Winter Expressions: Exploring Winter Experiences Through Art

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“This is a snowman and me. I drew snowflakes and wind and trees. My mom threw carrots everywhere; even on the tree – for the animals!” (J.A.T.)

After finally getting a proper dusting of snow, the children were extremely interested in talking about all things winter. Our morning circle time was dominated by stories about snowy walks to school, wet mittens, and plans for play in the snow later in the day. However, I still have quite a few children who are hesitant to share their thinking during our large group conversations or reflections, so I wanted to find a way to provide all my students with an opportunity to talk about their experiences with winter. I have often found that some children are more willing to open up when they are engaged in some sort of activity – be it building, drawing, or even cleaning up. I remembered a beautiful blog post I came across last winter when I was at home on maternity leave that documented the winter conversations children were able to share while creating art about winter in their atelier (you can find my inspiration here: Conversations About Winter, Solstice, and the Changing Light). I decided that art was definitely the way to go.

This exploration was done on acetate sheets (I placed a white sheet of paper underneath each acrylic sheet for better visibility) with permanent markers, tempera paint, and glitter paint. Tempera paint will peel/flake off the acrylic paper when dry, so you must use the glitter paint (mine was a washable tempera glitter paint, but dried like plastic) with the tempera together if you don’t want the paintings to fall apart when they are done. I didn’t try using acrylic paint, but that would likely work as well. Perhaps even finger paint….but I suggest you test your materials before you try it with the children.

First, the children drew their pictures with the permanent markers. As they drew, many children looked out the window for inspiration. Most of the children talked openly about what they were drawing. For the children who are more hesitant to talk, I tried to guide the conversation by asking open-ended questions about the weather, winter activities, and family life.

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“That’s me and my snowman. I see wind out our window so I’m adding swirly wind. And here are the trees with no leaves. The sun is shining on my snowman so I put something special on it so it won’t melt.” (R.A.)

When the children were done sketching, they used the paints to add colour and extra details to their work. When I introduced this centre, we talked about why we were using tiny brushes in the paint – specifically, how the small brushes allow us to add fine details to our work. This idea recently came up in another painting project we had done and the children are beginning to understand how material choices can affect what they are able to accomplish. By highlighting that small brushes make for finer details I find that the children go into the project with the mindset of adding special details to their work.

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I noticed that when children are engaged in detailed work they really “lean in” to the project. You can tell by this student’s body language that he is extremely focused and engaged in his work.

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“This is me and my dad and my brother. I like shoveling the snow. This is my shovel.” (C. P.)

Each day we took some time during reflection time to share some of the children’s finished art pieces. Either I read my notes about what the children said while they worked (their “stories”) or the children presented it in their own words, or both. It was definitely a celebration of learning!

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“I was outside playing in the snow. The wind was almost coming! I see the sun up in the sky. I think the sun is shining on the snow. I wonder if the snow is going to melt?” (F.M.)

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“I like that it’s snowing in winter – that you can catch snowflakes with your tongue. We are playing outside. We’re going to [the school] to slide down the big hill.” (J.T.)

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“I like snowflakes because I get them on my tongue! I made LOTS of snowflakes. Look at my snow! I’m outside with my hat. I have snow on my head but it’s okay.” (C.G.)

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“I’m in the snow. I like that it snows in the winter. I love it to be snowing. So sparkly!” (E. H.)

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The Wonder Window

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Do you have a wonder window in your classroom? Perhaps you call it something else – an observation window or a nature window? I first read about the idea of an “Observation Window” in A Place for Wonder: Reading and Writing in the Primary Grades  by Georgia Heard and Jennifer McDonough. It’s one of my favourite resources for ideas about developing an inquiry based program in the primary grades, in part because the ideas are so practical (as you read about them you can instantly picture how they could work in your classroom) but also because the strategies so clearly create opportunities for rich dialogue and deep learning.

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I created a Wonder Window in my classroom because I wanted to give my students a dedicated space for scientific thinking…for looking out into the world, for noticing, for theorizing, for questioning. Our wonder window is located beside our Science and Nature Centre in the classroom, which gives me an opportunity to extend the children’s discoveries at the window into provocations nearby – or take provocations and extend them to the window.

I love writing poems, so to spark some curiosity about our window, I wrote the following poem. I copied it onto chart paper (to work on during our Shared Reading time) and placed this printout at the window (to help the children remember what it is I wanted them to do there):

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I originally started with blank paper at the window, to allow the children some free space to record their observations, drawings, questions, or theories. As I introduced the “See Think Wonder” thinking routine, I placed the recording sheets I had modeled during group time there as well.

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At first, I only had one student eager to visit the Wonder Window. However, this student made an interesting discovery – nests! Once we shared her thinking with the class, many other students were keen to go to the wonder window to record their own observations and ideas.

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Here are a few samples of the children’s work from the Wonder Window (I added the sticky notes for the purpose of sharing with parents):

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“I see a nest. I think it’s made of leaves. I wonder if a bird is inside.”

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“I see a nest. I think a bird lives there. I wonder if there’s a baby.”

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“I see a tree. I think it is so tall – taller than me! I wonder how it got so BIG.”

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“I see leaves in the tree. I think it’s a nest. I wonder when it will be Winter.”

Some children are totally independent about their work at the wonder window – visiting of their own accord, documenting their own thinking. Others seek me out when they want to visit the Wonder Window. Some simply want to look out the window and discuss what they see with me, some want to take pictures of what they notice, still others want to write or record their thinking on paper. There is something to learn from each of these learning moments and all are just as important and valuable as the other. I often get interesting ideas/questions to talk about with the class from these small group or individual conversations at the Wonder Window. It really has proven to be a source of awesome learning and inspiration!

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After spotting nests in the trees outside our window, the children were interested in seeing how many nests we could find in our neighbourhood. Here, one student keeps a tally of how many nests we spotted.

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Many students were inspired to make binoculars at the Art Studio for observing at the Wonder Window…

 

New Year, New School, New Classroom for Inspiring CURIOSITY…

As you may know from reading my About section, last year I was at home on maternity leave after the birth of my second child. This year I’m returning to the classroom at a new school (closer to home, yay!) with a ton of ideas I’ve collected from the books I’ve recently read and the conversations I’ve been able to participate in online via Twitter. If you aren’t on Twitter, I highly recommend joining if you are interested in connecting with other like-minded educators. There is a strong PLN network online which you can access by searching #kinderchat and #ReggioPLC.

In preparation for set up, I spent some time making a list of the centres I wanted to have in my classroom. I then set about drawing some floor plans to give myself an idea of how the room might flow and to figure out what made sense based on where preexisting elements (sink, windows, doors, outlets, etc.) were located. Then I started moving furniture around. I went through a few placements before settling on what I have now. I anticipate making some changes as the furniture that has been ordered for my class begins to arrive (sometime in September) and I am able to observe how the children view/use the space.

Here is how things look at the moment:

House Centre/dramatic play.

House Centre/dramatic play

A closer look at the kitchen hutch filled with lovely wooden items from the thrift store.

A closer look at the kitchen hutch filled with lovely wooden items from the thrift store.

Light Table (currently stocked with Magformers - one of our new favourite materials). The overhead canopy creates a really quiet and cozy space for exploring.

Light Table (currently stocked with Magformers – one of our new favourite materials). The overhead canopy creates a really quiet and cozy space for exploring.

Playdough centre/multi-use table.

Playdough centre/multi-use table

Sand Table. Only one sensory table has arrived, but I plan to make due with one by placing the lid on top of the sand and using a large rubbermaid container on top for a water table.

Sand Table. Only one sensory table has arrived, but I plan to make do with one by placing the lid on top of the sand and using a large Rubbermaid container on top for a water table.

A closer look at some of my new materials for the water table (also from the thrift store). My son played with these all summer, using herbs and plants from our garden for "tea parties" and "soup" - excited to see what the children do with them!

A closer look at some of my new materials for the water table (also from the thrift store). My son played with these all summer, using herbs and plants from our garden for “tea parties” and “soup” – I am excited to see what the children do with them!

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Science and Nature centre. Currently set up with rocks and shells from the beach ("What do you notice?"). I will also be providing the children with jars of water and small brushes for them to experiment with how the water affects the look of the rocks and shells.

Science and Nature centre. Currently set up with rocks and shells from the beach (“What do you notice?”). I will also be providing the children with jars of water and small brushes for them to experiment with how the water affects the look of the rocks and shells.

Blocks and building materials. The rainbow is from Grimm ("Rainbow Stacker") and provides endless opportunities for open ended play. The basket is full of carpet squares (different sizes) from Arts Junktion, there is also a basket of playskils (not visible).

Blocks and building materials. The rainbow is from Grimm (“Rainbow Stacker”) and provides endless opportunities for open ended play. The basket is full of carpet squares (different sizes) from Arts Junktion, and there is also a basket of play silks (not visible).

"Teacher Centre"  A quiet place to re-enact classroom routines, read books, and play with literacy materials.

“Teacher” Centre.
A quiet place to re-enact classroom routines, read books, and play with literacy materials.

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Math Centre: This is an area I see getting rearranged in the near future (the platform will likely be moved to a new location for small building). However, in the meantime I’m sure some children will enjoy having a raised surface on which to explore some of the materials I have laid out. The white cube in the corner is a light cube. It creates a soothing and cozy glow when illuminated.

Math Centre materials

Math Centre materials

Writing Centre

Writing Centre

Writing Centre materials.

Writing Centre materials

Carpet Area (with soon to be arriving carpet...). I have really enjoyed having a couch to share with the children in the class. It is a perfect spot for children to sit and share their thinking/learning with the class during reflection time, a great place to curl up with a book, and has been a comforting spot to sit amongst the pillows when students are feeling out of sorts.

Carpet Area (with soon to be arriving carpet…). I have really enjoyed having a couch to share with the children in the class. It is a perfect spot for students to sit and share their thinking/learning with the class during reflection time. Many students also enjoy curling up here with a book. Since I don’t have a “teacher desk” I find myself sitting here when the day is done to reflect on what I saw and heard during the day.

So this is what I have set up for now. I’ll keep you posted on any changes/developments as they unfold. I am SO excited to meet my new students and begin our learning journey next week!

Art Studio Inspiration: Drawing Projects for Children

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It’s summer, so if you’re anything like me, you are spending quite a lot of time reading resource books to get ideas for the new school year. I am moving to a new school this year and am therefore starting with a blank slate for my classroom set up. How exciting! One area I have been thinking a lot about is the Art Studio space. So many of our most engaging and creative inquiries have at some point involved work at the studio. Over the years, I have recommended Ann Pelo’s The Language of Art (you can read about that here and here) as a wonderful resource for artistic inquiry. And indeed, I am re-reading that in preparation for the new year…there is always something new to discover!

Today I have another wonderful book to recommend. A couple of weeks ago, I happened upon a new resource for Studio work that is so inspiring I was practically giddy while reading it. The book is called Drawing Projects for Children by Paula Briggs. I came across a recommendation for this book via the following pin on Pinterest titled, “The Perfect Activity to Start Your School Year” (I mean, who could resist clicking on that? And aren’t I so glad I did! What a find!):

The Perfect Activity to Start Your School Year

In her book, Paula speaks about “playing it safe and taking risks.” She says, “For children to get the most out of drawing, they need to be encouraged to push beyond what they consider ‘safe’ (‘safe’ drawings are those in which we know what the outcome is going to be before we have even started making them) and to take risks. By doing so they will widen their concept of what drawing is and what they are capable of achieving.”

Many of the projects in Drawing Projects for Children involve experimentation with different kinds of materials and ways of mark making as well as some dramatic extensions (my favourite is the “Making Spells from Still Lifes” project). Be sure to take a look at the link above on The Art of Education which features an amazing idea from Paula’s book that is perfect for exploring lots of different drawing materials (and which The Art of Education suggests is “the perfect activity to start your school year”).

I can’t wait to give the projects in this book a go! If you’d like more information about Paula Briggs, you can check out her website AccessArt (with loads more art ideas) here: https://www.accessart.org.uk/paula-briggs/

Happy Reading!

3D Shape Challenge

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In preparation for September, I have been looking back at photos from our learning last year and reflecting on what made certain provocations successful (or not). In doing so, I came across a series of photos from an exploration we did on 3D shapes. This particular learning story caught my attention because I noticed how I had started with one question/idea for my students to explore and then changed it as I observed the children interacting with the materials.

In my first provocation, I asked the children if they could build a tower using 3D shapes. I put all the necessary materials at the math centre: clipboards, pencils/pens, sticky notes, an iPad, a basket of 3D solids. I also asked the children to self-document their learning with the iPad and/or the writing materials.

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While several children visited the centre and were eager to share their learning about how they were able to stack the shapes (based on their properties), I noticed there was a group of children who didn’t seem interested in this centre at all. I usually encourage the children to self-select their centres based on their interests, but there are some centres which I would like all the children to try at some point. In my experience, most children will eventually want to come and see what a centre is all about, especially after we talk about it during reflection time and other children share their learning problems/successes. At the beginning of the week, however, I was starting to question whether or not my provocation/question for the students was engaging enough for all my learners. It became clear that some students may need more of a challenge.

During the course of our reflection time, we noticed that no one in the class had used a sphere in their tower. Why was this? The children all agreed that there was no way a sphere could be used in a tower design (“It’s too rolly polly!,” “It doesn’t have any flat sides!,” “It won’t balance.”). After this conversation, I issued a challenge to the class: let’s see if anyone can build a tower using ALL of the different 3D shapes. Interestingly, the group of children who had not been at all interested in visiting the math centre suddenly chose it as their first choice during discovery time. In fact, the math centre went from having two or three children in it at a time to being completely jam packed. It seems that in this case, some children needed the promise of a challenge to spark their interest and creativity.

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The children discovered that indeed it was possible to build a tower using a sphere (“You have to put it at the top because nothing else will balance on it.”) and many interesting reflections were had about strategies for using all the shapes, how the properties of the shapes affected the planning process, and how the children were inspired by their classmates’ ideas.

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It was interesting for me to look back on this exploration as a reminder that provocations evolve and change as the children engage (or in this case, don’t engage) with the materials I have provided for them. This is a part of my pedagogy I want to keep in mind as I make plans for the upcoming year.

For anyone who is interested, we also used a riddle song about the shapes to learn about their properties. You can find a link to the tune/lyrics here: http://webcheck-test.eharcourtschool.com/hspfw/review-hspmy/http/ma/math04_preview/se/nsmedia/activities/jingles/k_what_am_i.html

Butterfly Inquiry: Inspiring Young Authors with Tap the Magic…Egg?

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As mentioned previously on the blog, my students were totally inspired by the book Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson (you can read about it in Books That Inspire Young Authors). When it came time to design some provocations for the writing table for our butterfly project, I was thinking about how I could give the children an opportunity to show their learning about the butterfly life cycle. Since the children were already familiar with the cyclical nature of Tap the Magic Tree, it seemed like a good jumping off point for talking about the cycle of how caterpillars grow and change. As a class, we brainstormed a version of Tap the Magic Tree called “Tap the Magic Egg” (which, of course, the children were completely excited about!). After some modelling with the entire class, we placed some inspiration books, book covers, newsprint, and sample vocabulary at the writing table. As with our other Tap the Magic Tree experiences, this centre was immediately jam packed with children creating their own life cycle stories. I was able to assess the children’s understanding of the concept, but each story was unique to the child who wrote it. We certainly got a lot of enjoyment out of hearing the stories read aloud at reflection time!

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You can read more about our butterfly project by clicking here.

The Butterfly Inquiry

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Have you ever had live creatures in your classroom? There is something quite magical about having a living, breathing part of nature in the classroom to inspire some deep thinking. Beyond the obvious scientific connections, having live creatures in the classroom also provides opportunities for social development around respect, responsibility, care-giving, and self-regulation. Over the years I’ve had many insects, amphibians, and animals come through my door but butterflies are definitely my favourite. The whole process of watching and waiting for metamorphosis to occur provides endless opportunities for observations, predictions, hypotheses, and of course, lots of excitement!

This inquiry project turned out to be quite all-encompassing and there is a lot I want to share here. This post will be mainly photo based, with some captions for the photos to describe what we were doing. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask!

Our caterpillars on the day of their arrival. We ordered our live caterpillars from Boreal Science.

Our caterpillars on the day of their arrival. We ordered our live caterpillars (Painted Lady Butterflies) from Boreal Science.

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E.A. thought our caterpillars should have names – here, she made name tags for two: “Zigzag” and “Stripey.”

Our literacy connection for the start of this inquiry was The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. Here, a student records a shadow-puppet retelling of the story on the iPad.

Our literacy connection for the start of this inquiry was The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. Here, F.S. records a shadow-puppet retelling of the story on the iPad.

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The children take time to record their observations of the caterpillars in their science notebooks.

A closer look at the science notebook.

A closer look at the science notebook.

 

We represented each phase of the butterfly life cycle through an art piece. Here is our collaborative art piece for the caterpillar, based on Eric Carle's famous story.

We represented each phase of the butterfly life cycle through an art piece. Here is our collaborative art piece for the caterpillar, based on Eric Carle’s famous story.

Racing caterpillars at the math centre. The children negotiated the length of the course and recorded the results of their races.

Racing caterpillars at the math centre. The children negotiated the length of the course and recorded the results of their races.

Our caterpillars inspired so much writing at the writing table!

Our caterpillars inspired so much writing at the writing table!

Writing letters to our butterflies while we wait for them to emerge from their chrysalises.

Writing letters to our butterflies while we wait for them to emerge from their chrysalises.

We found this idea on Pinterest - recording the growth and change of our butterflies. We kept this record on the SMARTBoard.

We found this idea on Pinterest – recording the growth and change of our butterflies. We kept this record on the SMARTBoard.

 

Art and Fine Motor Instruction: learning how to draw a butterfly. Much of this lesson was dedicated to symmetry.

Art and Fine Motor Instruction: learning how to draw a butterfly. Much of this lesson was dedicated to symmetry.

Our See, Think, Wonder graphic organizers were available throughout the entire inquiry. This one says, "I see the butterfly has spots. I think it is camouflage. I wonder how the butterflies get their designs."

Our See, Think, Wonder graphic organizers were available throughout the entire inquiry. This one says, “I see the butterfly has spots. I think it is camouflage. I wonder how the butterflies get their designs.”

 

One of our main questions was "how can we care for our caterpillars/butterflies?" This led us to think about how to create a  habitat for the butterflies where they could thrive while we had them indoors. The children recorded their ideas on butterfly habitat planning sheets and looked for their materials in our outdoor classroom.

One of our main questions was “how can we care for our caterpillars/butterflies?” This led us to think about how to create a habitat for the butterflies where they could thrive while we had them indoors. The children recorded their ideas on butterfly habitat planning sheets and gathered their materials in our outdoor classroom.

Our representation of the chrysalis stage: creating a chrysalis out of papier mache. The children added finer details with permanent markers when their work was dry.

Our representation of the chrysalis stage: creating a chrysalis out of papier mache. The children added finer details with permanent markers when their work was dry.

You can see how excited the children are to catch a glimpse of our first butterfly!

You can see how excited the children are to catch a glimpse of our first butterfly!

Representing our butterflies with beautiful watercolour paintings. The children worked very hard to create symmetrical designs on the butterfly wings.

Representing our butterflies with beautiful watercolour paintings. The children worked very hard to create symmetrical designs on the butterfly wings.

Documentation of our learning. We layered the children's work in a display that captured not only the growth and change of the caterpillars but of our own learning and understanding.

Documentation of our learning. We layered the children’s work in a display that captured not only the growth and change of the caterpillars but the growth and change of our own learning and understanding.

More documentation.

More documentation.

Our butterflies were clipped to our chrysalises and hung from a branch suspended from the ceiling.

Our butterflies were clipped to our chrysalises and hung from a branch suspended from the ceiling.

We celebrated the end of our learning journey with a butterfly release party in our outdoor classroom where the children sang songs and talked about their wishes for our butterflies as they flew into nature.

We celebrated the end of our learning journey with a butterfly release party in our outdoor classroom where the children sang songs and talked about their wishes for our butterflies as they flew into nature.

 

 

 

 

 

Snap Cube Workshop: The Spinner Project

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If you are a regular follower of the blog, you will know that the students in my class LOVE snap cubes. They love them so much, we dedicated an entire centre in my classroom to them (you can read about our journey to embrace the the snap cube craze here: https://thecuriouskindergarten.wordpress.com/2014/03/10/snap-cube-workshop/ and here: https://thecuriouskindergarten.wordpress.com/2014/03/10/snap-cube-workshop-inspiring-young-authors/).

The Spinner Project evolved out of a popular way the students used the snap cubes at the snap cube workshop: they spun them. Constantly. At least once a day someone took a cube and tried to spin it. With some investigation, we learned that the children were trying to recreate “Beyblades,” a popular toy many of them had at home. (This isn’t the first time I had heard about Beyblades. In fact, for the last 5 years or so, I have been wondering what to do with the children’s interest in these toys.) The trick to coming up with an engaging and meaningful inquiry I find is coming up with just the right problem/question. It was during one of our reflection discussions that the question jumped out at us. Two boys were talking about spinning the cubes and each had made a spinner that was slightly different. We were trying to figure out if one spinner worked better than the other, and why. And viola!

The next day, we posed the following question: Can you build the best spinner? The children were so excited about this question! Before discovery time, we spent some time talking about what the word “best” would mean. The children came up with three criteria which we posted at the snap cube centre:

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In addition to creating our criteria, we talked about the tools the children could use to assess the success of their spinners. For “spinning super duper fast,” the children decided capturing the spinner on video would be a good way to measure this. For design, we would take pictures of our spinners and/or save them to show at reflection time. And for “spins a long time” we showed the children how to time their spinning spinners using the timer on the iPad.

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There were so many interesting discoveries made during this project! Here are some images and ideas we captured of the children’s experimentation:

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The spinners got more and more elaborate as design became the focus of the children’s attention. We learned that, generally, the more elaborate the design, the slower the spinner spun.

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The students were fascinated to explore the paths and patterns of a spinner’s movement.

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Many children worked collaboratively: K: “We attached our spinners together and made it so BIG! It spins so much faster when they are together.”

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In a large group discussion, we brainstormed a list of things that spin.

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J.K.: “Mine is a square, but when it spins it looks like a blade, sharp. I was just experimenting to see if I can make the best one.”

 

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Problem solving and experimentation were evident: S: “Mine is flat and I can still spin it. What if I add another cube on top and then I can use that to spin it – like a handle? [He tries it.] Hmm…that slows it down. So that is a bad idea.”

J: “My spinner is the best because it spins the fastest and for 29 seconds. Also, if you put a red block beside a while block it turns pink when it spins because white and red make pink.”

M: “I discovered you can make a spinner with just one cube. It’s small and it’s good to just use one cube because it won’t break and you can fit it in your pocket!”

Have you explored a spinning inquiry with your students? What questions/ideas did you explore?

 

 

 

 

 

Enclosures Inquiry: A House for Snuffles

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Our second major inquiry of the year in M.S.I. was an inquiry about enclosures (you can read about our first inquiry on towers by clicking here.)

To introduce the idea of enclosures, I read my class the story Snuffles House by Daphne Faunce-Brown, about a hedgehog who sets out to build himself a new house after his house burns down. In the story, Snuffles experiments with different shapes and designs for his house, each with their own flaws (e.g., the round house rolls down a hill, the triangle house has too small of an upstairs) until he decides on a rectangle shaped house. As you can tell from the description, this story provides a lot of opportunities to talk about shapes. Snuffles House is out of print (so if you find a copy, grab it!), but you can find a video of it being read on YouTube. You can also tell the story orally by making your own props (I made a set of different shaped houses using brown construction paper). Alternatively, a story like The Three Little Pigs also lends itself well to this topic.

After reading the story, we talked about the problems Snuffles encountered and what features were important in the construction of his house. I then gave the children the task of building a house for Snuffles with blocks. To help the children, I provided them with a basket of small stuffed hedgehog toys to use for checking the adequacy of their structures. The children loved having a tangible “Snuffles” to work with!

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The instructions for our initial building time were sparse. I basically read the story and sent the children to “build a house for Snuffles.” The purpose of this initial building time was for me to gauge what ideas/skills/experiences the children had around houses and enclosures. As the children worked, many of them demonstrated some ideas about walls and doors. Still others worked on some kind of roof-like covering, though this proved to be a challenge for most children because of the size of their blocks. During reflection time, we pointed out these successes and challenges. Naturally, a brainstorming session began on how to solve our roofing problems. It was decided that a roof was an essential part of our enclosures in that it would protect Snuffles from weather and predators. But how could we make a roof when our blocks were so small? I challenged the children to look around and see if they could spot anything that might make a good roof material. Immediately, the children started shouting out ideas: “books!” “carpets!” “paper!” Suddenly, we had so many ideas for roof materials! We decided to make a basket of roof materials for the next M.S.I. lesson.

During our initial building, one student modifies her structure to add a roof. We talked about her decision during reflection time.

During our initial building, one student modifies her structure to add a roof. We talked about her decision during reflection time.

A photo showing a student who struggled with adding a roof to her structure.

A photo showing a student who struggled with adding a roof to her structure.

Throughout this inquiry, we explored so many important ideas around enclosures, almost always by examining more closely the children’s own structures. For example, many students built enclosures that the little stuffed hedgehog just barely fit inside. This got us thinking about space. We looked around our classroom and realized how high the ceiling was and how far apart the walls were. Why was space so important? What did having space in our enclosure allow us to do? How did space add to our comfort? These are some of the ideas we explored.

Snuffles seems like he needs a little more space!

Snuffles seems like he needs a little more space!

The idea of space really came to life when we added a Snuffles House provocation to the light table. With the window blocks and the light shining from underneath, the children were really able to get a sense of how much space Snuffles had inside his house – it was quite the breakthrough! The light table also gave the children an opportunity to collaborate and the enclosures that were created were amazingly elaborate!

A collaborative structure at the light table.

A collaborative structure at the light table.

Another idea that popped up during this inquiry was the idea of drawing up blueprints or making plans for building. In the computer lab, the children were given a chance to work with a partner to design a house for Snuffles using KidPix. After printing out their plans, many children continued to work on adding details to their drawings at our classroom writing centre.

Students continue adding to the plans they designed in the computer lab.

Students continue adding to the plans they designed in the computer lab.

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Enclosures also began popping up at the classroom big blocks centre:

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After several weeks of experimenting with different designs for our enclosures and talking about the important features for enclosures, the children were given one last opportunity to design a dream house for Snuffles (by this time, we had co-created success criteria for enclosures on the SMART Board which were reviewed and added to each week).

Our collaborative success criteria for Snuffles' house.

Our collaborative success criteria for Snuffles’ house.

Whereas in our Tower Inquiry the students sketched their towers after they were built, this time the children were encouraged to draw their plans first, label them, and then build. While building, the children were able to refer to their plans and make sure they had all their important elements covered.

This student focuses on using a variety of shapes in his design.

This student focuses on using a variety of shapes in his design.

This student adds labels to his design plan.

This student adds labels to his design plan.

"Inside Snuffles house are so many toys. I used the square blocks with the colours because you can see through them. They are windows."

“Inside Snuffles house are so many toys. I used the square blocks with the colours because you can see through them. They are windows.”

"First I made a square and I thought I could use blocks for the roof but it was too small for Snuffles so I made it so he can fit. It has 2 chimneys and a 2nd floor where he sleeps."

“First I made a square and I thought I could use blocks for the roof but it was too small for Snuffles so I made it so he can fit. It has 2 chimneys and a 2nd floor where he sleeps.”

"I put the bed upstairs and a kitchen downstairs. There’s rain outside but it won’t get in the house. I made 5 floors on mine!"

“I put the bed upstairs and a kitchen downstairs. There’s rain outside but it won’t get in the house. I made 5 floors on mine!”

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Playdough snowmen…inspiring young poets!

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Well, here in Toronto this week we got an early blast of winter with 5 cm of snow. It was perfect snow for packing and sculpting too – which meant lots of opportunities for making snow creatures! So, in honor of our first snow of the season, I thought I’d share a wonderful playdough activity that provides many opportunities for language and literacy skills.

This activity begins with a poem (which we explored as a class during Shared Reading time) and a provocation at the playdough table. Here is the set-up:

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The children were encouraged to construct and decorate their own snowman/snow creature. While they worked, the children talked about their experiences in the snow and were encouraged to describe their creations. Each snowman was photographed (in fact, most children were keen to snap the picture themselves!).

Here are some of our snowmen:

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The photos of the children’s snowmen were printed and added to the writing table where the children were encouraged to write poems about them.

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Here are some samples of what the children created:

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Snowman

Snowman has a smile

But he is meltie

So we put a blanket over him

But he melted

Snowflakes

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Snowman

Snowman, snowman

How are you?

Are you cold?

Are you meltie?

Snowman

Boo Hoo.

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Snowman Mommy

Snowman mommy

I love you.

Snowman mommy,

You love me.

Snowman!

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ABC Snowman

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P

Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Lion snowman

Roar!

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Snowman ABC

A B C D E F G

Don’t break the snowman.

H I J K L M N O P

I like snowman.

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Snowman 1 2 3 4

1 2 3 4 carrot

1 2 3 4 eyes

1 2 3 4 smile

1 2 3 4 buttons

1 2 3 4 scarf

Snowman!!

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This student had some very creative words of his own to add to his poem! He was hesitant to write the words on his own so I scribed them for him, but encouraged him to write the title and special ending words “Splash! Coocoo!” on his own.

We were so impressed with the children’s creativity and enthusiasm throughout this project! Each day, we dedicated some of our class reflection time to listening to each other’s poems. Here are some things we did to help the students achieve success with this activity:

*The topic developed out of the children’s own interests in making snow creatures outside.

*The poem we read helped the children understand/think about the process of making a snowman and served as a model for the type of writing we wanted the children to attempt (poetry).

*We talked about the features that made the snowman poem interesting and fun for us to read. There was a particular emphasis on the ending of the poem and how it was an exciting finish.

*The children had an opportunity for hands-on exploration with materials. The conversations we had while making the playdough snowmen lay the foundation for our poetry writing.

*We wrote several poems together as a class (modelling) prior to students attempting to write their own poems.

*All students were encouraged to write a poem regardless of their level of skill in writing.

*All children were celebrated for their creativity and success.