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.

 

School can be amazing!

I’m reading Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros aka the Principal of Change. I resisted buying it and reading it for quite some time now because, whew, I am one busy girl. But, then I discovered the #IMMOOC – an Innovator’s Mindset Massive Open Online Course!

I was hooked!! Yes, I know, you are wondering, “Hmmm, Molly, perhaps I’m mistaken, but didn’t you just say you didn’t have time to READ the book? Isn’t a MOOC more work than just reading? Have you, by chance, lost your mind?”

What a great question! I do feel in some ways, that I have fallen over the edge into some sort of madness, lol. But, I know that feeling is not exactly accurate. My decision feels a bit mad because it will mean I get less sleep, more struggle, and more work.

However, feelings aren’t always truth. In reality the decision to be part of #IMMOOC is actually quite sane and wonderful. I get to be part of, and interact with, a huge network of people invested in their own personal learning, and passionate about impacting education (and the world) for the better!  How could anyone, much less me, pass that up?!?!!!!

So, here I am, in the midst of the #IMMOOC, unsure of where exactly we are supposed to be in the book and our blogging, but loving where I am! I’ve read some of the book, reflected, engaged in the twitter chat (And might I just say, the #IMMOOC twitter chat people had incredible energy and passion. It started at 9pm my time. By 9:40 my eyes were bleary and my head was exploding. I took the gems I had read so far, reveled in the excitement for a moment longer, toyed with the idea of staying, but decided discretion is the better part of valor, and quietly left the chat for some much needed sleep.) and now have begun blogging about the Innovator’s Mindset. So, with that said, let me get to it.

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My first “You go, man!” came in the publishers forward, when I read “School can be amazing.” Before I continue, I’d like to suggest an edit. I think it should read, “School can be amazing!” Or, even, “School can be AMAZING!”

All too often I hear people comment — in support of school NOT being amazing — “It is school after all.” Eee gads, people. School can, and should be, amazing! If it isn’t, we are doing something wrong. Learning is awesome. Exploration is amazing. Discovery is exciting. How do we go from that to “It is school after all?”

I heard Ken Robinson speak at the NAIS conference on Friday. (Magnificent as always!) He mentioned a horrifying statistic. He said “According to the World Health Organization, unipolar depressive disorders were ranked as the third leading cause of the global burden of disease in 2004 and will move into the first place by 2030.” I thought of that as I read the introduction to George’s book. George says:

“Inspiration is one of the chief needs of today’s kids. … our responsibility isn’t solely to teach memorization or the mechanics of a task but to spark curiosity that empowers students to learn on their own.  To wonder. To explore. To become leaders.” (Innovator’s Mindset p. 4)

I would add to that list, if I may be so bold:

To struggle. To fail – and  through the failure, to learn and thrive. To consider possibilities. To find new answers and new questions. To know the joy of learning. To inspire, challenge, and teach each other, and us.

I believe in the profound work we do as educators, and the (to quote my El Sistema and Reggio friends) transformative power of education. It is not, in my humble opinion, that schools can be amazing. It is that schools should, and must be, amazing.

We have the power to positively impact the future of our youth and our world. The transformative power of education, in the hands of innovative educators who believe in the incredible beauty, goodness, power, and ability of all our students, can change the future, and cause the WHO to have to reassess and change their prediction for 2030.

A girl can hope!

 

 

 

Firetrucks Fuel Thinking!

My Kindergartners visit the local firehouse each fall. Prior to going, we do a bit of research, share knowledge, wonder, ask questions, and make our own fire trucks!

This year we made our trucks out of shoe boxes. Using the boxes was super fun because by their very nature, the boxes opened up new avenues of creativity! The cardboard offered structure and strength, but also yielded to scissors, serrated knives, and hole punchers. Glue, paste, paint, crayons, tape and markers all adhered to the boxes with some ease. And, spectacularly,  the lids – connected or free – invited the kids to engage with the outside AND the inside of their truck.

Once we began creating, I allowed my students a great amount of freedom. I didn’t do much directing, but instead offered myself as a resource. Sometimes they borrowed my hands to hold things, my strength to cut or hole punch, or my brain for some brainstorming and collaborative problem solving.

I did my best to allow the ideas and suggestions to come from them. In this way, they are able to take ownership, learn about themselves, and really show me (and themselves) what they are able to do, what they know, and how they think.

Making the firetrucks was a fun and fascinating process. The creations displayed a depth of knowledge and understanding. The students displayed an eye for detail and a willingness to work to achieve their vision.

Take a look at this firefighter.

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She is decked out in firefighting gear, and most amazingly, she is in a seat with back bracing AND a working seat belt!

Some students engaged deeply with the open-ended part of the creative process, but not as deeply with the critical thinking part of the creative process. Their trucks were filled with a plethora of beautiful creations that didn’t immediately suggest a firetruck.

To encourage the critical thinking piece, our creative process includes adding labels, and giving tours of their truck. During the tour we look at what they’ve made, and talk about what the firefighters might still need.

Take a look at this truck. During the tour, the student told me these things were “decorations.”

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Decorations? Hmmm. Where did I take that? I didn’t want to belittle her creative work, but I did want her to remember the goal, and work towards it. So, I decided to embrace every piece of her creation, and push her towards figuring out what each thing might be on a firetruck. What do the firefighters need? How could her creations fill those needs.

My approach invited her to look at her own work with new eyes. It was a form of possibility thinking. She had to move beyond what each item was. She had to think about what she knew firefighters need. Then she had to look at each “decoration” and consider what it might be. She did an awesome job.

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Decorations turned into motors, sirens, buckets, hoses and windows!

I learned a lot from that encounter. I was affirmed in my choice to trust myself, my student, the creative process, and possibility thinking.

There is such awesomeness and power in each one of us – especially when we trust and engage in creativity and possibility thinking.

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!

Possibility Thinking and Cancer

Did I mention I have cancer? Yes, lol, I thought I might have.

Anyway, I do, and because I do, I get to keep tabs on the status of my blood. Amazing thing, our blood! But, I digress.

My latest results were a cause of significant angst. Many of my results were great, but there was one number that was pretty wonky. Wonky enough to have, and I quote “clinical significance.”

“Clinical significance?”

EEEEE GADS!!!! Can you say eee gads? Yes, I’m sure you can.

Thankfully, regardless of clinical significance, I don’t need to do any medical treatment right now because I am healthy, and, it seems, managing everything quite nicely! YAY!!!!

But, wow, what do you when your doctor says 500 points higher has clinical significance (translation: your cancer is waking up and rumbling a bit) and your number is about two times that amount higher??!!! Well, if you’re me, you stress, but even while you stress, you diligently look for ways to be positive, and to (lol) beat the cancer back into submission.

Initially I was really struggling to be positive. I felt crushed by my doctor’s words, and was having a hard time embracing the goodness of the present moment.

Then I saw it, right there, on the back of my journal …

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ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!!!!

I felt the joy of one seeing an old friend. Possibility thinking! Ah yes, that’s the ticket!

I first encountered the idea of possibility thinking while researching for my MA. I read several articles by Anna Craft and her colleagues, and dreamed of ways to increase possibility thinking in myself, and in my students.

Here are some great quotes to give you a sense of possibility thinking.

  • Possibility thinking is thinking that moves “beyond the given, or ‘what is’, to the possible, or to ‘what could be?’  (Craft, A.)  and to,  ‘what can I, or we, do with this?'” (2012)
  • Possibility thinking “refuses to be stumped by circumstances, but uses imagination, with intention, to find a way around a problem.” ((Jeffrey and Craft 2003)
  •  Possibility thinking involves “questioning, play, immersion, making connections, imagination, innovation, risk-taking and self-determination.” (Possibility Thinking)

Fabulous, right? Moving beyond what is to what might be. Refusing to be dumbfounded, bewildered, or overwhelmed. And, I think, embracing the bewilderment, and allowing it push you forward into wondering, questioning, thinking, searching and finding!

So, I’m re-embracing relentless positivity. I’m harnassing the power of possibility thinking.

I’m imagining, and knowing, anything is possible. I’m questioning, thinking reading, talking, praying and doing …. all to move beyond what is, to what could be, right here, right now, and in the future!

A friend and I were talking about possibility thinking the other day. She asked me “What if your research and thinking proves it isn’t possible? What do you do then?” I burst out laughing. “It just means it isn’t possible with what we know now.” She hesitated for just a second, then grabbed her notebook saying, “Oh yeah! (laughter) You’re right. I have to write that down!”

Keep imagining. Keep thinking about what could be. Keep thinking what you/we can do with this. Keep believing in possibility. It’s everywhere.

 

 

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Encouraging Young Inventors

Recently, in our Kindergarten Maker Space …

Me: “Hey, may I take a picture of what you’re working on?”

Student: “Sure. It’s a bug playground.”

Me: “A bug playground?”

Student: “Yeah, because otherwise they just get stepped on.”

Me: “Wow, they do get stepped on, don’t they? What a great idea. I bet the bugs will like it!”

How awesome is that?

A 6-year-old,  using all sorts of creative thinking (human/bug design thinking, possibility thinking, positive thinking, lateral thinking, divergent thinking, convergent thinking) to problem-find and problem-solve. I love it!

It’s what happens when students are given recycled materials, duct tape, and, most importantly, the opportunity, space and encouragement, to think, risk and build.

The Crayon Initiative

Have you ever heard of The Crayon Initiative?  Me neither! Until today.

The Crayon Initiative recycles “unwanted crayons into unlimited possibilities for children.”

How cool is that?

I’m sure there are lots of people/organizations who are doing creative repurposing with crayons, but for now, I’m liking and blogging about this one! 🙂 (No disrespect to any of the others.)

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I like the process they talk about as they tell their story …

  • twirling a crayon – deep in thought
  • wondering out loud
  • asking questions
  • discovering a problem
  • being confident in their ability to discover a new way to address the problem
  • accepting the challenge to make a positive change
  • thinking
  • ideating (having ideas! Awesome word, isn’t it? Around since the 1800’s I believe)
  • bringing one of those ideas to life to “recirculate the endless supply of free materials and bring the Arts to children everywhere.

There’s a lot to love about this! The process, the creativity, the crayons (I happen to love crayons, lol.) the openness to possibility, the thought, the action, and the benefit to children and the environment.

Rock on Crayon Initiative!

Let’s follow their lead. Let’s wonder, question, think, ideate, believe, and make positive innovations!

 

Possibility Thinking Happens!

yogurt lady bugsI was delighted to receive this email from a parent of one of my kindergarteners:

Last night, M was finishing up 2 small containers of applesauce. She washed them out, put them on the counter, and said, “Save these. I’m turning them into ladybugs after school tomorrow.”

How awesome?!?!!!

What will this become? Clearly, the possibilities are endless.

Calvin and Hobbes

Calvin and Hobbes crack me up! I was reminded of them when I saw the documentary film Dear Mr. Watterson by Joel Schroeder. (http://www.dearmrwatterson.com/DMW/dearmrwatterson.html)

I think Bill Watterson and his characters are quite creative, so I thought I’d share a strip that cracks me up as a teacher (and a student!). It’s published in There’s Treasure Everywhere – one of many Calvin and Hobbes books I own and enjoy. Even the title is fab!

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Ok, now, before other teachers (or creativity researchers) crank and kvetch that Calvin isn’t REALLY being creative because his innovation isn’t useful in this application, let me say I get it! I understand that definition of creativity, but I LOVE Calvin’s possibility thinking (Anna Craft), his notion of loopholes, and his desire to use them. That sense of possibility, of playfulness, of seeing and using loopholes, of reckless abandon, of seeing and creating the new – that is important and useful!

Do I think Calvin needs to learn a bit of prudence? Yes, of course — though it would make his character much less amusing — but prudence cannot come at the cost of possibility thinking or illumination.

Illumination – that AHA! moment — and evaluation (prudence) — are two distinctly different things. Both are valuable and both must be given encouragement, thought, space and time. And, both must be celebrated!

So, one of my goals as a teacher is to encourage creativity, possibility noticing and thinking, dreaming, playfulness, and risk taking, while also teaching, and encouraging evaluation.

Oh, and I also hope to be open to those times when my question actually asks to be interpreted creatively! Cause really, read the question before Calvin once more. Didn’t he do what was asked? Hmmm ….

Possibility thinking

While researching creativity I read several articles by Anna Craft. She suggests the idea of “possibility thinking” as a key element of creativity and an important part of education.

Possibility thinking involves exactly what it says – thinking about possibilities. It involves current knowledge, as we consider what the element/thought is and how it is used. But, it also involves knowledge yet unknown, “what might it be?” and “how might we use it?”

While it is important for us to help our students develop and broaden their knowledge, I believe (agreeing with Craft) that helping our students develop the ability and willingness to engage in possibility thinking is key! Possibility thinking allows us, and our students, to embark on new paths of thinking, and opens the door to new understanding, ideas and discoveries.

Here is a profound example of everyday possibility thinking (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=15DE8_-ptZ8). A dad fashions a usable prosthetic hand for his son after viewing a video posted by Ivan Owen – co-creator of the Robohand prosthesis (Here’s a link to Ivan’s ted talk – http://www.tedxrainier.com/events/2013tedxrainier/ivan-owen).

WOW! There are so many great things about this story. First of all, of course, is a young man now able to use his hand.

But there is more – possibility thinking, a generosity of spirit and thought when Ivan Owen open sourced his idea, a mix of convergent and divergent thinking, collaboration, taking risks, experimenting, re-thinking, improving design, persevering, and continuing in the face of skepticism. All this ….

Think of the levels of possibility thinking (and I’m sure there are even more than I mention)

  • Considering and developing a printer.
  • Expanding on that idea which leads to considering and developing a 3D printer!
  • Imagining the possibilities of what can be created with the printer – including affordable, DIY-able, customizable hands!

Un-believable! Or no, not unbelievable, totally believable to someone open to possibility.

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