Reflections from The Curious Classroom

These are my reflections after reading The Curious Classroom by Havey “Smokey” Daniels.

Why

In full disclosure, I selected this book because Caitlin told me to! There are many other reasons this book was good for me. It is right up my alley. This book is all about embedding inquiry into your everyday classroom. Inquiry-based learning and instruction: “I will implement inquiry-based learning in my classroom through the use of a PBL unit at least once per quarter.” Included in my actions and resources were active research into Project Based Learning and professional development. I selected this book and brought it to the rest of my first-grade team as a possible book study for us all to read and discuss together. My first-grade team along with Caitlin and one other member began reading and learning about inquiry classrooms together.

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Major takeaways

The biggest overarching idea that impacted me while reading is that inquiry doesn’t need to be this giant thing every time. There are small things you can do regularly or routines you can implement that don’t take a lot of time or resources. Some of the small inquiry shifts that I have made are soft starts, collecting questions, modeling my curiosity, and allowing for mini-inquiries.

Beginning my day with soft starts has been the biggest shift I made this school year after reading this book. Chapter 4 is all about soft starts. I stopped giving morning work every day. My students now have the opportunity to make a choice for how they spend their morning. Some students are engaged in open-ended STREAM centers while others may just sit in a quiet spot to gather themselves. I made this decision because play is a very important learning experience for students. I also saw this as an opportunity to level the playing field for each of my students and allow them to begin their day in an equitable way. I noticed that students who come right before the tardy bell would stress about not completing their morning work. They were starting their day already behind. That is not a great way to enter into a busy day of learning.

Chapter 3 is about capturing kids inquiries. We have a wonder wall in our classroom on which students post questions on sticky notes. These questions might come from their fleeting thoughts, a book, or a lesson I’m teaching. Kids are allowed to post a question to the wall at any time during the day. Students use the wall to inspire their genius hour work and in mini inquiries. Next year we will keep a wonder notebook to collect questions too.

Because of chapter 1, Demonstrating Your Own Curiosity, I began sharing my interests and curiosities with my students. I modeled writing and posting questions to the wonder wall and my own research process through looking for answers to my questions. Showing them how I use different resources and synthesize the information into my own understanding and then creating something to share my learning has helped them use that process as well as become more critical of the information they are taking in. I have modeled for my students how to choose a question, looking for similar questions and grouping them into a topic.

One of my goals this year was to try and include inquiry into my curriculum. Chapter 8 was all about ways to do that through mini-inquiries. I have included a few mini-inquiry days into my units. Some have worked and some did not. I have tried mini-inquiries to launch a unit, within, a unit, and after a unit to allow students to find their interests within the curriculum. I found mini-inquiries to be most effective in science units.

Making it accessible for Littles

This book, like a lot of education books, was not written specifically for teachers of littles. Any teacher can pick up this book and use the elements in their classroom. That said, it can be tricky to make things accessible for littles and developmentally appropriate. This book being about curiosity is great for kids because they are so naturally curious. When littles post curiosities to a wonder wall, they can write a sentence, phrase, words, or draw a picture. Allowing a student to communicate in a way they feel successful can make this accessible to them. When modeling inquiries, model ways in which they can access the question and research. I have chosen to write my questions in pictures and labels so my students know this is available for them. We also use a lot of kid-friendly inquiry tools. Modeling through individual steps also makes inquiry learning accessible for littles. Seeing the process in action and then copying it allows students to access information and share their learning.

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The book study PLN

I read this book with my first-grade team, a second-grade teacher, and our instructional resource teacher.  It was so great to meet weekly and discuss each chapter. I loved seeing others’ perspectives as they read through the chapter and shared their major takeaways. We were able to make plans for how we will incorporate our new learning into our everyday classrooms. We had some amazing conversations to step up our inquiry-based learning.

If you’ve read the book, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Gently Down the STREAM (soft starts in K and 1st)

Seriously! I love these additions to STEM! Reading and art are also important to 21st Century learning and broadening students’ experiences. I plan fo regular STEM challenges with my students but STREAM is my way to make sure my students are getting daily doses. I shifted to soft starts about a year ago when I was teaching kindergarten. I read Purposeful Play (read my reading reflection) and decided to include soft starts as a way to have more opportunities for play for my students. This decision was affirmed after reading The Curious Classroom which dedicates an entire chapter to soft starts.

Soft starts are a way to begin your day. Rather than assigning morning work for students to complete as soon as they walk into the room, they engage in playful, open-ended activities. I decided on incorporating soft starts because morning work seemed like busy work. Because the students who really NEEDED that extra practice rode the bus that was last to arrive at school and went directly to breakfast. Then they walked in the room with minutes to spare before the late bell rang and began their day already behind their peers.  I empathized with them. How stressful for a 5-6 year-old to begin their day at school already rushing to catch up and more likely to miss some fun thing because they needed to complete some worksheet left by the teacher. I no longer saw any benefits to the extra practice I was giving in the morning.

My first go at soft starts, I allowed students to choose right from the start. I know that student choice is huge in their feeling important and successful. I wanted them to spend their time doing something they wanted to do. We already had daily free-choice play in the afternoon so it was easy to open those centers first thing in the morning and allow the same choices. I noticed quickly that many of my students wanted to work on technology (iPads, computers, or BYOD). I wanted them to use this time more for collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking which they were not doing on technology individually so I closed that for morning play centers. I was honest with my students, this morning playtime was good for them, but in order for them to keep it going, they would need to be respectful of their time and stay engaged and clean up quickly when it was time. I didn’t want this to run into the other work I had planned for the day. There were a few times where something didn’t get cleaned up correctly or quickly enough and the consequence was that center got closed for a period of time. I was still concerned that my students who needed this the most were the students on the last bus and eating breakfast in the cafeteria. I still don’t know what to do about that, but at least they weren’t starting their day already lagging behind their peers.

This year, I’m teaching first grade and don’t have access to all the play materials that were in my kindergarten classroom. 😔 I had to change the way I did soft starts to work with what I have. I saw someone on Twitter sharing about STREAM (which was the first time I had seen reading and art added to STEM) and realized this was where I needed to take my soft starts. I made a STREAM to put in my students’ cubbies so they could keep track of which choices they were making. These are laminated and student cross off each one with a dry erase marker after they complete it. Then once they have spent time at each one they can erase and start over.

STREAM

I chose to make open-ended materials available to my students rather than specific STEM tasks because I give them specific challenges at other times. I was hoping they would take those experiences and extend them during their STREAM time. I store most of our materials on a shelf in my room we call the “Innovation Station.” Materials are marked with the letters of STREAM that I think it fits, but I’ve had students tell me they think something matches one or more than one of the areas, I will label it for them. I want them to know they have input in our classroom too. Below I’ll go through some of the materials we have in our STREAM centers.

Science

  • magnets
  • shells
  • magnifying glasses
  • kinetic sand
  • Playdough

Technology

  • iPads
  • computers
  • ozobots
  • Chrome books

Reading

  • classroom library
  • read aloud bin
  • Student book boxes
  • big books
  • Sign language materials
  • Literacy centers (from another part of our day) are also a choice
  • Students also use this as an opportunity to change the books in their book bins

Engineering

Art

  • construction paper
  • crayons and makers
  • pipe cleaners
  • beads
  • clay
  • playdough
  • legos (because)

Math

  • math manipulatives
  • worksheets that come pre-copied from my district (I was recycling ones we didn’t use and they were pulling them out of the recycle bin to complete for fun. So, I added a bin for worksheets they could choose from.)
  • tangrams
  • Math stations (from our math block) are also a choice

Let me know your thoughts on STREAM centers or soft starts in the comments below!

The #IMMOOC experience

For me the #IMMOOC experience was a chance to read the book again, get into some consistent blogging, and connect with educators around the world who share a passion for student learning. I absolutely loved the Youtube live videos. It was amazing to see and hear people live while tweeting and commenting in the video chat. The twitter chats were so fast! I’m used to slower ones that I can read every tweet and I just had to let go of the fact that that was not going to happen. I enjoyed the sidebar conversations. And that they were actually allowed and encouraged! I embraced the opportunity for some personalized professional development!

I am going to try blogging weekly. I’m going to attempt to do that until the end of 2017. I’ve had my blog since November 2016 so I’m going to round out year 1 with 1 post a week and then revisit this goal in 2018. I’m also setting a goal to continue reading education books and blogs on a regular basis! I’m going to start with a book study on The Curious Classroom with my team, bestie Caitlin McCommons, and our IRT Jessica VonDerHeide. I’m really excited to dig into this book and work on growth for my PDP goal of including more inquiry based learning in my classroom.

After this process of connecting, learning, and growing through the #IMMOOC family, I’m left with a question. It has been on my mind the whole 6 weeks and I haven’t found a good time to bring it up. How does all of this innovation fit in to equity in education? Is innovation in education yet another way that sets communities apart from one another?