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.

 

 

 

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When the Smithsonian Invites …

You say “GET OUT OF TOWN!!” Then, you accept!

I have been meaning to blog about this for quite some time, but as I began to investigate the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation  I kept finding new things that made me go “WOW!” and kept me from blogging.

If you’ve never given their website a look, you really should. They’ve got some awesome thinking and resources.

Look at some of the things they believe, and attempt to live:

“In Spark!Lab, we believe everyone is inventive, and hope that our visitors continue to create and innovate long after they’ve outgrown us.”

I LOVE this. Even though I’ve read it several times, it still makes me shake my head. That’s exactly what I think and hope about my Kindergartners. They’re all creative, inventive, and fantabulous! My hope and intent is that they experience, learn, embrace, and live those truths, with me, and long after they’ve left me!

Another post said “Lemelson team members pride ourselves on ‘living the mission’ as creative problem solvers.” They tell the story of  trying to rescue a lost  phone, and document the process at the same time.

I laughed out loud as I read this story. This is my life as a Kindergarten teacher. Always trying to work with my girls to figure out ways to make things possible — all the while doing my best to snap photos.

And, as I think about it, this is my Kindergartners life too! They are living the mission as creative problem solvers as well! The other day I discovered two girls — bottoms up in the air, faces on the ground, arms reaching under a block cabinet — all the while talking furiously with one another. What was going on, you ask?

Someone had washed a yogurt container, and when they placed it in the ‘use for making’ basket, the container fell behind the cabinet.  The girls could squeeze their arms under the cabinet, but they couldn’t reach the bottle. The flurry of conversation was about the blocks and other items they were trying out as tools to retrieve the container.

To add to their challenge, our classroom has art projects taped to the floor and the edge of the closest art project is about 18 inches from the edge of the block cabinet.

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The block cabinet is on wheels, and a visiting teacher volunteered to move it. The girls rejected this simple solution because they didn’t want to risk harming the art project. It was fantabulous to watch their intentness, inventiveness, and collaboration as they worked to retrieve the container.

Then there is the Lemelson Center strategic plan .

(This is just a small portion of their plan. I’ve put their thoughts in bullets form to make them easier to discuss here.)

  • Value creativity and embrace the potential rewards of risk-taking.
  • Inform and delight audiences and convey the enthusiasm and joy that are integral to the invention process
  • Encourage visitors to participate and see themselves as inventive
  • Push the limits of exhibition design to advance visitors’ curiosity and active learning
  • Our work has the potential to inspire millions of Americans and billions of people worldwide to view themselves as having inventive capacity and to build the skills and confidence needed to overcome barriers to innovation.

At the risk of repeating myself, I love these ideas, and they are a large part of my strategic plan as well. Perhaps it seems odd that a Kindergarten teacher would have some of the same strategic plans, hopes, visions, dreams, and goals, as the center of a major organization. But, if you think about it, it makes perfect sense, and seems to me, should be true of every educator.

Educators do remarkable work, with remarkable people — colleagues, admins, parents, and students. These constituents have limitless potential for imagining, thinking, creating, making, and impacting the world for good. Our work — informed and driven by our plans, hopes, visions and dreams — holds the possibility for profound and far-reaching impact. What we do influences those we  interact with each day. This in turn influences every individual and problem they encounter, now, and in the future.

I’d love to tweak their ideas — making them more mine — and create a canvas of some sort for my learning space.

  • Value creativity.
  • Welcome cognitive and creative risk-taking.
  • Be open to possibility.
  • Teach for delight.
  • Nothing without enthusiasm and joy.
  • Embrace and encourage curiosity.
  • Enable active learning.
  • Live the profoundness inherent in teaching and learning.
  • Believe in the incredible power and potential of my learners.

If I do actually make a canvas, I’ll be sure to share. Until then be inspired, and embrace the profound awesomeness that is you, your work, and those around you!

 

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.

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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Using Creativity to Boost Young Children’s Mathematical Thinking (MindShift)

I am SUPER excited to share this article with you!

MindShift author, Deborah Kris, did a spectacular job. She asked thought provoking questions that encouraged me to continue to research mathematics and creativity, and to reflect again upon my beliefs and practice.

I loved immersing myself in the research and reflection. As I did, I came to believe even more deeply that creativity in thought and action increases the power and beauty of mathematics. I hope you enjoy the article, and that it enhances your thought and teaching practice.

Using Creativity to Boost Young Children’s Mathematical Thinking

By the way, there is a link in the article to my paper – Managing the Classroom for Creativity. If you haven’t read it yet, give it a look.

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!

 

Mini-C creativity and Me!

Oh my GOSH! I cannot believe how long it has been since I last posted. Teaching, writing, wigging out about my health, and training for a half marathon, have kept me really busy. But, the good news is, I am BACK! YAY!!! (Hope you are as happy about that as I am.)

A while back, I talked about mini-c creativity. Mini-c creativity is beginning creativity that is self-judged versus judged by others. If it’s novel, useful and meaningful to the person experiencing it, then it is valuable and creative.

I had a mini-c creativity moment today. It was fantabulous, if I do say so myself! When I realized it was mini-c creativity, I laughed out loud, and experienced a new-found appreciation for the insight of Kaufman and Beghetto!

My kindergarteners and I worked with clay today. I’ll post photos and talk about the process another time. For now, I just want to talk about the prep.

I had a list of things to do.

  1. Cut cardboard for the girls to use as a working board.
  2. Find the sponges and various other simple tools.
  3. Bring home some clay to make the slip. (Slip is the watered down clay that acts like glue, and is super fun for kindergarteners to use!)
  4. Buy some plastic to use as mats and make clean up easier.
  5. Buy a plastic container to use when making and storing the slip.
  6. Make the slip.

Unfortunately that list was in my head, not on a piece of paper.

When I got home at 8PM ready to make the slip, I realized I had failed to buy the container to use when making the slip. Eee GADS!!! I didn’t want to go back out, but I didn’t have a suitable container at home, but, did I mention, I didn’t want to go back out?!?!!? Ugh, what was I going to do?

I decided to take a deep breath, have a cup of tea, and sleep on it — hopeful that a solution would present itself in the morning

5:30AM rolled around, and sustained by another cup of tea, and some organic sprouted oatmeal, I began the search of my cabinets. “OH!!! A zip lock bag. That might be PERFECT! Easy mixing and no mess!!!” I dumped my clay in the bag, added some water, zipped it securely, and, just to be on the safe side, popped it all into another ziplock bag.

When I got to my classroom I began the smushing process. It was AWESOME!!! What had previously been a rather messy, mildly laborious job, was easy and completely mess free!!!! I highly recommend this method if you don’t have to make a ton of slip.

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I was impressed with my own ingenuity, and was feeling quite creative. Then, I thought, “Hmmm, I’m bet ‘clay-experts’ have probably thought of this already. Or perhaps they just don’t wait until the last minute to prep. They might not be very impressed with my idea”

Then I remembered mini-c creativity. My understanding, my learning, my having a new idea, my CREATIVITY in the way I made the slip is fantastic and useful – for me – and therefore, regardless of the judgment of others it is super creative and valuable.

It was really important for me to experience this, because it gave me some insight into what my students may feel. When they have a new idea that is useful, novel and meaningful to them, I need to let them have that moment, and celebrate it with them. If I downplay their discovery, work or idea, I take some really valuable things from them. I, quite likely, rob them of:

  • joy
  • an experience of triumph or victory
  • a sense of competency
  • a willingness to try new ideas
  • a willingness to share these new ideas with others

Mini-c creativity is powerful. So is our response to it.

 

RESOURCES:

Beyond Big and Little: The Four C Model of Creativity – Kaufman and Beghetto, 2009 https://s3.amazonaws.com/jck_articles/Kaufman,+Beghetto+-+2009+-+Beyond+big+and+little+The+four+c+model+of+creativity.pdf