Sunday, 7 August 2016

documentation - who is it for?

The sign that greeted visitors to the Artists at the Centre 15th (and final) Annual Exhibit this spring.

The transparent sign above is a beautiful visual metaphor for documentation: how we leave traces of our thinking matters, we must take into account the different perspectives those reading our documentation will have. It struck me at once as both subtle and powerful. The exhibit beyond the sign was a magnificent example of pedagogical listening on the part of the educators and artists in the project - each moment or time period lovingly captured and presented with the utmost respect and admiration for these capable children. There was no photography permitted at the exhibit, out of respect for those children whose works and likenesses were displayed there. I went this year, like last year, with my teaching partner and treasured friend Pooneh (who I am sad to say has since moved on to help start a new class in our school). We chatted about the projects we saw, several times finding extensions we could bring back for ongoing inquiries in our class. Mostly, however, we were just struck by the quality of the documentation, and the learning depicted. I left feeling so uplifted, so inspired by the vision of such rich learning by children from infancy through what we call "early years", I was sad to see this wonderful project come to an end. I am grateful that similar stories, overlapping the Artists at the Centre project within Mohawk College's "Together for Families" project, are shared in the book below. It presents the inherent brilliance of children as beautifully as any documentation I have seen.

My favourite book to pick up for a little lift - gorgeous documentation of capable learners at work.

Part of my learning journey in the last few years has involved trying to balance the expectations from outside the classroom: parents, older grade teachers, principals and many others have ideas of what should be happening in a kindergarten class, though firstly and ultimately it is the Ministry of Ontario document and reporting guidelines that we need to keep in mind. On the other side of the scale, my own learning journey, my research and collaborations with other Reggio-Inspired educators, which leads me towards uplifting the students' voices and celebrating the "hundred languages" of children. Carlina Rinaldi, in the two following quotes, captures those values I've been trying to cultivate.

The school has both the right and the duty to make this culture of childhood visible to the society as a whole, in order to provoke exchange and discussion. Sharing documentation is a true act of democratic participation.

Documentation is not about what we do, but what we are searching for. ~ Carlina Rinaldi 

Building "body balance" challenge structures have been a part of our classroom for years now, as older students pass this idea on to their younger classmates. What fascinates me is the way the play evolves, and how I see different aspects in each photo. This picture, from this year, shows a careful placement of shoes in a special "shelf" placed there for that purpose. None of these current students were a part of the inquiry in which our class tweeted another about our body balance structures (that story from 2013-2014 in this post), thus none of them know it was an idea we got from photos we received from that other class, in which they labeled "start", "stop", and "shoes here".

I have been thinking a great deal about documentation, both more recently at the end of the school year as I worked my way through reporting for the year-end summary of progress, and more generally over the year, as documentation became one of the dominant lenses by which I view my practice. It is something I've been fascinated with, along with the culture of a classroom around the view of the child as curious, capable and co-constructors of knowledge, since first delving deeper into my own Reggio-Inspired journey. It came to the foreground when I went to a provocative gathering of minds; documentation as relationship: BECS Conference 2015 where we were encouraged to question our understandings and beliefs about documentation and our roles as teacher-researchers. I started a series of posts about documentation, exploring my own thoughts, and also sharing those of inspiring friends who were with me on this journey, whether near or far.

When I first thought about the idea of looking at documentation as a thing unto itself, I struggled to capture the image of what it was I was trying to share, making it difficult to put into words what I was asking for when I pitched the idea to prospective featured guests. I knew I was approaching educators whose documentation highlighted student voice, a clear image of the child, a positive view of negotiating difficult topics, or simply beautiful storytelling that illustrated the brilliance of children. I am grateful for their examples and their leap of faith to join in the conversation. As I said then:

...they all managed to clearly convey in their documentation an idea that I'd been grappling with for ages. They each created work that I immediately connected with as the exemplar for the concept I'd been chatting about in ReggioPLC discussions, or reading about in various publications. Ideas that were deeply meaningful to me at this point in my journey - risky play, the view of the child as capable, inquiry as a moment or a process, documentation as shared ownership of storytelling, inquiry as a process fraught with doubt - all ideas that suddenly had a link, for me, to these inspiring educators. (from "making learning visible...", July 2015)

As I wrote that post introducing the series, it came to me ("aha!") that there wasn't an image in my mind, but a great jumble of images and sense memories.
That aha was this: pedagogical documentation is not one "thing", it is both the process and the product born out of the relationships between materials, learners, and method of documentation. The aha was that I still didn't have a big picture, though I had many pieces giving me a wider view of what I was looking at. In fact, there would never be a big picture, not an accurate one, when the ongoing process meant the view was always changing. Lastly, I realized that what made me reach out to these educators was exactly what had made me reach out to Tessa over a year ago to ask for her view of the teaching partner relationship (taken from my intro to her post):

There is something about the way we share a view of children (as infinitely capable, curious, fascinating) and teaching (as a wondrous journey, forever deepening and growing out into our lives) that creates real friends through the ether. (from "looking for the big picture", July 2015)

Two girls offer their hands to support a third student who was apprehensive to try their balance challenge. I showed the three girls the photo later that day; they all connected to times they needed help and times they were able to offer help, and spoke about pride in being capable, "strong" and "big enough". I shared this photo on our class twitter as an example for our families of the strong social skills that develop within a play-based Kindergarten classroom.

Last year in spring, my teaching partner Pooneh and I spent a wonderful day in the Hamilton area, first visiting the annual exhibit by "Artists at the Centre", then a relaxed afternoon sipping tea in her shady backyard in what I have come to think of as "waterfall country".  We were both so inspired by the depth of learning shared in the beautiful documentation at the exhibit. We felt so uplifted by the image of the child that shone through in all of the documentation, and it helped set the intention to further study our own practice in the future.

We talked about our own class (then winding down after our first year as teaching partners in a just-transitioned full-day Kindergarten class), and our hopes and dreams for the year to come. I was already planning a trip to Boston to visit Wheelock College, where the next "Cultivate the Scientist in Every Child" conference was being held at the Hawkins Exhibit opening weekend. My love of Frances and David Hawkins's work overlaps greatly with the ideas I was seeking out in my documentation study: the child as agent in learning through collaboration with others (teachers and children alike) and with materials. I wanted to reflect this, especially the big ideas unfolding through collaborative inquiry play, and mentioned to Pooneh I was interesting in trying something I had wanted to do for a few years - a year-long growing display of documentation, chosen in negotiation with students, highlighting their favourite moments each month. She agreed, saying something like "give it a go." Like the class twitter I started a few years before, I had one idea in mind but quickly saw it change and grow as a small group of interested students took more ownership of the content and messages shared. In the photo below, the "year of learning" wall is behind Pooneh and I, filled only up to March (the April documentation was chosen, printed, and awaiting student additions such as titles or observations). The artwork on the right was hung for our guests at the Open House; we were displaying works featuring "colours of emotions" while the next months were empty. By June the entire board was filled with photos, drawings, typed conversations and student writing. After our last day of school, I took everything down and assembled it into a large book for next year's families and students (new and returning seniors) to flip through.

My hope for the "Our Learning Over the Year" wall (title chosen by students) was to create something that would communicate shared experiences and values, but also that it would be meaningful to the children in the class, not just display for the adults. I worried, somewhat, that some voices might not get shared in this project, and it helped me remember to go and seek out those whose learning was "less visible" to me or my partner when we reviewed our notes and photos.

Both children and adults need to feel active and important — to be rewarded by their own efforts, their own intelligences, their own activity and energy. When a child feels these things are valued, they become a fountain of strength for him. He feels the joy of working with adults who value his work and this is one of the bases for learning. Loris Malaguzzi, Your Image of the Child: Where Teaching Begins

 The following collage was the result of one such "close listening" moment I spent with a few students. While we encouraged larger group conversations by taking images and words overheard (anecdotals captured on clipboards) back to a group meeting to share, there were many more little moments or individual inquiries that told the learning story of certain students. These stories that students weren't always interested in sharing with their class, often they were happy to share on our class twitter, knowing they would be able to show their families at home.

In thinking about the "Our Learning..." wall as it grew, as I spoke to children at meetings and during play, I was influenced by my hope of hearing and amplifying all the voices within our large, diverse classroom. Two quotes helped ground me in this effort; shared below.

Children are competent, capable of complex thinking, curious, and rich in potential. They grow up in families with diverse social, cultural, and linguistic perspectives. Every child should feel that he or she belongs, is a valuable contributor to his or her surroundings, and deserves the opportunity to succeed. When we recognize children as capable and curious, we are more likely to deliver programs and services that value and build on their strengths and abilities. p.6, How Does Learning Happen?

In creating the documentation wall, I worried often if it was really "theirs". I had hoped that, like the class twitter I created but quickly found others interested in using to send messages, that this space would be meaningful to students. I didn't see much ownership, originally. I would come to meeting at the end of the month (or beginning, if a weekend intervened) and ask students if they had any ideas to share about their last month together. If few ideas came up, I would scroll back through photos and share a few on the screen, prompting conversations. Some students wanted to draw or write their stories, but I wondered if there would be enough to capture some of the bigger moments: the aha's, the break-throughs, and so I'd carefully select images to show to see if those would spark connections to other ideas shared. I had hoped to tie together big threads when I suspected a project might emerge, but I was reluctant to do so if it wasn't coming from the students first. So I armed myself with questions, photos, and my notes, and asked each month what we might share on our learning wall.

Over the year I noticed changes; some months had many drawings, other months none. Some projects faded away one month (though it continued in class) and came back into view in later months. I wondered many times if it was truly meaningful to our students, beyond the point at which we co-created it. Was it just a display for visitors? Was it alive when being created, then dying on the wall?

Then I witnessed several moments when students interacted with the documentation on the walls (as opposed to the much more popular project books or our twitter), and I realized I had to see the project through to the end of the year. I saw students seek out images of other students who'd moved away over the year (in our class we lost and gained many students this year, more than usual even for our high-transition neighbourhood). I witnessed new students ask their classmates about documentation they weren't present for. A particularly moving incident occurred when one of our new students from Syria hopped up on the counter to point out students in the photos. She had been a watchful participant for a few months, very happy to participate and demonstrate her understanding through gesture, drawing, facial expressions and few words. This day she confidently pointed and named everyone she recognized, and asked the other girl to name those students who were no longer in our class.

These examples I shared are ones I feel proud of, moments that I can look to and see evidence of our message about children's learning to families and other adults who view the documentation. (the last tweet was captured and shared by Pooneh; note the students with clipboards, one with the plans used to create the structure, the other documenting the participants in action).

I was struck by a thought that occurred to me as I took in all the stories at the Making Thinking Visible exhibit: "The power of being seen and heard - our documentation carries weight". I wondered about our class, about students who felt heard and seen, and those who might not. I struggle to find ways to capture and share the moments of breakthrough in students whose starting place was very different from the majority of their peers - those students for whom spoken language (English or other) is not part of their expression, for whom we must listen and watch much more carefully in order to understand them and take their needs and wants into account.

Documentation can serve to illuminate the thinking, a change in thinking that occurred, what was learned or not learned, the evolution of the behaviour  questioning, maturity, responses, and opinions." - Wurm, 2005

Over the year as I reflected on the documentation we shared on our learning journey wall, as well as the copious notes and photos I used for more individual assessment and planning, I felt at some moments that I wasn't measuring up to the goals I had set myself. I was cognizant of differences in attention and relationship, and though it is natural that in a room with two main educators that students would gravitate more towards one or the other, I still sought out those students we might be missing. It wasn't an easy task in a year with such changes - six students moved in after January, and none of those had been to school in Canada before our class. We were always forging new relationships, following new inquiries, capturing clarity and confusion in our large and busy class. I looked to others who were also struggling with these aspects of documentation, reading blogs and articles and participating in #ReggioPLC chats.

I appreciated "The Dangers of Documentation: Ensuring Equity in Your Work"for Joel Seaman's thoughtful look into how students might get overlooked in the larger sharing of documentation with the learning community including families. I especially appreciated his caution not to feel implicated, because this work is difficult and new, and we are all learning as we try to create our new habits of mind around this important part of our role in the classroom. Reflecting upon one's practice is at times painful though it is entirely necessary.

We need to be advocates for the plethora of authentic learning moments that occur, even while others may just see "play". Without documentation, these brilliant moments pass by and are completely lost.
As you look over your documentation, ask yourself - "What is being documented?" "Who is being documented?", and "Why is this being documented?". (Joel, The Dangers of Documentation...")

It was difficult to read and not immediately think about those whose stories were told quietly (to family only) or privately (in small group) for respect for privacy, or fear of being misunderstood (when the growth was enormous but not easy to share with respect to dignity, such as a success in toileting or a newly mastered form of expression). I loved the post and yet felt uneasy, always wanting every child in our class felt honoured, heard, and loved, and not always knowing how to do so with shared documentation. It is a conversation I hope to keep going, as I learn more about teaching and learning along with students with special rights.

This post by Allie Pasquier stopped me in my tracks when I read it, though, and I realized how being hard on myself wasn't a way forward. I so appreciate her honesty.
Are we giving ourselves enough time to understand what is happening in a group or in our center?  How do we get under the surface more often?
Working with children is a creative process, and it takes an incredible amount of time and energy - much more than we are paid for.  The reward is in the moments when you solve a problem, when you feel you have grasped an idea, when you have stories to share with children, colleagues, families, and the community about the work that is happening in your space.  There is no exact formula for early childhood education, and I hope we never find one. As educators, we can’t be perfectionists.  Every child is different, every group of children, every school, every community.  As professionals, all we can do is practice, reflect, and practice again.  Let’s try to fight those feelings of inadequacy that we all have by doing something to make our teaching practice our own - not someone else's. (Allie Pasquier, "It's not about the branch")

Outside the Artists at the Centre exhibit and where our last group meeting was held.

Perhaps the biggest part of my learning journey, not in terms of time but indeed in terms of the impact it has on my thinking, is the Documentation Study Group meetings: "(A) group of educators and artists in Hamilton has made a commitment to meet monthly for in-depth discussion of the Reggio philosophy, and collaborative reflection on documentation." Our final meeting of the school year took place beside the "Making Thinking Visible" exhibit. We all had an opportunity to wander and take in the documentation before we sat down to share ideas. As mentioned earlier, there was no photography permitted of the work, however there was a handout provided to visitors explaining the project.
This is not an art exhibit. These works are significant because they show us images of what the children are thinking and how they are making sense of the world. They show us how adults and children can think and learn together. The show us that non-verbal languages reveal thoughts and feelings that, once expressed, provoke further thought and expression. They also challenge us to reconsider our view of children's capabilities. We see evidence every day that children are born ready to enter into relationship, engage in interaction, form theories, explore and learn from everything the environment and their imagination brings to them, and to do it all joyfully.
Documentation helps us see the intent and process as well as the impact of adults and children collaborating. It gives visibility to our learning, and offers others theories for consideration. ~Karen Callaghan, Project Co-ordinator, in the "Making Thinking Visible" handout shared at the exhibit.
This passage helps illustrate the importance of sharing our work, but also of getting it right. An idea we discussed that evening was that it is an intensely personal thing we do, putting kids' work in public to be viewed and critiqued. We didn't all agree on the best way to do so (some of us much less comfortable sharing identifying features and names of children, others of us seeing it as the way to honour the children best) but it was a wonderful conversation in which we all agreed we would want every child to be able to look back upon their work (as the children visiting the exhibit had done early that month) and feel pride. We referenced the Hamilton’s Renewed Charter of Rights of Children and Youth, which we had delved into more deeply at an early meeting. I recall I burst into tears, thinking about how powerfully we can harm a child or lift them up, with what we share when making the learning visible. It is a sacred trust we have, taking children into the world and opening their ideas and works to potential misunderstanding. Yes, our duty is to the school, the reporting deadlines and the Kindergarten Program that outlines our program expectations for learners and teachers alike, but while documentation with an assessment lens can highlight the gaps and mistakes in learning, that shared with our larger community ought to take into account a relationship lens.

One particular educator, Tracey Speedie, spoke of this eloquently at our meeting. I think it was her (my notes continued onto another page) who talked about thinking of a student in terms of "his position as a citizen in your class", one with rights and responsibilities and thus our role in ensuring those rights are met and not trampled on is tantamount. She kindly agreed to let me share her words here (paraphrased as I wrote quickly but may have missed a word or two!)
The notion I'm worried about is privacy, and respect. The children are sharing with us who they are - there is no guile, no filter, but their interactions in the moment. They are absolutely authentic with us, when working with materials, when figuring out what's right and what's wrong.
We are right there, seeing a true picture of these children, warts and all. If we document with an assessment lens, as opposed to showing their brilliance... we are breaking their trust. (Tracey Speedie)
My own thinking from this conversation, scrawled in the notebook I lug everywhere, is around the the power of documentation to link students over time, and also the importance (and difficulty) of representing students whose language is not ours (whether spoken or not).
A pedagogy of place - students who have siblings at school, who were in our class before them, they know the stories of the land, they connect to the images and stories we keep in our project books.

For younger students or those not yet using English to communicate, it is upon us to do the work to find the common language in their actions - read them, communicate, amplify their voice as we can.

Next year brings a brand new teaching team (both ECE teaching partner and ERF working with us to support student needs where special rights exist) and a newly-published Kindergarten Document. I look forward to exploring further, through the summer with multiple inspiring visits to the Wonder of Learning exhibit, and in the new school year as our class comes together. I also look forward to reading the new Kindergarten Program, because the glimpses I've had thus far have shown our ministry to be continuing a journey in early years that intertwines with my studies - a view of children as learners that demands we meet their unique needs and skills and allow them to participate in the way they are comfortable.

The new document invites us not just to do some things differently but also to think differently and listen differently. We recognize that it would be unwise to push for quick adoption of new practices. It should take time for understanding to be constructed at a deep level. Quick change in practice would suggest superficial understanding of why and how all the aspects are interrelated. ~ Karyn Callaghan, in Inspired and Inspiring Change in Early Childhood Education in Ontario

I know I have wandered today as I wrote, revisiting many days over the year that have informed my understanding. I leave with some examples of from our class, of learning from and with documentation:

More collaboration in the big building area to create a balance challenge - inspired by our newest Click to see great examples of listening our bodies (balance, stable) to materials, and to each other. 

The following three examples are vine clips, as such I left them as links rather than embed here (which can in some formats result in noisy autoplay). Simply click through to see the links.

These 2 students are carefully listening to their bodies & the blocks to build a stable, safe structure.

KU & ZA saw a ball run from last year (w/ KU in pic) and revised their design accordingly

LA started today. She asked when we go home. ME is reading in Arabic for her, showing what's now, what's next...

Examples of documentation with and about students engaged in play - these glimpses remind me of times when students were deeply invested in telling their stories and sharing them with others.

— Beyond 4walls (@109ThornKs) April 5, 2016

I hope to feature more guests in this series of posts about documentation. If you have questions, comments, or would like to add your voice to the discussion, please let me know with a comment below.

Monday, 1 August 2016

the seven (million) wonders of the world

A photo of one of the kids (my daughter or one of the cousins) from our week with family on Cook's Bay, the shallow southern end of Lake Simcoe quite near where I grew up. A mink family was nesting in the rocks just beside the dock, and we often found evidence of their feasts such as this discarded claw.

While my daughter was happy to hold and examine the claw (as seen in the top photo) she was happy to leave this large crayfish alone to rest, perhaps moulting, in the rocks beside the dock.

I saw this wonderful list today, posted by the National Trust in the UK. It was followed by links to apps to download, all to help families keep track of their activities as they completed the list. It occurred to me that this might have been in response to the now-ubiquitous Pokemon Go game that has kids and adults alike running about outside, trying to gather as many Pokemon as they can and earning points for mileage like a gaming fitbit.

I rather love the list, as I see many items on it I consider "must do" activities with students in class and with my own kids. I laughed to see items such as: No.25 make a grass trumpet which so delighted several students in our class this spring.

In April, after many attempts, one student managed to get a loud sound from her "grass trumpet". She was immensely proud of herself, and patiently taught her friends her strategy (which differed from mine). By the end of the week, we had a band of three. (click here to witness 3 students sharing their new-found noise-making skills).  

It reminded me of a conversation I had a few years ago, with outdoor education enthusiasts and friends Rob Ridley and Heather McKay. Rob is a treasured mentor of mine, an outdoor educator who gently prods us adults to go further, no matter where we start in our journeys outdoors with children. His visits to our class are a big hit - students who chorus "tweet the Ranger!" whenever we discover something surprising on our walks around the school, well those students greet Rob like a rockstar when he visits. Rob had shared a blog post back in August, 2014 about those priceless moments of childhood spent outside, which with the following invitation:
Go ahead, ask your kids – what do they feel every kid should experience outdoors by a certain age? Let me know! (see post here: Nature Time Before the Age of...)

 Heather did just that, and wrote her own love-letter to learning outdoors, "Where the Wild Things Are". She invited readers to ponder:
What have you been thinking about trying in your life?  Maybe it’s time to take that leap of faith….

Heather's post was particularly meaningful to me, because our families met up for an afternoon during the trip she wrote about. We had met once before, at the Hawkins-Inspired Conference in Ontario, but while it was a playful experience it was in the company of adults. This time, with our families away from home in full vacation mode, we were making discoveries about our children alongside them as we played in tidal pools and enjoyed the vastness of the ocean.

I wrote about my own aha's from that trip, mainly around self-regulation and the development of an environmental awareness that is possible when spending whole days on end outside. I hadn't responded to Rob's and Heather's queries, not in writing, but I had taken notes in my journal from the trip. Today, seeing the National Trust's #50things inspired me to go back, dig up what the kids had said when I asked them for their "must do by 12" submissions.

My daughter (then 7) suggested:
catch (and release) a crab
eat something you helped catch
climb a big tree
see a falling star
watch "shift change" (birds to bats: sundown, when the swifts swoop down into their chimney nests while moments later the bats come out for the night)

My son (then 13) suggested:
swim "au natural" under the stars
tent in a backyard
bike a "sneaky path" (his name for the deer trails and narrow footpaths where a kid can travel unseen even while standing)

My own (2 years ago):
swim in an ocean, a pond, a river, a lake
jump off of a cliff to swim
save a bird (window strike)
call a squirrel or bird out into the open
follow a wild creature for as long as possible without disturbing it (mink, beaver, muskrat, raccoon, rabbit, chipmunk, heron)
Today I add a new fascination of mine, one that has developed over the last few years as I've rediscovered my earlier love of geography:
follow a river or creek as far as possible - discover its headwaters, its mouth, and travel its winding curves through a forest or through urban landscape
 I realize my new submission is a difficult one for younger children, but a wonderful goal to set as a group, such as a family. A few weeks ago, when we spent our time near the southern tip of Lake Simcoe, we talked about what we saw as we watched the sun go down over the bay. The kids now know much more about the larger lake that spreads northwards, our spot being like the fingernail on a large hand, pointing down towards Holland Landing, and wrist meeting Lake Couchiching in Orillia. They felt the cold waves in Kempenfelt Bay when we spent a beach day in Barrie, and compared that to the warm shallows of Cook's Bay where we were staying. We heard a loon call at night, further south than we ever thought a loon would summer. On our way home, we crossed familiar waterways marked on the roads, and sighed when we crested the last hill before home, as Lake Ontario came into view, huge and blue before us.

Getting outdoors together, whether with a class or with family, allows for kids to see things they might not see if playing alone or with friends. Being in wild or near-wild spaces helps us all slow down, notice life of all kinds around us.

Our tent being dismantled on our last day at the lake - obscured from view, the dock and rocks where the mink scampered daily. Click here to see the mink on the move, or here for a friendly visit from various local creatures.
The "full buck moon" seen through binoculars. Photo by my daughter. We stayed out as late as we could each night (mosquitoes being quite good at chasing us indoors or beside the smoky fire) to watch the "shift change" when swallows went to roost and the fast-flapping bats came out.

Sunrise as seen from our tent. Worth waking at 5 AM.

Me replacing a poor little catfish we found on the lawn. I thought it was dead, as I found it some 3 meters from the shore on the grass, but when I picked it up to inspect it, it gave a powerful "flip!" and I nearly dropped it in surprise. We had been watching herons, osprey and terns fishing all week; it was likely one of these fishing birds that dropped its wiggling prey.

A damselfly nymph I caught (or did it catch me? It did follow me while I swam) that was very spooky while swimming, but upon closer inspection became obvious after a blue adult damselfly landed on my arm. The kids were fascinated to discover something completely new. Truth be told, I was too.

As I'm writing, my other open tab alerted me to the fact that someone had replied to my tweet, sharing the #50things list. Heather and Rob were chiming in with new ideas for how to grow and share our lists with others.

Here we are, at summer's half-way mark, and such a lovely long month ahead to try new things. Next week my daughter and I will once again spend a week at Swan Lake with the YRNC for this year's Rhythm of Learning in Nature, and I will compare notes with fellow eductors from Canada and around the world. Won't you add your own "must do" or "must see" ideas here?

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

wabi sabi

My daughter and other children climbing on the "best part of the park" after hours of walking through the spectacularly beautiful Stanley Park in Vancouver, BC. There are beaches, swimming pools and splash pads, winding mountain trails leading to breathtaking views of the ocean. The park is filled with play structures, a fantastic aquarium, and the beaches with waves. This downed tree, however, an artifact of a terrible storm that took down several "grandfather trees", was her favourite when we last visited two years ago. It took a few minutes to capture a photo without a crowd of kids, all ages, hanging from all the branches or scooting along the trunk. Here's another view, complete with crowd.

The softened bricks that once were buildings, then landfill used to create the land that became Colonel Sam Smith Park - they invite visitors to touch, sort, play. Their broken edges, rounded corners, and various colours and sizes make them challenging and fascinating loose parts for building. They are undeniably beautiful, yet seen out of context, might seem broken and useless.

It is a hot, indeed steamy day today as I sit to write. I spent part of the afternoon out on my bike with my daughter, riding up the local ravine through which the Etobicoke Creek flows, sometimes slowly, but today noisily after last night's wild thunderstorm. Everywhere we looked there were signs of the violence of the storm: deep brown, churning water flecked with white foam, downed boughs clogging the creek where it widens down by the lake, smashed flowers and leaves on the footpath, leafy boughs and refuse caught in branches hanging over the creek, evidence of the higher water level carrying flotsam and jetsam high above the banks. We paused awhile in the forest, up past the cascade that today rushed loudly like a waterfall, around the bend where the trees arch over and it feels like the city is far, far away. The rain was long gone, now, and a hazy sunshine beat down through humid air, but when the wind blew it dislodged droplets from the leaves overhead and it rained anew as we took refuge in the shady forest path.

The creek, usually clear, looked brown and frothy after last night's storm. Look closely at the water's edge right above the straw bale (another gift from the storm? It appeared since my last visit days ago) to see the night heron fishing in the cascade. All over this spot, one sees evidence of storms past: cracks in the pavement above, whole sections broken off and washed downstream, chunks snapped and resting precariously like the one on which the straw bale rests. It is a reminder of the power of water, and fragility of structures that seem unbreakable. The cascade is a favourite resting spot for birds and people alike. Click here to see the heron lift off and fly away, after catching a fish.

I am always struck by the beauty of the ravine, though it is not landscaped or kept clean like the beautiful Marie Curtis Park at its very southern end. It is a wild place, but there is evidence of people all around, too: broken glass, plastic bags caught in trees, shopping carts barely visible below the water's surface in the shallows below the first cliff. One hears planes fly overhead, trucks rumble by on nearby roads, distant dogs barking, and occasionally music drifts down from homes high above on the eastern edge of the valley as we ride along the trail.

One of the shale banks on the western side of the creek, where mink scurry, tiny bank swallows swoop in and out of holes in the wall, kingfishers fly noisily by, crayfish hide under rocks, and fish dart about around one's feet. Also here: a shopping cart (under the water, half buried in the silt), broken glass, crushed beer cans, burnt wood from campfires, a torn shirt, vertebrae from some small mammal. The cliff is a visual reminder of the passing of time, the lives that have lived here (especially those encased in the fossils found all along the creek) and the durability of life. The trees cling at marvelous angles, and it is easy to forget that the city exists just beyond these hills.

There is something rather remarkable about an urban ravine, a place that is both wild and also entirely constrained. Back at home, nearby, the city trucks come by and remove the dangerous, the ugly, the roadkill, the garbage. Here in the valley we see it all, and watch it change and sometimes become something beautiful. Downed trees become a bridge to climb on, broken concrete a new challenge to explore. A bloated carcass of a raccoon loses its hair, then its shape, and much later, appears as scattered bones and teeth, often with traces of gnawing or scraping by scavengers.

Our ride today wasn't a long one, as the heat was oppressive and the water too busy to stop and soak our feet at the cascade. I thought of how Cooksville Creek beside our school might look, as it is also prone to flooding after a storm. I wondered if the no-mow zone was again littered with debris from the high water, or if any students were watching the creek gush past under their feet from the bridge beside our school's driveway. Thinking about our tiny, concrete-bounded stream which gurgles past the yard with litter and wildlife alike, I thought of how lucky I was to teach at a school with something wild right beside it. Not perfectly wild, to be sure, but living water nonetheless. It made me think of an idea I'd tucked away last year, a blog post I had started by saving a storify conversation. I've long been attracted by the idea of "wabi sabi" but at the time was beginning to see how it was a part of my teaching practice. So it was last year I left myself the fragment in blue below, along with the photo of the beach glass and ceramics I'd gathered that day. I remember it struck me, as I picked up and turned over each piece I found on that sandy, stony beach, that this favourite pastime of mine was a metaphor for learning and growing, the way one turns over ideas, tosses back those that no longer make sense (and on the beach, that I always toss back the rough, too sharp pieces which need more time in the waves) and makes room for new ideas. Left in draft so long ago, now when I came to revisit I know I've forgetten many of the ideas that circulated when I left these traces. New events touched on old ideas and they became changed, grew a part of how I understood the challenges I faced over the year: saying goodbye to our beloved cat after fourteen years; seeing our class grow, shrink, and grow again as students moved away and others took their place; welcoming students whose families had fled Syria and learning so much about resilience as we played together, grieving for my uncle who passed this year but learning to appreciate him so much more as I listened to his stories from friends and family at his memorial; losing my teaching partner at the end of this year as she moved on to help open a new class. Naturally I look at the handful of glass now and see with different eyes. But my understanding of what is beautiful, what is worthwhile sharing with students and families, and what is worth celebrating... that only grows. My understanding of what matters, and how learning happens, has grown tremendously.

the convo that led to a new understanding...

Finding beauty at the beach - pondering the beautiful colours and mysterious origins of the treasures I found this week at the water's edge.

I know the beach glass represented, as it does for me still, the beauty of something transformed by relationship - broken, discarded, and yet made precious by its time tumbling in sand, stone and waves. I have collected treasures such as this on my local shore for many years now, for loose parts creative play and for giving away. Those pieces, each a shard of something that was whole, now a part of a collection, represent belonging.

Now I am aware that all this preamble might seem completely unrelated to teaching and learning, the stated theme of my blog. It is, however, entirely related to how I see learning and growing. As a child I was concerned with "getting things right" at school, that is to say, following instructions and getting good grades. I wasn't a success socially, not during elementary school, but academically I fit right in and it made me feel safe (recess was another matter entirely). I had glimpses of a bigger world, through travel to France and Spain as a teen. I experienced "otherness" and the feeling of not belonging, not being able to express myself in my new surroundings with my limited language, thinking teachers must think me dumb. But the stakes were low: my marks at home were fine and my time in Spain wasn't going to count against me. It wasn't until later, in university, that I discovered my ability to fail. I found it terrifying at the time, but not understanding what was expected was a gift, one that allowed me to begin to look critically at what mattered. Studying post-structuralist thought made me panic, as though the cognitive dissonance I felt was actual walls coming down around me, and not merely old ideas crumbling. I found that I couldn't look at anything the same way once my eyes had been opened to the world, my small-town view bust wide by my big city surroundings and multi-cultural friends. Most painful was a new way of looking at "whiteness", from the myriad points of view as I made friends from various continents including aboriginal Canadians. Seeing racism directed at friends made me fiercely protective and yet terribly hopeless. I didn't want to be a part of it, but didn't know where I fit. My own family home was a safe haven, a place of guests and stories and generosity and fun. But when I looked at myself with this new lens, of not-white, I couldn't see beauty anymore. I felt broken. It took time to find the beauty in that break.

“There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in.” Leonard Cohen

Safe to say what I experienced is not uncommon for any small-town kid who goes too far from home and doesn't know where "up" is. It took time for me to connect to what matters most to me, what I missed most about home - nature. I learned to see the life heaving in every corner of the city, not just in the big parks or along the shore. I learned that I remain passionate about equity and it has a place in my teaching practice. I learned that breaking isn't a bad thing, if it means letting the light in. Learning involves letting go, and assimilating, and growing. For that reason, I connect deeply with the idea of wabi sabi, as I understand it. A few years ago I found a beautiful book written for children, touching on the meaning of wabi sabi. I was so delighted, I immediately bought more copies, knowing it was a concept I shared with others in my Reggio-inspired PLN. It resonated with me as deeply as the poem, the 100 languages. It struck me that embracing a wabi sabi view of learning was the only way to ensure all voices could be heard, all those 100 languages and 100 more. Being appreciative, rather than fearful, of things unexpected... leads to wonderful collaborations through playful inquiry. Being brave, that is, unafraid to make mistakes and face the consequences - that was not possible in a "lessons first, play as reward" classroom as I first saw and practiced when I began teaching back in 2003. Seeing diversity as much more than culture, language or colour, but encompassing ways of being beyond what is "neurotypical" - allows me to understand my own thinking better as I learn to understand that of others. Not having a set idea of how our classroom "should look" helps too, though I am often struck with self-doubt upon entering rooms of peers who manage to make their space showroom-perfect. Negotiating our space with students, talking about how we use our materials and our furniture and our bulletin boards - curriculum emerges as does the look of the space we share. 

 Back in the spring I tackled this idea as well, this question I have about the meaning of beauty and how (or if) is it meaningful to teaching and learning. In describing it as one part of a "tangle of spaghetti" I was attempting to unravel, I said:

One such "noodle" running through my mind was the idea of beauty: What is beauty? What does it mean to enjoy something beautiful? Is beauty important to play? Is beauty important to learning? Are there shared ideas of beauty across the diversity of human cultures and across age groups? Do our notions of beauty change as we grow and learn?

I continue to ponder this idea, but without a perfect description of what it is, I still think seeing beauty in what might otherwise seem mundane leads one to see possibilities everywhere. Seeing beauty in others, especially when they are unable to see it themselves, is one of the greatest gifts we can give to a child or adult.

"Using spare text and haiku, Mark Reibstein weaves an extraordinary story about finding real beauty in unexpected places."

Below is the conversation that grew around the idea of being a courageous educator. Being courageous, being willing to accept other ways of seeing, remains the best way to learn alongside our students and partners every day. I'm grateful to the #ReggioPLC for this (and many other) critical conversations about our beliefs. Please note: the story has a second page, you will need to click through after reading the first.

                 *                              *                                *                                *                          *

A favourite page from "Wabi Sabi".

A favourite photo of mine, capturing fall (above and below) on my street after a heavy rain. Autumn often evokes strong emotions, because the beauty is so fleeting, and carries with it the poignant reminder of life's passing. The reflection within further adds to the idea of finding ourselves in the cycles in nature, that we grow and shed and grow anew as we learn about life.

As I think of my relationships with students, teaching partners, and the larger community that come together around our Kindergarten class, I am struck by how much reflection goes on as we examine our world together. We find meaning through our interactions, and through remaining open to a world of natural beauty, we learn so much more than is possible in an organized, sanitized version of teaching in which only the proper, good, clean, pre-made materials are considered for use.

“We do not learn from experience... we learn from reflecting on experience.” John Dewey

Several days' worth of dandelions, lovingly collected by students during the first few weeks the flowers emerged. Treasures from nature always wind up on the "look closely" table under the window.

Dandelions, like fall leaves, become a part of play and exploration for weeks. They decorated "sand cakes", became necklaces and crown, were rubbed onto drawings to impart their golden glow, added to the snail globe to "give the snails something nice to eat and smell", places in vases, dried and ground up in the mortar and pestles, added to potions.
A common description found online. It seems a perfect way to leave a thought that I haven't finished yet.

Monday, 21 March 2016

it began with a bottle cap - a story of beautiful stuff

This past week was our March Break. It was a wonderful week, full of short trips with the kids and meet-ups with family and friends, such as the ever-luminous pop-up play exhibits hosted by dear friends Simone and Aviva of "ThinkinEd". It also gave me time away from class to pull back from the day-to-day documentation, to look back over our year so far and to puzzle away over the unanswered questions or new patterns that had emerged since I last reviewed my notes (December, in preparation for reporting to parents). I found that many ideas spiralled around to collect in this big swirl, rather like  "the tangle of spaghetti"...
...learning is a process of constructing meaning while knowledge, in the words of Reggio's co-founder Loris Malaguzzi, is like 'a tangle of spaghetti' with no beginning, middle or end, but always shooting off in new directions. (quoted from The Salmon Speaks)
I love the image of those tangled-up noodles, all mixed-up and crossing over multiple others with no defined starting place. It rather elegantly describes how ideas get bumped up against other ideas and begin to connect, overlap, and tangle until it's impossible to sort out where one story ends and another begins. This is a perfect image for this past weekend, when my ideas about our past inquiries got jostled (as I reviewed documentation) and tangled up with the reading I had been doing, and the patterns of thought that became illuminated throughout the week through play. One such "noodle" running through my mind was the idea of beauty: What is beauty? What does it mean to enjoy something beautiful? Is beauty important to play? Is beauty important to learning? Are there shared ideas of beauty across the diversity of human cultures and across age groups? Do our notions of beauty change as we grow and learn?

I shared this photo on facebook on Sunday. I was excited to share my new finds with the class on Monday (though a new student arriving and a busy day meant saving this treasure for the next day). A friend of mine commented: "bones are beautiful". I wholeheartedly agreed - and when I mentioned I'd been thinking about the concept of "what is beautiful?" Linda replied; "beautiful is what we all are right down to the bone.'

On the last day of the break, I helped out at our local beach "spring clean-up". We filled many bags with recyclable materials and litter, much of it unrecognizable in its broken and wave-washed state. Most days at the beach I avoid the refuse unless it's dangerous like fishing line, nails or wire, which I always remove when I find it. I prefer to gather the beach glass and pottery shards which are softened by the waves. Sunday, however, was a fantastic day for finding bones: skulls, vertebrae, and parts unknown. I was utterly thrilled to find such beautiful specimens. My partner, Pooneh, appreciated the find but prefers to look at them from afar, much like the snakes we find in the no-mow zone which I adore. I realize my concept of beautiful includes things that many people find uninteresting or even abhorrent. Thinking about this makes me wonder about what others may find beautiful that may elude me. This tangle leads me to wonder about the meaning of feeling or identifying anything as beautiful, if it is a way of giving meaning to what we begin to understand in the world. Something so subjective, what could it mean to how we learn to read, write, and make sense of the mathematical patterns around us? And if we approach our practice as teacher-researchers, making meaning alongside our students, will our own concept of beauty expand as we learn to love what fascinates our students?

Many ideas about beauty in education are surely in my mind because I've read about Loris Malaguzzi and the schools in Reggio Emilia that he helped establish. Whether direct quotes from those teachers who grew their practice in that rich democratic experiment in Italy (that continues to grow and inspire educators the world 'round), descriptions by educators who've visited the city, or even those who are simply Reggio-inspired from afar - there is always a focus on the aesthetic in learning. One incredible story which had a great impact on my learning journey was the simple and yet magnificent book, "Beautiful Stuff":
Exploring materials is an evocative experience. It stimulates the imagination, inspires storytelling and interactions between children, and serves as a bridge to drawing, collage, sculpture, and construction.
In coming to understand what is meant by the aesthetic, I have changed my mind several times on the precise meaning of Malaguzzi's phrase, "the environment is the third teacher". I have wondered if it is the physical environment or the social, if it is the aesthetic in terms of beauty or in terms of feeling a sense of belonging, or some combination of all of those. Many North-American interpretations start with the sense of the physical surroundings:
The environment is recognised for its potential to inspire children. An environment filled with natural light, order and beauty. (an everyday story)

I am drawn to this idea of a beautiful space to work or play in, and yet I don't think that's what we have going on in our classroom. It is not necessarily pretty, with matching bins or boxes or items carefully displayed to highlight the visual quality. I have visited classrooms that stop me in my tracks - so attractive is the documentation, the inviting materials in an array of jars, or colours thoughtfully curated. I do appreciate this attention to detail, but I am not particularly adept at it. No, in our room we have materials in motion - the play defines what is available (thus on display) and where various parts will go when we tidy. Some areas go unloved a while before we notice them and question what new thing should happen there. Other areas become multi-use and jumbled, which isn't surprising in a class with quite high turnover (families move in and out over the year - we have four new students since the beginning of January) and nearly 30 students. It is, however, a place wherein beautiful things can happen: loose parts come together to become shadow-patterns on the wall, ramps, mazes and balance structures built by one or two students evolve into spontaneous large-group games with rules created on the fly, and plans are drawn up, materials negotiated, and experiments conducted with or without adult help or intervention. Students following their own notions of what is important to learn, and co-creating the conditions through play in order to learn them - that is beautiful, to me.

 My own experience with feeling like a bit of an oddball for what I find beautiful (what fascinates and draws my attention) helps me to remember the importance of learning what each one of our students finds appealing, interesting, boring, and frightening. It takes time to win over the most squeamish of students, those who find insects, spiders and other small creatures frightening. Modelling fascination and appreciation for tiny life forms eventually results in some understanding, if not outright interest in them. Finding value in both mess and order is another concept that takes time to develop through play. Another big idea naturally flows from the concepts of beauty, of order and chaos, and of our role in learning: life and what it means to be alive. I believe it's this idea that makes me so attracted to things like bones, fossils, fallen leaves, shed antlers, and other evidence of life's passing. So this weekend when I read the latest "teaching on the verge" post about educators recognizing their students' interests as they emerge, I realized that it was a big part of what I had been pondering, simply described in different language. Are we able to see what is interesting from another point of view? Do we see the wonder in what they see?

Before I delve into the story that brought me into this tangle in the first place, I first find myself pondering this trace I left myself back in November when I first starting gathering the documentation for this post:

The art of listening... not a big spark but a big question...

  I suppose I thought if I listened well the common thread would appear, or new directions would make themselves visible to me. I wonder if I was just reminding myself not to rush into a project, but to continue to play, and discuss with the group, and listen for resonance in the play. There were so many separate explorations going on at the time, including the volcano project, inquiry into building tall structures, our adopted tree, and life in the long grass of the no-mow zone. I do remember wondering if conversations alone would lead to meaning-making, because so few students were exploring the materials outside of large group meeting times. Now, looking back, I think I worried about how to extend the thinking, to make the philosophical questions explored into ideas we could tackle in day-to-day play. I don't recall exactly what I had in mind but it may come back to me so I leave it in - another noodle tangled up in with the rest.

Here, then, is the story of how a single bottle cap found outside lead to some pretty big thinking.

Back in the fall I saw a pattern emerging from several small themes being explored by students in our class. It began early in September when we were spending much of our days outside, often in the no-mow zone or taking walks around the schoolyard. When I realized that much of the notes and photos I'd been taking were coming into focus, I decided to gather glimpses to share with our families, to further the conversation outside of the classroom. The collage below was the first I shared using the newly created #capspark hashtag.

A few interests have been colliding into one big inquiry into the world around us.

That our students would stop and observe something so small was not unusual - indeed, looking closely is a big part of our class culture for several years now, with senior students teaching their new junior classmates the skills and attitudes of young scientists exploring their world.

Pooneh brought these intriguing green and brown balls (walnuts) that had fallen from her tree at home. We looked closely at them during our morning meeting, then moved them to the "look closely" centre by the window. Here students explored the nuts, looked them up in the tree guides and other resources, and observed as they changed over time in the open air.

Part of looking closely involves observational drawings. These often hang over the item being observed so we can watch for changes and compare notes using the drawings (for example, our current garden centre under the window). Here are drawings of the walnuts and an acorn cap.

These students are opening up the leaf press to see what treasures I've pressed inside. Usually they would have collected and pressed their natural items themselves, but this press had just come out of my bag from home, and as such had a nice variety of late summer finds: wildflowers like Queen Anne's lace, vetch, wild morning glory, various maple leaves and seeds.

The colours of the pressed leaves and flowers were intriguing, so we turned on the light table and spread them out to look closely at their delicate details.

In September and October this basket was often lugged outside in the wonder wagon (along with magnifying glass, bags for collecting items, a little first-aid kit, and assorted tools) so that students could draw or take notes outside. This day it included the rings of colour-swatch cards and an invitation to find matching colours.

We wondered about this bounty we found, mid-September - who gathered so many acorns and left them here? Was it "the big kids" at recess? Was it squirrels? Do birds eat these too?

Our bottle cap story began in September, when we were all still learning about each other and discovering the boundaries of our wonderfully green school yard. In order for our newest students to gain a sense of what our school grounds have, and how we interact with nature (hint: gently and with great respect for living things), we go for many walks together before we break off into groups to follow our different interests. Below was one such day, shared here as a collage for our class twitter page.

Later this day or perhaps the next day, Pooneh took a smaller group to the far side of the school where the "tall trees" are (the oaks) while some of us remained in the kindergarten yard with bikes and ball games. Her group brought bags so that each student could make their own collection. One item collected caused us all to look closely, and think about categories such as nature, and not nature. Pooneh showed me after school and we both agreed it would be a fantastic provocation for our next morning discussion. What I captured of that talk is shared below.

This is how it began: a bottle cap intrigued us. We wondered how it got in nature.

There were so many ideas and questions to explore after our discussion. Play and learn time follows our welcome circle (morning meeting), and students broke off to follow their interests in groups or alone. We had our notes (used to create the collage above) and I wrote "bottle cap" in our day plan under "possible sparks" for the rest of the week. Note: When I started to share the documentation with families I began by numbering the days, but somehow switched in later weeks to using dates.  These first few days took place during the 3rd week of school. As well note that most of the collages will show up too small to read in many formats, so click on any to enlarge.

The next day, we discussed the bottle cap all together at our welcome circle. We had so many questions and connections!

The cap inspired to much thought. Students were talking about our exploration at home with their families, and bringing more questions to the class. We wondered: what is this made of? The request to tweet "Ranger Rob" came up, as it often does in our class - he is one of our favourite resources when it comes to learning about nature.

AC's idea, to ask everyone her question: "Nature, or not nature", was well-received by her classmates. She made up her chart and we all took a turn showing our opinion of the bottle cap.

AC's question about the cap showed us that we didn't all agree, that we weren't certain about what the cap was made of and that further study was needed. This reminded Pooneh of another item in our class that had confused someone (we weren't sure whom). It was a toy pear, but she had found it with a very clear bite out of it. If it wasn't a pear, what exactly was it? Now we were really challenging our categories!

A wonderful addition to our classroom conversations came in the form of tweets from other classes that follow our class twitter. These tweets below lead to more thinking, and we wondered if other classes would begin to question their environment by looking closely, too.

That Friday I wondered how I might keep the conversation going, even if only at our large group meeting time. I asked my friend and our Kindergarten neighbour, Lada Duric, if she had any poems or songs about materials, recycling, or living vs. non-living things. She found the perfect one to help us go deeper into our inquiry. On Monday we read the poem together, then talked about the words that the poem said "we all know". Did we all know those words, know what they meant? No! Onward...

We were thrilled to see that our class conversations were leading to families conversations, too. One bottle cap, studied and considered by our class, was creating change!

With several other questions and sparks for projects developing in our class, it was a few days before we discussed #capspark all together again. *Note: the date on the page below is wrong, it should read October 2nd. I wrote these documentation pages from my notes, a few weeks afterwards, and must not have flipped the calendar to locate the Friday of that week.

This first weekend in October, I had a whirlwind trip to Boston with two Hawkins-inspired educator friends to attend a conference about learning through play: "Cultivate the scientist in every child: the philosophy of Frances and David Hawkins". It was an amazing weekend that deserves its own post, but it bears mentioning here because it is the reason the documentation took a while to produce, as well the gifts I received from online friends we met face-to-face there added much to the exploration of materials and the ideas about nature and not-nature

The 3R's poem went home and sparked family conversations, too. Students came back after the weekend bursting with ideas. The first page below documents a conversation amongst a few students who came to chat with me rather than explore the discovery bins that begin each day before our welcome circle.

We continued to look closely at materials and make connections when we came to morning meeting. I told students I'd had a wonderful time on my trip with Helen and Julie, and brought out the gifts from my new friends Ann and Nan, both teachers in the U.S.A.

The conversation continued as we opened and examined the next parcel, the package of "beautiful stuff" from Boston.

We examined the gifts briefly, but by now we'd been together at carpet for longer than usual. This new addition to the class, however, meant that our conversation about materials would continue into play and learn time, and become a part of the play.

The gifts lead students to make theories, sort, and arrange in various ways, as they looked closely at the details of each piece and found the ones that attracted them. I stayed as long as I was able, and captured the following ideas. It was one of the days I wished I could have left a recording device at the table while I attended students elsewhere around our busy classroom.

Touching, looking closely, sorting, examining from various angles, creating with the beautiful stuff.

Sorting, identifying favourites, drawing, making connnections, explaining theories about the beautiful stuff...

While other projects began to grow, the #capspark story continued to make us think deeply about things around us. We wondered about nature, about litter, and about health.

Projects often grow when a few motivated students take leadership, do research, design and conduct experiments, and teach their peers what they learn along the way. The little bottle cap continued to inspire thinking about materials and our responsibilities as people in the world.

We talked about what the news story meant. We agreed that to learn more, we might need to ask an expert. 

As I revisited this part of the story, I remembered that AC and NA wanted to record their ideas about recycling, to share with the class and with our families. The two students started a digital book, with their drawings and photographs of items in and around our classroom. This book project fell dormant, needing more quiet time for recording their story. I shared a news story (above) in hopes of sparking more interest from others who might help with their book, but as often happens in our emergent curriculum classroom, other interests rise to the foreground and others sink, sometimes for good, sometimes just under the surface awaiting a new spark.

The legacy of many projects in our class that come back to how we love our local environment and what it means to be a good steward of nature: we care deeply about our naturalized area, the "no-mow zone". 

These materials continue to be a part of exploration in class.

To me, this story isn't at an end. It leads me to wonder about what new questions and connections will be made over the rest of the year and beyond that, for students who carry the ideas with them. It
reminds me of one of my favourite metaphors for learning in an emerging, inquiry-based way: the Japanese art of Kintsugi:

Kintsugi (or kintsukuroi) is a Japanese method for repairing broken ceramics with a special lacquer mixed with gold, silver, or platinum. The philosophy behind the technique is to recognize the history of the object and to visibly incorporate the repair into the new piece instead of disguising it. The process usually results in something more beautiful than the original. (from "this is colossal")

How that makes sense for me is a post unto itself, but to put it simply here: everything has beauty if you know how to look. Taken as a part of the larger aesthetic, "wabi sabi", kintsugi is a beautiful image for how we create gold: by mending our ideas as old concepts "break" in light of new findings. As we learn, cognitive dissonance may be difficult, or may be treasured as evidence of new wisdom. The discarded bottle cap and collection of "beautiful stuff" allowed us to examine what we think about materials, about garbage and "waste", about beauty, and about life.

I wonder if you'll wonder along with me... what is beautiful? What is nature? What does it mean to be alive? What does it mean to take care of the earth? What is important to teach children? and many, more more questions.