn. I must give them provocations and opportunities to problem find, and problem solve.

Then, I must step back and let them do their thing. I must resist any urge to jump in and rescue them before they actually need my help. I must sit in my own discomfort, and trust. Trust the process of learning. Trust creativity and design thinking. Trust rapid prototyping and learning from failure. And mostly, trust them!

Finally I must breathe! My breath helps me pause and gift my students with time and space. It helps me remain calm and confident, unafraid as my students heroically brave the unknown.

It’s a spectacular process that inspires and teaches me. My students — our students — have a tremendous amount of courage, insight and capacity to do and learn. All they need is the opportunity — and our trust and breath.