This year, our FDK classroom has transformed itself from its originally blank white walls into a tropical rainforest, greenhouse, ant farm, volcano site, and space station (just to name a few). In our learning environment, spaces are transformed by the students' learning experiences. Specifically placed furniture and materials allow students to self-regulate their play of choice and use loose parts inspired from nature to engage in purposeful and open-ended play. Nature is our inspiration and the environment inside and outside becomes our classroom. Tree branches, plants, leaves, pine cones, rocks, birch bowls, cotton, and beans always allow our classroom to feel more like an atelier - workshop than a typical classroom.
Our Classroom: Our Atelier
Our FDK team (EL-K) (teacher and DECE usually, sometimes all K- 3 teams for connection making) we ensure that our schedule (time table) from the very start encourages time for both teacher and DECE to "play" -interact with students and document emerging interests and questions (including outdoor education). When structuring (flexible yet purposeful) our "plans" for the next 3 days (which is a requirement from the board), we ensure that we understand it is a draft version and things may change ( they always do- that is a good thing!). We take students' observations (photos, notes, pictures) and write a weekly reflection ( to visually post on our learning web). We then begin planning open ended provocations (picture, creative exploration, unique materials etc...) to engage wonder and get a "sense" of direction- as to where the students "might" go with their wonders.
This week, our butterflies await their first flight (in their chrysalis'), students began to wonder about what the butterflies would eat next week. As we researched, they like citrus! Today we planned a citrus party, where students learned how to squeeze juice from grapefruits, oranges, limes, and lemons. Our original "plan" was to investigate similar lifecycle patterns- however, as an ongoing inquiry - we arranged plans accordingly and might explore other species which enjoy citrus! Making connections back and to the curriculum and classroom inquiry will allow the natural process of meeting many curriculum expectations above and beyond. It (inquiry learning) in its balance form, in my opinion, provides a learning program with authentic and meaningful opportunities to explore the " big ideas" with a personalized way- bespoke curriculum one could say! Inquiry learning in its true form becomes equitable, allowing all students to enable an entry point to participate and contribute during play.
Provoking student inquiry for our EL-K team is about listening closely. We introduce students to familiar contexts and allow them to develop their thinking about what they knew, know, learned and then expand on making connections. By allowing students to self regulate choices and play spaces (with a degree of purposeful planning involved) , students approach the same provocation in multiple ways, allowing for a multitude of opportunities and learning experiences for everyone (including assessment opportunities).
Documentation is an ongoing task for the EL-K team. I feel it is essential to include the students in the task of documenting our learning and making learning visible in our learning environments. In our class, since the beginning of the year, we have documented our learning in various ways. We have documented learning through photos, weekly plans, students artwork, whole group brainstorms, and student writing (making evidence authentic). Today our "learning web" has spun throughout our entire wall from beginning to end. The "learning web" connects our learning through our inquires, questions, projects, and discussions. As an EL-K team, we are sure to include curriculum connections and specific expectations. In our way, we feel our web has transformed the traditional "assessment binders" and has made learning visible for all our learners in our communities. Providing such evidence sparks the students' inquiry and makes a path for grand connections and higher level thinking all year around.
Below is an example of a social story from an activity done as a whole class than transformed into a provocation at our atelier. Our EL-K team documented our inspiration and learning journey to share. I choose to use our social stories in my reflection journal and include them in planning. At the end of the year, collecting all our stories and turning it into one year long learning story is a fabulous way to reflect on a wonderful year.
It should look like a rough draft. Inquiry work isn't always the perfectly planned lesson. Sometimes it gets messy! In this case, messy means it being flexible and allowing students to make their our pathway and guide their inquiry. All students to use their own perspective and make their own connections. As time moves forward, step back and enjoy the imagination and creativity of the students. Together learning happens. Below is a photo of a "mini lesson" of sorts about "looking closer" and gathering details. I made sure to listen and take photographs while the students started to 'branch our in inquiry". It started with a branch!
By providing students in the documentation process, it provides the learners with authentic and engaging writing opportunities.
The atelier is a creative space in our classroom. Inspired by the Reggio Emilia educational approach. The space enables the classroom to become the teacher and engage little people to use their big minds. The atelier ensures materials are easily accessible for students and includes a wide variety of materials such as professional art supplies, loose parts, beautiful stuff, blocks, textiles, safe pieces of wire, string, literature, pulleys, gears, wedges, screws, and fine ribbons. A "loose parts buffet" of sorts!
YorkU: 21 Century Learning: Creating an Inquiry Based Classroom with Jennifer Watt and Jill Colyer Spring 2015
"IQ: A Practical Guide to inquiry-based learning: namely that learning is about curiosity, discovery, uncertainty, argument, passion, and individuality". - Jennifer Watt & Jiller Colyer
I enjoy inquiry learning, it allows students and educators to fully engage in emergent curriculum learning opportunities. As a FDK teacher, I feel the early years are given great opportunities to explore topics, questions, and areas which "traditionally" would have not have been explored. I am in no means an expert, I enjoy learning more about listening to my students and exploring their natural curiosity.
In FDK I feel inquiry is always evolving. Students explore and learn how to engage in the critical thinking process. This year, my students continue to inquire and develop their critical thinking skills by asking wonderful questions. I feel that with the goal of including and providing an entrance level for all students, the blended inquiry approach at times is very beneficial.
Often, I hear that teachers need and look for a "balance", I feel by teaching with a purposeful inquiry approach, it indeed becomes your "balance" at any level of education by emerging the authentic learning experiences into your daily activities, projects, and mini lessons.
I am always looking to overcome my challenges as an educator and this is indeed why I have a great interest in the YorkU- 21 Century Learning: Creating an Inquiry Based Classroom. I am completing my Kindergarten Part 3. I would like to learn more strategies and take learning risks- allowing myself yo step back to listen to my students. My students are currently exploring "Why do ants make tunnels?" and "Why do shadows follow us"?
Way to go FDK instructors!
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Please feel free to leave your thoughts, opinions, and current inquiry questions and projects!