Visiting Spaces: A Professional Development Experience

Our best source of professional development is observing one another and questioning our practices. To do this, we have to create a space that is safe. We make sure to ask questions of all of the teachers, new and long-standing.” – Alison Maher, Education Director

When we invite people into our space, it changes the dynamics. We are always striving to offer the best possible experiences for the children in our classrooms. When visitors arrive, we must also consider how to offer the best possible experiences for children in classrooms around the world.

In September 2017, teachers, administrators, and professors from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia visited Boulder Journey School. In collaboration with Videatives, Inc., we hosted the visitors as part of an international study tour, organized by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). The tour was designed to examine early childhood programs and initiatives in international contexts to inform the National Early Childhood Curriculum in the Saudi Arabian Kingdom.

Our visitors spent two days observing in classrooms, taking notes on the interactions between children, mentor teachers, and graduate students in the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program. They unpacked their observations during afternoon dialogues that included presentations and remarks by Boulder Journey School and Videatives, Inc. educators.

One visitor shared that her takeaways from the experience included the understanding that, “the environment is very important. A mindful teacher is even more important.”

Through visits such as these, we grow not only as educators, but also as advocates for quality in early childhood education worldwide.

Delegates from the Kingdom​ ​of​ ​Saudi​ ​Arabia​ ​Early​ ​Learning​ ​Curriculum​ ​Project with NAEYC representatives, and educators from Boulder Journey School and Videatives, Inc. 

To learn more about the Boulder Journey School Study Tour Program, click here. We host tours such as this one through the year.
To subscribe to the Videatives, Inc. blog, Videatives Views, click here and receive a free video analysis monthly.

 

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Tea Time at Aspen Grove: A Community Ritual – Story from a Practicum Site

Tea Time at Aspen Grove: A Community Ritual

Aspen Grove is a small preschool, located in Nederland, CO, a former mining town tucked into the mountains just to the west of Boulder.

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One 2016-2017 graduate student teacher and one mentor in the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program are members of a community of teachers and children who participate in a daily ritual called “Tea Time.”

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During Tea Time, all members of the school community gather around the fireplace, located in the center of the school. Each person is offered a small cup of herbal tea, and a candle is lit. Children participate in all aspects of the preparation, including heating the water, choosing the tea flavor, and choosing books to read together. While the tea is enjoyed, everyone chats and stories are read. As the children finish their tea and feel ready for nap, they excuse themselves to find their mats.

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Rituals can be defined as special actions that help us navigate emotionally important events or transitions in our lives as well as enhance aspects of our daily routines to deepen our connections and relationships. (Gillespie & Petersen, 2012, p.76)

This daily ritual is an important part of Aspen Grove’s culture, and supports the children’s cognitive, physical, and social development in complex ways. The taste and scent of the tea, along with the physical warmth, serve as signals that it’s time to relax for nap. The children’s natural rhythms are respected, as they are empowered to head to the nap room when they are ready. In addition, the social aspects of this ritual deepen the school community members’ connections with one another.

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So often transitions are viewed as times to simply “get through”; this story can serve as a reminder to us all to celebrate the opportunities for learning, development, and community-building that are present in every moment throughout a day.

Tea Time is a reminder of the special nature of transition times.

  • What are the rituals that are unique to your classrooms and school?
  • How are they indicative of the cultural identity of your school community?
  • What are ways to build upon and share these unique moments that make your school special?

References

https://www.naeyc.org/yc/files/yc/file/201209/Rock-n-Roll_YC0912.pdf

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?

 

Small World Play: The Benefits of Miniature Fantasy Lands

Six times a year, Boulder Journey School collaborates with Hawkins Centers of Learning to hold evening workshops, open to the community. The topic of each workshop varies; however each experience offers time and space to engage in the three phases of Messing About, as proposed by David Hawkins.

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“[Fantasy] is the mother of all possibilities where, like all psychological opposites, the inner and outer worlds are joined together in a living union.”

Carl Jung

As part of our Professional Development series, Messing About with Teaching, we invited educators to explore the history of small world play, as well as to spend time engaging with miniature fantasy lands.

As participants entered the room, they were greeted by hundreds of miniatures, ranging from medieval characters to marine creatures. Amidst these figures were a series of loose parts and trays that could act as landscapes. In some settings, the figurines and landscapes were a logical pairing; in others, they were incongruous.

The participants examined the tables and chose which sets to sit near.

“Each of us have such different spaces. You look at some of these different classes or visit and think, ‘Oh I wish I had that.’ But you work with what you have, and the children work with what they have. How you set things up highlights what you have already. And I think that was a really big learning experience for me.” – participant reflection

To begin the evening, we explored the history of Small World Play – a practice rooted in psychotherapy and inspired by science fiction writer, H.G. Wells.

The ‘World Technique’ in play therapy was developed by Dr. Margaret Lowenfeld in 1929. The goal of this methodology was to offer children an avenue to explore and communicate their thoughts and feeling through non-verbal strategies. (http://www.creativecounseling101.com/sandtray-therapy-class-history-of-sandtray-therapy-student-1.html)

Her outstanding contributions sprang from her recognition that play is an important activity in children’s development and that language is often an unsatisfactory medium for children to express their experiences. She consequently invented non-verbal techniques that enabled them to convey their thoughts and feelings without resort to words. – The Dr. Margaret Lowenfeld Trust

Lowenfeld herself was inspired by the book Floor Games by H.G. Wells (1911), in which the author of The Time Machine explored fantasy lands with his own children.

(http://www.creativecounseling101.com/sandtray-therapy-class-history-of-sandtray-therapy-student-1.html)

Lowenfeld’s work has extended into classrooms, where teachers and children create and use these settings and figures to explore intra- and interpersonal relationships, as well as to explore the world on a manageable scale. Careful observation of children, and as we discovered during the workshop, ourselves at play with these small worlds offer myriad insights into personalities and learning styles.

Participants “shop” for figurines to use in their play.


Consider this dialogue excerpt from the reflection session at the end of play*:

Kathy and Steve know each other, but in a very limited capacity. Andrea, Brian, and Emily all work closely together, Andrea and Brian as co-teachers, Emily as their Pedagogical Support. Nina and the rest of the participants in her group all teach at the same school.

Alex (facilitator): How did you react to the spaces that you had?

Kathy: I’m very introverted, so to avoid that, I stepped away. I really like ledges and small spaces, so I wanted to take my figures over to the small space.

Steve: I was worried that I had co-opted your space. But it turns out we are of a very similar mindset.

Andrea: It’s interesting that you thought about that. I didn’t even consider infringing on someone else’s space. I just built, and he started building this way, and I was like, well, that’s the edge.

And, I don’t like to work in small spaces. I would have preferred to work on the floor, but I didn’t feel there was adequate space for it.

Brian: It felt like it was a small space, but I embraced it. I mirrored [Andrea’s]. It’s kind of how we work in the classroom; we’ll mirror each other. I mirrored this, and I just worked with my space. Emily’s phone ended up in my way, so instead of just moving it, it became a wall to my space. I felt like the space was too small, so I shifted the scope of my idea. I used the phone and built around it.

Andrea: Whereas, if Emily’s phone had ended up in my space, I would move it to a different space and define, “Here’s your space.”

Emily: And Brian would just work around it.

Nina: The way our table was set up, with the mirrors on each side, it didn’t even occur to us to split up or to change the setting in any way. There was this big piece in the middle that anchored us and drew us to play together.

*participants’ names have been changed


Through our work with these materials, and with each other, we gained understandings of the learning process. Following this workshop, we found ourselves watching children’s work with figures and playscapes through a new lens.

Do you offer spaces for small world play in your context? Share those experiences in the comments.

 

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

 

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?