What Do YOU Do In Math?

I wanted to remind my students we love math and being in the cloud, so I wrote Math, in a cloud, with 3 hearts.

Then I asked “What are some things we do in math?”

Check out the first 4 answers.

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We are brave!

We learn!

We enter the cloud!

We think! 

I wanted to say “Preach it, my young friends! Preach it!”

So, what do you do in math?

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!

 

 

 

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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The Power of Language

Lately I’ve been struck by the profound power of language.

Last night at a mindfulness session someone pointed out the difference between saying: “I am a worrier!” and “I am experiencing worry.”

Do you hear a difference? Do you feel one? They are very similar statements, but the small variations cause large differences in meaning and impact.

The first statement says something about me, and therefore about the possibility of my actions or thoughts. I AM a worrier. If I am a worrier, I have no choice. I worry. If, instead, I am experiencing worry, I have choices. I can notice the worry. I can observe it. I can choose to turn towards the worry and learn from it. I can choose to do something to alleviate it. Or, I can worry, lol.

The point is, the change in my language opens possibilities for me! It gives me options. It creates space to be, and to do.

I share the worry example because it helped me to understand my experience of another rather subtle change in language.

I’m writing an article on creativity and leadership. My editor suggested I change “How might we?” to “How can we?”

What do you think? Say the questions to yourself a few times. What do you experience when you read the questions? Do you notice a difference? Do you have pull or preference for on or the other?

I definitely experience the questions differently, and I have a clear preference!

I am experiencing — in my life and in my practice — that the power of “How might we?” far exceeds the power of “How can we?” Sounds a bit crazy, right? But, it’s not!

“How can we?” offers two options: we can, or, we can’t. That’s it. Too often, when given the choice of can, or can’t we choose can’t.

I can’t do that! I can’t walk a half marathon! I can’t solve that problem. I can’t write a story. I can’t do a multimedia presentation. I can’t pass this test.  I’m not able. There is no way. (sigh)

If we avoid the “I can’t!” quagmire. We may fall into the “I don’t know” trap because”How can we?” suggests we are looking for the correct way to do whatever we are doing. If the person being questioned is at all unsure, this often leads to the answer: “I don’t know.”

In both instances — “I can’t” and “I don’t know” — the problem remains unsolved understanding stagnates, learning is limited, and, perhaps, most tragically, the one questioned is now more convinced than ever that they really don’t know, and they really can’t .

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In contrast, “How might we?” is more flexible and less prescriptive. “How might we?” invites divergent thinking, allowing us to go wide with our answers. Even the uncertain can offer ideas because the “rightness” of the answer is not demanded.

Often the answers which fail, are more valuable than those that immediately succeed. They allow us — demand it actually — to reflect, examine, explore, talk, learn and try again. In this process many positive things happen. To name just a few:

  • Understanding (of ideas, materials, students, ourselves, others) deepens.
  • New strategies emerge.
  • Trust, confidence and relationships grow.
  • Thinking and ideas are valued.
  • New ideas are formed.

The power of simple changes in language is intriguing. I’m super excited by the possibilities of HMW questions, and am working on using them more often in my life, and in my practice.

Give them a try. If you do, I’d love to hear your reflections.

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!

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.

 

 

 

Reflections on Making Room for Creativity in Math

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Tons of things happened when I made room for creativity in math. My students and I:

  • thought
  • shared our thinking
  • struggled with moments of confusion, not knowing, and even small failures
  • laughed at ourselves, and laughed with each other
  • challenged one another’s thinking, explanations, illustrations, words, and math
  • encouraged one another to keep at it and not give up
  • were creative – in our ideas for the math story, in our illustrations, and in our explanations
  • transferred our math knowledge to our real life, and our real life to our math work and thought
  • persuaded others regarding our thoughts and conclusions
  • worked to understand each other’s point of view
  • did a lot of math
  • drew some great illustrations
  • enjoyed seeing our ideas in print

But, what surprised me the most was the depth of understanding this exercise afforded me!

My girls all have a basic understanding of addition and subtraction, and they all employ various strategies to solve simple number sentences. Some have a greater comfort than others manipulating numbers, and actively seek the opportunity to share their adding/subtracting prowess. While I was excited to experience the thought and creativity of all my girls, I was particularly interested in what these girls would do with the challenge. I imagined their math skills would allow them to revel in the thinking, and come up with great, inventive ideas. I never imagined what happened for a few of them.

They could not complete the task!They came up with many number sentences and easily solved them. But, they struggled to find a way to connect their number sentences to real life. They seemed perplexed as to why anyone would do that, and honestly, seemed to feel a bit betrayed by me for asking them to do so! We worked through it together, and they were able to, joyfully, produce work that made sense to them and their friends.

It was fascinating! This wide open exercise that combined life, art, math, writing, thinking and communicating, allowed my girls to show – in a new and insightful way – what they did, and did not, understand. It was an amazing assessment opportunity – of their learning, and my teaching!