It was six simple words that got me thinking. It was last Sunday night, and I actually sent an email to my best friend saying how nervous I felt before heading back to school tomorrow. That’s when I saw Royan Lee‘s tweet, where he expressed his own nerves about going back. It’s always nice to know you’re not the only one! 🙂 It was actually a tweet that Royan sent shortly after that though that I’ve been thinking about all week long. Here’s a snapshot of the entire conversation.
It was Royan’s funny reply that I just can’t seem to forget. You see: I may be teaching Grade 5, but I want to have all of the fun too. Can’t I?
Now I happen to know that Royan is an incredibly fun, absolutely amazing Grade 7 teacher, and I would REALLY like to visit his class one day. The blog posts that he shares with all of his incredible ideas actually excite me about teaching an intermediate grade: something that would usually terrify me! I see “fun” in these posts, and while his comment may have been nothing more than a joke, it got me wondering: how can junior/intermediate teachers feel this same Kindergarten excitement in their rooms?
I think that as Laurel Fynes suggests, provocations may be the place to start. As I’ve explored inquiry more in the classroom this year, I’ve also taken an added interest in provocations. My students love them! I have to admit that the human body plaques, skeleton book, online surgery game, and human body apps that I used this week for provocations were also making ME giddy with excitement about going back (despite the nerves :)).
I use provocations in just about every subject area, and I switch them around regularly. The students have come to expect that there’s always going to be something new to explore. This hands-on learning and the great discussion that evolves from these items, videos, and/or podcasts makes learning constantly exciting!
Yesterday, I was reminded of this and of Royan’s tweet. You see, I have to get my students to complete a diagnostic assessment on proportional reasoning and fractions. We’re discussing the results of this assessment in a PD session on Tuesday afternoon. The problem is that I’m in the middle of our measurement unit, and this fractions assessment doesn’t fit. I’ll admit it:
- I thought this is a diagnostic assessment. I haven’t done any teaching on this topic yet, so it doesn’t matter how the students do.
- I’m guessing that most of my students are going to find it difficult (experience has shown me that the conceptual understanding of fractions is hard for many students). Let them just show me what they know, and then we can come back to this topic later.
- It’s a single question that I think most students will complete quickly. I’ll just give them a period, see what they do, and then return to my measurement unit.
And now I’ll also admit that I totally hate myself for thinking this way (and “hate” is a strong word and exactly the way that I feel). I don’t give up on students. I completely believe in and follow the words that make up the signature on all of my school emails: “If they don’t learn the way you teach, teach the way they learn.” So why was I going to do exactly the opposite in this case? I was setting the students up for failure, and that’s not right.
Thankfully our reflection on our Art Gallery Activity took longer than expected, and I was unable to do the diagnostic assessment on Friday. Maybe everything happens for a reason. I used this piece of good luck to rethink my plan for Monday. The timing still may not be perfect, but I can at least try for success.
I thought about what our vice principal, Kristi Keery-Bishop, said during our last inservice on proportional reasoning. We were looking at a very difficult measurement problem that we could have used for this assessment. Kristi spoke about what she would do if she had to use this problem. Her plan involved an introductory activity that got students to work with conversions. She almost created some math provocations, and I think that I’m going to do the same.
Today I went to Dollarama, and loaded up on various items.
Period 2 on Monday (I don’t teach my class Period 1), I’m going to have different items out on the tables with some various question prompts. Here are some of my ideas:
- I have a bag of different Lego pieces. I’m going to place them in such a way that students can hopefully see how the smaller block sizes are pieces of a whole (being the biggest block).
- I also have a bag of regular blocks that would hopefully result in a similar understanding.
- I purchased different coloured flowers to fill a vase. I’m going to ask questions that will get students to put 12 flowers in the vase (for the secretaries), but with different fractional amounts for different colours.
- I have a large white canvass. I’m going to get the students to draw a sketch of two organ systems that we can paint on this canvass, with both of them taking up the full canvass, but one system being slightly larger than the other one. I’d like them to think about what fraction of the canvass each organ system takes up and how they know.
- I have bags of animals and dinosaurs. I want the students to make packages of these animals to give to the Kindergarten classes as a “thank you” for visiting our Art Gallery on Friday. I’m going to ask open-ended questions to get students to create different fractional amounts of animals (or dinosaurs) in each bag.
- I am going to make a connection to our measurement unit (and our current Kindergarten pen problem). If the pen is the whole, then I’m going to ask some questions to get students to design one where there’s a different fractional amount for grass and tarmac.
Then I’m also going to have a table with some iPads and the link to this Pinterest Page. The question prompts for these electronic links are in the descriptions.
My hope is that once the students explore these provocations, talk to others about them, and create some meaning for themselves, they’ll be better able to answer the assessment question and really show what they know. These provocations will also be fun, and will hopefully positively impact on the students’ feelings towards the assessment activity. I have to say that when I initially told my class that we had an assessment coming up, there was an audible groan from everyone, and I hate when people feel this way about school. What do you think of this plan? How can you help me improve it?
I may be a Grade 5 teacher, but these provocations will make school enjoyable for me and for the students. How do you make learning enjoyable regardless of the grade that you teach? I’d love to hear your ideas!
I’ve been fascinated by this provocations ideas for a while. It’s not something I’m formally familiar with, but the concept speaks wonders to me. As I read your post, it’s almost like you’re describing a party your throwing where you want the guests to be blown away, and leave feeling like their lives have changed. I can only imagine how you’ve worked to establish a climate in the room where students feel prepared to share their thinking and trust one another. I too would die to visit your classroom.
Thanks for the comment, Royan! I’ve never really thought of it like a party before, although it is pretty exciting. I do try to create provocations that students will connect with, that they’ll be excited to discuss, and that will help them for future activities. I also try to use these provocations as a way to make these abstract concepts more concrete, which benefits all of my students in one way or another, but definitely benefits my students with autism the most. And I have to say that the students are so eager to see the provocations and discuss them, that they really do all chime in and build off of the ideas shared by their peers. It really is amazing to watch (and to listen to).
As for classroom visits, I think that we need a PLN Bus Tour! How awesome would it be to spend the day touring different classes and learning from the amazing people in our PLN?! I would be the first one to sign-up. 🙂
I have no idea how I missed this post, but as always, Aviva you bring your whole self to the task and don’t leave out the parts that give you doubts. You are an inspiration!
I believe heartily in provocations, or another way to say that, in playful learning. This doesn’t mean childish, or not rigorous, merely that the approach to imparting knowledge is not about passing down from adult to child, but instead negotiated by all involved by exploring, looking very closely at the materials or subject at hand. If it’s a great book, play might mean exploring in role, imagining other viewpoints, writing alternate endings. If it’s a math lesson, the provocation might be something that allows players to explore while also seeing glimpses of a bigger picture (hard to explain this but I could find examples from our PLN I’m sure). A provocation is like a party, as Royan says, but perhaps a potluck, where you’ve made the main course but the meal is made up of all the extra elements the students bring to the table. Wonder cannot be quantified.
So yes, it is hard to go back to routines, getting up early and “kid-wrangling” at home so I can get to work nice and early. But I was honestly excited to return. Knowing my students, reflecting on their ongoing interests and projects, I couldn’t help but be excited to jump back in those playful explorations and see where we might take them. It’s been even more exciting than I thought – Beyblade challenges, ice inquiry, discoveries with light – when you have the freedom to deliver the curriculum (social, language, etc skills, not tied to content per se) through any topic, projects can go on for weeks or even months and take on great complexity. That is the challenge I see for older grades: not the exploration, but the timeframe.
I love that you’re tackling these issues, as they come up around here too and I’m often recommending teachers at Thornwood PS follow your blogs and see your reflections on changing teaching in junior. I follow with great interest.
Thank you so much, Laurel! You (and so many other Kindergarten teachers) have been a real inspiration to me. I wouldn’t have even considered this approach to teaching and learning if it weren’t for the amazing ideas shared through Twitter each and every day. You’ve helped me see how inquiry can work well, and you’ve helped inspire me to continue trying even when things don’t work perfectly.
The student interest in learning is reason enough for me to keep trying! I love that students are excited to learn, and that all students really are grasping difficult concepts (and understanding them in ways they never have before). I just love what this “playful learning” provides!