An Antidote to Isolation: Personal Reflections from a current Mentor Teacher

rfsXyxzGOTyB8LqZtZH296errEa-02A6RCQtxFAF1RfT1fPEwwbF3kuw4mlGQg8ZYvYfpnTwqBWOt0wnHWf3oHj4PgaphYnL2c2k4LtQ1IMdgnT-Ohmx1Sybqq4T8tpxJwd3Nmo4lgxoOU_AGT9LBv_v7SyRWI7-IC6O-Uc2D6EcLoYDNPug1f67h1This post was contributed by current Mentor Teacher, Meagan Arango. It is part of a series on the Boulder Journey School Professional Qualities

There was a time early in my teaching career when I felt deeply isolated. Each day I set up, cleaned up, and closed down my classroom by myself. I spent lonely nights and weekends hunched over my computer, planning lessons. Left alone with my thoughts, I suspect that sometimes I went too far. I began coming into school on Saturdays to prep. I used my free time to watch videos of myself, scrutinizing my teaching for errors. I spent hundreds of dollars purchasing books and toys and supplies. And during those lonely times, I felt a strong and mysterious aversion to seeking help from others. I felt that my success was up to me. My colleagues were friendly and supportive, of course, but our brief conversations were most often just exchanges of complaints. And the fact was that I cherished the few moments of solitude I had in my room–it was the only time during the long work day that I didn’t feel like a performer on stage.

This was my reality before I joined the staff of Boulder Journey School. My classroom was an island. I was the lone intrepid explorer, taming the wildernesses of early learning. I wonder now how many others have felt like I did–so all alone in a field that is, at its core, about relationships.

That is why, when given the opportunity to reflect on our school’s Professional Values, I felt compelled to begin with the quality that challenged me the most when I began the Teacher Education Program: Communication and Collaboration.

Communication & Collaboration – These qualities speak to your capacity for articulate and effective communication that will ultimately support your ability to work effectively with children and adults. You will know how to engage others, as well as who to engage. You will see value in the process of gaining the perspective of others and develop social and cross cultural skills that will enable you to better take on the perspective of the other. You will be able to clearly articulate and defend a vision for the future and how your work supports that vision. You will view teaching as a collaborative process among children and adults and understand that relationships are a cornerstone of education. You will take ownership for being responsive and proactive when difficult conversations are needed. Your approach to communicating and working with others will be inclusive and empathetic, and you will have a sense of intimacy that is translated to the children. You will also be effective in written communication.

For me, the key challenge here was understanding the value of engaging others. And this is where I have to make a confession: the isolation I felt in the past was partially the result of the system I was working in, and partially the result of my own habits.

I’m one of those people who likes to feel in control. Maybe you know someone like me. We like predictability. We like getting things “done right”. And we often prefer working by ourselves–I, after all, I am the most reliable person I know! The fact is, I like doing things my way because I know I can usually succeed! Trying things somebody else’s way carries a lot more risk of failure.

When I began the Teacher Education Program at Boulder Journey School, I suddenly found myself up to my neck in exactly that kind of risk: I knew how to teach my way, and relinquishing that control was deeply uncomfortable. I was used to delivering lessons; now I was expected to offer provocations. I had been trained to identify measurable learning objectives; now I was observing the children and seeking to understand the many possible interpretations of their behaviors. I was comfortable with my rigid and consistent schedule; now I was asked to maintain a constant state of flexibility, open to the opportunities that each child, each teacher, and each chance encounter might offer us. These differences fundamentally undermine the traditional image of the teacher as the “sage on the stage”–re-positioning them, instead, as a participant whose contributions are one part of an educational project. As my notion of the role of the teacher began to evolve, I began, slowly, to give up the idea that I was in charge of things.

This was how I came to understand what collaboration could be. And it scared me. Sometimes I felt adrift. Sometimes I craved structure. And yet–never once did I sense the desperate pressure, the sink-or-swim feeling that I have had working in other settings. On the contrary, I felt supported by the network within our school. YVJlBrkoB2tiGxa4KBfnZbpPFaUef1nXqawObRVtlV9qxvjBqAoXnYn29T9KtRdKtEGKEk4mDCBQn-cIpg-0Pq4409QPjd-W7zn-xYfCRPGw9rRKmbSTqDPgMC0vkzxrD3E3QtSzfT5kpxkBJdPSajHRptKPsuocKsguPTuGY2w1VEeNenn-YjMG2cI understood, intuitively, that my mistakes, my questions, my uncertainties were good, because, for the first time, I was positioned as a learner alongside the children. The research tells us that learning is a socially mediated process–that our brains are wired to connect and we learn best with and from one another. This is the belief that motivates every person in our school to be generous with our time, our thoughts, and our resources.

And so, as I stepped beyond my comfort zone and began looking to others more, I found myself asking for help in new ways. Can I observe your classroom? Any time! Can I borrow this material? Of course! Can I pick your brain? Let’s meet! I marveled as people at every level–children, peers, families, directors, professors, and mentors–generously shared their time and ideas with me.

But even as I benefited from these generous acts of collaboration, deep down, I still believed that I could work better and more efficiently on my own. My coursework as a graduate student finally forced me to set down that final, isolating belief.

During my second semester of the Teacher Education Program, I was working with a group of peers to advocate for the creation of a “Boulder Children’s Day” to be recognized officially by the local government. Wanting to engage our school community in the project, our group proposed creating an interactive hallway display at Boulder Journey School. We needed permission. We got it. We needed approval for our content. We got it. We needed to execute a professional-grade, aesthetically-pleasing, succinct and on-message display. Here, things got tricky.

The controlling side of me was not optimistic. I knew that, alone, I could put together something that would meet expectations. And so, when we met one evening after school, I arrived prepared to lead my group in creating my vision. But as we worked together, discussing ideas, experimenting, and sharing solutions to unforeseen problems, I made a startling discovery: my idea wasn’t that good. In fact, when we tried it out, it didn’t work at all. But because we were working together, what would have been a huge setback to me alone was a minor hiccough in our shared process. As a group, we moved seamlessly past that idea, creating in its place a product that we were all proud of. The work we did together was, without a doubt, much stronger than anything I could have created alone. What’s more, at the end of the process, instead of feeling exhausted, uncertain and lonely, I felt energized. I felt proud. I felt confident in our work. I wondered: did I ever truly feel confident when I was working alone? Or did I always question–how will this really be perceived?

That, ultimately, is the strength of collaboration. Working alone, you can only see with your eyes, hear with your ears and think with your mind. Even as I write this post, I find myself wondering– am I communicating my message clearly? Will my tone hit the mark? Can I really convey my experience to this imagined reader? So here’s the truth: by the time you read this, many, many eyes will have passed over this post. My collaborators will have cut words, asked for clarification and suggested changes. And this post will be better for it. I am beyond believing that isolation leads to success. If my goal–as an educator, as a communicator, as an advocate–is to reach as many people as possible, then I must collaborate. I must ask for help. I must share and give and receive.

In a setting where collaboration is the rule, we stand to gain immense benefits when we share our work. Whether it’s planning, writing a difficult email, tweaking an area of the classroom environment or researching a complex topic, collaboration enriches both the process and the result.

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Armed with what I have learned at Boulder Journey School, I hope to never find myself on an island again.

 

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Pendulums, Paper Airplanes, and Wind Tunnels: A Study of Aerodynamics

We believe in honoring the history of the land we temporarily occupy. Bob Stanley was the first American to fly a jet plane…. There is a history of innovation here, of boldness. We embrace it.

Stanifesto, Stanley Marketplace, Home of OPENair Stapleton

Once a month, we partner with Hawkins Centers of Learning to offer Professional Development workshops to our faculty, graduate students, and the community-at-large.

Many of these are hosted at Boulder Journey School, some are held on the campuses of our partner schools, as a way to further our collaboration. The February, 2017 workshop was held at OPENair Stapleton – a brand new campus located inside an old airplane hangar. It was a fitting spot, as the content of the explorations were: Pendulums, Paper Airplanes, and Wind Tunnels: A Study of Aerodynamics.

We gathered in the OPENair Maker Studio with 3 sets of materials:

  • Pendulums
    • Pre-made pendulums
    • Stands and jars
    • A variety of strings
    • Sticks
    • Funnels
    • Washers
  • Paper Airplanes
    • Print-outs of patterns and instructions
    • A variety of paper weights
    • Scissors
    • Paper Clips
  • Wind Tunnel
    • A pre-made Wind Tunnel
    • Loose parts including paper, feathers, plastic, and more

Most of the workshops are structured to offer participants time and space to engage in each of the three phases of Messing About, as defined by David Hawkins.

We opened the evening with a discussion of aerodynamics (engaging in the square phase – the unpacking of theory). The word aerodynamics invited mixed emotions, ranging from panic to giddiness. Lindsay, a Denver-based teacher, shared that thinking of aerodynamics reminded her of her father and Girl Scout camp, while another teacher mentioned that the word itself made her stomach clench.

We read the definition of aerodynamics:

aerodynamics: noun

the science that studies the movement of gases and the way solid bodies,

such as aircraft, move through them

Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary

the study of the properties of moving air, and especially of the interaction between the air and solid bodies moving through it.

The Oxford American College Dictionary

Using the definition as our starting place, we developed initial questions to guide us before working with the materials (engaging in the triangle phase – a time for choosing a path and narrowing the focus). These questions were mostly vague – one of them asked simply, “What do I do with this stuff?”

As the teachers worked, they tracked new questions that were developing for them.

One group of teachers reflected on the evolution of their thoughts when working with the wind tunnel. When they first approached the materials, they wondered how they had been chosen – how would such heavy materials fly?

This initial question evolved into new questions:

  • What combinations of materials work well together?
  • How can we alter heavy materials to give them more air surface and lift?
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When heavy plastics are combined with feathers, they gain enough surface area to achieve lift.
  • How can we alter the way the materials enter the wind tunnel to boost their lift?
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Heavy materials that are put into the wind tunnel from the top interact in a different way than heavy materials that are put into the wind tunnel from the bottom. This inspired the question, “How do we distinguish between flying and falling?”

A group of teachers who focused their attention on the paper airplanes reflected that their ultimate goal had been performance.  They wanted to land as many airplanes as possible on the mezzanine.

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They developed systems for testing the different airplane designs.They reflected that they were able to begin developing systems because they had been offered time and space to mess about with materials and ideas, and wondered, “What systems would the children develop when offered similar time and space?”

The pendulum players reflected that as they entered into the work they were faced with so many variables. Through the workshop, they altered the materials in the cone (sand, paint, water, heavy bobs, etc.), the shape of the cone, the length of the string, the height of the string, the type of string. They realized, when offering pendulums in a classroom, they would need to pare down their choices and determine a variable for their focus. One teacher from the group reflected that although we tend to think of a strong environment as one that offers limitless possibilities, sometimes, “a well-designed environment is one that narrows the possibilities to support the investigation of one variable.”

Without having the time and space to play with pendulums and their many variables, the teachers reflected they would be intimidated, or clumsy, in offering them to children. Through their play, the teachers were able to make decisions about how to sharpen the focus for children.

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What materials flow smoothly from the pendulum to paint designs on the paper? What materials are well balanced inside the cone to come out smoothly enough to watch and slowly enough to sustain prolonged movement?

During our final reflections, one teacher noted that she had come to the experience tired from a day at work. She was not sure what to expect.

What she uncovered was that play, for her as well as for children, offered, “Joy, joy, joy.” 

Conversations with Robots: Story from a Practicum Site

OPENair Academy is located in Taxi, an intentional live-work community in the heart of Denver’s River North (RiNo) Neighborhood. Because OPENair Academy is located right in the center of this vibrant community, children and teachers from the school often venture out to explore.

OPENair Academy‘s LoDo school is located in the innovative mixed use community, Taxi,  in Denver’s River North (RiNo) neighborhood.

img-rinoOne particular class of preschoolers and their teachers have been engaged in research around the Taxi community. The teachers in this class are part of the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program (BJSTEP) community as both current graduate students and alumni mentors. The goal of several courses in the BJSTEP is to deeply study the intersections of theory and practice in the classroom, and this particular research began to blossom when one of the teachers was enrolled in the “Developmentally Appropriate Curriculum” course in the fall of 2015. Since the teachers first observed the children’s excitement about the neighborhood, the project has blossomed into a rich and complex study, and continues in the 2016-2017 school year, with one teacher graduating from the BJSTEP in August and another graduate student teacher joining the class in August of 2016.

The following story is a look into one small part of the neighborhood investigation, and begins with teachers’ observations of the children’s interest in a large robot they often encountered in one of the buildings on their walks around Taxi.

“I like the color of it.” -Lillian 

“Maybe it’s not working today…maybe because it’s broken?”- Jack 

“Maybe we could like take a picture of this robot.”- Leighton 

“Can you turn on the robot please?”- Vaughan 

“Maybe they like put cool stuff on it and press a button.” -Leighton 

“Why there a shoe on there?”- Dylan 

The teachers decided to reach out to the business that owned the robot, BOA Technology, and arrange for the children to visit with the employees. The employees were happy to host a visit from the children. They answered questions and gave an up-close demonstration of how the robot works.

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copy-of-communication-with-parents-6-2Upon returning to school, the children expressed a desire to build their own robot. After gathering materials, discussing their ideas, and sketching their plans, they worked together, using cardboard and other loose parts, to construct a robot that would live in their classroom.

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During the weeks that followed, the robot was explored in numerous ways. It was more than just a visual reminder of the BOA robot, it was a member of the classroom, with its own personality. However, both children and teachers noticed that the robot lost some parts over time. Rather than throwing it away, teachers saw this as an opportunity to challenge the children to think about how to revive the robot. The children had many ideas: 

“We have to fix it.” -Hadley

“With tape.” -Lio

“With lots of tape.” -Hudson

“Paint it.” – Leighton

“Horsie stickers on it.” – Lillian

“Purple marker and pink on the side and stick some things on it.”-Leighton 

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Teachers recognized that the children were engaging in the design process, ideating, creating, and testing prototypes, reflecting, and then starting the cycle over.

As the children enjoyed their new iteration, teachers wondered how to continue the process. They had been sharing documentation of the robot experiences with families, and they invited them to send materials to school that might inspire the children to continue to add parts to their creation.

One family sent some new parts, which resulted in the children engineering a working “garage door”, adding new functionality to the robot and increasing possibilities. 

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This project began with courses taken last year by one teacher enrolled in the BJSTEP and is now enriched by another. The group, however, functions as a unit. While some are children, some are alumni, some are mentors, and some are current graduate students enrolled in courses, they are all learners together. They are not only studying how the Taxi community offers possibilities to the children, they are also studying how the children and teachers offer possibilities to the community.

The class looks forward to collaborating with BOA in the future, as well as other companies and businesses based in the TAXI community. Not only do these interactions help the children understand their community, they also remind the adults of the community that children are vital parts of all communities and have unique ideas and perspectives to offer.

What potential collaborators exist beyond the walls of your school?

Developmentally Appropriate Curriculum Course Pt. 2 : A Focus on Integrating Technology

We introduced the Developmentally Appropriate Curriculum course in the blog post Developmentally Appropriate Curriculum Course. If you missed that one, we recommend going back to understand an overview of the course as a whole.

The Developmentally Appropriate Curriculum course is divided into 5 parts. While the process of documentation is critical to all 5 parts, each part has its own focus:

  • Part 1 focuses on the preparation of materials.
  • Part 2 focuses on the formation of learning groups.
  • Part 3 focuses on developmentally appropriate strategies for integrating technology into the early childhood classroom.
  • Part 4 focuses on how to extend the curriculum beyond the walls of the classroom, outdoors, and in the community.
  • Part 5 focuses on various roles teachers can assume in learning experiences.

Intern Teachers are encouraged to innovate new classroom practices with regard to each of the foci listed above. Thus, the course promotes ongoing teacher professional development in relation to classroom experiences.

For example, for Part 3 of the course, which focuses on developmentally appropriate strategies for integrating technology, Intern Teachers conducted an initial assessment of the technology used in their classrooms. They composed a list of the many technological tools they find useful in their own lives. Next, they highlighted which of these tools they are using in the classroom, and finally they marked which of the tools they are not using that could offer potential for learning in a classroom of young children.


In class, Intern teachers discussed the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) position statement on technology and interactive media that was adopted in 2012:

http://www.naeyc.org/files/naeyc/file/positions/PS_technology_WEB2.pdf

They discussed and debated the following:

  • Should technology be present in early childhood classrooms?
  • How can we expand our thinking about technology beyond television and computer games?
  • How can we develop a strong image of young children in order to trust them with technology?
  • What are developmentally appropriate uses for technology in early childhood classrooms?
  • Can we develop ideas for the use of technology in which students are active, not passive, learners?
  • Can we innovate, implement, and document positive examples of using technology in early childhood classrooms?

 

The Intern Teachers shared the following thoughts:

“Technology can be active, engaging, and provoke children in different ways. It is important to change the way we think in order to create classrooms that are welcoming to the inevitable changes of the world…I feel that it is my responsibility as a teacher to use my own experiences with technology and try to relate that to my students.” – Intern Teacher, Grace Gaglione

I want to experiment with technology more on the expressive side, like through music or digital creation.” – Intern Teacher, Conor Vidulich

“When I started to think about how to incorporate technology into the classroom, I wanted to build upon the children and teachers’ existing interests…I should consider the balance of familiar and novel materials and activities when integrating technology into an experience.  Having an appropriate balance will support children’s focus and engagement.” – Intern Teacher, Katie Kunin

Now, the Intern Teachers took action!


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Dan-Vi expanded our definition of “technology” by choosing to introduce a more rudimentary technological tool, an apple peeler, into her toddler classroom.

 

 

“I have a more rounded idea of what is considered technology and how it can be used to support children and their investigations. It isn’t something that teachers should fear or shy away from because it can be a helpful tool in learning and teaching.” – Intern Teacher, Dan-Vi Hoang


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Paige offered a keyboard to the 2-year-old children in her classroom. She provided plenty of uninterrupted time for the children to explore and experiment with this new addition to the classroom environment. She noted that we often think of technology as something that isolates people, yet, in this case, in the classroom, the technology provided a platform for socializing in new ways.

 

“I noticed that the children were constantly looking at each other, laughing, and experiencing the sounds together. This social learning continued as they quickly learned that the buttons above the keys affected the sounds the keys made. They explored all of the buttons, finding that some of them created songs. This prompted the children to get up and dance around the room together.” – Intern Teacher, Paige Laeyendecker


Marcy decided to use technology to extend the investigation of flowers that was unfolding in her 3-year-old classroom. The children were painting and drawing images of flowers, as well as manipulating and arranging real flowers. Marcy wondered about the potential of a large scale experience with flowers. She wondered how the children might use their bodies to engage with flowers in new ways.

“I found a YouTube video containing time-lapse photography of flowers blooming that was choreographed to music.” – Intern Teacher, Marcy Sala

Marcy projected the video on the wall and added other materials to the space.

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“When choosing what props to provide, I decided that the presence of real flowers would be important to help bridge this experience with the other experiences they have had. I also wondered whether the real flowers might serve a role in helping to bridge the potential divide between the real and virtual worlds the children would be experiencing.” – Marcy Sala

After carefully designing this experience for children, Marcy observed and documented how the children responded.

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“There were some incredibly beautiful moments in which the children were really tuning in to the image on the screen, as well as to the projected images of their shadows and the reflected images in the large mirror. They interacted with both the flowers and the scarves in relation to the video and spent time both dancing to the music and interpreting the images they were seeing with their bodies. One thing that happened a lot, especially early on in the experience, was the act of using the real flowers to touch the virtual flowers. Two of the children watched the video from afar one time through before joining in physically.” – Marcy Sala

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Marcy reflected on the value of integrating technology in this way in her early childhood classroom.

“I thought that the integration of technology with this particular learning interest enabled a whole new kind of wonder and awe.” – Marcy Sala

 

 

 

Developmentally Appropriate Curriculum Course

For the Developmentally Appropriate Curriculum course, Intern Teachers observe students, document their observations using a variety of tools, reflect on their documentation with colleagues, and develop and implement curriculum plans throughout the semester.

The course objectives are as follows:

  1. Observe and document students for the purpose of planning and implementing a curriculum that is relevant, meaningful and contextual.
  2. Reference Early Learning and Development Guidelines and/or Colorado Academic Standards in curriculum planning.
  3. Use literature related to child development and learning theories to enhance the curriculum.
  4. Collaborate with colleagues to create and implement the curriculum.
  5. Prepare materials to provoke student learning.
  6. Organize group learning experiences that offer the potential for peer learning and the potential for a differentiated curriculum based on individual strengths and goals.
  7. Integrate technology into the classroom in a developmentally appropriate manner.
  8. Extend the curriculum beyond the walls of the classroom, outdoors and into the community.
  9. Reflect on the roles a teacher can assume within each learning experience.

 

Each Intern Teacher enrolled in this course is working in an early childhood classroom, supported by a Mentor Teacher who has already completed the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program. Intern Teachers, with support from Mentor Teachers, gather documentation from their classrooms in the form of photographs, video, transcribed conversations, notes, audio recordings, graphs, and charts. These documents become data that is analyzed with colleagues to better understand learning and teaching.

Intern Teachers reflect on their documented observations, using the questions below as a framework. This framework supports their understanding surrounding the significance of what has occurred in the classroom and what future learning experiences could be offered in order to extend the learning:

 

WHAT? – Why did you plan this experience? How did you organize for this experience? What materials did you collect? What spaces did you utilize? What feedback did your co-teachers/mentors give you, and how did you integrate their feedback? During the experience, what were your students doing? What were your students not doing? What were the students’ goals, strategies, and theories? What were you and your co-teachers doing? What were you and your co-teachers not doing? What were the teachers’ goals, strategies, and theories? How were the goals, strategies, and theories of students and teachers the same and/or different? What else did you notice? What surprised you? What made you laugh or wonder or pause? What do you perceive as the successes and failures of this experience?

 

SO WHAT? – So what does this mean in terms of child development and learning theory? What is significant about what happened? What connections can you make between what you documented and what you have read and discussed in seminar? How does this experience connect with the purpose of education? What connections can you make to the Early Learning and Development Guidelines and/or the Colorado Academic Standards? By reflecting on documentation of this experience, what do you understand about teaching and learning that you did not understand before? In other words, what did you learn from the analysis of documentation of this experience?

 

NOW WHAT? – Now what will you do next? How will what you learned from the analysis of documentation of this experience inform what you do next? How might this experience be extended? How might you further challenge your students? Based on your analysis of the documentation, how many possibilities for future learning experiences could you offer students? What actions will you take? What do you need to learn more about in order to better support and challenge your students? How will you extend your own learning? How can families participate?

 

By engaging in dialogue surrounding these questions, Intern Teachers develop new understandings that are translated into curriculum possibilities. The curriculum possibilities developed by Intern Teachers are then implemented in classrooms. In this way, Intern Teachers establish a strong connection between ongoing authentic assessment and curriculum planning.

This way of approaching the development of curriculum offers Intern Teachers opportunities to make active contributions to the classroom. Intern Teachers are learning by doing, rather than merely learning by observing their Mentor Teachers, which provides a higher quality of teacher education.

We will look at a few of the ways the Intern Teachers have applied this coursework in our next blog.