I just finished attending a 3 day teacher symposium at The Opal School for Children at The Portland, Oregon Children's Museum. The Opal School teaches nursery - 5 and is a Reggio inspired and inquiry based school that focuses on creativity and the environmental surroundings in learning. This was by far one of the best pd's I have ever attended because everything that was addressed was extremely relevant to what I have been trying to learn this past year at the ELC. There were many ideas and concepts that were the same or similar to what we try to do at the ELC and I am sure at ASIJ Elementary.
The first day touched on the idea that we must allow children to experience the environment as it really is. We need to allow them to learn about place - their place, where they live, their surroundings, etc... and we must encourage vocabulary building through sensory exploration of their surroundings. The speaker, Ann Pelo, gave an example of how the Oxford Dictionary for Children has removed words such as ivy, willow, acorn, pasture, heron, otter and replaced them with words such as attachment, broadband, chatroom, celebrity. She explained how this has created an environmental language deficit in children and affects their ability to comprehend and develop stories. When children do not have an adequate understanding of place they in turn do not value their surroundings and therefore we cannot ask them to care for what they do not value. We must work to develop a language of care as well - care for each other as well as our environment (outdoors, classroom, home). She discussed how we need to encourage children to use their senses in exploration and learning and in developing stories. Stories and literacy are essential because they...
1. Create Community
2. See through the eyes of others
3. Playground for language
4. Show consequences for actions
5. Educate our desires
6. Help us dwell in place
7. help us dwell in time
Next was Susan Mackay, a teacher at Opal School. She shared that she had a challenging group of students this past year and how her original plan of having students work on a collaborative project about the environment turned into a collaborative project about creating a community. Once the students were able to establish a strong community and trust with each other, they were able to move forward on further collaborations. Her point was that, the same learning was accomplished but it just revolved around a different subject matter than what she initially anticipated. She discussed how she needed to make sure her students were able to become problem solvers, develop empathy, and create a trusting environment before they could move on to other things. I really appreciated her honesty with regard to her challenges as a teacher. I liked how she shared what she learned through these challenges.
The second day involved talks and morning activities with Steve Davee from Maker Ed and Julie Ann Gilleland from Think with Things. They shared how they are pushing initiatives and learning through creation of things using every day objects. I got to work with my table in creating using a variety of objects that we all brought from home. We used normal every day items such as stones, lids, bottle caps, paper, led lights, batteries, etc... Each table had a prompt such as "Think like a Viking" or "Think like a scientist" and we needed to create an image or setting or objects related to the prompt. What was really interesting was just all the amazing ideas that started to come out as people spoke and processed together. They discussed playful literacy and how to document and acknowledge the stories that come out of play. Also as teachers we need to pay attention to students as they share stories. Are they able to create on their own or do they rely heavily on peers to help them create.
The afternoon session coincided well the the Harvard MLV course I took in the spring. It discussed how through documentation, we improve our listening and can develop better lessons and also better validate what are students do.
The last day we spent the morning in all the classrooms and got to play and create with all sorts of materials - inks, foil and shiny things, different kinds of paper, cardboard, moving sculptures, observational drawings, clay, environmental and plant materials, etc... In most of these sessions we were encouraged to spend the first 20 minutes working in silence on our own projects and then we were allowed to speak as we worked. This was a very interesting exercise and I was really surprised how hard it was for me to come up with an idea of what to create most of the time. Then I realized that in the beginning, it is fine that I don't always have an idea and ideas can come as I just randomly begin the creative process. This is important to keep in mind - if students do not have an initial idea for a story, project, creation, it is fine and I can help them begin to create and learn how to develop ideas during the process.
The afternoon ended with another speaker, former ASIJ teacher, Kimie Fukada who addressed the topic of listening. She shared aspects of the Reggio approach to listening by Carlina Rinaldi and asked us to think about the consequences of not listening to our students.
I would like to thank the PD team for allowing me to attend this fantastic symposium. I definitely would love to attend next year as well. I feel like what I learned was completely applicable to me continuing to understand how to be a better teacher and how to better relate to my students. Thanks everyone! I took a ton of photos but will attach them in a separate post later.