Wednesday, 9 December 2015

what a puddle taught us

 "When a curious child and a knowledgeable teacher explore the phenomena of the real world, genuine science begins." Frances Hawkins

Water leads to wondering... wondering leads to engagement... engagement leads to learning.

I love SS's story. It highlights her determination and growing self-regulation skills, the learning that happens when you look closely and observe changes in the local natural world, and most of all, the joy of playing in a puddle.

A photo I've shared in the past, when describing the "decisive moment" in capturing a mood in a photo. I couldn't help but notice how many of the photos I chose to illustrate moments of learning involved water.

I have long used the term "puddle jumper" to describe a certain type of person, a kindred spirit... someone who embodies playfulness and joy well into adulthood. Friends know I'm likely to go out when it rains, looking for snails or following rivulets that run down the street over leaves and stones. My penultimate post was an extended metaphor for documentation, seen through the lens of reflection on water. It was inspired by the idea that reflection is always changing, based on one's point of view. A few days later, I shared the incredible learning journey of a friend and colleague who embraced full-bodied exploration of a puddle with her students, and was changed by the experience.

Our class adopted a puddle last year - two, in fact. The year before, my AM and PM classes had each adopted a tree to visit weekly, but the idea just didn't catch on in our new FDK class. The water that gathered near the walkway to the buses, on the other hand, fascinated all. One puddle, near our neighbour's classroom gate, appears and disappears at the whim of the weather. It grows to a small pond after a hard rain, and dries up with nearly a trace after a day or so of sun. It is a wonderful thing - reflecting the school or the sky, depending on where you look. It grows large and deep at times, and later leaves only a darkened shadow of itself, a mere grey trace.

In September our returning SK students quickly taught the new JK friends what our class does after a good rain - here's a group of kids well dressed to enjoy the sometimes puddle with my teaching partner, Pooneh in the back (pink boots).

One day this fall several students were excited to discover how chalk reacts to getting wet, and conversely, how our puddle reacts to getting coloured on. The traces of this joyous play were beautiful for days afterward.

When I find a quote meaningful and wish to share it, I look for a photo from my own experience that illustrates the idea for me. It struck me this year that nearly half of the pictures I've used in the manner have involved discoveries or exploration of water. Noticing our environment means finding patterns, traces, and surprises in nature.

The other puddle, a little strip of water that forms beside the concrete bunker just outside our gate, is affectionately known by all in our class as the "muddy puddy". My teaching partner and I have joked that this puddle is the reason many students beg their parents to buy them rubber boots. Mud is magnificent stuff. We explore it near and far around the schoolyard.

The beloved "muddy puddy" is a perfect illustration of one of many quotes from Ann Pelo that speak to me of eolithism - learning in and from the immediate environment.

The picture above rather beautifully captures our learning one day  - a cold, muddy puddle can be utterly delightful, or utterly misery, depending on how well dressed you are, and how well you pay attention to the details: how deep the puddle, how high your boots, how thin the ice, how sloshy the mud, how splashy the other kids in the puddle with you. By encouraging self-regulation, we allow students to figure out for themselves whether or not the mud puddle is an appropriate place for them to play. These students on this day listened to their bodies and to the situation, and had a marvelous time. Many other students watched from a safe distance on the hard ground. We applauded both choices.

The muddy puddle exploration on this day left an indelible mark on my mind - and I believe it will be remembered by those students for a long time, too. We learned about bravery, made mistakes, and played on. It was a grand outing, even though we were only out on the yard.

Sometimes the rain winds up creating new puddles, like these deep craters in the post holes around our kindergarten playground. This girl tested the height of the water against the height of her boots, and was happy to find that her feet stayed dry. Math and science was all the talk around the puddle this day.

More math play happened when this student found a cup for scooping and tried to empty the deep crater that her friend had been standing in (see above). I didn't stay long enough to capture how many scoops she had to do to fill the wheelbarrow, but it was already 15 when I left to explore elsewhere.

It was the collage below that lead me to believe it was time to look back over our learning thus far this year, and try to get at the big ideas students were exploring in their fascination (and mine) with water. Several projects and inquiries are ongoing in our class at the moment, and the year is winding down towards the winter vacation, thus making new conversations harder to facilitate during our short knowledge-building-circle time. I knew there was a theme emerging, one I'd want to remember and be able to share with the children later in the year when it came up again (as naturally it does when snow melts and freezes anew).

A recent water wonder from our class. I can't help but wonder where the arrival of snow will lead us in our questioning.

This wonderful day at the park last year remains another favourite memory for several students, now SKs.

Puddles seem a perfect metaphor for emergent curriculum. Even more so in a difficult year, when the social curriculum seems the most important lessons being highlighted each day, the need to "get one's feet wet" remains. Through relationships forged over messy play outdoors, friendships and trust are born. If you see a problem to solve, learning is inevitable. I thank my friend Nadine for sharing her puddle story, and inspiring me to look back over my own. I will consider it a success if this inspires even one reader to invest in a good pair of winter rubber boots. If you've learned something from a puddle, please consider leaving a comment here. 


Tuesday, 8 December 2015

what learning doth a puddle offer?

 I met Nadine Osborne this summer at YRNC's week-long "The Rhythm of Learning in Nature" course. In my role as one of the facilitators for the week, I was able to learn and explore together with a wonderful group of educators and parents, and alongside my daughter who was attending the forest-school-inspired camp. The incredible professional learning session was a meeting of minds of Reggio-inspired educators with Forest-school inspired practices, grounded in the eolithism of Hawkins-inspired learning. It was a deeply engaging week that helped us all connect more deeply with place-based, emergent planning education. I was honoured to be a part of the team and feel a strong connection to those educators who walked along the paths and talked over worries, hopes and dreams together at Swan Lake.

Like daughter, like mother - we met up along the path and had to laugh when we saw each others' boots - I had been wading into the duckweed, and she had been playing in "the mud kingdom". 

Holding on tight as I inch along a log over the shallow water at the edge of Swan Lake. Photo by Anamaria.

One of so very many frogs and other pond creatures seen during our week at Swan Lake.

We don't live near enough to bump into each other during the school year, but I often see Nadine on social media along with many other in the #ReggioPLC who participated in our magical week at Swan Lake last summer. One wonderful conversation took place about 6 weeks ago, when Nadine posted an inspiring story about her day at school. In it she referred to students jumping into the puddles with such force, it caused the water to go "so high it hit our faces". I burst out laughing, remembering similarly "messy" moments from the YRNC summer course, where boots got stuck in muddy ponds, or stagnant puddle water splashed our clothes, or a particularly messy moment when, while following a damselfly, I slipped down a bare-dirt stretch of hill and wound up knee-deep in the mud.

Reading her post, I was most touched by the following: "I learned that when I supervise my own students in risky play they show they can manage risk." Yes! That was so much the message of "Rhythm 2015" - that by embracing outdoor learning and trusting children to be curious and capable learners full of potential, we would discover a wealth of knowledge, passion and skill among our young learners, and ourselves. Together we could discover our limits, and push them outwards.  I couldn't help but ask if she'd be willing to share her story here on my blog.

Later, in a direct message conversation, we talked about what this post could mean, in terms of the larger documentation story I have been working on through guest posts and my own reflections.
We spoke about documentation and how different we all are in our outlook and approach. We talked about the possibility for one child (or a few children) to stand in for the learning story involving many students. By taking a magnifier look at a student's growth (as she did beautifully in her story), one can illustrate both how the larger class learns from direct experience, and also illustrate an event that many found surprising and rewarding. We discussed how the documentation can be a metaphor for learning - that some students direct the inquiry, while others partake or even just observe, but all will have a memory of that moment, and most will have made meaning from it.

At the time I said: "...there are kids for whom true exploration is just beginning... Handling loose parts and sharing space is about what they can manage. Later, they begin to ask questions, or attempt to answer those posed by provocations... Those are the meat of my shared documentation. My partner captures different things, and I like that. She captures snippets of events that I miss, lovely moments of art or sensory or language play that may not connect to big ideas we're playing with but which show a lot about the experience or the children. In fact, I think I should tell her this." (note: I did, in fact, tell Pooneh how much I appreciate her documentation, and what she captures from her perspective - often across the room from me). 

I read my quick words to her now, and realize I overstated the case somewhat - I try to listen to all voices in the classroom, no matter how they are "spoken" and no matter their interests and strengths. However I do appreciate the opportunity to think about the importance of one child's learning on any given day - that our job as teachers in a large early years classroom is to forge relationships with all students, and between all students, and to help all see themselves as learners. I think Nadine did this wonderfully, and I am grateful that she allowed me to share this here. Her words follow.

What learning doth a puddle offer? 

by Nadine Osborne
Yesterday we had 2 indoor recesses, one was announced before it started and the second one it was decided to call them back in due to rain after the first ten minutes. The children were challenged to contain their physical energy within 4 walls and a ceiling. I had to divide and conquer together with my teaching partner. Today after getting all ready it was announced that it would be an indoor recess before they even got out the door. Faces were long.  

I was in the room to witness it even though it was really my lunch. I was hosting a school club meeting so I couldn't just throw on my stuff and go out with them. But I promised to take them out after recess was officially over. So since we had six students away today we only had a total of 21. Seventeen of them had rubber boots & raincoats, 3 did not and were happy to stay inside. The remaining child had "outdoor shoes" but dissolved in tears at the thought of staying in. He didn't fit the spare boots that were available so I made the decision that he needed to be outside more than the shoes needed to stay dry. I really need to build a relationship with this student.  Last year he was in a different class with a different teaching team.  I know from the way he looks at me and from his body language and tone of voice in communication that he doesn’t trust me yet.  He doesn’t yet sense that I am on his side.  I have been trying. Today that meant understanding how very deeply he needed to be outside. So I took 18 children outside in the rain and into the puddles and the mud. They burst from the door like popcorn from a hot air popper overflows into the bowl.

When they understood boots meant it was okay to stomp in the puddles they did a little more than stomp. After observing their obvious delight and assessing that they couldn't get much wetter anyway I suggested we have a contest. YES. I suggested we have a contest to see if we jumped in the puddle with all our might, who could make the water go the highest. That was me. Me, the teacher, with the provocation. Never would I have imagined it. After about 25 minutes of sheer joy the children were starting to get a little cold. I let the first group that wanted to go in with my teaching partner go ahead to start the process of changing into dry clothes. Another group remained outside with me to collect wet leaves. Then after five minutes we went in as well. We learned that most of the children could make the muddy water go as high as their bodies. Indeed they could splash their whole face with muddy water if they jumped hard enough in the puddle. We learned that we won't melt in the rain. We learned that school is not just a place with rules where we line up all day long and get prompted to sit criss-cross applesauce. We learned that we are strong, powerful and mighty. We learned that we can change our clothes, and dirty clothes can be washed. We learned that the world is a joyous place when we can explore it in ways that feel right. I learned that dirty clothes are better than notes home about behaviour. I learned that when I supervise my own students in risky play they show they can manage risk. I did not have any students who needed ice. If I made a rule they followed it because I didn't make any that weren't essential. I learned that today one child "had the most fun I ever had in my whole life".

He was the child who didn't have boots. He was the child who needed the messy outdoors more than all the rest. I am not sure if I can express the learning in terms of the curriculum. It might be possible. But I am sure that RELATIONSHIPS underpin all the success I will have with these children. Today was a day of building relationships. If it happens that they grow up and forget the day we jumped in the puddles until our faces were caked in mud and our hearts were ready to burst with joy, I know I never will.

EPILOGUE – Several weeks later the weather situation was the same, if perhaps colder.  My new teaching partner was not dressed for mud, and a little hesitant.  A few of the girls were also a little hesitant.  This time I gave them a mission.  We were not to just splash with wild abandon, but instead We would see if we could find things that would float in the puddles.  I didn’t figure this out the last week of August when I was doing my long-range plans.  It came to me in the moment.  It just fit.  While I was thinking we would just look for natural objects in the yard, an industrious child managed to grab a few lunch containers from the lost and found box on our way out the door.  It was a very engaging lesson and I just had to listen, observe, and occasionally pose an open-ended question:  “Can you find anything else that might float?”  “Why do you think your leaf floats?”  

When I think back to all the planning and gathering of materials for my sink or float lessons from previous years, I realize how far I have come.  The road ahead might still be long, but I am well on my way.  I trust the children and I recognize the value of a puddle.

(end of Nadine's post.)

I love her reflection at the end - indeed, once you have harnessed the power of learning in the moment, it can be strange to look back at how we once were taught to plan for learning without taking the students' actual knowledge into consideration (for those of us who began in theme-based programs). When I think of the moments that change us most as adults - I mean change our outlook about what is possible and appropriate learning for children, I think of this powerful statement by David Hawkins.

"We who have been involved in the study of science and children have ourselves been changed in the process. In some ways not easy to express, we have been liberated. Those of us who knew children before science (are) now seeing the former, children, and ourselves as well in a new light: as inventors, as analysts, as synthesizers, as home lovers, as lover of the world of nature. Those of us who knew science first, and children after, have an altered and more child-like view of science, more humane, more playful, and even at its most elementary, full of the most unexpected delights".
David Hawkins as quoted by Karen Worth

A puddle reflected the world of possibility for Nadine, for her students, and for those of us who delighted in first reading her story. It was her story that brought me back to my (neglected for many months now) blog, only to discover the draft of a story about water as a metaphor for learning, and for reflecting on our learning. I thank you, Nadine, for sharing the joy.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

reflections on a stream

A pause in the rain revealed this beautiful reflection in a street corner puddle.

The idea for this post, the image I've had in my mind for the last year or so, is one that I cannot see in whole just yet. I feel like I keep getting glimpses of a truth, or pieces of a puzzle I haven't seen assembled but feel they belong together. The underlying theme of the ideas is the meaning of pedagogical documentation, but the big picture is elusive. It's as though when I try to grasp it, it slips through my fingers like water.

Fish hiding in plain sight in the shallow waters near the shore of Paudash Lake.

Water is meaningful to me as a metaphor for so many aspects of life. I grew up with a fish-stocked pond which was wonderful for swimming in summer and skating in winter. We spend hours watching the goldfish darting about in the reeds, catching tadpoles, listening to frogs, or spying on the occasional great blue heron who'd dropped in to stalk the fish. I learned the names of the lakes and rivers we passed on our semi-annual trips up north to visit my mom's family in the Timmins area, or south to Philadelphia to visit my dad's family. Some of my fondest childhood memories involve faraway lakes (visiting family friends on Temagami) or nearby shores (the miles of shallows north of Gilford on Lake Simcoe). In my twenties I traveled across the province, visiting the far corners and near towns that I didn't yet know - Thunder Bay, Kenora, Ottawa, Lindsay, Port Perry, Sudbury, and many more. I've loved learning the many moods of water, from the stunning morning reflections on a still pond, to the deafening roar of a waterfall, to the eerie creak of a frozen lake singing beneath the ice-fishing huts.

A great blue heron stalking prey in beautiful Stanley Park's Beaver Lake. Ducks were skimming the water's surface nearby while this enormous bird stood still for minutes, watching for movement below the lilies.

Many definitions of pedagogical documentation speak about how it makes the learning visible. Documentation is sometimes likened to a mirror: reflecting what is, but also allowing one to see what is missing. As a metaphor for seeing, looking in water is not "true" reflection but moving, showing life below the surface and mirroring differently as the ripples move... searching for self but seeing much more. This makes more sense to me - learning is a social activity heightened by the questions and discoveries of those with whom we are engaging in exploration.

... pedagogical documentation offers more than a record. It offers a process for listening to children, for creating artifacts from that listening, and for studying with others what children reveal about their competent and thoughtful views of the world. To listen to children, we document living moments with images, video, artifacts, written or audio recordings of what children have said, or other digital traces. These documented traces of lived experience, when shared with others, become a tool for thinking together. To hear others’ thoughts makes us realize there are many viewpoints. Dr. C. A. Wien

Learning is never static, for new ideas bump up against those already held and they require us to reorganize our thoughts to make sense on a daily basis, in an ongoing process of cognitive dissonance and reckoning. It is not a mirror, holding steady on the wall, but all around us as awareness. For this reason I come back to water to understand reflection. Water changes to suit its environment. Our thoughts likewise change and reflect the ideas we hold, and as such can not be thought of as a "true" reflection of what has happened, but instead an impression formed from our particular perspective.

A typical winter view on Long Branch beach - waves undulate below a layer of glistening, tinkling ice.

Learning a fact or a skill can be seen as a complete task. But most learning in life, and indeed in a multi-age, emergent curriculum classroom, is a much messier affair with some deep meanings taking many turns around and around the concept before any understanding is possible. Indeed, my very attempt to define documentation is causing me to spiral around the the concept. For that reason, I invite the perspectives of those educators around me whose documentation has inspired me, and helped me to look closely at my own practice.

A blustery day on Long Branch beach. One can feel the spray of the waves far back from the water's edge.

Below is the moment I captured when these images began to swirl, much like a whirlpool, connecting various people whose work with documentation excited me. This storify, now six months old, lead to the first of my guest posts on this idea, as I was revisiting the documentation story that lead to Christie's post. Today I came back to create an introduction to the second guest post, by Nadine Osborne, and discovered this artifact (the storify) saved in draft with only the title and the hope for more guests to join in. Please note: in order to see the entire story (embedded below) you will need to click on the blue "read next page" banner. This post will be edited to add the live link for Nadine's post, which is currently in draft form as well.

Final thoughts - I left myself the trace (the storify link, and the title) and nothing else. Why "reflections on a stream" and not on water, or a pond? I honestly can't recall my thinking from that day in September when I created a draft and then got caught up in the swirl of a new school year. What I see now is this: when you seek reflection upon a stream, what you see doesn't appear to the others around you exactly as it does to you. Much depends upon where you stand. Your documentation is a trace of the relationship between you, the learning, and the other learners. What you remember will be what touched you, or caught your eye like the flash of sunlight reflecting on water.

Monday, 24 August 2015

inspired by things both great and small

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must
keep moving.” Albert Einstein
A and friends consider the delicate balance they have achieved. The varied sized in the wood blocks make symmetry, and balance, a challenge. 

This particular story has been bumping around in my brain for almost two years now, though the desire to challenge gravity in various ways seems to express itself every year in my teaching experience. Something was different in the school year of 2013-2014 (my last year teaching in a half-day program with a morning and afternoon class). I've pored over photos and documentation from that year, and it seems to me that the decisive element was the presence of a boy *referred to as A in the documentation. Note: There were five children beginning with "A" in the morning class, and three "A" children in the afternoon. I soon regretted my choice of single initial for our shared digital documentation, but students were used to it and were quite happy to tell their families at home who all the players in their inquiry stories were. In fact, I took it as a sign of pride that students were going home, asking their families to show them the class twitter, and pointing out their stories: "No, that's not my building. Yes, that's it, see my shirt there?" Last year we decided to go with full initials, thus A in this story (who is now going into grade two in a few weeks), would be AK. There were other technical challenges as well; lost dates, problems with storify, lack of hard copy documentation (locked at school for summer). This post illustrates one of my favourite inquiry stories, but also gives insight to the process of collecting and reflecting upon the story. As I delve into my learning journey about documentation, I can't help but make my learning visible.

I too, like A, am fascinated with structures that seem too precarious to stand still. I have long been a fan of a local balance artist, Peter Riedel (mentioned in previous posts here and here) whom I finally got up the courage to approach and chat with one day while he was at work on a beach near my home. I told him how I'd shown photos taken at the beach (over several years) to my students, and how an incredible inquiry unfolded (in previous years before A was in Kindergarten). I asked if he minded me using my photos and his on his website in PD, showing the beauty of exploring with loose parts. I am grateful that he welcomed the idea.

A treasure left on my local beach this summer by stone balancer Peter Riedel. I was delighted to find it, but sad I'd missed seeing it the day it was created. Often 15-25 of these sculptures appear, and over a few days some are knocked down (by large waves or more likely by human hands). When I found this one it was one of four remaining.

My own rock play - not a gravity-defying tower, certainly, but the patience and perseverance required to balance the top stone gave me a thrill, when I managed to set it just so. I think I may be "catching the balance bug" - I wanted to play here all day after a family swim last week on this very stony stretch of shore in Oakville.

A structure inviting perspective taking - as I picked up the bricks to stack, I turned them in each direction to find the flat side, the slope, the holes. Peering through at each point gives a different view of the horizon and the waves. Students often relish the opportunity to include such elements in their structures, inviting their peers to look through this door, this window.

In fact, it was discovering Peter on twitter last week that led me to revisit this story once again, after he suggested he could someday visit to do a demonstration. To say I was excited at that prospect is an understatement. I dug through old photos to find evidence of his impact upon my students.

And so it is, re-inspired, I came back into this year-old draft and found the title, the captioned photo below, and seven point-form notes about what I intended to share (in blue).

First week of school: R's recreation of one of the "Marilyn Towers" which we can see clearly from our schoolyard.

A and the building challenge
representational work and whimsy
critical eye

My words intrigue me, now. Even my title seems like a lost story: was I thinking about how students found inspiration in great works of art and their own creations? Was it a reference to materials, both enormous stones and tiny beads or beach glass? Was it a reference to "looking closely", so much a part of the culture of our class, and how students needed to both look closely and look from afar, in order to recreate those structures as challenged by their peers? I no longer know what made me think of the title, but I feel the need to honour it as part of the journey.

There were so many inquiries ongoing in the last months of school: line in design and in nature, symmetry, mandalas, birds and bird feeders, spring change (#Kndspring), beyblades, potions, nature weaving, number patterns, and incredible caterpillar-to-butterfly experience. I remember being amazed at how often ideas from one inquiry would spin off into another, though the players were different. I see in the list I'd made those themes repeated: balance appeared in so many ways, and perseverance developed as students deepened their study of one or another idea through the use of their choice of materials. Reflection was apparent as students commented upon their peers' work, either finding solutions to their problems or finding inspiration for their own work. Most exciting was the way in which the morning and afternoon classes communicated with each other as they looked at the documentation unfolding from each others' work.

There were other teachers, too. It was before our school joined FDK, but I was fortunate to have a fantastic ECE student join our class in spring. Daniel Kerr was much like my wonderful current teaching partner, Pooneh - an adult with a serious love of joyful learning and no fear of fully-engaged participation as a co-learner with students. Another player in the way the inquiry grew in the spring was Kelly Wright, an inspiring educator (and now friend) with an FDK class in nearby Clarkson PS. Our classes connected often through twitter, but it was her thoughtful action in April that transformed the building inquiry into an exploration of design and an exercise in critical thinking.

As this is an old story, many of the photos from that year are assembled in albums saved in dropbox. I was able to find only the upload dates, and thus no timeline. Physical documentation in locked up safely in class, so my next step was a visit to "tweet tunnel" to find old tweets. The furthest I could go back was February 2014, so the earlier photos I found can't be dated accurately. These photos give some idea of how materials and ideas came into play over the year.

A provocation from fall 2013: photos of large balance structures found in a park near to my home. Early on A demonstrated an interest in form, matching images and later seeking new inspiration in books we found together in the library.

One of the reasons I so loved this inquiry was the way in which it allowed me to see A's true character. He had been my student for a full year already, but in his first year he was a quiet, cooperative boy who made friends easily and joined in a variety of explorations: a beyblade inquiry, a months-long marble-run project, indoor and outdoor cooperative games. He was not yet, however, a leader. What developed in A's second year of Kindergarten was his ability to follow his interest at great length - he was entirely happy to work on his own but equally patient when others wished to join in with his increasingly complex structures. A became a leader, though very quietly and without ever dictating roles. He demonstrated for me so very clearly the importance of embracing the theory of "the hundred languages". I had already begun to understand and relate to the theory through several other types of learners - those whose need for motion in order explore an idea, those who learned to use language later than their peers but whose mathematical understanding excelled early, those who were 'young' socially but full of ideas and mature expression when focused on their interests, those whose passion for nature made them comfortable and confident outdoors even if they experienced difficulty remaining calm while inside the classroom. These students who "stood out" in a highly-structured classroom, whose natural way of interacting with the world would be seen as "behaviour" when the student was required to do something difficult for them (such as lining up, sitting to listen to a story, completing a task such as putting on a snowsuit) were those I most delighted in seeing with fresh eyes, years ago when I first read "The Hundred Languages" poem. Students like me as a child, wearing my emotions on my sleeve and interrupting constantly when an idea popped into my head. But here was A, a well-adjusted student who demonstrated interest in many things but rarely spoke about it or asked to share his ideas, showing great maturity, creativity, and capacity. It must have been there, in the year before, when he explored similar ideas with his friends, all senior students. His parents laughed to hear how he was quiet, during that first year interview. They assured me that at home he was the one who told his older brother what to do. I missed it... had he been leading the play back then, or at least influencing the direction of their explorations through the materials he brought out to use? I cannot know, but what I do know is that through "listening" to his play, watching and asking questions and supporting his communication by taking pictures as he directed ("Now from here. Let me see. No, this part.") I witnessed something wonderful: A found his voice. Perhaps it would be better to say I heard his voice. An inquiry unfolded, crossed over into other inquiries, cooled down like a dying campfire only to have a spark catch anew... and A grew, and with him we all learned so much. As an educator I am greatly inspired by the theories of David and Frances Hawkins. I see how important it was for me to be present, if not actively involved at least actively listening and observing A at play.
"We who have been involved in the study of science and children have ourselves been changed in the process. In some ways not easy to express, we have been liberated. Those of us who knew children before science (are) now seeing the former, children, and ourselves as well in a new light: as inventors, as analysts, as synthesizers, as home lovers, as lover of the world of nature. Those of us who knew science first, and children after, have an altered and more child-like view of science, more humane, more playful, and even at its most elementary, full of the most unexpected delights".
David Hawkins as quoted by Karen Worth

Some ways in which balance and symmetry came into play in our class that year: at top, A and friends on their "motorcycles", several late-in-the-year examples of balance structures, and at bottom left, an example of how an idea inspired an entirely different expression of balance in the afternoon class: body balance challenges.

Several girls challenged each other to stack the clay curves in tall towers. J, on the left, counted each piece. N, blurry in the right corner, estimated the height of the two stacks in order to judge which was taller. I don't recall who mentioned it but there was a discussion about how they couldn't compare number of curves to decide which was tallest. The conversation gave me much insight into their understanding, as they pointed out side-by-side curves (thus not taller) and also the differing sizes of each piece. Math play happens everywhere in Kindergarten, but if you want to find it, go looking in the blocks and construction area.

A structure by A and friends. Note the printed documentation on the whiteboard, at left. This places it sometime after April, as those images are messages sent to us by Kelly Wright's class, @KinderWonders  during our collaborative inquiry around balance. That story is told in more depth below.

Documentation by Daniel Kerr, made in collaboration with A. Note: due to another tweet by A on this day (see below) I know that this collage was from  March 3rd.

From the photos above you can see the patterns that had emerged since the beginning of the school year: play with symmetry (while using not perfectly-matched materials), balance, recreation of known structures, beauty, function and form. Below, reaching back as far as I could using tweet tunnel, I gathered examples of how A's passion for building, and in particular for balance, inspired his classmates and those students in the afternoon class.

It was not long this time that I realized something big was unfolding in class and that I'd need to share it with families, beyond the tweets we'd been sharing all year. I started compiling a thread in storify, saved in draft. Now, before I can move on to that story, I need to offer an explanation, and a caution. Storify can be a wonderful tool, but it has limits. It is not able to reach back very far, like tweet tunnel (the examples above could not be found by using storify). It also requires a link for each tweet, which contains your handle (name) within. Herein lays the problem I encountered when I went to publish the story last year: when our class became an FDK class with two educators, I wanted to change the name to reflect this. My own name was the previous handle. I considered starting a new account, but this wasn't best for the families, especially those senior students who'd been with me while the account was called @FynesKs. Thus I changed the name on the active account. I only discovered later, when I originally went to publish the story, that my storify draft was no longer functional. It had a long list of these no-longer active links, such as: (first tweet below). 
Last year I was disappointed to see the story disappear. I'm thankful that I didn't delete the draft. I saved it, more for the comments I'd added at the beginning of the story than for the now-defunct links. This morning I copied the introduction I'd written (see in blue, below), then got an idea... just as a test, I substituted "109ThornKs" in the link where "FynesKs" was. It worked. It meant tedious copying and fixing each link in a new window, but the story came back into view before my eyes. Here then is a window into that large balance inquiry as it grew over spring.

An amazing balance challenge unfolds in our class.
Balance is one of the big ideas we explore over the year in our class, and it shows up in many ways: body balance, testing materials, challenging one's self or working with friends. Students became truly proud, & even more motivated, when other classes joined in & challenged us to greater 'heights'.

The balance and building work has gone on since September, with skills and ideas deepening each month. Storify won't allow me to reach that far back, so I pick up the story here, in early April, when my favourite clay curves (which had been sitting unused for over a month) were brought out by both my AM and PM classes on the same day. In the first tweet we were responding to class friend (an outdoor educator and coordinator extraordinaire) Rob Ridley, who sent a tweet to show he'd gone to visit the source of my students' beloved clay pieces (broken and water-softened clay pipe bits from a nearby foundary).

A powerful illustration of the Hawkinses theories: eolithism, "messing about with materials", "I, Thou, It", and "Teacher as Learner"; science and math ideas are evident in deeply engaging, socially constructed play. Their desire to share with their families and friends in other classes made this a truly exciting inquiry. This image repeated from the tweets above. 

I look back at my original draft, my list of words and the title I left as a trace, and I know that how I see the story now is influenced by all the learning that has gone on since that time. I've been joined by a truly delightful, incredibly talented teaching partner, Pooneh. I've seen another year of students, (some who were in that class as year ones) tackle the challenge of balance in their play, many of those students inspired by the work that went on the year before. I've deepened my knowledge of the works of David and Frances Hawkins, through reading and discussions with fellow Hawkins-inspired educators. I am constantly amazed and delighted by the minds of the students I work with, and by those fellow educators, like Kelly, who embrace the wonder and thus make the classroom a place where magic can happen. Or, as I often say about our always-evolving (and let's be honest, not the prettiest, we're always catching up with our documentation) classroom, "It's not a beautiful place, but a place where beautiful things can happen".

“One of the very important factors in [meeting and talking with children] is that there be some third thing which is of interest to the child and to the adult.” David Hawkins
“In sharing enjoyment with a child there is a communication of the fact that as observers and learners we are of the same stuff.” Frances Hawkins
“Without a Thou, there is no I evolving. Without an It there is no context, no figure and no heat, but only an affair of mirrors confronting each other.” David Hawkins

The tweet below, created and sent by a student very proud of her ability to write about her discoveries, says it well.

    S typing: "we call it play and learn because we learn while we play" wow, S summed it up beautifully #reggioplc

    — Beyond 4walls (@109ThornKs) May 7, 2014

And so I ponder that first quote, the one that spoke to me today:
“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” Albert Einstein
and I wonder if it isn't a good metaphor for being teacher as researcher, learning from students through pedagogical documentation. To keep understanding, I must keep moving through the ideas. I must keep reflecting.