Archive for the ‘projects’ Category

The bigger picture

Posted 18 Feb 2011 — by Jennifer
Category projects

There is a guinea pig at one of the schools where I work. Jackson (an alias to protect his identity) receives great attention and love from not only the classroom he belongs to, but the entire school. He is the elephant in the room in terms of a project. A few weeks ago, we began to collect documentation about children’s relationship to Jackson–what they say, what they do, how/if they interact with him. We made him a mailbox in the message center. We drew his portrait and had a conversation about him. Abrahim (alias) noted that Jackson likes to play and he gets sad when the children aren’t there. He suggests: ” We can make him a friend. Someone can be his friend like a fish.”

The teachers and I met to discuss next steps. We researched and drew fish–the children want the fish to have legs so he can run and play with Jackson. We decide to offer clay and wire for the children to realize their fish three-dimensionally. The following are excerpts from an email correspondence with the teachers about their lesson plans for this experience:

“Jen: Allison…I am not clear in my understanding of what you need to have in your lesson plans (officially), but I want to make sure you and I are on the same page about the true intent of the work. So leave this as is if you need it to read that way…but read on for a different point of view…..

In my opinion, the essential question for the fish goes beyond :
“Essential Question: (How or why) How are we going to create a fish? What parts does a fish have? (Gill,
Fin, body, mouth, eyes, legs?) How are we going to create that part? Who is going to do what parts of the
fish? If we want legs does he need to stand up? If so, how are you going to make him stand?”

The essential question connects the value of empathy and caring to the action of creating a model fish. What parts a fish has is a nice piece of information but is not the essence of what we are trying to do (in the original email I did not say that so nicely, this is rephrased) . And it separates the meaning of what you are doing from its roots–turns it into an activity. Always keep the big picture in mind. A question could be: What qualities might Jackson like in his fish friend? What does he like about the fish? The caring is what makes this important, not vocabulary acquisition. Remember….and to make the values you and the school hold visible. Do you have the list of values from the beginning of the year? Look back at them!”

The principal at another school asked me a while back, “when is the work just a craft, and when will the work with materials be more connected and have context in the lives of the children?” When children were building their clay fish, it was evident that they weren’t just making a fish out of clay–they referenced Jackson. They talked about him and what he would like–they made him a “fast fish” to play with-and a fish with legs so that it could run with Jackson. They care about the well-being of the classroom pet.

I wanted to post this because I think it is food for thought-what is it that we are trying to do at school? How do we make the work relevant and meaningful? What is important? What do we value?

The Green Pumpkin

Posted 17 Sep 2010 — by Jennifer
Category observation, projects, role of teacher


I had a great discussion yesterday at Walker Jones EC. The school and the community have an urban farm, in an empty lot across the street from the school. Preschool children have begun visiting the farm in small groups, and teachers are recording observations and conversations, and collecting graphic representations and video of the first forays into this new environment. A group of children is fascinated by the green pumpkin growing in the patch–most often the pumpkins we see, especially around Halloween, are orange. Teachers planned to have children mix colors of paint to match that of the pumpkin, and paint its portrait. In this format I cannot share the entire discussion, but some really important things emerged.

1. Slowing down. Teachers had been recording and documenting, but not REVIEWING the documents together with colleagues in order to make decisions and organize provocations. These provocations–the bounce back to children, are the most , or should be the most intelligent and sensitive decisions we can make as educators, all the while staying very close to children. The documents we collect also serve as a memory, and so giving time to the process of revisiting and analyzing is possible. If there is a richness and complexity to the situation, children’s enthusiasm will be there in a few days.

2. Reading between the lines. Interpreting children’s words and making meaning from our documentation is difficult, to say the least, and requires a leap of faith and good intention. This is where I think the values of a school and the influence of ‘fields of knowledge’ (to use a phrase from Reggio) play a big role. In the green pumpkin situation, I think we can go beyond the portrait, beyond measuring the pumpkin’s size, or charting its weight-go beyond activities about the pumpkin. For what the children might observe in the changes of the color of the pumpkin is mimicked in the leaves on the trees, and is also a sign of the coming of fall. Seasons, change, even death, might become important to this conversation. But we must not jump to conclusions without going back to #1-the action of revisiting.

3. Our bias. I asked the teachers to look and listen more closely on their trips to the farm. To observe with open minds, and not rule out possibilities just because they don’t fit into a pre-conceived schema of a farm curriculum. Maybe the butterflies are intriguing, maybe the fruits and vegetables, or the beautiful colors of the garden, or the farmer who tends the farm. Or maybe the action of crossing the street or weaving their bodies through the rows of string beans or the sounds of the insects and cars. As educators we need to be able to hear/see things that don’t necessarily fit in the box. This kind of sensitive and open listening is central to the work.

I hope to be able to post more about the continuation of this project…