Sunday, 24 August 2014

the story of Pelly

Loose parts play involving math, art, storytelling... N's father fish helping to feed his babies in a symmetrical pool.

The first half of this post was first published in June on the Peel21st Project 184 blog, under the larger blog project lens of "What I Learned Today" (see original here). Upon reflection later after our final week of school, I found that I had learned a lot about my students even as the school year was coming to a close and I was no longer working so diligently to notice and document all the learning. I also noticed that, even when I knew I had to start breaking down the classroom and getting ready to let go of my students, I found it very difficult to turn off the part of me that is always looking closely, listening, documenting, prodding new questions and explorations.

After a brief introduction on the blog, I told the story as follows:

Yesterday after morning dismissal, I discovered a package in my mailbox. It was addressed to our class, from our friends in Mrs. Lowe’s Kindergarten in Winnipeg, Manitoba. I didn’t reveal the package to my afternoon class right away, as it was our outdoor “Play Day” and thus I didn’t expect to have a rapt audience; after all, my students had just seen the banquet of delights that awaited them upon arrival. The Kindergarten team had set up an impromptu water wall, a sand castle centre, weaving, picnic area, frisbees, bubbles, bikes and scooters out beyond our yard, chalk, paint, ball games, and more. These outdoor play days are the sort of event that older students remember fondly and ask about when they see you in the hall: “Hey, Ms. Fynes, are you guys having play day again this year? Do you need any helpers?” I dropped my mail on my desk, reapplied sunscreen, and headed outside for more fun.
While the package would be a surprise for my students, I had already learned about it a few days earlier. A little while ago I had sent a parcel to Connie Lowe, a Kindergarten teacher in Manitoba who I follow (both PLN and class) on twitter. She had admired a photo from our class, and commented on the beautiful beach glass the students were using in their creations. I showed this tweet to a few students and asked if we should send them some of our glass, as we have plenty to share. They liked the idea. Two girls also agreed to create some pictures to illustrate a favourite way to use the sand-softened glass pieces: making mandalas. I mailed the parcel with their illustrations and sent a “hint” to the class of what was on its way west.
Soon after we got a “Thank you!” tweet from Mrs. Lowe.
I showed the girls who’d helped assemble the gift, and that was the end, I thought.
Then Connie tweeted us a hint, in the form of a blog post, that we would be receiving a gift in return. Her post was so surprising it brought tears to my eyes. I wondered how my students would react to this generosity from a class so far away.
Today we sat down to our welcome circle, and opened our package. I was sad to note that the two girls who had sent notes and pictures were both absent today. This didn’t dampen the excitement in either class when I showed the tweet we had sent, to set the stage for why we had received this gift in the mail.
“Pelly” was received with a chorus of “ooh!” and “wow!” and quickly passed around the circle as we read the notes Mrs. Lowe’s class had sent us.
It impressed my students so much that students we didn’t know would share something so precious with us.  These words came up again and again: “They must miss Pelly”, “They are so nice”, “I love Pelly”. In the afternoon class I had time to share Connie’s story when I paraphrased her blog post and showed the movie her students made. My Ks were so full of wonder, and empathy (“She looks like she’s crying” was said about one photo in the movie) and ideas: “Maybe we could take a plane to get there. It’s far”. Students made Pelly a nest, improvised eggs with stones, made thank you cards, and asked me to tweet @MrsLowesClass several times to say thank you and to ask questions.
My name is Laurel, and I love the wonder of children and the power of social media to connect us to learners near and far. What I learned today was that my very young learners are quite capable of understanding how others feel, even when those others are people in another province. I learned that generosity abounds in my students. My students learned, yet again, that we have friends like us all around the world. (end of original post).

From the moment Pelly arrived, almost all of my students (both morning and afternoon classes) became engaged in new inquiries, all spurred on by the arrival of our new provocation. Pelly inspired students to inquire into pelicans, naturally, but also into feathers, flight, nests, fishing birds, swimming and diving, geography, social etiquette (the desire to send thank you notes and reciprocal gifts was overwhelming), the loneliness of moving to a new place, and more. I can't help but wonder what learning may have come if it weren't the last days of school! Here follow many of the tweets that came out of our room once Pelly arrived. The thought that went into the actions seen in photos and vine clips below (e.g., exploring flight with feathers and paper airplanes, creating nests and finding loose parts food for Pelly, writing letters and making pictures for our faraway friends in Ms. Lowe's class) proved to me again the power of following a spark or provocation through all the myriad ways students wish to interpret their wonders.

While the student engagement was powerful, I have to admit the teacher engagement for me was a highlight of a wonderful year, full of such rich moments. (Another collaborative inquiry shared with Kelly Wright's class, a near-neighbour just west of us in Mississauga, will feature in an upcoming post). The connection made by sharing the wonder and delight of our classes captured the imagination of our principals, both supporters of inquiry-based, student-driven learning. The way our young students took initiative, showed their compassion and their generosity, and continued to be actively engaged in their education right into their last days of school impressed upon all of us the importance of giving our students the materials and letting them dictate how to interpret them. We were far apart but met in wonder, because all roads lead to Hawkins.

As I look back on what was an astounding year in terms of all the explorations that took place, I also look forward to seeing more exciting projects unfold with our twitter friends, now following our new class name @109ThornKs as our school transitions to FDK. The name change represents an exciting change for our class: we are now two educators and one, all-day class. Pooneh Haghjoo and I will be learning together how the days will flow, and how our learning community will grow. I'm excited to learn and teach alongside my experienced and passionate new partner Pooneh.

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