Sunday, 21 April 2013

Hello, spring!

This is the story of the provocation that arrived at our class one day, and the interesting inquiry that unfolded in the week that followed.
One day, while the afternoon class and I were outside at play in the yard, two bunches of unopened daffodils were delivered to us. I had ordered them to support the Canadian Cancer Society
daffodil campaign at our school, but had since forgot and was pleasantly surprised by the bundle.  A group of students was attracted to what I was holding, and came over immediately to explore. As we were outside, I didn't have my usual capture devices on hand (clipboard with anecdotal chart, iPad) but I remembered these three students who were interested. (Note: many initials are shared by several students in class. We have many A's, S's, E's and L's!)
N: “What is it?”
C: “I know, those are beans!”
A: “Are they celery?”

When we went inside and took a closer look at the bundled stems, some students had more ideas about them. Here are some ideas shared during our group meeting time:
Sh: “I think that it will be cabbage”.
A: “I think they are celery”.
S: “I think it is flowers”.
C: “Flowers! I think they’re flowers, too”.

During activity time, several students went to the wonder centre to use all of their senses to explore the stems. With magnifiers to look, and using their sense of smell, most students came to the same idea: flowers. They used the paper set out to record their ideas about what the flowers might look like. 

L drew a red flower. S drew a red flower, then decided against it and drew a new one. She said: “I don’t think they will look like this” (pointing to her first drawing of red flowers), “I think it is this” (pointing at a newer picture she drew of yellow flowers). I have modeled this way of thinking using the prompt: "I used to think... but now I think..." and I am always delighted when I see students adopting it for explaining their thinking.

We used our senses to explore, and revised our thinking when we looked closer. This is science in action!

The next day I discovered that the buds were beginning to show golden through the green, papery skin. I had so enjoyed the predictions and ideas from the other class, and I was sorry to see that the daffodils were beginning to look like, well, daffodils. I decided to show the students in the AM class the photo from yesterday, before showing them the actual flowers.

We talked at the carpet using our wonder prompts:
“What do you see?”
“What do you think?”
“What do you wonder?”

Using the photo, first we talked about what we could see:
R: “I see green”.
T: “I can see a bow”.
E: “I see some celery tied up”.
S: “I see celery and a rubber band”.

We talked about what we were thinking about the stems:
E: “I think it’s a vegetable”.
E: “I know! Some kind of vegetable – celery”.
J: “I think it’s a kind of vegetable that’s spicy. Some kids don’t like to eat it”.
Ms. Fynes: “Do you mean an onion?”
J: “Yes, onions!”

We talked about what we wondered:
E: “I wonder if it’s for eating or not for eating”.
T: “I wonder if it’s for eating. I wonder if it’s yucky”.
R: “I wonder if it’s healthy or not”.
S: “I wonder if birds eat it”.
J: “I wonder if it’s nutritious. That means something to make you grow”.
E: “I wonder if it’s crunchy when you bite it”.

When I brought out the stems, now becoming more golden and ready to open, everyone agreed: flowers!

Like in the PM class, some students chose to explore the daffodils more closely during activity time. They drew what they saw, or what they thought the flowers would look like when they bloomed. One student made a prediction about the type of flower it would be, and drew a picture to share with us.
J: “I think it’s going to be a sunflower”. 

 The daffodils quickly opened to reveal their ruffled trumpets and papery petals. Students continued to be interested in using their senses to explore these plants.
M: "The flowers - they opened"
Ms. Fynes: "Yes, they did"
M: "They smell good".

A small pot of planted daffodils provided a point of comparison for curious students who were using their senses of smell, touch, and sight to contrast the two bouquets. J made a discovery and came over to show me, where I was working with some students at the computer.
J: "Look! I have yellow on my fingers!"
Curious children peered at her in wonder: "What is that?" 
J: "Pollen".
The group gathered around her asked: "Where did you get it?"
J: "Come and look!". She lead the group to the flowers, and dipped her finger into the trumpets. Moments later, everyone in the group had golden fingertips. 
Ms. Fynes: "Does anyone use pollen?"
A: "Birds!"
J: "Bees!"

I love how this provocation naturally tied into other topics we were exploring (see the glass house in the bottom photo with the nests and bird skull, just out of view), and how J took a leadership role in the morning by learning about flowers and sharing her knowledge with her peers. Kindergarten truly is a place for curiosity to grow.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

We can share our stories

In our class we are part of a fantastic "We Can See" blog project created by Joanne Babalis as inspired by Angie Harrison. These two teachers (along with a host of others on my twitter PLN), continue to inspire me to find ways to expand student learning through creative use of technology, specifically social media. My AM and PM class combined ideas to create three three "We Can See" books together, and these texts are enjoyed both as a printed document and a blog post to be shared again and again. My students love to share their questions and comments with other students whose books are shared in the blog. They make such authentic, interesting connections to what they see and hear from other Kindergarten students, some very far away indeed. One of the most touching connections for my senior "butterfly" students (juniors are "caterpillars") was when their dear teacher Miss Metcalfe joined the blog with her new FDK class at her new school. I am new this year to Thornwood PS, and those butterfly students were very curious about seeing their teacher from last year: where she teaches, what her school looks like, what her students write about. Several students wrote her letters or drew pictures for me to send after they saw Shelter Bay PS's "We Can See" blog post.

Several other participating classes have submitted student self-made "I Can See" books, including stories about trips taken to faraway places: India, China, the United States. In a half-day program time is always short, so there was a while when we didn't visit the blog, when we read great picture books or focused on in-class writing instead. I finally made time in March, after our break, to share some of the individual stories that so inspired me. My students were particularly excited by a trip to Florida by Benn. The room was abuzz with conversations about amusement parks, Disney on ice, crocodiles, and dragons. They also liked seeing James's I Can See book with its fun, bouncy Louisiana marching band music and scenes of late winter in Ontario, and Cayden's self-illustrated book which sparked an interest in illustrating books in my morning class. I let students know that I would be happy to help someone tell their "I Can See" if they wished to share on the blog. I dropped broad hints, but at first no one took me up on my offer.

Sharing in class is a daily part of our class routine. Students sign up on the sharing space: post-it notes, labelled diagrams, pictures and paintings, paper creations.

Students stick predictions to our sharing space during our celery experiments.
S and T collaborating on a poster about trees and flowers, using a tree field guide.
They later shared with class.

Some days we can't hear them all; such is the quick pace of a half-day Kindergarten. We often share snippets of Voicethread stories we're working on in class before putting them "live" as links on my class site, so students are quite used to asking me: "Can you come? I want to put (some interesting thing I'm working on) in the book". But the idea of making personal "I Can See" books wasn't catching on. I was ready to let it go when S brought a book to school she'd made about her March Break week. S is one of our "reading and writing specialists" who is happy to help anyone write a story or read some unknown word. I have stapled booklets of various sizes and colours for students to use in the writing centre, and S brought one home to finish her idea there. She loves to write stories to read aloud, so when she hung her book up on the sharing space, I took it down to look inside. Oh my! I asked her if she would like to share it, not just reading to our class, but on the "We Can See" blog like the other March Break stories we had read. It didn't follow the pattern "I can see..." format, but I love the way her authentic voice shines through in her writing. She happily agreed with my idea. Here is her story, in her own Voicethread:

S's "I Love the March Break" book (click to play)

Another morning student in S's class made a book to share his interest in martial arts, partly as a way to explain moves he had been practicing in class. He showed me his "yoga" pose, which reminded me of our "horse pose" or meditation pose from Tai Chi. The two of us spontaneously adopted the pose while chatting, and quickly gathered a crowd of interested students. I suggested he might draw a picture of his favourite moves from "The Karate Kid" which he had been talking about with friends. Instead, he started his own book. Our short school day meant he wasn't able to finish, but he returned to school with this wonderful book he'd worked so hard on at home. Here is his story:

This week I planned to share these wonderful stories with my afternoon class, but as is often the case in a curiosity-driven curriculum, new ideas came up first. A morning friend suggested we make a "We Can See" book, not about spring, thus following the pattern of our first two books, but instead about birds. The bird inquiry has grown to include more than half of the students in each class, as artifacts gather on the sharing space and my class site. The afternoon friends, avid birdwatchers, have jumped on this idea and our newest class Voicethread has been born. But that will be a story for another day.

Addendum: If you teach in Peel and have the chance to attend one of Tina Zita's technology workshops, don't miss out! It was an instruction technology workshop a few years ago that first inspired me to let out my hidden geek (at school, I should say). Her presentation introduced me to Comic Life (which I used for our first two "We Can See" books), Voicethread, prezi, and more. That year I made it my annual learning goal to learn and use all of them, and I have to say it was the best thing I've for my teaching. Embracing various technologies have allowed me to ease into documentation, co-creation of big projects, sharing our learning outside of our classroom, and with joining twitter last year, the creation of an incredible PLN. If you are a Kindergarten teacher in Peel and are attending the Kindergarten Conference in May, do stop by to say hi to me (tent) and also make a trip to meet the dynamic Tina Z, who is presenting about the wonderful ways of embracing technology in our practice in Kindergarten.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

the marvel of marbles, part three

Marbles have continued to fascinate my students, many of whom have embraced other play areas, other inquiries, and yet still return often to find new ways to play with "things that roll". Our musical marble box became a mini inquiry area in the morning class when someone discovered it could be even more noisy when instruments or materials were placed at the bottom. A xylophone, a glass bowl, wood blocks, a wooden stirring drum, and crumpled paper all gave delightfully interesting sound results. 

D. C., my friend and teaching partner down the hall, has a student whose sibling is in my class. To be precise, this trait is shared by all of us in the Kindergarten team this year, which makes for much communication among siblings about ongoing projects in their classrooms. D is always thinking up great extensions to activities we try with our students. When she saw the golf balls I'd collected at the beach she suggested I try painting with them. Our principal had rescued a stack of large boxes that week and offered them up to the Kindergarten team, knowing well we are always happy for a new provocation material. I discovered that the boxes were large enough to be better managed with two children. Thus "friend painting" was born. Marbles, golf balls, and bouncy balls all went in the paint and suddenly everyone wanted to visit the paint centre again. Side-by-side, two boxes would be rocking and swaying, all the while the children laughing and the balls noisily banging around, even occasionally escaping the box and leaving colourful trails on the tile floor. This was an exciting time for me to document as students observed the trails, the mixing colours, the joy of bumping the balls against the sides of the box, the interesting textures left in the paint by the bumpy golf balls, the sounds of the balls landing in the paint or bumping each other, and other sensory experiences. By far the most repeated phrase was: "This is fun!" as students explored the sheer fun of shaking and rolling the boxes with a friend.
*note: when viewed with iPad or mobile apps there may appear spaces here where there are embedded videos. I'm still playing around with blogger to remedy this.


In fact, mini marble inquiries continued to pop up all around the room, even as I began to break down the main table I had set up back in mid-January. Ramps were becoming a major focus for a large group in the afternoon class, with many students bringing favourite "hot wheels" cars from home to race against their friends. Tracks and tunnels, ramps were assembled and changed every day, all the while other friends continued to follow the marble building project. I wasn't very surprised when the two groups overlapped, with marbles being tested on ramps built for racing cars, and when cars were added to marble runs.

Lego building was another centre that was becoming quite busy. I had pinned a marble maze on Pinterest that was made from the versatile little bricks, and I showed it to one of the builders while he was sorting out different coloured pieces, trying to decide what to build. He was inspired, and attempted a maze. This task proved harder than it looked, and he asked for help. Together we created this simple maze, which has been copied and improved upon by others since.

During the long cold spring that has felt more like an extended winter season, we had several days of small classes, when buses were cancelled or when parents opted to stay home rather than brave the weather. These days were a wonderful excuse to combine classes with one Kindergarten friend or another, to allow students some new friends to play with and for fresh eyes on our ongoing inquiries. When these visits were in our room, my students were wonderful ambassadors, welcoming all others and showing off their work. What we didn't know, though, was how much our marble inquiry would ignite sparks in our guests' classrooms. In D's classes she was seeing marble maze interest developing. We did a lunch-time run to our favourite provocation paradise: the "Creative Zone" recycling centre for Peel teachers. There we found tubes, cardboard gutters, jars and lids for our creative centres, and more. Here are some of the tests and the permanent maze structure that they created in D's room.

One day I went to chat with another Kindergarten friend down the hall, V. Silva. I stopped in my tracks when I saw the "pom-pom drop", or marble maze, on the wall.

Ms. Silva's class-made pom-pom drop.

Like D and I, V is an active Pinterest user, and at team meetings or over lunch we often talk about some new idea we've all pinned from one another to support an ongoing project. I had pinned several such mazes, and they had inspired our first marble maze on the back of the shelving unit. This, however, was not a picture to show my students, but a real artifact. I was excited to tell the kids, and snapped the photo below to show them. The photos below illustrate the excitement that was the result when I showed the picture on my iPad to the group. I can't recall exactly how it happened, but over the course of one afternoon we sent a request: "Can we see the marble run?" and received a request: "Can we borrow your musical (pom-pom) marble run?". We tidied quickly, packed up the musical box run, and headed down to visit our friends for a demonstration, all captured on vine and shared with our friends on twitter.

"A" composed the question with very little help from me, to ask
if we could visit:
"Can we see the marble run?"
I particularly liked the yes/no choices at the top.

V's class sent us this fantastic question, complete with music notes and faces to help us read it. Below you can see my hastily scrawled response: yes, we will bring it to you! We demonstrated how to make the marbles hit the xylophone, how to tape it back together when it falls apart (this is key), and how we often change it when it breaks to try something new. Then we were given a demonstration of their marble drop, captured in the video below.

This visit and exchange led to one of the most touching events of the month: V's class tweeted us to say thank you: "@KinderFynes tak you for geving yor mirbl run, we love it!"
It doesn't happen often, but I was momentary speechless when I read that tweet.

I honestly thought, two weeks ago when I wrote part one of the marble inquiry, that we were finished with these explorations. It goes to show, to use my favourite metaphor for any inquiry project, that if there is still heat in the coals of the ideas in the room, it only takes a spark to re-ignite a roaring fire. The communication now happening between students in the different classes in our team is truly exciting. As I quoted Lilian Katz from her keynote speech at Charles Sturt back in March, these students are learning to write, record, and tweet, all in the service of their interests. Those readers who follow me (and us) on twitter have seen many exciting developments since this day, as multiple inquiries evolve into larger projects and events. It is an exciting time to be in Kindergarten at Thornwood Public School.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

the marvel of marbles, part two

Playing with gravity: PM friends figure out how to raise the track.

Last week I was preparing to say goodbye to a months-long inquiry project as new interests took over more and more space in the room. I was prepared to pack it all up, but there was still some heat left in those coals, and a new idea has now sparked and caught on in the afternoon class. I suppose the story is ongoing.

A new marble track growing in a new space in our room.

 In my first post I wanted only to focus on the beginning of the inquiry, the exploration stage before students truly began to take ownership of the materials and started to build their own mazes and marble runs. In the Voicethread story, the children describe their play from the initial engagement to exploration, then into the beginning stages of investigation and communication. I have continued to capture the inquiry through photos and documentation in-class, but only this week noticed that our interest in the Voicethread had faded, and therefore I have not uploaded any new pages in a month. I think our book may just be finished. Here again is the early days of our story, told by my students through photos, movies and their words.

The marble centre began to get quite interesting when it spread from the original table and carpet area to include tubes and tunnels. I noticed the students were less likely to use the pre-made toys, once they started to fashion marble runs with cardboard, scissors, and tape. While I enjoyed this stage more than almost anything we have done this year, I regret that my involvement in the play resulted in many pictures but less anecdotal notes (in the form of student quotations) than I usually capture. I do wonder if the full-day program, with two educators in the room dedicated to capturing and documenting daily life, will result in less gaps. On a happy note, I do feel like I know my students better this year than I ever have, and the quality of those relationships stems from a genuine love of the interactions. I know each child's strengths and challenges, interests and skills intimately, simply from being a part of the process.

While I do wonder about the possibilities open to those in full-day Kindergarten programs, I do love the interactions possible when you have two classes each day sharing the same space. This picture, for example, is a wonderful illustration of how the AM students interact with the artifacts of the PM project work. Here at the left, E is experimenting with a funnel that I made (upon request) to change the direction of the run at the bottom. R is holding another tube at the bottom to prevent runaway marbles from escaping the tub and rolling away under the cabinet. For the curious: yes, marbles do get into every nook and cranny in the room!

The morning friends enjoyed exploring the first maze and adding their own innovations. It wasn't until I found some large boxes, however, that they realized we could create our own permanent maze structure. This was a fascinating process, inspired by YouTube clips and the PM version on the back of the cabinet, and changed many times as the tape came undone or new ideas came up.

N and A directing me as I help add a shelf to our new maze in a box.
A, H and A testing each added shelf and tube with a marble before securing with tape.
A group of AM friends paint the maze with the colours they have blended together.
The use of simple tools (masking tape, scissors, pencils and paper to sketch designs, adding paint and paper decorations) and recycled materials was very inspiring to me. This was no lesson bought in a box or followed step-by-step from a plan. This project took many different little turns and was directed by the wonderings, noticings, and discoveries of the children involved. The 2010-11 Ontario Ministry Full-Day Early Learning Kindergarten Program outlines six fundamental principles which guide our teaching every day (page 2). The role of play as the medium for teaching and learning is outlined here (page 13):

Principle 5: Play is a means to early learning that capitalizes on children’s natural curiosity and exuberance.
Play is a vehicle for learning and lies at the core of innovation and creativity. It provides opportunities for learning in a context in which children are at their most receptive. Play and academic work are not distinct categories for young children, and learning and doing are also inextricably linked for them.
It has long been acknowledged that there is a strong link between play and learning for young children, especially in the areas of problem solving, language acquisition, literacy, numeracy, and social, physical, and emotional skills. Young children actively explore their environment and the world around them through a process of learning-based play. When children are manipulating objects, acting out roles, or experimenting with various materials, they are engaged in learning through play. Play, therefore, has a legitimate and important role in early learning and can be used to further children’s learning in all areas of the Full-Day Early Learning–Kindergarten program. It is so important that the United Nations has recognized it as a specific right for all children (“Fact Sheet: A Summary of the Rights Under the Convention on the Rights of the Child”, Article 31,, accessed February 11, 2010).

I can think of no better example of the problem-solving capabilities of my students than the way they have embraced writing notes and drawing diagrams to communicate between the classes. 

Two AM friends worked together to compose a letter to the PM class friends who built the first run.

A PM friend makes a diagram of the run so that we may share it with others.

Adding another level to the marble condo!

 Connecting the marble box to the wall run: several builders were needed to make the steps that A is using.
Recording our explorations is a regular part of our class, from the beginning of the year with my ipod and school flipcam, to the now ubiquitous iPad with its camera, capture apps and video capability. While our school supports our 21st Century teaching and learning with iPads for our use, I became smitten with all that I could do with the children and bought my own for classroom use. Students often search me out when I'm playing with someone else so that I can capture their discoveries. Sometimes they simply ask for me to set up "vine" so they can take their own video clips to share with followers at home (I shall save these fascinating scenes for part three). One of those discoveries sparked a new direction for our inquiry: musical marble play.

Here is a snippet of what came about one afternoon during our activity time.
F: "Look, I can make music!" (he rocks a cardboard tube filled with marbles back and forth).
N: "Me too! Listen!" (she pours marbles from a metal cup to a cardboard box, and back, and again).
S: "I can do that too"(he pours marbles into a large, empty box).

The interest in the musical sound of those little marbles sparked an interest in me as well, and I went looking for other items to bring to the class to provoke new extensions to the play. A broken xylophone, pulled apart, led to the musical shelf in the maze shown at the left. The chimes, added later, gave a delightfully unpredictable dimension to the sound play as the marbles didn't always hit them in the same way. Later additions included wooden blocks, glass and metal objects, and a toy xylophone placed at the bottom to catch marbles as they rolled off of the curved shelf or fell through the flaps.

This project has been a source of pride for my students who have loved sharing it with visiting friends from other classes, and sharing the Voicethread story with family at home. Next week I plan to share the connections made outside of class, and the exciting new directions this inquiry has taken since last week.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

The marvel of marbles

It is a bittersweet thing to pack up a centre that, for a few months now, had expanded from one small table to over half of the room. While not all students are ready to say goodbye to the marbles and marble-maze building inquiry that grew to include almost every student in both classes, most have moved on to new explorations that have grown out of the changing seasons.


I have loved the "marbles and movement" inquiry because it captured everyone's imagination from the moment the materials arrived. It had been a busy time in our class, with several science and sensory explorations on the go surrounding snow, colour and light. Before the winter holiday break, I had suggested we wind down the bey blade centres which had also grown around the room for several months. I knew that I needed a hook, but I wasn't sure what would catch. So it is that we had an ice and snow table, celebrated Chinese New Year with a drum and symbol centre, we had our first turn with the Kindergarten team's beautiful new light table, we tested celery and napa cabbage in coloured water, and we created and painted with "ice pops", along with other small sparks from students or the outside world. Students were engaged and excited when each new provocation was set out, but nothing lasted in a meaningful way like the bey blades had in the late fall. I looked at the "Inquiry Process in Early-Learning Kindergarten" chart, posted over my sink for my daily reflection. I was wondering: where was the investigation, leading to student ownership of communication?

I cleaned out a shallow sand table and placed in a snap-together marble track and a large container of marbles. I had other toys and tools to support the play, but resisted the temptation to put everything out at once. I wanted to see how the students would interact with the materials before adding a challenge. The morning students signed in, chose entry activities, all the while peering over at the newly repurposed sand table with its colourful invitation to play. By "welcome circle" time, there was a buzz. "What is that for?" and "Where is the sand?" We talked about their wonderings and I sent them to "tip-toe off to centres". Armed with the camera and clipboard, I went off to watch and listen to the play.

For the next few weeks, I played and documented mainly at this centre. The first week, I was talking with my usual lunch companions, the wonderful Kindergarten teachers at my school. D offered up some large cardboard tubes to add to the table. They were such a hit we made a trip later that week to the "Creative Zone" for more tubes and building materials. Meanwhile, I looked online for video provocations to spur the challenge on. I often find little movie clips to spark conversation at carpet, and link them on my class site for students to access at home. I found several simple home-made marble runs on YouTube to share, brought the tubes and boxes I'd been gathering, and stocked up on masking tape. As a class we created a picture story about our new centre to share with parents on the display wall. Note: I cannot share this story here as it contains students' identifying features. Earlier in the year we had also been sharing our stories with our families through class-made Voicethreads, but these projects had also come to a natural end as interests waned. Whenever I found myself immersed elsewhere in the class, joining a group at the snack table or setting out art materials, students would come find me asking for photos or movies of their play. I mentioned this one day at sharing time, and a student asked if we could: "make a marble book to show our families what we are making". Thus our Voicethread "Marbles in Motion" was started. (click here to view Voicethread book)

At first the marble play surrounded the table and the snap-together track, but it wasn't long before tubes were spreading out along the floor, hanging from the wall, and soon taped onto the back of a shelving unit. The Voicethread story grew as students found new areas to explore and began to try building their own mazes inspired by the videos shared in class.

I wonder how this project might have unfolded in a full-day early-learning Kindergarten class, with more time each day to delve into project work. It is my goal to someday soon start an audit trail of current inquiries happening in my two classes. I regret now, looking back at the wonderful learning we have shared with this project, that I wasn't able to capture the surprising directions my students took their explorations with a visible audit trail. Sharing here, however, allows me to reflect on what we have done as a group, and what interesting tangents were followed by small groups of students in the different classes. In part two, I will share some of the ways students began to communicate with each other in order to further their building projects.