I started my career teaching Kindergarten, and I loved it! I taught JK/SK for 8 years before moving onto Grade 1, Grade 1/2, and now Grade 6. I never left Kindergarten because I didn’t enjoy teaching it. I left it because of the new Full Day Kindergarten (FDK) program. When I taught Kindergarten, I ran a very academic program. Playtime was limited. I was never a worksheet teacher (I’m still not a fan of worksheets), and students interacted, collaborated, and explored together during literacy and math centres. It was free choice “playdemonium,” as I liked to call it, that I didn’t enjoy. I didn’t see the point of it. How were students learning as they pushed cars along the floor or built giant towers with blocks until they fell down? I had Kindergarten students that were reading and writing, and I didn’t think that this could happen in the midst of all of this play. So since I did not agree with the FDK philosophy, I was not going to stay in Kindergarten. Strangely enough, I think it took me moving to Grade 6 to fully understand Full Day Kindergarten. This week especially, I had a change of heart.
We only have a couple of weeks left of school (and I am so opposed to a countdown that I don’t know the exact number of days, so as my students figured out this week, there’s no point in asking 🙂), and with EQAO over, the weather improving, and field trips and special events starting up, it’s hard to keep students excited about learning. The one subject that the Grade 6’s are definitely less interested in now is math. The problem is that we’re still in school, and I have a very difficult time shutting down my program just because the year is coming to an end. The solution instead: get creative and engage the students. Since my teaching partner and I have taught all of the curriculum expectations now, this is a perfect time to review, and what better way to do this than with a project?
- This project had to include choice.
- It had to meet curriculum expectations across the math strands, as putting all of the concepts together is the hard part.
- It had to be open-ended enough to meet the diverse needs of our learners.
- It had to include group work because collaboration is so important.
- It had to be meaningful. Students like to know that their work matters.
- It had to have an assessment and evaluation component. Students need to realize the purpose of this project. They also need a chance to improve their math skills, and having a chance to conference, self-reflect, and “bump up” work is so important.
This is when I remembered that the Grade 1 students were finishing their Social Studies unit on communities, and all of a sudden, a project idea started to evolve. With the amazing feedback from my teaching partner and Twitter PLN, I finalized this Creating Communities Project. The students LOVED it!
Never have I seen my students so excited about math! They were designing, building, creating, painting, problem solving, making a mess, having fun, and discussing math. The math talk was actually more purposeful than any other math talk that I’ve heard all year. I don’t even think that the students realized they were talking about math. They had some real problems to solve though, and in order to solve them, they had to discuss them and work together. Everyone was involved. Students were making mistakes, reflecting, and starting again. The classroom had the energy and appearance of a Kindergarten class, but these were Grade 6’s.
In the midst of “play,” students were learning. And in the midst of play, I was able to talk to them more, engage in some meaningful discussions, and facilitate this learning. Thanks to photographs, videos, and tweets (my own mini-learning stories), I could document this learning for others to see too. Then on Thursday, with the communities complete and off to the Grade 1 classes, students participated in a radio show where they discussed what they created and why. As the discussions evolved, so did the math talk. Students explained how they used the survey results to make their decisions. They spoke about surface area, and how they made their buildings. They even spoke about the grid and the 80% restriction imposed. They talked like mathematicians, but if you were to ask them, they were having fun.
This math playtime extended even more into the afternoon thanks to our Geometro visitor. Students got to build with shapes as they created many amazing structures. As you can hear in the Storify Story below, they were thinking and talking about math even when they didn’t realize it.
Maybe this is the key to the Full Day Kindergarten program: give students a chance to take ownership of their learning and then guide them through the journey. I remember talking to some Grade 1 teachers once about the Full Day Kindergarten Program, and I will never forget what one of them said: “How will they ever learn to sit in their desks and do what they’re told in Grade 1 if they don’t have to in Kindergarten?” Here’s my question now in response: “Why do Grade 1’s need to sit in their desks all day and all do the same things?”
I’m starting to think that the problem with the Full Day Kindergarten Program is that the only people being inserviced on how it works and encouraged to share this philosophy are the Kindergarten teachers. Would the program have a bigger impact if the philosophy was shared through the grades? How can teachers of all grades move to an FDK model? Knowing what I know now, I’ll be rethinking how I teach next year, and how I can build more inquiry, choice, and play into my program. Due to the success of this last math project, my teaching partner and I even created a new one to review different skills. We’re hoping for a fun and educational way to end the school year! It really is amazing how much the Kindergarten program taught me about Grade 6! Thank you!