What’s Your New Learning?

Last week, I had the pleasure to attend a Let’s Talk Science Summer Institute on Nurturing Inquisitive Minds With STEM. I’ll admit that at first, I was unsure what to expect. In our Kindergarten classroom, we provide a lot of open-ended exploration and play opportunities, and I wondered if some of the activities discussed here would be too teacher-directed for us to use. Would this workshop be beneficial for play-based Kindergarten educators? I’m thrilled to report that not only was it beneficial, but it was one of the best workshops that I have attended in a while. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking since leaving Thursday’s workshop, and I realize now that there was actually some unexpected reminders and new learning from this experience.

I’ve always believed that it’s worth reflecting on professional development opportunities and figuring out what you got from them. This blog post is my most recent reflection.

  • We learn more together! I was thrilled that Thursday’s workshop allowed both me and my teaching partner, Paula, to attend together. I love the back-and-forth dialogue that often happens when we learn as a team, and this was certainly true on Thursday. As new ideas were shared, Paula and I would whisper about possible classroom uses. Could we add this chart to one of our play spaces in the room? How might we modify this activity for use in Kindergarten? Would this activity possibly be beneficial for professional learning? Having this chance to talk about our thinking, ask more questions of each other, and even do a little planning for the new school year based on what we learned, was exciting. Yes, if one of us attended this session alone, we could have brought back the information to share with the other person, but then all of the sharing is based on one perspective. Now we both heard what was being discussed, we were both involved in the activities, and we were both able to suggest different extensions that we could then combine or modify together.

  • Look for a little something new in everything that’s shared. Thursday’s workshop was very hands-on, and we spent most of the time working and playing together as part of different sized teams. At first glance, some of the activities seemed very prescribed, and another teacher asked us, “Would you do this in your classroom?” As is, the answer is likely “no,” but that doesn’t mean that we couldn’t get creative with what we saw. So, for example, one activity had us testing a domino and a car as it slid down ramps made of various materials. It was interesting to see all of the material choices, from tinfoil to carpet. What if we added some of these materials to our building space, especially when our students begin to experiment with creating ramps? How might this change the play? Would something other than a block or a car move down the ramp at a different speed? I wonder about something like a penny. How might lying it flat change from putting it on its side? What if we adjusted the angle of the ramp? How does that change the speed of the item that’s rolling down it? When might we use these different materials for ramp use? Maybe it’s time to even explore some ramps in our environment. Now our students might not have as many wonders as I do about these ramps, and they might not take this play in the same direction, but sometimes it’s simply the introduction of one or two new materials, which change the discussion and allow for the introduction of some new vocabulary. Seeing what was available in the kits on Thursday, made Paula and I think about what we might make available in the classroom … which definitely made this “something new,” very useful for both of us.
  • Give opportunities for adults to also play. I’ve blogged about this topic before, but I definitely saw the value of this at Thursday’s workshop. One of the most memorable experiences from the day was when Paula, Anja (another educator that I know), and I made a seed sorter together. This was not an easy task. We had lots of materials available to use, and a pretend budget for purchasing these items. I decided to document our building process — 1) because I think there’s value in the process even if the product doesn’t end up working and 2) because I’m comfortable with this kind of documentation, and in the midst of the uncomfortable demands of making this seed sorter, I felt calmer with my iPad in hand. As we worked through this long process of creating our seed sorter, I was reminded of the need for adults to struggle, make modifications, and try again. If we want our kids to do the same, what do we need to experience first? By not having adults there to solve the problems for us, we were forced to work through the challenges, problem solve together, and eventually meet with success. If, as adults, we don’t have these play experiences though, will we be quicker to save kids when they meet with challenges? Will we know when to step back and when to intervene? I think this seed sorter challenge would be a great one to do at a staff meeting. What might it end up telling us about ourselves as thinkers, learners, and problem solvers?

  • Sometimes “narrow” is beneficial. Paula and I really try to embrace the value in open-ended learning opportunities, and it’s for this very reason that we don’t use signs in the classroom that tell children what to create or how to use different materials. Last year though, we noticed that some students became more involved in artistic learning opportunities when we showed a few examples of some possible finished products. These weren’t posted anywhere, and they weren’t even all of the same thing, but sometimes these examples helped inspire future creativity. And often, it didn’t take long before these examples were no longer needed. Educators scaffold all the time in the classroom. Maybe a few examples act as necessary scaffolding for some kids. Paula and I thought about this on Thursday, when we engaged in different design challenges. While we don’t want to tell kids how to use recyclable materials — or limit creativity because of what we suggest — would some more children use these items if we shared a design challenge to go with them? What if we showed photographs of possible things to create, or even watched an informative video with an idea or two? We could even get kids to start to write up their own design challenges, or make this a possible home extension activity. Thursday’s workshop had us wondering, when might narrowing options be more beneficial for kids? How can we then extend to more open-ended options?
  • Be open for different ways. During some of our design challenges, we were told to draw a diagram of what we created. Paula and I have suggested something similar to our students before. This can provide a great opportunity for some authentic writing, and even math exploration (e.g., around geometry (shapes) and measurement). What I loved though was when Anja borrowed my iPad and used Explain Everything to create this diagram. This was such a good reminder that there’s not one right way to do anything. If one of our students chose to do this, would we be open for this other option? How can we encourage students to explore different options? I so appreciate that our Let’s Talk Science facilitators were very open to the many ways that we shared our learning on Thursday!

As we all get ready to head back to school, is there something new that you learned from some recent PD that you hope to incorporate into your classroom this year? How might you do so? If not, maybe there’s a little something from my Let’s Talk Science learning that may help as a new school year begins. As Thursday’s workshop reminded me, we can always be open for something new!


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