Think Outside The Lines

When our children colour, we always feel compelled to remind them to colour inside the lines.  My daughter can colour inside the lines very well. In fact, I have proof:

Colouring inside the lines

But what do we do when our children go outside the lines? How do we react to situations where our children deviate from the routinely assigned task? With Ava, I was able to experience this deviation from the norm on a Sunday afternoon when she was colouring with her new Crayola markers. As she was colouring, she discoverd that if she shook the markers hard enough the ink would splatter on the paper. Unfortunately for me, her new discovery ended up all over the floors and wall of my living room. I could have immediately reminded her of how to appropriately colour with markers and stay in the lines (this really was my initial thought) but then I saw what she created with her new discovery:

Ava’s first accidental creation.

I was really impressed with the accidental art that she created and when I asked her about it, she called it “Splatter Splat” art. After we had a learning conversation about appropriate working conditions for this kind of art (i.e. aprons and newspapers), I felt that I needed to provide her with a opportunity to extend her creativity a little further.

Our creative session was amazing. Ava was engaged in a way that hadn’t seen before because the activity was centred around her discovery and she was an active partner in our art session. She’s coloured countless colouring pages where she was constantly reminded by adults to take her time and stay within the lines. However, this time she was the teacher and she taught me how to create the splatter effect technique. This experience made me reflect on the role of students in the classroom and how we respond to unexpected paths in their learning. Do we stay inside the lines of our program and our less plans funnelling back to the task at hand or do we think outside the lines of our program and work with the students and create the conditions for new learning? My art experience with Ava would suggest that thinking outside the lines can bring positive learning experiences for both students and teachers.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Russian Doll Towers

The other day, Ava grabbed her Russian dolls from the toy cupboard that she hadn’t played with in months. I guess the novelty of fitting the smaller dolls in the larger ones wore off and there was nothing else to learn about them. However, this time she decided to do something different with the dolls and she wanted to build a Russian doll tower using all of the pieces. Initially, she attempted to balance some of the flat bottom pieces on the rounded top pieces. This resulted in a lot crashing of pieces and failed attempts at building the tower, which led to a lot frustration. I left Ava to her own devices to figure things out and persevere with her self-directed activity. Thirty minutes later, I had a very proud daughter with her very own Russian doll tower (using all the pieces). Of course, I had to document this learning accomplishment and whipped out my iPhone to record. However, as I tried to get Ava to orally communicate her strategy, I found it very difficult not to explain it for her. Therefore in the video, you’ll hear me struggle with my questioning because I wanted Ava to explain her strategy without me giving her the words.

I could’ve immediately praised Ava for turning the bottom pieces upside down to create a more stable and flat surface however, I wanted to her to make the connection and verbalize it. After watching the video, I wonder if I funnelled her to what I wanted her to say or if I worked with her as she explained. I would love to hear some feedback on this.

I also didn’t expect Ava to ask me if I wanted her to make a different tower. This reminded me as a parent/educator to always set high expectations for our children and students and look for opportunities to extend their thinking. I was fully satisfied with Ava making one tower and didn’t even think to ask if she could build it in a different way (something I always encourage math teachers to ask their students).

Here’s what Ava produced afterwards:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Early Learning With a Sock Puppet App

I am becoming more immersed in the world of Kindergarten by virtue of my daughter being in junior kindergarten and by my involvement in an exciting Early Learning Project in my school board. As I read through the Full-Day Early Learning – Kindergarten Program, I was encouraged and excited to see a curriculum that is child-centred, inquiry based and integrates learning through the arts and play. The Document states that, “Oral language is the basis for literacy, thinking, and relating in any language…Full-Day Early Learning-Kindergarten programs should be rich in language-oriented activities and resources that build on prior knowledge, that are relevant to the lives of young children, and that provide opportunities for thinking, problem solving and experimenting.”

Learning to read and write is essential to succeed in school and in life. However, I’m intrigued by the oral component of the early learning curriculum. Oral language is so important for early learners like my daughter to express her thinking, to problem solve, and experiment. So when I came across the Sock Puppets app, I got very excited. The app is very similar to the Puppet Pals app in that you can select your own sock puppet characters, background, and props. However, in the Sock Puppets app, the puppets actually lip sync to the sound of your voice and after you record your 30 second puppet show, you can save it to your iPad and also share it on YouTube. Any recording type app like Sock Puppets provide opportunities for thinking, problem solving and experimenting. My daughter and I quickly improvised and created the puppet show below using the app. She chose the characters, background, and the mic as a prop. I see this video as a learning opportunity for Ava and I to have a discussion on what to do in situations where sharing is an issue. The next puppet show that we create can show how this situation can be resolved. Ava can playback, review and recreate the puppet show as many times as she wants until she is satisfied with her creation. Stay tuned for the next episode of I Want to Sing

Using the Mental Note App for Assessment in Pre-K and Kindergarten

As my oldest daughter entered Junior Kindergarten last week and my youngest entered her child care centre, I officially became immersed in the world of early learning programs. My first real eye opener was the fact that almost all assessment in child care programs and kindergarten is done through observation and based on children’s oral language.  For educators, this means A LOT of documenting.

I noticed in my youngest daughter’s childcare program, they document by taking many pictures and writing down anecdotal notes for each pictures with the style of learning (ie. visual, auditory, kinesthetic). They told me about the large amounts of time that goes in to this kind of documentation. My immediate thought was how technology could be used to effectively enhance this process of assessment. There must be an app out there somewhere that could help with this kind of documentation.

Well, the other day, I was speaking to the Early Learning Program Consultant in our board and such an app exists! It’s called Mental Note and according to the website, it combines pictures, voice recordings, sketches, and text all on the same page.

So if a student is demonstrating some style of learning, I could take a picture, audio record what I am observing, annotate the picture using the pen feature, and add a few words of text to briefly describe what the student was doing. All of the notes taken can be stored on the iphone/ipad/ipod touch but the notes can also be e-mailed as a PDF with the audio as a separate attachment or backed up in the cloud to your Dropbox account.

I installed the Mental Note Lite app for free (but only comes with a maximum of 2 notes) to my iphone and tested it out and I was very impressed. The full version costs $2.99 and comes with unlimited notes.  Here is a sample of a note that I quickly took of my daughter playing (without the 11 second audio clip).