Spring Inspirations

When you dream of spring, what does it look like?

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Spring is finally here…sort of. Despite the fact that it is still chilly outside, spring has sprung at the Curious Kindergarten! This year, the children were particularly excited about the arrival of spring – doing their own countdown in the days leading up to March 20th. When the first day of spring arrived, some children were naturally disappointed that when they woke up that morning there was still snow on the ground, a chill in the air, and a winter jacket to wear to school. We wanted to latch on to the children’s natural excitement about the changes that were still ahead, so we created a “Spring Inspiration” table at our classroom science table.

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Above: Birds nests, birds, eggs, and early spring plants inspire the children’s thinking around the creatures we have already observed in our Outdoor Classroom.

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Above: Insects, a bug house, planting supplies, animals, and non-fiction books about spring changes help the children envision what they might begin to see and do outside now that the weather is changing.

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Above: These fairies and garden gnomes were a huge hit, providing ample opportunities for dramatic play, storytelling, and the development of ideas around how creatures respond to the changes outside.

The question we have been asking leading up to spring (and after) is: “When you dream of spring, what does it look like?” In order to support the children’s thinking, we have been reading a lot of books (both fiction and non-fiction) about spring and engaging in visualization exercises. Many of our classroom activities have been designed to help the children communicate their thinking in a variety of ways. For example, at the playdough table we created a provocation with green dough and spring-themed loose parts (mushrooms, flowers, butterflies, stones, wood chips, etc.) in which the children created their own “spring scenes.” At the writing table, children have been encouraged to write their own poems about spring, and at the art studio, children were given the opportunity to paint a still-life portrait of a tulip.

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M.F. and M.B. created a collaborative drawing that tells their story of spring creatures.

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“Hello Spring” is a poem written by one of our JK students at the writing table.

What an exciting time! It really does feel like there has been a “spring awakening” happening in our classroom. How have you marked the arrival of spring with your students? What kinds of inquiries and ideas are you talking about?

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Math and Science Investigations (M.S.I.)

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Math and Science Investigations (M.S.I.) is a building program I have been doing in Kindergarten since I started my career. I first learned about it during one of my practicums in a Kindergarten class when I was in teacher’s college. Essentially, M.S.I. is an inquiry-based program that uses building materials to encourage the development of math and science concepts, creativity, problem-solving, perseverance, planning, and much, much, more. My original resource for M.S.I (a worn photocopy from a book that used to exist somewhere in the board) is long since lost; however, I found a great replacement in the book Building Structures With Young Children by Ingrid Chalufour and Karen Worth:

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Basically, M.S.I. goes something like this:

1) I teach a mini lesson on the day’s focus.

2) Each student gets their own bin of building materials (blocks, connectors, cups, etc.) and takes it to a table. The bin goes on the chair and the children stand at the table and build. I circulate and facilitate discussion, pose questions, take notes, take photographs.

3) Reflection. I post pictures of interesting structures for discussion and feedback.

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We engage in M.S.I. as an entire class, one period per week. That being said, the building bins are always available during discovery time and it is common to find children selecting them to continue working on an inquiry we are engaged in. We also often find ourselves setting up provocations that support the learning that is happening in M.S.I., due to significant student interest.

Here are a few questions I often get about M.S.I:

Q: What kind of materials do you use? How do you organize enough bins for each child to have one?

A: We use a variety of store-bought traditional building blocks and some found materials to make up our bins. Wooden blocks, tree blocks, better blocks (kind of like Duplo), foam blocks, cups (laundry caps) from the recycling depot, anything that will stack! I purchased some materials from school catalogues, found others at garage sales and recycling stores, and got some for free from the recycling depot in our school board. Anything that can stack reasonably well is a good material for M.S.I. If you don’t have enough for everyone in your class you could always run the program with children working in partners or groups, and we sometimes do this as well depending on the focus of the lesson.

Q: What about space? Where do you store your materials? What if you don’t have enough table space for each student?

If you don’t have enough table space for each student to have their own spot, children can build on the floor. The idea behind standing and building at a table is that children are initially encouraged to build up with their materials. Standing helps the children stack their blocks more easily, and see their structure from all sides. Placing the building bin on a chair frees up table space for working. We store our building materials in two large rolling shelves. The shelves hold about 36 bins. I have a small space, but it’s not overwhelming in the classroom. I saw another school where the three kindergarten classes shared their M.S.I materials on a rolling cart that was parked in the hallway and could be easily moved to each class.

Q: What kinds of inquiries have you done? How long does one inquiry last?

A: The resource Building Structures With Young Children focuses on two inquiries: Towers and Enclosures. This year we have completed a Tower Inquiry (which I will write more about soon) and are now working on enclosures. We have also done inquiries on bridges and castles. In one school year, we usually have time to complete at least 2 large structure inquiries through M.S.I.

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Q: How is M.S.I introduced? What does it look like at the beginning of the year?

A: At the beginning of the year, M.S.I. time is mainly spent establishing routines and working on basic concepts of space, balance, making a plan, etc. There is a lot to be said just for helping the children locate a bin, find their own work space, build, and then tidy up. A lot of time also goes into establishing routines and expectations for sharing and reflecting on our structures at the end of the lesson. The most important part of the initial phase of M.S.I. is exploration and helping the children stay focused on solving problems rather than getting frustrated if/when their structure falls down. The children are often encouraged to choose different bins regularly to get a feel for the variety of materials we have available.

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I have to say, the children are always excited to see M.S.I. on the schedule. I continue to be amazed at how reflective and thoughtful they are about their structures and how mature they appear when giving feedback and suggestions to their classmates during reflection time. Although when I started teaching I successfully ran an M.S.I. program without a lot of fancy technology (none, actually), the access we now have to iPads, a classroom camera, and an interactive SMARTBoard have helped me take our building program to a whole new level. Being able to take a photo of a child’s structure and immediately post it on the SMARTboard for us to discuss is an invaluable part of the program. We regularly use the SMARTBoard pens to label the structure in the photo, highlight shapes in the design of the structure or draw on possible ideas to add next time.

If you have any other questions about how M.S.I. works, please don’t hesitate to drop me a line!

Snap Cube Workshop: Inspiring Young Authors

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G.M.: Inside my book is a man and an invisible ship and a laser sword. I put how many of the cubes you need. For the man you need 5 blues, 1 purple, 1 black, and 2 browns. I want someone to build the invisible ship and then play with it. I did one for the laser sword and then W.W. looked at my instructions and made it.

Earlier, I wrote about embracing the children’s interests by creating a Snap Cube Workshop with the ever-popular snap cubes (You can read about it here: https://thecuriouskindergarten.wordpress.com/2014/03/10/snap-cube-workshop/). The children in my class view snap cubes like Lego – something they can use to build whatever kind of creations they want. In looking for ways to extend the learning at this centre, I ended up having a conversation with some of my students about the similarities and differences between Lego and Snap Cubes. One of my students pointed out that his Lego sets come with instruction or inspiration booklets to help him make the structures in the kit…and Voila! A new idea was born! The children were immediately interested in creating instruction booklets for their creations, with a view to helping their classmates re-create their structures. “How did you make it?” is the most popular question the children ask each other during reflection time, so it seemed logical for the students to not only tell each other, but show each other what to do in a diagram. Beyond adding some blank paper, markers, and a stapler to the Snap Cube Workshop, the children required very little guidance with how to create their instruction manuals since most of them were well-versed with Lego booklets. The children who did not have experience with Lego booklets simply learned from their more experienced peers and were soon well on their way to their own Snap Cube construction kits. We provided the children with a place to store their manuals (clipped to a string hung at the centre) and many children came by throughout the week to add to their booklets or borrow booklets to try to recreate the structures within.

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Snap Cube Workshop

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Lately I’ve been looking for ways to extend the learning that has been happening at my small building centre. Basically, snap cubes have taken over our classroom. What started as a daily activity by a small group of boys soon spread into a full-on class obsession with all things related to building with this “Lego-like” material.

I had never looked at snap cubes and thought “Lego” before. It was my students who clued me in when I asked why it was their number one choice of activity each day:

W.W. “These are just like Lego. You can build whatever you want with them.”

G.M. “Lego is our favourite. But we don’t have Lego here. It’s ok though, because snap cubes are just like Lego. They stick together and have different colours and you can make whatever you want.”

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Although I was completely amazed and inspired with what the children were able to construct with their snap cubes, how they problem-solved and worked together, and how they presented their discoveries and creations with the class, I’ll admit there have been times when I struggled with the snap cube craze in my classroom. There were certainly children that worked with snap cubes and only snap cubes, children that fought over having a turn there, and children who turned their noses up at the carefully organized provocations we put out at other centres.

In the end, we decided to embrace the interest in snap cubes. We moved them to their own centre (a Snap Cube Building Workshop) and, after some discussions with the class about balance and fairness, noticed that the children were able to make better choices about when to visit the snap cube centre and when to try something new.

Does your class have an activity or material that your students just can’t put down? How did you embrace the children’s interests?

You can read what happened next at this centre by clicking here: https://thecuriouskindergarten.wordpress.com/2014/03/10/snap-cube-workshop-inspiring-young-authors/

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