Monday, 4 May 2015

Inspire Learning Outside - a Ministry Project

I consider myself a very lucky person to have wonderful friends with amazing ideas. This spring I was fortunate to have my class become part of a Ministry Pilot Project that Tanya Murray an Outdoor Education Specialist with Sibbald Point and a Forest School Practitioner put together to inspire learning outside. Our class was piloted to be the Urban School - where our goal was to promote more learning outside and demonstrate to others in our school and board that it is both easy and important to nurture students natural curiosities through their local environment.

If you would like to see more photos and ideas created throughout this project please follow the twitter and Instagram hashtag #inspirelearningoutside.

A view of our climbing tree within our Kindergarten space.

Looking up from under the Pine trees.

Capturing snails and making a home for them.

Using our existing greenspace, Tanya and myself planned for a mapping project where my students would be engaged in a "Where in our green space do you feel most inspired to learn?" inquiry. To answer this question we needed to visit our Special Spots several times in order to develop a connection to these places. Upon returning from these spots of play/learning/inquiring the students were encouraged to document their thinking and feeling both creatively and orally.

The outline of our school and Greenspace areas that we like to explore.
As we had a very confined time frame consisting of a 3 day experience, we began with a minds-on hook for the children with an open exploration of county maps and trail maps. During this morning exploration the children developed their ideas about maps and the various components of maps. We then took Tanya on a walk through our various spaces both on school grounds and off where we enjoy inquiring and playing.

On the following Monday and Tuesday, Tanya brought an array of activities inspired by her Forest School training for the students to engage with. Although we as a class often spend considerable time outdoors, she gave us a new look at incorporating more of our learning experiences to be in the outdoor environment.

Creating a natural environment for the snails we find.

Taking easy watercolour painting out to our "Sit Spots" area.

Painting out in our natural environment.

Designing our "Sit Spots" to make them our own.

Make believe play with natural found materials.

Conducting our morning meeting and read alouds outside.
Many of the activities we offer for the students challenged their problem-solving skills; through the creation of ropes play and setting up of tents, finding and using sticks for a variety of purposes (drawing our landscape, creating music). Many children enjoyed creating Nipkins with clay using their imaginations and this new art medium. Once these Nipkins were created, we encouraged the children to create stories and act them out. Several Nipkins engaged in climbing the ropes and venturing under the big tree for a student created fireside marshmallow roast.

Using clay to create Nipkins (neutral-sex fairies).

T.T. was very proud of her Nipkin and then took it off to play on the ropes.

Practicing our knots when creating a ropes obstacle course.

Playing with ropes is so creative and challenging.

Creating a tic-tac-toe board with sticks we found.

Adding to our Nipkins.
Creating a fire for roasting marshmallows
and story telling with our Nipkins.

Tying knots in the tree to put up a tent.

Kiddos put up the tent by themselves and are ready to play.
While many children were engaged in creative play, we pulled smaller groups of students to create their own special areas for outdoor learning, inquiries, and places to explore on our large school space map. At the beginning of the project we show the children a large map with an outline of our school's space. They were encouraged to add how, where, and what they learn while outdoors to this map over the next week. We continue to document student learning about their special learning spaces. This is visible in our documentation panels throughout our hallway for other educators and the community to read and respond to. We were thrilled when parents in the other Kindergarten class asked questions about what was happening and they expressed an interest in having their child experience similar outdoor learning.
"I wish my child could participate is such a rich activity."
"It looks so fun to learn outside."

Creating our Special Places for adding to our map.

Things we like to investigate in our Outdoor Environment.

Places where I like to learn and play.

Building fine motor skills while creating for our map.

Thinking about our Special Spots for Learning and creating with Plasticine.

Working within this Pilot Project we also experienced some thoughtful provocations set out by our community partners (Diane Kashin and ThinkinEd both from York Region Nature Collaborative). On the final afternoon of our Urban Inspire Learning Outside experience the children were invited to draw an outline of themselves using chalk and then filled their body with loose parts to show how they feel while learning outside. As I went from student to student to capture their thinking, their thoughts about how fun and awesome bringing our learning outside was to them came through very clear. Learning outside allows our children to reconnect with nature in a way that they will become stewards of our environment for life.
I feel very, very, very happy learning outside.

My body is excited to learn outside.

I feel the wind blowing and the planting growing.

Following our Urban Pilot Project, our students continue to inquire about one experience in particular: Worms. This will be a more in-depth post later, however one learning experience we have been focusing on throughout is Environmental Stewardship. This can be seen in two specific experiences to date. In regards to our worm inquiry the students are both learning to overcome their fears of handling nature as well as taking on the responsibility to ensure we are not harming nature in any way - rather we are making a "home" not a house for our worms while bringing them inside to inquire about, but also ensuring that we have a plan to put them back into nature when we are done. Instead of seeing nature as "yucky" it is something we now respect and need to care for throughout our learning experiences.

Continuing to observe our vermicomposter since adding the worms.

Going on nature walks is a great way to begin the inquiry process for many, however we find it is more engaging for the students to play and learn in the outdoors as they gain more self-regulating skills, independence, and confidence through regular and repeated experiences outside. We are so thankful to be a part of this experience and to become advocates for Inspire Learning Outside for our school, our community, our PLN, and our board.
Our map after the 3 full days spent outside.

Some of our documentation about our Special Places Learning.
As our next step, our kindergarten class will be creating a mural to be installed within our school to capture student voice from grades K-8 about a Growing Mindset for Outdoor Learning.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Marble Runs - working through the curriculum expectations.

Through this entire year, whether we set up new provocations in the big block centre, a group of children seem to always be asking us for marbles as they continue to be intrigued with building marble runs all the time.
The beginning stages of the marble runs.
At the beginning stages of the marble runs.

Rather than tell the students they must use the blocks in the ways we are suggesting, we allow the children to control their own play. If they wish to build marble runs every day we allow them to continue to build upon their own created schema.

What we have noticed throughout the year is the marble runs are becoming more complex and they students are trying new things.
Adding sides to make sure the marble stays on the track.
Beginning to add sides and tunnels.
Beginning to add drops and turns.

At first they created marble runs and their idea was to have the marble follow along a wooden path to the end. The students quickly realized that the marble kept falling off the track, until one of the kiddos suggested they put up some sides to prevent the marble from falling off. This lead to many marble runs being created in the following weeks. As the children experimented with longer and shorter tracks, one day one of our kiddos decided to add a circular track at the end.

As the students shared their work with the entire class during one of our class meetings, this in turn sparked more interest to include other children in their play. We have noticed that the marble runs consistently have a small core group of children with a variety of others coming and going at various times throughout the day and weeks.

Making it more elaborate.

Adding places to catch the ball at the end.

Creating jumps in the middle and traps at the end.

Creating bridges to cross and tunnels to go through.

Often video tapping the marble to look back at the designs for later.

Playing with a variety of different inclines.

A failed attempt leads to more talk and adjustments.

 One morning I tracked the play at the marble run throughout the entire morning.
The beginning of the play.
It quickly turned into this. 

Using the real world to help us build.
The scientific model in Kindergarten.
We have encouraged the students to draw plans for what their marble runs are going to look like each day and now they are writing sentences to tell us what they want for the outcome of the marbles path.

Here the boys are drawing and writing about
the road going over the bridge and also being curvy.
As educators we sometimes feel the need to move the students thinking forward in a slightly newer direction. We did this by asking a simple question: "Do you think the marble will roll faster or slower down a steep ramp?" This allowed for new vocabulary to be introduce to the students. Faster, Slower, Steep, Incline. This time the students were engaged in building for an experiment. We suggested rather than make a plan first - they could build their marbles runs, test the different inclines for speed, then draw designs and add their conclusions at the end. This group of students continued to frequent this area for another few weeks. This was a perfect example of planning a design, testing and retesting a hypothesis, and finally coming to a conclusion all on their own.
Here you can see how the children changed
 the slope of the ramp to get the car to roll through the hole.

Now they want to see if the marble or car will go up the ramp
into the can.

Marble runs are still continuing to be built on a regular basis within our classroom. Allowing for the children to determine what they want to test is the key to engaged learning. Just before the break we began to see the kiddos planning and testing to see if by changing the incline plane the marble and car would go through a hole to land on the other side of a tunnel.

Children are Capable, Creative, and Communicators when we allow them to choose their own learning.