Sunday, March 20, 2011

It's OK to Play

I read this article and wholeheartedly agree with what they set out to prove and the psychologist in me is fascinated by how they did the research. It's a hard thing to measure-creativity:

I think of myself and how I learn even as an adult. If I'm being instructed on a new computer program, I'll sit through the training, pay attention, take notes--you can tell me step by step what to do; but I'll tell you what, let me "play" around with it for a few hours and I will learn to navigate it much more quickly and in a way I can apply it to fit my needs.

It scares me how data-driven education has become, but particularly because it's seeping down to even the early childhood grades. We start our standardized testing in Kindergarten and believe me, there's pressure for the students to do well. Our school is compared to other schools, teachers compared to other teachers. I try very hard to keep the kids upbeat and not anxious about it, but also am required to "practice" with them to make sure they can use strategies for the format. How sad is it that we did autobiographies this month-the kids wrote about their lives from birth to the present and several of them wrote about taking a BIG test. Are those the memories of school we want our kiddos to have?

Anyway, I truly believe in letting kids use their imaginations whenever possible. Some ways I try to incorporate this into daily activities:

1) Workstations-teachers are against this because of the noise level or having to manage the kids. But I love using them. Not only are they able to work on their academic level, but I love to watch what they come up. We were using magnets last year to match to the picture magnets for beginning sounds. One of my kids asked me if they could do something else with them, absolutely!

Just made up their own game with the materials-are they still working on reading skills? But now it's their own version of it and therefore more fun!

2) Let them create their own science experiments. Sure we have objectives we have to cover. But if they ask a question, let them figure out the answer. We were watching a Brain Pop on ramps and 2 students were debating how you could make it roll faster. The next day during their ancillary, I let them figure it out using any classroom materials they wanted.

3) Give them a bunch of materials and see who can build the tallest or create the one that floats-it's problem solving, it's collaborative thinking. We've used straws and chenille wands, paperclips. Once we made kites-each group had a different choice of materials-wrapping paper, newspaper, construction paper and we predicted which would fly, then tested them-great Spring activity.

4) Incorporate art. I know what you are going to say-there's no time. Make time. If you do it regularly, art projects take 10-20 mins. Use those products to have them write a story or a poem. Incorporate it into a Social Studies lesson. I can't believe it when I get kids in Kinder who have never held a paint brush ( I had some that literally tried to paint with it upside down). And if they don't do it now they will less and less opportunity as they advance to the higher grades. How many times seen faces light up when I say that's what they are going to do. There have been several times you can hear them say: this is the best day of my life!

And I refuse to tell them what color to make something. My mentor teacher my first year walked in while we were making turkeys and started to tell my kids that did it wrong, turkeys were supposed to be brown. That just infuriated me. Artists are supposed to create the visions in their heads-if they see purple turkeys, then they can make purple turkeys! My kids learn the first week not to ask me what color to use-my response is always "you're the artist".

5) Let them just play at recess. I just love listening to them play and the games they make up. One year I had a class that walked around playing "Zombies" (obviously the Romero zombies, not the fast-moving ones of cinema today). A colleague said "you're going to let them play that?". Of course I am. They took the time to create the game and hey, they're saving the world here! :) How much you can discover about others by just playing with them.

So that's my rant for this month. I just feel so badly for kids that have to sit in their seats and complete workbook pages and worksheets all day. I know I couldn't learn like that. It may not prepare them for the test in typical way-however, I truly believe any time you are encouraging children to think for themselves that you are preparing them for their tests. And even more importantly for life.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Comparing Perspectives

This is something we've been doing a lot of in class lately and I like it because I think it really makes the kiddos have to think twice as much. Some stories we compared the perspective of a character in the beginning of the story and compared it to the end. Our running theme of our chapter books this year has been journeys-so we compare the changes from beginning to end. We read Debbie Allen's Dancing In the Wings based on her childhood and the kids wrote about how the dancer viewed herself before and after that confidence kicked in.

This one was from one of my favorite stories: The Lorax. We compared descriptions of the Lorax from the Onceler's perspective as well as that of the trees. They made double-bubble maps and then wrote about why they thought the points of view were so different. Not the best pics, I know, but here are some examples of what they came up with.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Where Do Rainbows Come From?

Often before I introduce a concept and teach them the "real" reason for something, I ask the kiddos to write about a creative reason why something happens. Why are flamingos pink? What happened to the dinosaurs? I ask them to really stretch their imaginations and come up with something unique, even if they already do know the science behind it. This is writing about rainbows-I believe my favorite one is that they come from Candyland-sounds plausible to me! :)

Friday, March 4, 2011

Get Back in the Box!!!

I teach my kiddos from day one to "Think Outside the Box". Every single one of my students can explain to you what that means. I expect them be creative in their responses whether orally or on paper. If they are doing divergent art, where I give them a squiggle and they have to turn it into something else-they know better than to just give me a snake. Their answer should be different from every other child's answer in the class-be original, take risks. I even told them this year about a billboard I saw, I think it was for the tv channel FX - it said simply: There is no box. I love that!!!  So far outside the box, there isn't even a box! :) So now if someone says "think outside the box", you can hear a little chant of "there is no box" from several of my kiddos.

Well, yesterday I was doing a probability lesson with them. We touched on it a little bit last year and I wanted to see where we stood. They all had dry erase boards, as we were reviewing some other math objectives. I gave them this scenario:  I was doing the laundry and I had 10 white shirts, 2 blue shirts and 1 red shirt. I reach in to pull one out, what color will I most likely choose? Easy, right? Common sense?

The responses:

blue -because it's my favorite color
pink-because it's your (as in their teacher's) favorite color
pink-because once my mom washed a red towel with white ones and they all came out pink
purple-because that's what you get when you mix blue and red
green-I like green
turquoise-I don't know why

Wow! Some days you just have to laugh. My only fear is the standardized testing we have coming up-hopefully because they are limited by multiple choice it might narrow down the answers they choose-but it does scare me a little bit. Maybe we need a new box!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Nice to See Someone in the Media Standing Up for Us

Even if it's sarcastically.

I love the irregular blouses from Loehman's (actually many of my skirts come from Wal-Mart-can't beat their wearability and washibility) and the fact that we have "special" textbooks with all the answers. I actually haven't gotten an apple in awhile but I do get handsomely rewarded in aha moments, laughter and hugs-so maybe I am overpaid!

Crossing my fingers here in Texas with the passing of the budget this month. It will be awhile before we really see how deep the cuts will be, but there will definitely be cuts. I do feel for the teachers in Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida. I'm glad some of our fellow professionals have the courage to stand up and be heard-I wish I believed it would actually make a difference, but I do applaud the attention it's bringing to the issue.