Contemplating Collaboration: What Made Today Different?

Today has given me a lot to think about. During our Phys-Ed period, the students were scheduled to attend a 45 minute assembly on the safe use of electricity. This is the longest assembly that our class has attended, and as I heard from everyone, they did an outstanding job of sitting and listening. That’s a lot of sitting time though. We knew that after so much sitting, the children would need a chance to move around and get some fresh air. This weekend, we made some outdoor learning plans, but the temperature warmed up today, and all of the snow started to melt. We had to change our plansWe decided to bring out some new sidewalk chalk and encourage the children to create using this tool. They love to draw, and are taking a recent interest in writing, so we thought that they might like a different canvas for their drawing and writing. I went out on my prep today and did some experimenting on the blacktop: the chalk worked well on the wet and dry areas. Perfect! There were all kinds of possibilities. This is when our students surprised me.

Initially, the exploration began as I anticipated. Some students drew. Some wrote. One student suggested to another one that she trace her body, and this led to much interest in body tracing and drawing people on the sidewalk.

CZlfa9vWAAYEJoBBut then, students drew somewhere that I didn’t expect. Near the front gate of the playground, we have a pile of snow and ice that’s starting to melt. Last week, the students loved to crawl on the big pile. They tried to stand up. They felt down. They worked on balancing themselves. They decided to crawl around on their knees. A couple of students with shovels, even tried to hit the ice to break it up. The students were fascinated by this pile. With the warm weather, the pile of snow and ice has shrunk significantly, but one student in our class was drawn to it. He took a piece of chalk and started drawing on it. Pretty soon, other students joined him. At one point, about ten students surrounded this pile, drawing different lines and designs. They saw me taking photographs of their work, and they loved looking at the pictures and seeing the impact that the sun had on the colours. When the snowy ice pile looked like a colourful rainbow, one JK student in our class said, “Can we jump on it?” And that’s exactly what they did.


While in retrospect, I wish that I stayed quiet longer and listened to more of their conversations, it was actually my partner’s comment that inspired tonight’s blog post. She spoke about the “spontaneous” learning. For all of our planning, it was the unplanned results that were most spectacular.

What’s incredible about what happened today, is that for months, my partner and I have been looking at ways to help the children collaborate more. Many of them are still focused on “me,” and when it comes to creating artwork, their most frequent question is, “Can I take it home?” We wanted our students to see the value in working together to make something that is not just for one person, but can be shared and enjoyed by many. This is what inspired our collaborative art piece at the beginning of January. While the students worked together for this project, they didn’t initiate their own collaborative piece until today.

  • Maybe today was different because their canvas was a piece of snow and ice. They knew that they couldn’t take it home.
  • Maybe today was different because the art unfolded organically. We weren’t involved, so the students could really take ownership over their work.
  • Maybe today was different because the children could contribute to the project in different ways. While some students drew on the snow, others jumped on it, and others did both. Everybody had an entry point. 

Seeing what happened today, I wonder what could happen in the future. 

  • Maybe we need to explore more natural mediums.
  • Maybe we need to take more art learning outside.
  • Maybe we need to “let go”: providing more blank canvases, stepping back, and seeing what happens.

What do you think made today different? How might we create the conditions for future collaborative learning opportunities? When amazing happens, we want it to happen again.


2 thoughts on “Contemplating Collaboration: What Made Today Different?

    • Thanks for your comment, Faige! I remember this post of yours, and yes, it’s a great connection. Sometimes we need to step back and see what the children do … and when we really step back, amazing things happen. I’m not saying that our provocations, questions, and ideas don’t have value. I think they do. And maybe, some students need scaffolding before they can get to that next level of creating independently or collaboratively. In this case, maybe our collaborative art piece a couple of weeks ago, helped. It’s hard to know. What I do know is that I would like to create the conditions for learning so that what happened yesterday can happen again. I’m also curious to hear what others have to say about this.


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