Thursday, 28 February 2013


I don't know how it happens. I don't know when it's going to happen. On my week-at-a-glance planner, there is a box for "sparks and provocations". There I record interesting ideas that come up over the previous week, or I plan experiments and invitations. I look over my anecdotal notes for great "I know!" or "I wonder" moments with my students. Still... I don't know how these magical days can be so different from other days.

Today was another day of ramps and marbles, water beads and colour tiles, cars from home and wooden train set, big blocks and play food. A day like many others in class, these days: too wet to spend long outside, library in the middle breaking up our long "activity" exploration time. My morning friends and I had a great time outside: shoveling new paths, making mountains, sliding down mini hills on the yellow sleds. We read a great book in the library:
"Rain Brings Frogs" about looking at life with a positive outlook, followed by a discussion of ways in which we are lucky. We chased runaway marbles and water beads as they rolled under every piece of furniture. I joined some friends at the snack table with my thermos of tea. We listened to two friends as they read aloud from a letter to mom and dad, and a short story about a favourite doll brought to school. I was pleased to see more phonetic spelling and reading aloud. But, all in all, this morning was a day like any other: we said goodbye to February, and off everyone went.

After lunch I was somewhat dismayed to see the state of the yard. The lovely snow was compacted, dark, and surrounded by enormous puddles. Indeed, like yesterday, the "big kids" had less options for recess because the hardtop yard was flooded and the grounds were turning to mud. So, I pulled off the picture for "outdoor play" from my visual schedule, and added "movie" at the end, thinking another dance party was in order. We went off to library as in the morning, where I expected to read "Rain Brings Frogs" again. Then, half-way up the stairs, I had to stop. The lake that had taken over the "smiley face" side of the school was gone. In its place, we saw a surprising sight.

We stopped on the landing while students stood on tiptoes and peered out at the wonderous scene below. A pumper truck was sucking up the enormous puddle and spraying the water out the back of the truck towards the open grate. So many observations and questions arose, and I knew this was no longer going to be a day like any other. I quickly snapped several photos and a short video clip. We finally left the men to their work (with a cheery wave from them and a big whoop from my class) and headed to the library. There was just too much to talk about, so we left the story aside and instead talked about how we might go about testing out ideas and gathering materials for our new inquiry. We came up with elephants (who spray water with their trunks), beavers (who build dams), ponds, sponges, and trucks, for starters. Our wonderful library teacher quickly gathered some books to add to our interest table. After choosing books, we headed back downstairs where we saw that the workers were still hard at work. 

Ideas were flowing as fast as melt-water back in the class. We needed a water table (now in another class while we have the light table). We needed large blocks. We needed sponges. We needed plans. Plans! Off they went, those whose minds were lit up with the spark of ideas. Other students happily resumed other inquiries or headed to eat snack with friends, knowing they would hear all about it at sharing time later. I tried to take as many notes as I could while the "I wonder" group were abuzz. I looked up a pertinent episode of "Peep and the Big, Wide World" with the beaver friend making dams, while helping two boys write out their ideas for how we could clean up the puddle blocking the gate to our yard. Here are a few of their ideas that made it to paper today:

And then, seemingly only minutes after we started to play, it was time to wrap up our snacks, tidy the room, and gather for our share time and goodbye circle. Many were still buzzing as they left, excited to share their story with someone at home. I went back inside, sat at my computer, and wondered why the room felt so different, even though no new toys or materials had been introduced. I marveled at how my plans to build a snow fort had been waylaid by something spontaneous, and what a gift it is to be able to follow those spontaneous leads with eager learners. I thought of how excited the morning friends might be to hear of the afternoon's events. I thought of materials needed to support the new learning directions. And I thought, again, how grateful I am to be teaching Kindergarten in Ontario where emergent curriculum is becoming standard practice.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

A great time to be in Kindergarten

It is a very good time to be a young child in Ontario. The new FDL-K (Full Day Learning Kindergarten) brings with it a rewritten ministry document, one that outlines all the ways in which young learners are ready to learn, to share their ideas, and to test their theories of mind. In other words, the new document, while it outlines the same learning expectations as our 2006 Kindergarten program, has a new introduction to highlight the importance of play. Play, not as a reward for a task completed or for time in-between lessons, but play as the vehicle for all learning. This new spotlight on the developmental stages of the learning goals requires a different style of teaching than what many of us were exposed to as beginning teachers. Whole-group, skill-specific lessons have given way to many flexible-group inquiries taking place at a time, some for a day or two, some for weeks. Project-based teaching is something I believe allows me to meet the needs of my students in a meaningful way that was not possible when all students were studying the same themes or ideas at the same time. Students take ownership of the knowledge they gain through inquiry projects, and they in turn teach their peers what they've discovered. With less opportunity for comparing themselves to one another (the first one finished, the one who reads without help, the one who needs more time) students are less concerned with making mistakes and therefore feel safe trying new activities. I have seen the way reluctant speakers open up and become active agents in an area of comfort during play. I have seen students teach a friend a skill they learned, be it how to make a ramp, how to cut a heart-shape, or how to open their snack, and I have delighted in the problem-solving that occurs when I'm busy playing somewhere else. In fact, I've never enjoyed teaching more.

"A nice day at the amusement park with colourful flags": A play scene at my "nature art" table last year.

I am very fortunate to be able to take my Kindergarten Specialist with the same wonderful instructors who taught my part two course last year.  In fact, as a testament to their teaching, most of us in the course are there as repeat visitors from the part two session. Being a part of a learning community outside of the school allows me to hear about how the new Kindergarten program is rolling out in different boards around the GTA, which is fascinating because there are so many changes to our grade as we switch to full-day. As a half-day teacher with two classes, I love the opportunity to learn from teachers already sharing their classroom with a DECE (Designated Early Childhood Educator). I am excited about the depth of learning that will be possible when my students have more than two and a half hours of school each day.

I also appreciate the time to focus on big ideas, to tackle difficult topics, and to really reflect on my teaching practice. Being around people who are energized by learning has a contagious effect. And so it is that this week, after we discussed our inspirations, those outliers or leaders who helped pave the way for emergent curriculum in our kindergarten classrooms, we were asked to think about those people in our own professional lives. I said that for me, attending PDSB  Kindergarten network meetings was a way I developed my repertoire of skills and ideas. I attending as many as I could those first few years, and though it would be several years before I'd hear the terms: "self-regulation", "Reggio-inspired", "emergent curriculum", and "inquiry-based learning", I met a teacher who embodied all those ideals in her teaching practice. So naturally, when asked for our heroes in education, I would think of Nancy Thomas, whose workshops left me so full of wonder and hope. A teacher for whom wonder was the natural state of learning. Her ideas, which seem so natural to me now, were then a roadmap to where I wanted to be. I felt a gulf between where I was and that place, but I knew where I was going. Years later, I feel like I've arrived in that area, and I'm making it home.
When I mentioned Nancy's name, the instructors both smiled: she is due to speak to our class next month. What a lucky time to be teaching Kindergarten in Ontario.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Celebrating the many languages at Thornwood

One of the many posters adorning the halls at our school this week.

Today was one of those days that make me very proud to teach, because I am so very proud of my students. At Thornwood PS, we have been celebrating for weeks leading up to today: "International Mother Language Day". Posters adorn the school halls, morning announcements ring with many languages, students sharing songs from home during our sharing time in class, and today's whole-school assembly. The families of our community were invited to join this event, and a team of junior students were equipped with iPads so that visiting family members could live-tweet the assembly, and those tweets were projected on the wall for us to follow. At the same time, projected up front were images and stories of languages in Thornwood and the community. What a school!


My class were invited to share our "We Can Count" Voicethread.

(Note: mobile users may see a blank space above where embedded Voicethread is posted. If so, please Click here to view the book in the free VT app).

This project, started in December, came about when two PM-class girls showed me how they could count to 10 respectively in Mandarin, and Farsi. I asked if they could teach me. Then I grabbed a flip-cam, had them demonstrate, and showed the rest of the class during our sharing time. Inspired by the reception, I proposed a counting book in the Voicethread style we had already been using for an ongoing construction inquiry. Sparks caught, fire was burning! Once I posted the book online on my class site, feedback started coming in from families about how proud they were of their children, or how their child could count in another language not yet featured in our book. A particularly proud moment for us came when one student's mom asked me about our project one day after school. I learned that he had gone home and asked for help to learn how to count all the way to ten in Telugu, and she wanted to know why he was suddenly so interested. Of course I was delighted to then add him to the book, and let the family know it was posted on my class site for home use. Later in December this student left to visit India, and there he proudly showed our book to family and friends.


Today was another highlight. Familiar faces smiled from the visitors seats, and two excited and nervous senior students from the morning class stood with me at the front of the gym as we introduced our book. They then took the microphone to show how they do it: first in Tamil, then in Portuguese. I heard later from our reading buddies that the grade fives were amazed at how brave those students were to speak in front of the assembled crowd. I had to agree.

As we left the assembly and walked back to our class, many kind words and praise were heard from older students we passed. "I speak Tamil too!", "I loved your book" and "You did a good job!" (spoken to the students who'd stood up with me). What a great day. What a great school. I wouldn't trade my job for anything.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Kids making connections

On Friday, I shared a magical video clip with my class, having been inspired by the wonderful post on Joanne Babalis's "Transforming our Learning Environment..."  site. Her site, along with a few others I follow, has been a huge source of professional development inspiration for me as I also try to transform both my classroom environment and practices. The video, "Projector Snow" by Brian Maffitt, delighted my students with its dancing snowflakes and whirling kaleidoscopic colours. They "Oooh'ed" and "Ahhh'ed", and talked about what they saw, what it made them think of, and what they wondered. Several students made pictures to share their impressions of the snowfall.

One student wondered aloud: "I wish we could paint the snow!"
I didn't let her know this, but I had had the same thought, having recently found such an idea on Pinterest.
I praised her creative idea, and today we watched the video again before starting our own coloured snow experience. What a delightful way to express our ideas about art! Here are a few images from our morning.

Today I plan to share the video with my afternoon group. I expect new connections, wonderings, and ideas to emerge. With luck, the snow that fell this weekend will remain for a few more days' worth of experiments and outdoor play.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

One year journey

Welcome to my new space. I hope to use this blog as a place for reflection, for sharing with families and colleagues, and for inviting feedback in a way that my Peel Board "my class" site does not allow. I use networking as a form of professional reflection, with a presence on twitter, pinterest, and as a member of the fantastic "We Can See Project" blog, but I have resisted creating my own space. I have told myself "when I get a full-day K class", "when I have completed my Kindergarten Specialist", and even "when I finally have my cast removed". Today I have challenged myself to one year: one year to gather my professional online identity in one place, one year to try sharing and reflecting on my teaching practice, one year to join the many outstanding educators who inspire me with their shared learning. Please join me in my kindergarten journey!

What I saw at the beach yesterday. Between the waves, things became clear, with reflection.