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Sunday, September 28, 2014

Alligator Tales

By Stephanie Bartlett
Around the time we were exploring metal and found objects, we left a photo of two metal alligator sculptures on the smartboard for students to discover. Many went immediately to sketch them. 

One student went so far as to create a materials list so that he could create his own alligator in the classroom.  We sent the list to the scrap metal yard, hoping they might donate some steel for us to play with.

One morning, as the sun streamed in the classroom, students entered to find a pile of steel on the carpet. First, they explored each piece. Then, with an adult acting only as a guide, an alligator began to take shape.

Conversation was lively as they compared and analyzed the picture and their own creation. Screws were painted for the teeth. "There are 27 teeth. I counted." "What will we use for feet?" 
We were fortunate enough to have a parent weld our alligator together. Our new metal friend then became the class mascot for the rest of the school year. The first day that she was delivered to our classroom, no one spoke. No one touched or even looked at her until the end of the day during our reflections. One girl whispered "Can we ride it?" Eyes lit up when I said yes. The next morning and every day after, students rode the alligator, read to her, cuddled (yes, cuddled) her, and paddled rapidly downstream on an imaginary river. 

At the end of the school year, we said goodbye and put her out in our courtyard garden for the whole school to enjoy. Last I heard, the grade two class would like to paint her. 

Getting My Feet Wet...Inching Back into the World of Poetry

Story # 361 C

  By Stephanie Bartlett

Or was it # 259 B?
Favourite stories told to cousins
by our parents- calling out numbers
was part of the fabric
we wove together around

the table which sat 4 or 24, depending.
We younger ones didn’t know
our elders except through
stories. Told. Retold.
Again and again.

Held close by warm wood
walls, crackling fire reflected on windows,
adding punctuation to loud,
animated conversation, a hush
shimmers as she begins to talk.

Interrupted by mock outrage
“Here we go again.”
“I think that is the wrong number!”
Then hush again as we listen. To grasp
a small memory, a shiny stone

to add to the collection. Just ordinary stories.
Is there such a thing? Small snapshots
to breathe life
into those who gave us our common
meeting spot where we still gather.

And this here is the story.
Of family. It isn’t just
another number. That we tell it IS
the story. That we gather to
listen. Retell. Again and again.
Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A Little Bit of Magic to Start the Day

By Stephanie Bartlett
Although I greet each morning with anticipation, rarely does the day begin with magic. We normally begin our day with about 15 minutes of activities that target fine motor development or skill competencies and then move on to the rest of our day. Until today.  One of the activities I had left out was a container of loose metal pieces and magnets for sorting, patterning and fine motor development.  When the group began to grow, I started to pay attention.
 “We need a screw driver thing.”
“We need wood.”
“How can we make a door?” 
“Can I help?”
“Here, hold this.”
 “We need instructions.”
“I can draw instructions. My mom is a designer.”
“I’m good at this. Here, let’s do it like this.”

 Now, if we are going to look at the seven strands of creativity, these students were touching on many of them without even trying. Collaborative Development, Experimentational Development, Analytical Development, Generative Development were all evident as students figured out what to make, how to assemble the materials and what to do when the first idea didn't work.  I sat listening and watching in awe wondering at what point the work of transforming my practice had arrived at a point where students were generating sophisticated ideas and creating on their September!! 
So far, I think it is the culture I am co-creating with my students. I speak regularly to them about drawing plans and using the writing materials in every centre to explain their thinking. It must also be the predisposition that many of the students bring to the class, and the materials and tools in the maker space that are readily available for such explorations. Regardless of the reasons behind the magic, today I was spellbound and the feeling lingers on.  I got to know my students and their interests just a little bit more today and will sprinkle this magic liberally as the year gets going!
Wednesday, September 17, 2014

My Story, Our Story

By Stephanie Bartlett

As I think deeply about the threads that I could use to begin weaving the fabric of this new school year, the idea of stories seems very appropriate. Early in September, my pace is slow and my vision is big and far-reaching, in a friendly sort of way.  I feel like I won’t be able to achieve my goals in my Kindergarten class this year if I don’t slow down and pay attention to the story...or the many stories that will create the whole of our experience together.
And so it begins with the self. With me. With my story. That is the easiest concept for a five year old to grasp. David Loy writes that stories “teach us what is real, what is valuable, and what is possible. Without stories there is no way to engage with the world because there is no world, and no one to engage with it because there is no self” (Loy, 2010 p.3). So, we will take the time to carefully and thoroughly create our world in the classroom by telling our stories. I am picturing our morning gatherings. Cloudy, grey morning outside but inside, there is a hush as we gather  with our bodies leaning forward, eyes bright as we focus on the person who will share their story and an important picture that day.The image fills me with anticipation and warmth, and I hope my students will feel the same. That there is no place that they would rather be. 
Once we begin to weave our collective tapestry, we will move into our story. If “ to ‘settle’ a wild place means to create not only houses and farms but also the stories that will make [the aboriginals] a home” then to ‘settle’ our classroom in September means to give meaning and value to the stories that happen in our surroundings as we build our sense of community (Loy, 2010, p. 8). Each child in our class is inherently valuable to the whole and will play an important part of who we will “be” as a group. How we will be together as a collective group? What will matter to us? I hope to guide my students towards caring for our community and our environment yet I haven’t discovered what is important to my students, so I can’t predict what direction this will take. I do  know that we will take care with our story. What stories will we create together on our journey? What else will we discover that really matters to us enough to tell the story? The image of “stories all the way down” fills me with anticipation as I wonder about the different layers of stories that we will discover and create together (Loy, 2010, p. 5). The idea of the classroom as a narrative will hopefully encourage the children to all become storytellers and creators of stories in their own right. All kinds of stories.
Stories are about the process. The good, the bad, the happy, the sad, the triumphs and the failures. Yes, the failures. That is how we learn, develop and grow. It takes the idea of “I can” statements to a deeper level as students fill their portfolios with stories and pictures that document the story of learning and the bumps along the way.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Grade 7 Final Project | Using Design Thinking | Part 3

by Erin Quinn.
Our kids have gotten down and dirty with prototyping and design thinking over the past few weeks, and now it was time for them to show what they’ve accomplished. So today, we had a celebration of learning where the students showed their models and talked about their idea.
I was so impressed by the students today. Here’s why this interdisciplinary project and design thinking helped them do something pretty incredible:
  • Having a problem that could be viewed through many different lenses (the CTF occupation areas) allowed for multiple entry points, and let students choose a topic that truly interested them.
Multiple topics mean every student can personalize his or her own learning.
  • Students had to learn about their career cluster prior to the moon disaster, and figure out how the science of the moon would affect their topic. Their research was purposeful and they realized its importance because their solution depended on it. We had a short period devoted to research right at the beginning, but most research happened spontaneously throughout because kids had questions that needed answering.
These students had to learn about how batteries work and energy is transferred to design this solution to the problem of not having power.
  • Each occupational area had countless possibilities within it. Students could use what they knew about the science of the moon and planet earth, as well as their idea generation they did at the beginning of the prototyping process, to allow them to find a solution that made sense to them. Because of this, a high number of students were able to speak confidently and accurately about how their solution worked. Most students were also able to explain the science behind their topic, too.

The students who designed this house could explain exactly how it would withstand earthquakes and tsunamis.
  • They’re doing important work. Though the scenario is a bit farfetched (let’s hope a meteor doesn’t hit the moon!), the problems they tackled are very real. These thirteen year olds were coming up with sophisticated solutions to problems like natural disasters, nonrenewable resources, sustainability, and community engagement. The future is in good hands with these kids.
Sustainable agriculture, geopowered air filtration, and making dirty water clean (notice the PH strips – they managed to their their filtered water to be PH neutral!)
  • They could choose if they wanted to go high tech or low tech. Because of the loan from ILT of the Maker Kit, options were available to students who wanted to try some cool technologies like Arduinos, Little Bits, and robotics. But if kids wanted to use good old Lego? That was available too. And cardboard was a popular building supply, too.
Lego Mindstorm Robots and Lego Building Blocks.

  • Kids tried things they had never done before and learned something in the process.
A boy learning how to sew.
  • Lots of things didn’t work. That is part of the design process. Failure is a huge part of it. And learning to be okay with failure – to use it as information for what the next steps should be – was an important lesson many of these students learned. I had a conversation with a group who tried to make a generator, but whatever they tried, it still didn’t work. But they were able to explain exactly why it should work, even though it didn’t. They tried different prototypes and adjusted, and researched, and adjusted, but it still didn’t work. And that was okay.
These boys were trying to find a way to store energy. They tried a pop can, a battery, and acid. Here’s how they explained it to me: Student 1: “We used the solution in the can because it has a PH level of 12.”
Student 2: “And because it has electrolytes.”
Student 1: “And electrolytes conduct. And this is zinc, and this is copper [gesturing to the metal plates in the acid solution]. And there’s an aluminum can that is also conductive. And we’re hoping that this will store energy.”
It didn’t. But knowing the PH and conductivity of different solutions and materials and being able to hypothesize that it might work to store energy is a pretty incredible thing for students in grade 7 to understand.

We’re not quite done this project yet. Because all grade 7 students worked on this project, there were three groups in each occupation area. On Friday, Monday, and Tuesday, groups are going to give a final pitch, with the goal of convincing their peers that their solution in the occupation area was the best one. They have created persuasive advertisements and will be giving a two-minute persuasive speech over a video broadcast that will be livestreamed to all the grade 7 classrooms. This part of the project let us more fully integrate Language Arts into this project.
Read Part 1 and Part 2 here.

Grade 7 Final Project | Using Design Thinking | Part 2

by Erin Quinn
I watched a great movie awhile ago called How to Cook Your Life that features a Zen Buddhist chef called Edward Espe Brown. In it, he said, “Cooking brings your hands nourishment because your hands get to be hands instead of playing around with your iPod or computer. They get to do something instead of sitting around all day while you’re entertaining yourself with your iPod and your internet and all of the other things we do. Our hands don’t get to do much any more.”
And then he said, “Your hands activate your brain.”
Well, if you’re using technology to create, I think your hands are doing something important. Here they are, activating their brains by using their hands:

Making a robot out of an Arduino.
How do make dirty water clean? Attempt 1: Not so clean.

Attempt 2: They tasted the water they purified with this solution. They said it didn’t taste bad, but it didn’t taste good either. Getting closer!
Open Beam makes prototyping easy. Fun to see grade 7 students on the floor, so intent.

Read Part 1 and Part 3 here.

Grade 7 Final Project | Using Design Thinking | Part 1

by Erin Quinn
I should have posted this a LONG time ago. This is a cross post from
A cross-curricular final project has been a tradition in our grade team at Samuel W. Shaw School since the school opened five years ago. This year, our final project became much richer due to the addition of the Maker Kit Pilot in which we’re participating.
We started this project through the lens of a novel called Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer. The novel is centred around a teenager named Miranda and her family. She lives a very normal life until a meteor knocks the moon’s orbit closer to the earth. And then things start happening. Tsunamis, earthquakes, and volcanos cause the power grid to fail, oil tankers to sink, and modern technology to cease to work.
The final project has students trying to design a strategy to survive in this new reality. In our project, we used the CTF curriculum to create areas of focus that would be affected by the moon disaster. Then students selected an area of interest, and are focusing on designing a strategy around that area.
Students began by researching their area of focus prior to the disaster. Then they hypothesized what the disaster would change in their area of focus.
And then we began the design process.
First, students started by brainstorming as many ways they could think of to solve their problem. This is an important part of the generation phase of creative thinking. The more ideas they have, the more choices they’ll have, and the more likely it is they’ll have a good idea. One of the problems we ran into here was students who thought of an idea right away and wanted to skip the whole process and get straight to making. In those cases, I told students that they should write down their idea, but to create a “bank” of more ideas. I let them know their original idea would still be there when they were done, but they never knew if a better idea might come up in the process.
A list of ideas from the community care group.
Some design ideas from the electro-technology group
After they had a list of ideas, they selected their favourite, and thought about how to make a prototype. This is the stage many of the students are at right now. So they’re diving into the bin of great stuff in the Maker Kit.
Today, some of the students were checking out what Little Bits could do. Their topic is communication. Their idea going in was to create a robot pigeon that would deliver messages. As they played with the Little Bits, their ideas changed, morphed, and grew. They thought of other possibilities, like a siren warning system for natural disasters. This is an incredibly important part of maker education – using your hands to discover new ideas.

I can’t wait to see what they’ll do next!
Read Part 2 and Part 3 here.
Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Music...It's Instrumental

By Stephanie Bartlett

Time. We need the slowness of time to really learn and explore a topic and sometimes this is very difficult to honour. I took the time to reflect this summer on some of our projects that best demonstrate my journey as I learn how to slow down and really take the time to figure out what really matters in our classroom. I am beginning to discover that no matter what the program of studies may ask us to teach, it is the topics that invite passion and wonder that allow us to cover curriculum deeply. I share this story as an example of how to take an idea, be it student driven, teacher driven, or both and transform it into a spark that can develop into an in-depth inquiry.

Before Earth Day, there was a challenge inviting bands to perform a song using found objects as instruments. At first,we watched the videos, looking closely at the instruments. Then instruments and objects were left out for exploration.  

After a couple of weeks, students chose an instrument and played along, finding the rhythm of the song. The result each time was a heartbreakingly beautiful moment of synchronicity. Students moved to the music, found the beat with their instruments and some sang. Everyone was engaged. No one noticed their teacher willing this moment of learning to suspend us in a calm space amidst a busy morning. 

Collaboration moved us forward to the next level when we visited the grade 3/4 classes to see the instruments that they had created. Never underestimate the power and influence of the big kids. Each kindergarten student was paired with an older child who carefully explained their instrument and the process in which they had created an instrument of their choice to reflect changing tone and pitch.  In small groups mixed with older and younger students, they worked to compose a rhythm together.
Back in the classroom, we saw a rapid change in the variety of instruments created and increased complexity in the rhythms. We started to create songs in small groups. Some students even ventured to record their music in photo booth. We did not work on this every day, nor did I have a set outcome. My dream goal was a big one: to present their songs at our end of the year celebration.  If we didn't get there, I was ok with that because the process of creative development was rich. Formative assessment was ongoing and curriculum was integrated and covered just by the students immersing themselves in the process. Some were more involved than others and that was ok. There are always leaders, innovators and instigators at any age.
The last step was to visit the older buddies one last time to watch their music videos. Students explained the criteria to the kindergarten students...once again the results of collaboration amazed me. We had some very interesting percussion and string instruments and the work of the rock bands began to take shape.
The students presented proudly at our class celebration, showing parents and myself that given time, guidance and patience, an amazing inquiry can keep momentum over a longer period of time, covering more curriculum than one would ever think possible. Jackie Seidel, my professor in Graduate Studies at the University of Calgary, writes in her essay 'A Curriculum for Miracles' that:
                     a Curriculum for Miracles understands that life can be opened from this
                     wonderous place called a classroom or school, or it can be closed. Life can
                     be seen as wonderous or as dull. It can creatively overflow with joy, justice,
                     peace and love, or it can serve the future, the literal, the non-miraculous...
                     thus a Curriculum for Miracles is a curriculum that knows life itself as an
                     Object of Wonder.  Fragile. Unique. Interconnected. Just once. (Seidel, 2014)

Echoing Jackie Seidel's thoughts, it is a living curriculum that takes precedence in my program. One of hope, one that allows students to voice and develop their ideas. Giving up my need to control everything that goes on in the classroom and co-developing my program has been instrumental in my shift towards teaching and learning a curriculum that celebrates the joys, the sorrows, and the passions of all stakeholders.

Seidel, Jackie (2014). A Curriculum for Miracles. In Jackie Seidel and David W. Jardine (Eds.), Ecological Pedagogy, Buddhist Pedagogy, Hermaneutic Pedagogy: Experiments in a Curriculum for Miracles. 

Scrap Metal: Lessons in Sustainability

By Stephanie Bartlett
It began with the spark of one student.

Departing from the typical get-to-know you activity at the beginning of last year, I invited students to bring five photos that defined who they were.  I asked parents to think deeply about the fabric of their family. What were the passions and curiosities of their five year old child? What made their child laugh? What are the stories that helped shape who their child is today?

For the first few weeks of school,  Blaze was quiet and reserved.  I wondered how I could connect with him and find out what made him tick. It turns out that the wheels were already in motion with our photo project. When it was Blaze's turn to present his favourite picture, he chose a picture of a machine with a giant claw. His voice became as deep and matter of fact as a man's, and as mesmerizing as a storyteller's as he proceeded to inform the class that this was his own scrap metal yard and that he had two of these machines. He explained that the machines smashed and sorted metal, which was then put in a container and sent to China where it would be reused. Blaze went on to say that he often went to work after school, and that he had his own office with a computer.  And there was the hook! This five year old child was already so engaged in a real world context that a classroom full of toys and large group lessons had precious little value to him at that moment.  After asking Blaze's parents if we could visit the scrap yard later in the year, I started to think about how we could use Recon Metal as a real, authentic example within our local community to learn about sustainability and the life cycle of an object. I started to ask myself what really matters in the context of teaching the curriculum and discovered for myself that learning is much more engaging when it is based on the real life and when it directly addresses the passions of our students.

Fast forward to April, a few weeks before Earth Day.  We set the date for our field trip and began to spend time exploring the field of environmental sustainability. We began the month by learning about recycling of different materials through videos, literature and discussions. The students explored and played with wire, and different found objects. Students created art projects, storyboards for movies, and books, all of which showed the process or importance of reusing and recycling.

On the day we visited the scrap metal yard, the students disembarked from the bus, donned t-shirts and hard hats and began the tour. We watched a machine load a shipping container bound for China and  watched a car get smashed by a giant magnet. We ran our hands through shredded copper and aluminum, and sorted different metals. All in all, it was an unforgettable day.

But the best part? The next day, when we reflected together, the students really understood the message. Their comments demonstrated a basic understanding of the life cycle of an object. An object can be used, recycled, shipped somewhere else and created into something new, like a new toy car, for example. And that is the bottom line when we are teaching a new generation to care for our planet and our future.