How Many Feathers Does it Take? A reflection from the 2017 Boulder Journey School Summer conference

Boulder Journey School (BJS) hosts an annual two-day conference to support participatory exploration of topics related to quality and innovation in education. The conference welcomes participants from around the world to visit, engage, participate, and explore. Below is a reflection by Haley McPherson, 2016 – 2017 Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program (BJSTEP) graduate student.

Many of the attendees at the 2017 BJS summer conference traveled from states across the US, including Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania. We also had groups travel from other cities in Colorado, including Denver and Fort Collins. With this diverse group of individuals came an even more diverse set of theories, questions, practices, and most importantly, experiences.

We took advantage of this diversity among our community and spent two days reflecting and engaging in thoughtful dialogue with one another. Our hope, as hosts, was to offer experiences that educators from various backgrounds could integrate into their daily interactions in the field of education.

One strategy used was time for educators to ‘mess about’ with materials. The materials were offered as invitations, based on work that had taken place in the BJS classrooms and BJSTEP during the 2016-2017 school year.


“If teachers can join us in mapping paths into subject matter, they are on their way to being able to do so for children.” – David Hawkins

On Earth Day, 2017, a group of graduate students in the BJSTEP created a community pop-up event at the Boulder Farmer’s Market. The topic presented to the community was the dynamic interplay of Nature and Technology, especially as it relates to the connection with early childhood. As the graduate students interacted with the community at the Farmer’s Market, they observed children who, when presented with the materials, were determined to make a wiffle ball fly.

Community members playing at the pop-up event, April, 2017.

One of the invitations to play at the summer conference was inspired by this observation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The photo story below captures a collection of moments, experienced by Troy Byrne, a pre-primary teacher at the Children’s School in Atlanta, Georgia, as he experimented with materials presented in combination with a wind tunnel.

Troy shared his initial thoughts on the challenge as he began the process of messing about, “I wonder how many feathers it takes?”

He proceeded to test, changing the arrangement and number of feathers, until, at last, success!

Troy’s experience with the wiffle balls, feathers, and wind tunnel demonstrates the type of learning that can be offered to children and adults.

While this experience should be considered standard practice, it is more often thought of as a luxury. I invite you to think about why this is relevant to what we are doing in early childhood.

If we want to promote early childhood as a time for learning, experimenting, growing, and indulging, we should start with ourselves as educators. How do we experience learning, experimenting, growing, and indulging, and how do we translate these moments into our work with children?

 

Camden and Olivia Use a Tool

As a school, we use video documentation to guide our work with children. One crucial piece of working with video is revisiting the video, analyzing it to pull out questions for further research or to reach new understandings of children’s and teachers’ motivations. We practice analyzing videos with interns and mentors.

Below is a video and write-up that we have shared with Videatives, an organization with whom we partner.

Camden and Olivia Use a Tool

Camden and Olivia, both 3, are on their third day of school. Both are brand new to an already established class of children. While using the outdoor classroom, they have discovered a tool is needed to move the handle of the zip-line to the rider’s position.

 

Olivia, who is next for a turn to ride, is actively cheering Camden’s efforts.

 

Camden is using a tool that is appropriate for the job, however tripped up, literally, by an extra material on the ground.

 

At 0:44, Camden realizes the white tube lying on the ground is playing some part in his setbacks. At 0:54, the white tube does not act as he is expecting, and he throws it to the ground, his face conveying that he is on the verge of frustration and giving up. He makes a brief moment of eye contact with the teacher (behind the video camera).

 

Consider: According to the Zone of Proximal Development, this would be an ideal moment for scaffolding from the teacher. In this instance, the teacher chose to remain silent – ultimately a decision that paid off for Camden. Did the eye contact act as the teacher’s scaffolding (did it communicate, ‘I’m here, I’m present, you can do this’)? How could the teacher’s interaction here have altered Camden’s next steps? As a first experience at this school, how will this interaction shape Camden’s sense of self-efficacy within the school community?

 

At 1:00, Camden revisits his initial strategy with the longer black tube. He is successful, now that the white tube is gone. At this point, the teacher joins in with a cheer.

 

Consider: How did Olivia’s encouragements act as scaffolding? Did the teacher’s voice become stronger because she added it as a collaborative celebration rather than a top-down instruction?
Also consider: When Camden switched to using the white tube, was his motivation that he recognized the white tube was a key ingredient in some way and did not recognize that its role was merely to be moved?

Talking About Race

In the 2016-2017 school year, educators, families and graduate students participated in a research group examining the goals of Anti-Bias Education. Click here to read more about this group.

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Marissa Tafura, photo from https://www.rmpjc.org/about-us?lightbox=dataItem-iyuwsnvz1

As part of their continuing conversation, Marissa Tafura from Empowering Kids met with educators from the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program (BJSTEP) to discuss the importance of engaging in conversations about race. Marissa focuses on equipping teachers and families with the tools they require to enter into dialogue with young children.

 

 

 

We reflected on the following questions:

 

 

How often do teachers and parents talk with children about race?

  • Marissa recommends using very descriptive colors to name race and to make it personal by referencing someone you know who identifies with that race. Be sure to model that it is okay to notice and talk about race, while recognizing that those conversations may look different in public and private spaces.

 

How can we challenge the normalization of whiteness and diversify materials offered in classrooms and homes?

  • Marissa recommends sharing why some images or narratives make you uncomfortable. For example, “I don’t like that the only brown skinned person in the book is the one opening the gate to the zoo.”

 

How do we name race as an important part of one’s identity?

  • Marissa made the comparison to how we talk about gender and accept that gender identity is important to our self concept. She encouraged us to do the same with race and not shy away from it.

 

How can we raise children who are able to identify injustices and take action?

  • Marissa recommends empowering children. She suggests that adults should include narratives that challenge the idea that people of color are always victims.

 

 

Marissa recommended the following website on teaching tolerance: http://www.tolerance.org/  She also recommended this article: http://www.wdsnyc.org/file/documents/CHILDREN-ARE-NOT-COLORBLIND.pdf

We look forward to continuing our work with Marissa and plan to schedule a meeting for Boulder Journey School parents as a next step. You can learn more about the importance of talking with children about race by visiting this blog: http://family-garden.org/talk-kids-race/

 

Here are some additional resources:

Book Lists

30 Asian & Asian-American Children’s Books

Spreadsheet of Books

10 Books That Empower Kids to Stand Up and Speak Out

Best Multicultural Books for Children

50 Indian Books Every Parent Must Read to Their Child

28 Books That Affirm Black Boys

Building a Diverse Anti-Bias Library for Young Children (multiple resources)

Children’s Books That Tackle Race & Ethnicity

Multicultural Book Lists for Children: 60+ Book Lists, including 10 Amazing Multicultural Picture Books About Helping Others, Multicultural Adoption Books for Kids,

Best World Religion Books for Kids

40 LGBTQ-Friendly Picture Books for Ages 0-5

Books Featuring Children of Color Where Race is Not the Point of the Story

Children’s Books Featuring Kids of Color Being Themselves. Because that’s enough.

Indigenous and First Nations Kids Books

Guide for Selecting Anti-Bias Children’s Books

5 Things to Keep in Mind When Gifting Books to Children of Color

A Book Subscription Box Created for Black Children

Talking to Kids About Police Brutality: A Community Resource List

 

The Dynamic of a Band: Story from a Practicum Site – Boulder Journey School

“In order to act as an educator for the child, the environment has to be flexible: it must undergo frequent modification by the children and the teachers in order to remain up-to-date and responsive to their needs to be protagonists in constructing their knowledge.” – Lella Gandini, “Education and Caring Spaces”

At the beginning of the school year, the children in Room 14 at Boulder Journey School expressed a strong interest in performance and music. The teachers observed the children frequently discussing and engaging in play around performance and instrument design, especially in the outdoor classroom. According to Erin, the mentor teacher in Room 14, “It started with two children using materials to represent different instruments. There was a wooden platform outside that they made into a stage, where they performed.”emergenceofguitarsviashovels

The children used shovels or flat, long “loose parts” to represent guitars; they would play them together in groups. Microphones were represented as fairly tall objects that either stood on their own or could be propped. Erin recalled, “They used tall stable objects, such as shelves to balance sticks or tubes to be hands-free and reach their mouths.”

 

In addition to their interest in representing instruments, the children showed a strong interest in using their instruments to perform songs for others. Erin recalls that many children shared an interest in songs by Jeff and Paige, a local children’s group. They sang these with and to one another. They also sang pop culture hits, and made up their own songs. Ultimately the children’s’ shared interest in music and performance sparked a year-long investigation into the concepts of music, performance, and instrument design.

As an assignment for the Teacher Education Program (TEP), the teachers reflected on the incorporation of technology as an essential learning tool into the classroom. One goal of the TEP is to seamlessly weave together current theory with classroom practices. As the graduate students learned about the changing role of technology in the early childhood classroom, they also engaged in dialogue with their mentor teacher to uncover the ways this assignment would fit with the current work taking place in the classroom. Building on these conversations, the children were offered videos and projections of professional live performances to act as references in their understanding of guitars and microphones. The children were then asked to reflect on and share their observations of the videos and photos.  

Screen Shot 2017-05-01 at 2.14.28 PMAlongside their digital investigation of professional performances, the teachers worked to deepen children’s understanding and interest in performance and instrument creation through adaptations of the classroom environment. While the children started the year performing their songs outside on a wooden platform “stage”, over time the children and teachers worked together to create a performance stage with open ended materials for instrument design and exploration within the classroom. The performance area is an example of a responsive environment, one which develops in relation to the children’s interests.

guitarstrapstapeThe children also added new elements to their instrument creation. Wire, fabric, and string were used to represent the straps, plugs, and wires of guitars, banjos, and other string instruments. Room 14 teachers continued to observe the children’s interest in music, and offered new materials and provocations to spark further exploration. Teachers introduced tape to the children and supported individual and collective exploration of the properties of tape over several weeks. As the children developed their understanding of the properties of a variety of materials, including tape, teachers presented a question to the class: “Is there a way you can make microphones stand up so you can play your guitar and sing at the same time?”

The children also offered a challenge to themselves: to make a more accurate looking guitar that had a strap so you could let go of the guitar.

 

Over the course of several weeks, the teachers and children in room 14 explored and worked with multiple materials to create their own microphones and guitars. As they worked, they became more aware and intentional about the physical elements of design.

guitarprototype“With trial and error, a design was created that fit the criteria of the children,” recalls their teacher. For example, the children designed a shovel with a wire going through the hand hold and wrapped around the neck as their first prototype for a guitar. Over time, this design was adapted, and the final prototype for a guitar was established as a long piece of wood with tape used to depict frets, binder clips to hold lanyard, and wire to plug into the amp.

TEP mentor and intern teachers worked to scaffold and deepen the process of learning by revisiting and reflecting on the instrument prototypes with children. Teachers presented children with complex materials and questions that encouraged them to engage in the reflective process of critical thinking and learning.

In the children’s process of designing a microphone prototype through open-ended exploration, they considered four main elements: design, height, functionality, and stability.  While many children engaged in an independent process of design, they also tested different designs out with one another, as well as with older children in prekindergarten Room 12, who have an expertise in design and construction work.

Currently there are a few prototypes for microphones. Most involve tape, wire, tubes, and cut pool noodles, with a large container with a weight in it to act as the base of the microphone. Erin noted, “The class now seems to have a fairly strong idea of the elements that they need for each microphone. The challenge of stability is now the biggest obstacle in their path.”

exploringmics
“Our microphones keep tipping over.” – Adam, age 3.5 

As the children continue to explore the concepts of stability and functionality through their design process, they also express a passion for innovation and creativity. In addition to the elements of design, room 14 continues to explore and incorporate the various social aspects of performance into their classroom culture.

microphoneprototypeErin recognizes that the goals of the class have evolved, “We have started to look into the

different elements of performance, including dance and music, and consider the children’s interests relating to these elements. The dynamic of a band is really interesting to them right now. The social negotiation of who is going to take on what role in the band is very interesting.”

As the children continue to delve into the social aspects of performance, the teachers in room 14 hope to continue to support children’s social-emotional, cognitive, and physical learning around the art of music, instrument design, and performance.


Gandini, L. 1998. “Education and Caring Spaces” in Edwards, C., Gandini, L., & Forman, G. The Hundred Languages of Children. Greenwich, CT: Ablex.

Oliver Goes to the Moon: A Video Analysis

As a school, we use video documentation to guide our work with children. One crucial piece of working with video is revisiting the video, analyzing it to pull out questions for further research or to reach new understandings of children’s and teachers’ motivations. We practice analyzing videos with interns and mentors.

Below is a video and write-up that we have shared with Videatives, an organization with whom we partner.

“[Study] results indicate that children may sometimes be confused about the nature of imagined objects, although these confusions do not occur all the time. Thus, it is not the case that children are either perpetually confused or perpetually clear about this distinction between imagination and reality.” – Weisberg, D. 2013.“Distinguishing Imagination from Reality.” The Oxford Handbook of the Development of Imagination. P. 82 

The video opens on a child, Oliver, 3 years old, sitting inside a structure composed of fabric and piping. It is a little hard to see in this video, but there is a projection of a space scene on the fabric in front of him.

He is holding his hands about “steering wheel distance” apart and making a steady hum engine noise in his throat. About 15 seconds in, the sound in his throat catches. He continues with the sound, now a broken hum (we will use the onomatopoeia “hm-hm” for the broken sound), for about four seconds. At this point, Oliver’s eyebrows knit together, and he looks down.

“Why did it just go “hm-hm”? He picks up a block and, while examining the block says, “We need to stop it for a sec. We need to stop it because it just went ‘hm-hm’” He makes the broken sound again a few times.

His teacher, Charlotte, who is holding the camera, asks, “That’s not how it’s supposed to sound?” Oliver shakes his head, no.

Charlotte asks, “Alright, are you going to fix the engine so you can keep traveling to the moon?”

Oliver looks to the projection of space. He points to a spot, “Maybe to that over there. I’m supposed to drive over there.”

He then arranges a series of loose parts (pvc type piping) in front of him and says, “Beep-beep- beep-beep,” while poking at the blue block he was holding earlier.

Charlotte holds up another loose part, “Oli, here’s some tools.” He takes them from her and proceeds to touch them to the piping, concentrating intently on his work.

A question to consider is, how did Oliver write the script for his play? From his initial actions and his teacher’s initial attempt to redirect him to flying to the moon, it seems that the script was to fly a spaceship to the moon.

Did Oliver’s voice break, causing him to hear the engine as breaking? Or was that intentional? His initial look of confusion implies that for a moment, he may have truly believed the spaceship was broken. Did he temporarily forget that he had control over the script?

As Weisberg noted in her study (link above), “It is not the case that children are either perpetually confused or perpetually clear about this distinction between imagination and reality.” Where did Oliver sit in this distinction?

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

 

 

 

The Blog As A Tool for Collaboration: Story from a Practicum Site

The value and practice of collaboration is a central component of the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program (BJSTEP). At Boulder Journey School, teachers are encouraged to reflect on the meaning of collaboration and practice it daily through their work with co-educators, children, and families.  Depending on the collective interests and strengths of the school community, collaboration can take many forms. 

Recently, educators at Boulder Journey School have engaged in research around the school blog and how teachers can effectively utilize their classroom’s blog to encourage active participation and collaboration among the classroom and school-wide communities. Each classroom has an online blog that serves to share daily, documented experiences and ongoing investigations with the wider classroom community.  

Continue reading “The Blog As A Tool for Collaboration: Story from a Practicum Site”