Notice, Think, and Wonder

I’ve been wondering how to transform the building portion of our social studies work into something that the girls can do if they are at home, or at school with restrictions due to the pandemic. And, I’ve been thinking of ways to see the need for change and the limitations of the pandemic as opportunities rather than road blocks.

Our social studies builds include many opportunities for collaboration, thinking, spatial reasoning, community building, engineering, imagination, and communication. Often we do them with wooden blocks filling our maker space with buildings that the Kindergarten architects and builders must travel between with careful purpose. At other times the builds are even grander as our maker space becomes a supermarket with life size walls, working doors, and handmade products, cards, cash registers, and shopping bags.

I decided to give the PLUS PLUS – 240 Piece Basic Mix blocks a try. They come in a small tube, and seemed to have a plethora of ways one could use them to build, create, and tell a story. And, since they are small, creations could be made at a desk, and easily captured by a photograph to share with one another if we are working remotely. I bought a set for myself to experiment as I constructed lessons and provocations for the girls.

I was excited as I dumped the 240 pieces onto my desk. I can only imagine the joy the girls will feel. I was happy that even though there are 240 pieces they can stay in a rather small space, and since they have flat sides they didn’t roll away from me at any time.

I started my exploration by simply playing with them, and seeing what I noticed along the way. It was a lot!

My first noticings:

What do I like? Trees. Let’s see if I can make one.

My first inclination was to use the rectangular nature to create a bottom square base. I’m not exactly sure why. I almost think i was distracted from the nature of the tree, by the nature of the blocks. But no worries.

I noticed plus plus printed on one side of the blocks. I considered turning them so as not to see them — I found them distracting. So might some of my learners. It’s a good thing to notice, honor, talk and wonder about, but also to encourage the possibility of breathing through — especially as one is in the playing mode.

The square base seemed like a logical starting point. But instead of giving me a place to start, it became an obstacle as the sides are all different and made building up from the base quite difficult. Dare I say impossible? Perhaps, I will, but just for now.

My fiinal noticing for this shape helped me as I moved forward. You really have to be willing to fail, notice, think, wonder, and start again with no fretting. It’s a basic design thinking principle. There was actually a course at the Stanford d.school entitled “Fail Faster” highlighting the idea of failing early and often. I love that we can begin encouraging some of our youngest learners — and ourselves — to embrace a basic tenant of design thinking through the use of block play.

Failing Faster and Noticing more:

After being mesmerized by the rectangles, I decided to focus on the tree. I wondered if I could make a circular trunk? Close, but not perfect by a long shot, and it seemed to become more wonky as I added more blocks.

I felt a moment of frustration and then reminded myself — “It’s play, Molly. It’s about discovery, learning, and joy.”

So I considered embracing the imperfections. What story could I tell if I worked with the imperfections instead of against them? What could I learn by just moving forward? I imagined animals that might live in the tree, or that the spaces were the knots found in the wood grain. As I began to have more fun, I become more proficient, I actually began to find a bit of flow.

This is a big noticing I think. Play is important. Discovery is important. Joy is important. We need to remember that as educators. We need to model it, encourage it, and celebrate it.

My tree:

I love my tree!

As I looked at it, I imagined a classroom discussion.

The comments could be negative: “It’s got a really short trunk, and not many branches.” “I’ve never seen a trunk like that. Why is your trunk multi-colored?” Positive: “Wow. That’s awesome!” Selfdeprecating “Wow. I could never do that!” Seeking information “How did you do that?”

I noticed that my creation which made me feel so good, could become something that made me feel bad, made others feel inadequate, or could be a source of continued joy, discovery, collaboration and learning. It’s all in how we talk about it. It’s critical that we give our students the language they need to engage in positive, collaborative, respectful, learning driven conversations.

Simple phrases like — I notice. I wonder. Tell me more. What if? How might we? — are great ways to collaborate and share ideas. Oh! I’m reminded of the great questions in James E. Ryan’s Book.

His questions encourage conversation, understanding, and teamwork. Wait, What? I wonder…? Couldn’t we at least …? How can I help …? What truly matters? If you haven’t read his book, you should. It’s easy reading, funny, and super insightful. Imagine if you and your students embraced his 5 essential questions in the classroom, and life!

What else could we do?

I loved the idea of creating letters or favorite words. Again it wasn’t as easy or straight forward as it sounds. It was important to remind myself to play, and to stick to the basic form I was after rather than chasing a very elusive perfection. After I created my letters in 2D form I worked to add feet and allow them to stand. Interestingly enough, the different letters required different types of feet in order to stand. And, even though I was successful creating feet for one didn’t mean I could immediately create another pair — even tho they were the same!

This brought me to some critical thinking. It’s vital that we find a way to share this with parents. Play is important. Struggle, failure, noticing, wondering, trying again are integral parts of designing, but also of learning in all its forms! I want to construct some sort of a fact sheet for parents that gives them the same phrases we want their children to use, and helps them understand play, and how they might enhance their children’s play and learning!

My last noticing and thought is, funny enough, I think I want to open each tube and remove the instruction sheet. I found it a hinderance to my play and discovery. It was quite prescriptive rather than inspiring. It’s unfortunate because the blocks have such potential. I found this video showing children playing with the blocks. It was inspirational, so I might direct parents to it at some point. But really I want to steer them away from the already done and encourage play, trust, try, do, learn!

Testing my theory:

Is play, trust, try, do, learn really the best approach? I decided to find a video that showed how to make a top. It was made by a kid, which was fantabulous. It was fun to watch, learn, and create. I learned a bit about how the blocks can fit together. But, I must say I was also left at a stand still. What could I do with those blocks? There is value in learning to make a shape I am sure, but I think there is a danger as well — of getting stuck, of thinking that is the way to go, of wondering if you need someone to tell you what to do.

So, yes, play, trust, do, question, learn. It’s the way to go! Now to embrace that as I notice, think, wonder and create spaces for block play and learning in social studies!

Notice Small Things

“They world is full of ordinary moments, and when noticed they become special.” Ruth Ayers

The other day — well actually it was months ago, but saying the other day soothes my heart. I miss my Kindergartners! So please, join me in imagining that it was just the other day that I was with them, rather than nearly two months ago.

The other day, in my Kindergarten classroom, the girls were dismantling their Lego creations. I couldn’t find the tools Lego makes to take the bricks apart. Even if I could find them we hadn’t made the creations on the Lego plates, so the tools wouldn’t have been that helpful. So, instead of the tools, I gave suggestions of ways to get the bricks apart, and lent my fingers when their fingers reached a snag.

Out of the corner of my eye I noticed one of my girls working with incredible focus and intensity. She was getting her blocks apart like a champ! I wandered over for a closer look, and noticed she had created her own tool. She didn’t ask for help. She problem solved all by herself!

She was using a paperclip as her handmade tool!

I immediately abandoned any thought of the pre-made tools, and began sending everyone who asked for help to this sweet and ingenious girl. Each time I did, I said, “C figured out a way to make a handmade tool. Go ask her to teach you.” And, each time I sent a girl her way, she humbly and quietly showed them what to do.

Day two of Lego dismantling began with requests for paperclips. I recalled the one C had used the day before was small and silver, so I quickly found the small silver ones and handed them out. They didn’t work. I thought perhaps C had opened them the blocks a bit before she used the paperclip, so I suggested trying that.

From across the room, C noticed me out of the corner of her eye. She came over and said “They aren’t the right paperclips, Ms. James.” To which I responded, “They’re not? I thought you had the small silver ones.” To which C replied, with incredible patience and complete confidence. “Yeah, but not those.”

I think perhaps at that point I laughed. “Not these?”

‘No” C said, as she took the container from my hands.

She moved the paperclips around, clearly looking for something specific. I still wasn’t sure what she was searching for. Then I saw it! The day before I had borrowed several paperclips from a colleague. They were thinner than the silver ones we typically used, and they had tiny lines on them.

“See, Ms. James. These are the ones that work!” C said with a smile. “Oh my GOSH!” I replied. “I didn’t notice that, C. Thanks so much for showing me.”

Small things. They really are important. I’m glad I noticed C’s creativity and ingenuity, but if she hadn’t noticed the small things about her tool — the things I had overlooked — my noticing would have been much less.

She taught me a great lesson about being in the moment, present, observant, and focused. I love C and all my girls. They never cease to amaze me.