Snow in April?! No problem!

Our Junior Kindergarten students surprise us every single day. When I woke up on a snowy April morning, I arrived to school with a gloomy grin and looked at my teaching partner with rolling eyes. “Are you kidding me?” we said to each other. But rather than projecting our disappointment, we simply asked the students in our morning message how they felt about the snow. To our surprise every single one of them could not be more excited. “It makes me feel happy”, “I want to play in it”, “I’m so, so, so, so, excited”; were some of the many messages we heard. The Outdoor Classroom was snowy, but let’s not forget it was still April and the weather was somewhat warmer; the result: a snowy, wet, muddy sandy surprise! “Ew” you might be thinking? “What a mess” perhaps? “WONDERFUL” thought the JKs. The imaginative play, collaboration, creative thinking, and utter joy each child displayed surprised us more than usual.

How can you use water colour paints without water or paper? The JKs figured it out! Bringing out only paint pallets and brushes we asked the students how they can use the materials to paint in the Outdoor Classroom. They shared their ideas, tested their theories, and certainly tried their best. They became problem solvers as they dipped their brushes into puddles to wash it before changing colours. Talk about creative problem solvers! As they swished their brushes in melting snow, ice, and water, they began transforming large chunks of ice into colourful works of art.

The rainy, snowy weather left for an interesting discovery at the marble run. One student wondered if the water would move the same way the tennis balls did. To figure it out, he went into the sand box to get a shovel small enough to collect the water from the bottom and bring it to the top. He discovered it did move along but it stopped early. He learned the wood absorbed the water. The student shared his learning with the class thereby inspiring others to explore the marble run in new ways.

In the sand box the students used scoops and shovels of all sizes to make their own mud! They collected water from little puddles all around and mixed it with the sand turning it into dough as they began making fresh pies. The students were collaborating as they took on various roles, and engaged in meaningful conversations. The shovels turned into serving platters, and rakes became forks, as they shared their homemade pies with one another.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In just one hour of play the students hit on multiple areas of the Full Day Kindergarten Curriculum. The big idea stating “Children are curious and connect prior knowledge to new contexts in order to understand the world around them” was demonstrated on this snowy April day. The students experimented with new materials on a familiar marble run, used a familiar paint pallet in a creative new way, and transferred their learning from home as they recreated a kitchen at school.

After one hour in the Outdoor Classroom the students so clearly demonstrated how much they embrace learning, we were reminded of What Really Matters in Life! When you give children the time they need to play and explore their environment they will amaze you! And you know what Albert Einstein said…”Play is the highest form of research.”

Elissa Meleca
Junior Kindergarten Teacher

Some Old School is Good School

Learning & Teaching MethodsI confess. At my school, we do some things that are very old school.

I follow what’s happening in the profession very closely. I read with interest what educators around the world are doing. I note that old-school approaches are often assumed wrong, not by research but by opinion.

These are exciting times in education, and there is a lot of room for new tools and strategies. Technology has made much that was impossible possible. Project-based learning, flat classroom projects that connect students around the world, and emphasis on 21st century stills like collaboration and inquiry are welcome progress. I love reading about how educators around the world are using these new approaches, and love bringing much of what is new to our school.

I’m also compelled to be a voice that says there is value in some of what schools used to do. The evidence is in the students, and the fact that a restricted array of approaches will never be sufficient for all. Schools must include all that has recently shown promise, plus remember all that used to have value, and then apply them all according to the needs of each student. So, in addition to all the current practices at our school, what old-school ones have we found also meet student needs?   We teach reading in many ways, but one way is through what’s called Direct Instruction, which is teacher-directed, and is the highly specific teaching of phonics, decoding and comprehension. We teach printing and cursive using a resource that is also specific to the skill, and we use it for six years in a row so that writing has a chance to develop alongside keyboarding skills. We teach math facts until students are fully fluent, allow minimal use of a calculator, and teach math concepts with clear step-by-step instruction. We have exams starting in grade 6, and put a significant effort in teaching students how to prepare for this significant challenge.

Teaching all students well requires open-mindedness to an unbounded array of tools and practices. It requires deep knowledge of each student, reflective practice, knowledge of quality research and the evidence of experience. That needs to be read more often. Whether old-school or new-school, if it helps students, it belongs.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.