Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Exploration Stations Update

What's in a Name? Yes, Exploration Stations is a new name for Centres.  (The same way Disco is the same thing as Dance music).  I like what L calls her play time: ICE Time.  It stands for Imagination, Creation and Exploration.  Maybe as my stations use more imagination or creation, I steal her moniker.

What Do I Do When I Don't know What to Do?
For me, the really interesting thing for these stations is going back and looking at the students' Thought Logs (aka journals).  I like seeing what they walk away with in each experience.  I think I may have mentioned before that my school is interested in Self Regulation.  Before I began the stations, I asked my students what they do when they have a problem, when they don't know what to do, when they get stuck, etc.  They came up with suggestions like: "Ask my mom."  "Tell the teacher."  "Call the police."  "Find a supervisor."  I was surprised!  All of their responses were variations on "Ask an adult for help."  I pointed this out to my students and was met with blank stares as if they were saying to me, "Well, what else are we supposed to do?"

Fast forward to a week of Exploration Stations, discussions, and of course, Thought Log entries.  Here are some new suggestions of what they noticed about what they do when they are confronted with a new situation:
  • Start small and start with something easy.
  • Take turns and work with others. 
  • Watch what other people do.
  • Take a break and try again.
  • Try it a different or random way.
  • Stop and look.
  • Compare it to something else I know.
  • Just keep trying.
  • Ask myself questions.
  • Get closer.  Things look different and you might notice something new. 
  • Work together.
  • Talk to myself.
  • Help someone else first. 
A Shift in my Role
My job is to go through their Thought Logs and sift out their learning, and show it back to them so they can use these same strategies in other situations.  They are really starting to get that by playing around with these stations and with different ideas, they are learning how to learn, and they can apply these same techniques to all kinds of learning.  Very cool.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Time to Play: Exploration Stations

I've been trying to get my head around emergent curriculum and Reggio Emelia.
I've seen that the Reggio way is very organic, and I see some terrific things that ECE and Kindergarten has done with the Reggio way. But I couldn't reconcile it with older grades especially intermediate, and I wondered what it would look like in grades 3 and up. I went on line and could not find any references to Reggio in anything above K really. One day, P, C and I were hanging out in the space (our dark sanctuary that I wrote about here in my blog), and I asked P what she knew about Reggio in older grades. She said something so simple that I can't believe that I didn't really connect it until she said it. She said that Project Based Learning is really Reggio for older grades. I guess I got caught up in the terms (atelier, speaking in 1000 languages, etc.) that I didn't pare it down to the essence (as Ken Robinson asked us to do): exploration.
So Ken Robinson, Shanker and Dockendorf are really a convergence of minds about exploration.

My previous challenges with both play and project-based learning.
With play, I have trouble justifying it to parents, but also I've had trouble seeing what students are learning through play. I know they are learning, but if I can't directly see it or quantify it or record it, then my scientific side can't rest easy. And with project-based learning, I once let students choose what they wanted to learn carte blanche. The choice was too much for some students and they kept doing the same things over and over again. Or one girl changed her mind about 100 times and had a tiny pom pom to show for a month's work. The teacher (and parent) side of me did not rest easy with that.

The New Distillation
So hearing Robinson, Shanker and Dockendorf over and over again helped me to distill the ideas, and I see potential for my new play/exploration centres. For me the big ideas of school are:
  • Kids need to be exposed to new ideas and experiences (to find their Element a la Ken Robinson).
  • Kids learn in different ways (and we need to find new ways to help them uncover those ways -Dockendorf).
  • Kids need to interact learn from each other (which is the best way they'll learn to self regulate - Shanker).
All of these are Reggio-like tenets also.

Playing with Play
So I brainstormed a bunch of learning centres and chose 6 to run: a Smartboard activity, magnifying glasses, playdoh, finger puppets, card houses, and a jigsaw puzzle. We used Selma Wasserman's Play, Debrief, Replay, but I changed it to Explore, Share, Explore Some More, and Record. I chose Explore instead of Play because I don't want my parents to get freaked out that we played for two hours.  Also some of my kids tend to lose it during play/free time, so by giving it a different name will hopefully yield a different mindset. I also upped the accountability factor by having them record what they learned in the Thought Logs.  The result?   I had an hour and a half of engaged hands-on learning with zero behaviour problems including during the recording stage. I learned so much about my kids by walking around and observing, and listening them during the group sharing phase, and reading their Thought Logs. I saw the way they solved problems, I saw how they dealt with others, and I saw some kids step up as leaders that I never would have predicted. I couldn't wait to tell my kids how brilliant they are.

What's the difference?
Here are the differences with the exploration stations from my other project based learning/learning through play attempts:
  • limited, but varied stations. (6 was great because that meant that there were about 4 kids per station. It was very manageable in terms of preparation).
  • a short time frame at first. (Even if a kid detests a station, they only have to stay there for 15-20 minutes). 
  • I picked who was in each station. (It forced them to be with kids they don't usually interact with.  This gave variety to interactions).
  • accountability with the sharing and Thought Logs.
  • I introduced the thinking behind the concept, each station, and the expectations (6Ts: Think, Try, Take care of materials, Talk in tiny voices, Take turns and share, and Tidy)
What's Next?
I'll continue to see how things go and get feedback on the stations. I'll drop some and add more that I brainstormed. The part I need to work on is using questions to provoke their learning, and to help them see how this learning can be used in life. 

Is this free play?  Is this the Reggio Emilia way?  No and no, but it was a manageable way for me to break into play again and still feel the students are learning something worthwhile out of it.