Wednesday, 26 December 2018

Lessons from the bridge

 Let me set the scene.....I live in a relatively new suburb in Tauranga called The Lakes.  There are many beautiful walks in the area and one of them includes a walk across this bridge.  The bridge is part of the new development and I am guessing that it would be about 5 years old maybe.

I often walk over this bridge and the ideas below are lessons that have accumulated over many walks.   As I sat a while on the bridge yesterday, to enjoy the cool breeze that blows down the lake I started to think more about the lessons I have learnt from this bridge over time.     This year my inquiry question is 'What does it mean to see me?'  Maybe this is the start of my journey into a very reflective year.

So here are the 9 lessons from the bridge:

1.We all live the same number of years, but we all age differently.  Aging is individual and maybe we have a choice in that.  Remember this bridge was built all at the same time, but some of the pieces have had to be replaced already. So aging is not about how many years we have been alive it is an individual experience.

2. The replaced, new pieces stand out, they are not wrinkly and weathered.  The new pieces do not hold the same beauty that comes with a life lived well.  There is a beauty in age that sometimes we forget to see and instead try to stay forever looking young.

3. The replaced pieces eventually blend into the surrounding - thinking of them as becoming part of the bridge.  Do we see young people, really see young people or do we think of what they will be not who they are in this moment, recognising their strengths, their abilities, what they have to offer just as they are, not as what they are becoming.

4. When one part of the bridge is replaced another takes its place.  For safety purposes the bridge needs to be repaired and  the broken or damaged pieces need to be replaced.  Each replacement piece needs to be carefully considered - length, depth, wood etc.  What if we allowed the gap to remain for a little bit, examine the gap, feel comfortable with the gap and then fill the gap.  Gaps created through change in circumstances or grief, can be responded to with pause allowing time to think about what will fill that void, if anything.  In life I wonder if gaps need to be filled, are they opportunities for new adventures.  I have known grief in my life - the lose of parents and grief of divorce - I think the pause, the gap is well worth sitting with for a time.

5.  The parts of the bridge come to an end in no particular order.  A little like life, we are not all the same at different ages, we cannot all be ready for the same experiences at the same age.  For example, in education why would we think that all 3 year olds for instance would be exactly the same.  Although the bridge is one structure its individual parts need individual attention.  Education maybe one structure but it has individual people inside it with individual ways of being.

6. The beauty of the bridge is its rustic charm - it's not perfect, it's well used and it takes you somewhere.   Life is not perfect, but filled with rich experiences and used well it will take you somewhere.

7. When we see the bridge we see it in its entirety.  We don't fixate on the young palings or the old, we know that each part is valuable - without one part the whole is weakened.  This is about community.  There is richness to diversity of ages being in community - whether it is a local suburb, ECE setting or school.

8. The young and the old pieces of the bridge rely on each other.  Everyone has equal value and deserving the of same respect.

9. As the young replace the old, the remaining old pieces still support the bridge.   Old wisdom and strength support the young.  Titiro whakamuri her ārahi i ngā uaratanga kei te kimihia. Look to the past for guidance and seek out what is needed.

Well there it is 9  lessons about aspects of life from a bridge.  They may overlap but that is life, a weaving together of relationships, experiences, perspectives and opportunities.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

It looks like fun but are they learning?

It looks like fun but are they learning is a chapter written by Petrich, Wilkinson and Bevan in the book Design Make Play (2013) they write, "Well, it looks like fun....[pause]...but are they learning?   Strange that because an experience looks like fun then it is harder for some to think that there is learning involved.  I know many teachers in Aotearoa/New Zealand that would have had play questioned as relevant learning - comments such as,  'they are JUST playing and having fun'.  Their words resonated with me and probably with many many teachers who understand and value learning that comes from tinkering with your own ideas.  They wrote about a question that they had been asked many times,
Over the last couple of years I have researched and facilitated many workshops on tinkering and started this blog as a way to capture some of my ideas.  Admittedly this blog has taken many different pathways over time and I attribute this to the notion of tinkering.  Tinkering is ultimately about inquiry.  For me one aspect of tinkering has been about taking an idea and letting it bounce around in my head for awhile - shaping and reshaping my thinking - it's about being able to mentally take apart an idea, belief, tradition or way of being  and then maybe putting it back together as it was or totally reshaped by my thinking.

Let me explain further......
Last year I started pondering on a question and this question became the lens that I looked through personally and professionally.    My question was.......
Who said good is good?
I had somewhat naively always considered myself as a person who is free spirited with regard to having my own ideas and thoughts.  However, this quote from Ingersoll along with many other writers started my thinking about my own thinking - for instance was my thinking really my own or was it shaped by a myriad of influences current, past and through generations of traditions.  Had I ever considered why I thought something was 'good'?

From tinkering with the idea of 'who said good is good' I set about to inquire and critically consider my own bias and cultural knowledge of what I consider good is.    "The proper time to influence the character of a child is 100 years before he is born.  In each of us lives our childhood and the values of past generations", is a quote from Robert ten Bensel.  If I am influenced by the thinking of those 100 years ago what was happening then in education and beyond?  What did teaching and learning look like?

Other than me tinkering with my own ideas of 'good' what does this have to do with my teaching practice and the conversation of 'but are they learning'?  Well.... actually everything.  If we are not open to new thinking eg. teacher's inquiry then we will be stuck in the past hundred years of thinking about what learning looks like.  The question of 'it looks like fun but are they learning' is influenced by people's own experience of education.  They remember back to the day when as a child they were tortured by education. Oh, maybe 'tortured' is too strong a word but at the moment I cannot find another to describe the meaningless hours spent behind a desk being expected to digest information only to regurgitate it  later during an exam.  Now that does not sound like fun!  There are those though that  "..understand the difference between the pain of education and the pleasure of real learning."(Dougherty (Design,Make,Play))  For those that do not, maybe it is hard to understand that fun can be synonymous with learning.

All teachers should be open to tinkering with ideas - putting their ideas of teaching and learning under the lens of who said this is good?  The only way to shift education is to be open to possibilities, to be reflective practitioners and to engage with inquiry.  In a previous post titled 'I never thought I'd...' there is a video that considers the idea of education not shifting in a 100 years.  I think in Aotearoa it has, well it is starting to.  Play based learning is valued in both early childhood and primary school.
The New Zealand Curriculum embraces teaching and learning as inquiry stating,
  "Students will be encouraged to value:
  • innovation, inquiry, and curiosity, by thinking
    critically, creatively, and reflectively;"
 Te Whāriki (2017) states that "play and playfulness are valued" and "Children are most likely to generate and refine working theories in learning environment where uncertainity is valued, inquiry is modelled, and making meaning is the goal."

As teachers we should delight in stretching our own thinking about teaching and learning, keeping up to date with research, not stuck in out dated ways of being and constantly critiquing our practice through our inquiry.  Not just believing in tinkering but also modelling that tinkering with ideas is fun, stretches us, grows creative problem solving and ensures we stay current in our thinking and practice.   Only then we will understand deep in our bones that YES, THEY ARE LEARNING EVEN IF TO AN OUTSIDER IT LOOKS LIKE THEY ARE JUST HAVING FUN!

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Increased Concern for the Environment

Following on from the previous post, 'Back to Basics, Back to Nature' I want to take an individual look at each of the 10 values of being in nature.  Starting of course with the first on the list - which is an increased concern for the environment.

What spurred me on to write about this was a very passionate speech that Lady Tilly Reedy gave prior to the new edition of Te Whāriki.  Lady Tilly Reedy was one of the writers of the original TeWhāriki:
"Te Whāriki was originally developed by writers Dr Helen May (senior lecturer in early childhood education) and Margaret Carr (senior lecturer in early childhood studies) from the University of Waikato, working in partnership with Dr Tamati Muturangi Reedy (from 1996, Dean of Te Pua Wānanga ki te Ao, University of Waikato) and Tilly Te Koingo Reedy (nominated by the Kōhanga Reo National Trust).
The metaphor of the whāriki, with its principles | kaupapa whakahaere and strands | whakahirahira was provided by Tamati and Tilly Reedy, who drew upon traditional Māori concepts that had shaped the kaupapa of ngā kōhanga reo."

Te Whāriki has changed, but the principles and the strand headings remain the same.  Lady Tilly Reedy talks about Mana Aotūroa - explorations.  Her words, "I know that a lot of you are concerned about the environment.  Well, be concerned because that is Te Whāriki."

If for no other reason other than being a Te Whāriki centre we should be ensuring that our tamariki have plenty of opportunities to engage with nature.  In order for children to understand and grow ideas of being good kaitiaki they need to know what they are protecting.  They need to have an affinity and love of nature to understand the value of the natural world.  We run the risk of children becoming disengaged with nature - what will that mean for the future of our environment?  Will the children of today grow into adults who will love and protect what we have? "Research has shown that empathy with and love of nature grows out of children's regular contact with the natural world.  Hands on, informal, self-initiated exploration and discovery in local, familiar environments are often described as the best way to engage and inspire children and cultivate a sense of wonder." (Connecting Children with NatureDepartment of Conservation)

From a Te Ao Māori perspective ensuring children connect with the natural world weaves together the Māori belief in the interconnectedness of people and the earth that we come from.  Listening to Penny Brownlee at the Natural Phenomena Conference reminded me of the reassurance and sense of belonging that is created when you know you are part of something much bigger than yourself.  To stand alongside a tree and hear it's heart beat, to stand and look out to the ocean and hear it's song, to listen to nature - the birds, the leaves and to know that we are all somehow connected means that we are never alone.

If children understand this concept of being able to whakapapa back to Papatuanuki then they are more likely to look after, be good kaitiaki, of their environment. 

"Introduce the concept that Papatuanuku is our living mother: she gives us life and we need to respect her and all living creatures. Ranginui our sky father gives us rain so the plants and trees can grow…. Encourage the idea of caring for and nurturing living things. How we can become kaitiaki for the planet and talk about what that means?"

Final thought:  let's not take for granted what we have.  Let us keep alive children's in born sense of wonderment and awe through stopping and ensuring we too are connecting with the natural beauty of the world around us.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Back to basics, back to nature.

For awhile I have been thinking about children and adults being able to tinker with their own ideas.  Generally my thoughts have been about play based learning until attending the Natural Phenomena Conference which shifted my inquiry to the outdoor environments that support children's tinkering and learning.  I have possibly written a about the importance of outdoor or nature play on this blog in the past, but more as an aside, now I would like to think about this more in-depth.  So come with me on a journey into looking at back to basics, back to nature.  Firstly, I would like to start with a story:

 Once upon a time, a long long time ago, back when there were witches in the woods and fairies living at the end of the garden, a cowboy hiding behind a bush and an astronaut testing out his or her latest tree rocket,  the children were found outside with friends, neighbourhood children or their siblings while their parents were no where to be seen.
They played contented all day until they  heard the deep call of their tummies beckoning them to return home for food.  They ate, cleaned the mud and dirt from their hands and faces, bandaged the scrapped knee and recharged their batteries for the next day's play and adventure.

Happily escaping the watchful gaze of mum and dad these children set off each day to climb trees, ride bikes, seek out new friends and discover new worlds.  They enjoyed the freedom of using their imagination, creating their own problems and finding their own solutions.  

Children imagined amazing story lines that they acted out - stories of teachers, fairies, bank robbers and police men and women.  They negotiated who was going to be mum, who were going to be the police.  Through this play they grew their  understanding about being fair and kind, without the assistance of their mum and dad.  They grew to understand about what it meant to be a citizen in the world of this far far away time.   And....

they lived happily ever after......

What does this story tell us - we have come a long way from the childhood memories that we once had.  If the question was asked - "What are your most favourite childhood memories?" Most of us would remember back to tree climbing, building huts, playing in or by water, real work outdoors or a range of other experiences OUTSIDE.  

Looking at the value of playing in the outdoors has stretched my thinking about the importance of ensuring children get the opportunity to be in nature just as the happy ever children had experienced.

 I have already started talking with teachers about ensuring children connect with nature, I always start with these words from Guy Claxton: 

As teachers we need to think about the gaps, find the ways we can get children out into nature on a regular basis.  If we focus on the rocks it all becomes too hard and impossible and therefore nothing will change.  Where are the gaps? What can we do?

Below is a list put together by Randy White regarding the benefits of children being in nature.  Over time my hope is to look more closely at each of these benefits on this blog.  

  • increased concern for the environment (Palmer, 1993)
  • increased sense of wonder and imagination (Cobb, 1997, Wilson, 1997)
  • improved ability to concentrate (Taylor et al., 2001)
  • increased motivation for life-long learning (Wilson, 1997)
  • improved personal skills including confidence, social skills, self-efficacy (Dillion, Morris, O’Donnell, Reid, Dickinson, Scott, 2005)
  • reduced stress/greater ability to deal with adversity (Wells & Evans, 2004)
  • increased language and collaborative skills (Moore & Wong, 1997)
  • increased development of senses (Louv, 2005)
  • increased knowledge and understanding of geographical, ecological or food production process  (Dillion, Morris, O’Donnell, Reid, Dickinson, Scott, 2005)
  • increased analytical, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills, and integration of math, science, language arts, social science and other subjects (Bartosh, 2006)

Sir Ken Robinson lists five reasons why taking learning outdoors is a good idea:
  1. Nature is a powerful resource.
  2. Children can learn through practical hands-on activities.
  3. You can tap into children's curiosity.
  4. It is a social experience and children learn from working together.
  5. Learning outdoors is fun.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Children's right to play

Professor Roger Hart talks about the importance of play for children's development.  This is the same message we are hearing from many researchers and experts such as Sir Ken Robinson and Peter Gray 
Sir Ken Robinson said, "Free play is the means by which children learn to make friends, overcome their fears, solve their own problems, and generally take control of their own lives.  It is also the primary means by which children practice and acquire the physical and intellectual skills that are essential for success in their own culture." (Creative Schools,2015)

Play is something that is part of all cultures and cannot be considered a luxury but something that is essential to the development of children.  Adults/teachers should be aware of the importance of play and create the conditions and environment necessary for children to deeply engage in play.

Peter Gray describes play as:
1. Play is self-chosen and self-directed; players are always free to quit.
2. Play is activity in which means are more valuable than ends.
3. Play in guided by mental rules.
4. Play is non-literal, imaginative, marked off in some way from reality.

In order for children to play with their own ideas we need to consider whether the environment invites curiosity and inquiry.  When thinking about the environment it is not only the physical space but how we use time within the space.  If we slice and dice children's days through following a teacher imposed roster then we run the risk hindering deep engagement.  Children need time to deeply engage in their own ideas and thoughts.  Creativity and playing with ideas cannot be time allocated - nor does it have an on/off switch that can be flicked to suit a time structured day.  Children's play belongs to children, teachers should not inhibit children's play through insensitive planning or pursuit of teacher directed learning or by following programmes the see learning fragmented into curriculum areas or school readiness programs.

Tinkering with their own ideas inside play and inquiry allows children to solve their own problems, learn through the questions and hands on experimentation.  Tinkering/playing with their own ideas supports children to think divergently.  "Divergent thinking is the ability to branch out from a starting point and consider a variety of possible solutions, involves fluidity of thinking, broad scanning ability and free association.  It is thought to be a major cognitive process underlying creativity."  (Guildford, 1968; Russ & Cougars, 2001)  When children have the opportunity to play with open-ended materials, there are numerous approaches that can be taken.  As teachers we need to consider offering children open-ended experiences and remove the word activities from our vocabulary.  Activities are usually closed and teachers often have an outcome in mind as well as a time frame.  Whereas an experience or provocation allows for children to view this as a time to play with their own ideas inside the experience or provocation being offered.  Teaching and learning becomes vibrant because both teacher and children may be delighted and surprised by where the experience goes.  

Thursday, 3 November 2016

I never thought I'd.........

During the weekend I went to look at a gym with the idea that I might sign up as a member.  I invited my sister to come along with me  - she has a good understand of gym culture and what to look for.

While standing outside waiting for my sister I said to myself, talking to myself is certainly something that happens frequently in my world, I never thought I would see the day when I considered signing up for a gym.  My brother Bruce and sister Shona got all the fitness genes when they were born leaving me  feeling quite allergic to exercise all of my life.  So I never thought I’d see the day I joined a gym!!!!!!   Through my one way conversation I realised that there have been many times recently when I could have used that same term - ‘I never thought I’d …’ and therefore came to the conclusion that life is full of ‘I never thought I’d….’.

It does seem that in recent years the term ‘I never thought I’d…’ has been used with more frequency in my life.  For instance I never thought I’d jump out of a plane  especially since I have a fear of heights and get vertigo - hmmm but I did.  I never thought I’d go to Phuket for a holiday with my son - but I did.  I never thought I would speed out into the open ocean in a jet boat - the bounce terrifies me and the rock and roll of the sea when we stop certainly makes me feel squeamish.  But I did and laughed at the rolling swells which were higher than the boat. I never thought I would speak in front of a large crowd of people and enjoy it - but I do frequently.  Actually I use to be mysteriously absent from school during school speech day.

This growing change in attitude originated from when I realised that I was a learner.  I trained later in life to be a teacher having failed at secondary school.  I say failed very purposefully because that was how I felt - and how I felt about myself as a learner counts because the end goal of all education is to create life long learners.  I did not feel, or know I was a learner when I left college and the outcome of this was to lessen my horizons. As I studied to complete my teaching degree (in my 40s) I connected with a passion and found that I was a learner after all.  Knowing that I am a learner was life changing because it changed my attitude to life or more importantly my understanding of what it was possible for me to achieve and experience.  My view was lifted to the possibilities for learning and for experiencing life to its fullest, broadening my horizons.  The change has gathered momentum, this maybe due to realised successes that have spurred me on to try different challenges and experiences which often take me out of my comfort zone.  There is a saying, ‘Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.’

In Carol Dweck’s book Mindset she wrote, “What or earth would make someone a nonlearner? Everyone is born with an intense drive to learn.  Infants stretch their skills daily…..What could put an end to this exuberant learning? The fixed mindset.  As soon as children become able to evaluate themselves, some of them become afraid to challenges.”

As teachers of any age group we should be driven to support life long learning.  In order to do this we need to give learners the opportunity to learn through their passion, to tinker with their own ideas, find solutions to their own problems, take responsibility for their own learning and to have opportunities to succeed through persistence.  Writers such as Carol Dweck, Nathan Mikaere-Wallis, Peter Gray, Sir Ken Robinson and many more have influenced me and the way I think about teaching and learning.  Learners of all ages and developmental stages need to have the opportunity to lead their own learning otherwise as Nathan Mikaere-Wallis says we can just be parrots who are able to parrot back the right answers. 

The goal is to grow learners who are resilient, who have grit and a growth mindset.  We want young adults to leave the education system knowing that they are learners who are able to rise to new challenges with a positive attitude to learning and life.  Growing this starts in early childhood and continues into every sectors.  Teachers have the possibility to grow thinkers and learners by being open to the possibilities when thinking about brain development research and the implication this has for education.  Education has the possibility to shift from an industrial model as teachers reflect on world wide research and models of education that are working well.    Play based learning is gaining momentum in primary school as is inquiry based learning.  There are growing conversations about continuity of learning between sectors which means we have to focus on the commonalities and create a shared understanding about wise teaching practice across all education sectors in order to sustain meaningful and deeply embedded change.  What is different about 21st century learning or are we using the same model that our great-grandparents used.

We want to support learners to have a growth mindset in order for them to cope with an ever changing world.  The question is, are we as teachers confident that we are accomplishing the desired outcome to grow thinkers and learners, young people with a growth mindset who are able to rise to the challenges and experiences that the world has to offer? We want young people who are able to face uncertainity and think I always thought I could….

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

The Stick

In my workshops on Tinkering we look at the five most popular toys of all time.  According to an article on Teacher Tom's blog the stick is number 1. As this video shows the stick is so diverse in it's uses.  Gever Tulley started the Tinkering School after hearing comments about sticks.   These words were his inspiration to think about creating opportunities for children to tinker with their own ideas.  We may have heard these words or even used them ourselves:
"Is that a stick. You know the rules about playing with sticks" said a parent to a child.
Sticks create many possibilities for using your imagination and to create wonderful conversations.  I discussed this in another post on the ELP Blog about my grandchildren and their use of and questions about sticks.  To view follow this link:
Sticks are loose parts at their very best.
This is a wonderful rap to the power of the stick - to its ability to open up imaginative play, create problems in building and encourage meaningful and engaging learning.
I was asked by a teacher, " I am looking for help in what the relationship  is between loose parts/open-ended materials and creativity?"
My short reply was, the link between loose parts and creativity is the ability to use the loose parts in many ways unlike closed resources that have only one way of being able to be used.  It is divergent thinking that is being nurtured through loose part play."
Here is a link to an excerpt from Contemporary Perspective on Play in Early Childhood Education Olivia Saracho and Bernard Spodek

Nathan Mikaere-Wallis also talks about divergent thinking in this excerpt from a radio interview he had on Radio NZ Talkback.  To hear the whole interview go to:
Nathan said, "Intelligence is really problems solving at its heart and problem solving is hugely enhanced by creativity."
So that brings me back to the stick.  The stick is a divergent rather than convergent (only has one purpose) resource.  The humble stick allows children to dream and be creative and by doing this opens up the possibilities for children to tinker with their own ideas.