I have had the privilege of presenting a number of hands-on learning workshop recently. I’m convinced that we need to give young children more real experiences with messy materials and activities that relate to their world. Paper and pencil activities are not the way to establish concrete cognitive learning in a child’s mind. I was reminded about this recently when a I visited my new two week-old grandson. He has been a much-anticipated addition to our family. As I was watching our interactions with him, I was remind about the brain connections that he will be making this year. Since we know that those connects are essential during these first 12 months of life, grandpa will do everything possible to provide support for those connections. We can continue to make these important connections throughout the early childhood years if we provide hands-on learning activity and experiences. That should be the goal of early childhood educators.
I promised my friends in Sacramento at CHSA, that I would provide the words to the song, “Oh, My Aunt Came Back” on this blog. I’m sure there are different versions and with apologies to the composer/author, here are the words that I use for this echo song:
Oh, my aunt came back (Students repeat all the lines.), From old Japan (Repeat)
And she brought with her. (Repeat), A waving fan. (Repeat)
Oh, my aunt came back. From Old Algiers.
And she brought with her, A pair of shears.
Oh, my aunt came back. From Timbuktu.
And she brought with her, A wooden shoe.
Oh, my aunt came back From Guadeloupe,
And she brought with her, A Hoola-hoop.
Oh my aunt came back, From the County Fair.
And she brought with her, A rocking chair.
Oh, my aunt came back, From the City Zoo.
And she brought with her, A nut like you.
I use songs like this to engage the child’s entire body. When children become disengaged in the conversation or activity, it is time to help them physically re-focus. To me, this is an important part of hands-on learning.
I recently presented a workshop on Messy Science at the annual NAEYC Conference. Here is a copy of the handout, as requested by many participants.
Mad Scientist! Combining Art and Scientific
John H. Funk
University of Utah / Excellence Learning Corp.
Head Start Outcomes Framework & Next Generation Science Standards for Kindergarten
(question, observe, predict, experiment/test, observe)
Five Senses/Body Parts (Goals P-SCI 1, 3 – Scientific Reasoning)
- X-Ray Print (Biocolor Paint –white, black; white paper; tray; scraper)
- Color Mixing (Liquid Watercolor – red, yellow, blue; water; container)
- Salt Crystals (Coffee filter [or Colorations BIGTEX filters]; Liquid Watercolor; salt)
- Fluffy Goop (Colorations white school glue; shaving cream; Liquid Watercolor)
- Biocolor Window Stickers (Biocolor; acetate or slick plastic)
Weather Patterns (Goals P-SCI 3 – K-ESS2-1; K-ESS3-2 – Scientific Reasoning – Earth’s Systems)
- Corn Starch Fade Away (Corn starch; water; tray; Liquid Watercolor spray)
- Tornado Tube (2 empty 1 liter bottles; tube connector; water)
- Water Moving Fountain (2 empty 2 liter bottles; fountain connector; water)
- Sun Print (Sun Print paper; everyday object; sun)
Life Cycles (P-SCI 4; K-LS1)
- Life forms on light table (life forms/x-rays; light table or panel)
- Stamping Thumb Prints (stamp pads, paper, markers, thumbs J)
- Documentation Journals (paper)
- Collection Journal (paper bags; glue or staples)
Magnets – Push and Pull – Floating and Sinking (Goals P-SCI 5,6; K-PS2-1, 2 – Scientific Reasoning – Motion and Stability)
- Marble Printing (Magnet; magnetic marbles; paper; Biocolor paint; tray)
- Slick Sand (Slick Sand; container; water)
- Oil is Lighter than Water (Vegetable oil; water; container; Liquid Watercolor)
- Floating & Sinking Rafts (Colorations Craft Sticks; container of water; items to sit on raft)
Problem Solving – Engineering Design (Goals P-SCI 3,4,6; K-2-ETS1 – Drawing Conclusions/Engineering Design)
- Building and Connecting (Building Brilliance Blocks; Light Table)
- What Make It Cold? (Insta Sno; Water)
- Engineering and Building
I have been around for many years and the education community always grabs on to the latest trend in teaching strategies. The education world has been trying to reinforce support in math and science since Russia launched the Sputnik in the 1950s. Everyone is all about STEM or STEAM education right now. As far as I’m concerned, every school should be a STEAM school. We should always be mindful of every subject domain when working with and supporting young children. As I travel the country right now, many early childhood workshops and conferences want to concentrate on STEM education. I don’t usually mind reinventing the wheel as long as it gets teachers to evaluate their individual settings and strive to improve the content and teaching. What I have found with the science and math portions of STEM is that most teachers do STEM activities. However, many do not form their teaching activities into something that supports engineering thinking or standards, as well. Those three domains are so closely related that when I am working with science and math, I can create an engineering approach that will support a STEM education and critical thinking. Here are some things that I think about when I give children a set of blocks and encourage them to work on their math, science, and ‘engineering’ skills:
- Suggest that the children plan out their activity before doing it (and provide the appropriate materials), particularly when they are using materials such as blocks?
- Allow the children)[ to draw what they plan to create.
- Have the children build their project or organize the activity.
- Make note, or have the children watch, for changes that they have to make when they actually build it.(Often the blocks do not do exactly what they had planned or they do not have enough materials to make it as planned.)
- When the projects are complete, review what happened. Guide the children through thinking about how they worked through the activity.
Activities such as this can add great depth to a child’s thinking, particularly if he is allowed to be part of a working group. I’m convinced that most teachers do engineering activities in their classrooms, but don’t realize the importance of planning and reviewing. One aspect of High Scope that I love is their philosophy of plan-do-review. That philosophy is a great foundation for building critical thinking skills.
I recently visited my daughter’s family and had to chuckle about the sign on her youngest daughter’s bedroom door. This was the sign taped to the door:
It reminds me about how often we expect children to adapt to our agenda, even if they have their own plan. I became convinced many years ago that if I let children speak and offer suggestions, I usually ended up with a better scenario. I was the king of classroom meetings when I was teaching. When issues came up in the classroom, I often turned it over to the children and asked their suggestions on solving the problem. They always had great suggestions and they were better at following new procedures because they felt as if they had made them.
I also found out that when I had a child that seemed to be doing something completely different than the assignment, I would always ask for an explanation. Often, their explanation made sense and actually made the project better. I learned a long time ago not to jump on what a child was doing when it seemed they were not following the plan for the assignment.
The latest ‘big thing’ in education is to model instructions around STEM/STEAM. (My feeling is that ALL classrooms should already be STEAM classrooms!). The foundation of STEM education is to teach critical and creative thinking skills Let’s not shut down those skills by thinking that we always know what is best for a child. I hope we teachers become much better at listening than we are an instructing. Remember, a child is a candle to be lit, not a cup to be filled.
We teachers need to be courteous, because the actress needs to rehearse.
I am currently at NAEYC’s Professional Development Institute (PDI) in Baltimore. Yesterday I presented a workshop on classroom management. One of the focus points for this year’s conference was the need to support DAP strategies in primary grade classrooms, K-3. This is important to me since I have spent most of my teaching career in those grades. I also currently supervise student teachers and interns, which include candidates working in K-3 classrooms. Although we tend to shy away from the term, ‘management’ when speaking about 0-5 settings, it is evident that it can be appropriate to use that term when speaking about school-age classrooms. From my experience, classroom management in primary grades is the foundation for teachers to be able to teach in a developmentally appropriate manner. I have found over the years that administrators and fellow teachers will listen to a DAP suggestion when they feel the teacher making the suggestion is an effective teacher and can run a nurturing and responsive classroom.
Here are some of the research materials that we use in our program at the University of Utah to provide guidance for our candidates to develop appropriate classroom management skills:
• Forlini, G, & E. Williams, A. Brinkman. (2010). Class Acts: every teacher’s guide to activate learning. Bronxville, NY. Lavender Hill Press.
• Jensen, E. (2013). Engaging Students with Poverty in Mind. Alexandria, VA. ASCD.
• Wilson, M.B. (2013). Teasing, Tattling, Defiance and More. Turner Falls, MA. Northeast Foundation for Children, Inc.
• Armstrong, T. (2006). The Best Schools. Alexandria, VA. ASCD.
• Charles, C.M. (2014). Building Classroom Discipline, 11 Ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ. Pearson.
• Cunningham, P. & R.L. Allington. Classrooms That Work: they can all read and write, 5th Ed. Boston, MA. Allyn & Bacon.
Of particular note is the ‘Big 8’ format that we use, in collaboration with Granite School District, which comes from the book listed above, Class Acts (Forlini 2010). Expectations, attention prompts, proximity, cueing, signals, time limits, tasking, and voice, provide a wonderful framework for helping pre-service teachers develop that all-important classroom management foundation.
There are clear and concise images displayed in most paintings and art. However, occasionally, you see a work of art that has blurred lines and is much more subtle in it’s appearance. I thought of this watercolor with blurred lines (a purposeful lack of specific images) as I was speaking with two education managers at a local Head Start agency.
The managers were concerned about the lack of clarity and the blurriness of their assessment procedures. Their concern stems from indications that the students in their program are not displaying the skills that their observation assessments seem to indicate. Their concern is that the teachers are documenting what they think they observe during their classroom interactions, but don’t explicitly determine if each child has clearly developed individual skills.
Many preschool assessment programs are like that. My opinion is that they contain so much information and documentation that the basic tracking of skill development is lost. I believe that many programs try to solve every problem and cover everything that could possibly happen in a classroom. This massive amount of documentation can weigh down the teacher and she/he doesn’t master any of the procedures because of the overwhelming amount of paperwork.
Many years ago, when I was Head Start Education Manager, I developed a simple road map of skills from the HS Outcome Indicator document. I put them in developmental order and they were posted in each classroom. Even though we had other assessments in place, this was a hands-on individualization that helped the teacher easily track progress. What happened was that we began to actually see skill development in the children. We still had our observation assessment that we documented, but we had a quick way to evaluate whether the child had the skill. That simple road map provided so much clarity for the teacher that she/he began to understand how individualization works and how to put all the pieces in place.
I bring assessment up at this time of year since most programs do an assessment at the end of the school year. While subtle images and blurriness may have their place in a watercolor portrait, they do not have a place in appropriate assessments. It is critical that we track a child’s progress in a clear, developmentally appropriate way.
As I travel the country doing early childhood workshops, I am always very concerned with math instruction. Of course there is a new resurgence of math concentration with the attention given to STEM and STEAM schools. Each organization has it’s own set of mathematics standards. My one large criticism is that sometimes the language used in standards is so academic that I fear many classroom teachers fail to absorb the full impact of the standard. I’m not suggesting we dummy things down, but just make sure that we use language that is usable to the early childhood teacher. I also worry that standards are not often listed in the order that you should introduce them to a child.
Through all of the language of mathematics standards, I think the simplicity of developmentally appropriate math strategies gets lost. I watch many teachers instruct students in a math standard before the child has a solid foundation with which to understand and incorporate that skill. A solid foundation will provide a solid basis for the scaffold of math the child should develop. A good foundation will last throughout time. I recently found the foundation of a dock on the coast of Kauai, where they used to load pineapples. The farming and production ceased long ago, but the foundation of the dock has lasted through time. A math foundation for a child should be just as solid.
I have found that the following developmental steps provide a solid foundation for future math skills:
- Spatial Relationships
- One to one correspondence
- Place value
Each one of the skills listed provides a solid foundation for the skills that comes next. For more information, check out the book, Count on Math by Dr. Pam Schiller or download my conference handout about math on the right side of this blog.
For years I have enjoyed the books written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes, even the volumes that have not been chosen as award winners. His newest picture book, Waiting, is delightful and fun. The waiting theme made me think of the years I was a kindergarten teacher.
Prior to coming to kindergarten, many children experience a strong build-up by family members. Everyone exclaims, “You get to go to kindergarten in the fall. You must be so excited!” The anticipation for a five-year-old must be enormous. More than once, I had a child express concerns after the first few days of kindergarten. “Is this it?” they would say. It always kept me on my toes to make sure that my classroom was an engaging and exciting experience. I knew I had to live up to the big build-up kindergarten had received, because I wanted them to feel, “WOW! This IS it!”
Waiting also made me think about the number of times I have been in classrooms and watched children waiting…Waiting for other children, waiting for the teacher, waiting for their turn, waiting for their snack, etc. We know that when children are not engaged, the chance of them displaying negative behavior goes up dramatically. A smart teacher will be organized enough to minimize any waiting time for their students, especially early childhood age children. Here are a few things that worked in my classroom to help children avoid waiting:
- There was always something to do. Whenever the children were engaged in a project, there were always more activities to do when they finished the planned activity. I often posted picture of each activity on the board so that the children could look up and know what to do next. This way, they never waited for other students to finish.
- There was a procedure for everything. The children knew the procedures for going to the bathroom, getting a drink, getting a sharpened pencil, getting paper, staying put when the teacher was giving directions, etc. I reminded the children often about the procedures and used those reminders as teaching tools.
- “I’m Next” nametags. I created (thanks to a suggestion from my friend, Sharon MacDonald) some nametags that said, “I’m Next.” Whenever taking a turn was the procedure (using the computer, iPad, sand table, play dough table, etc.), I had the child(ren) who would be next wear the necklace. That way they knew they were next and didn’t keep asking me about it. ALSO, the other children in the classroom didn’t waste time waiting, because they knew they were not next.
- A daily visual schedule. I found it important to have a daily schedule posted so the children knew what was coming next. I was always surprised at the number of children who waited for the next activity. I always told the children that we would move to the next scheduled part of the day when we finished the one we were working on. I would give them a signal when we were ready. I do think that this visual reminder gave them a sense of security and a strong feeling that they didn’t need to wait.
There were many other things I did that helped, but these were the main strategies that helped children avoid waiting. I always strived to make my classroom an engaging, joyous environment, where the children were never waiting and the activities met their high expectations for kindergarten.
Possible posting themes:
It is back to school time again! In fact, some classrooms are already up and running for the new school year. Last year at this time, I posted a blog entry about 10 things to remember when setting up and classroom. To access that list, scroll down to my blog entry dated, July 31, 2014. It contains a great list of things that I tried to remember as I set up my classroom each year during my 25 years of teaching.
I am supervising ten interns this year instead of student teachers. I was visiting their classrooms recently and since they have their own classrooms (no cooperating teacher), they requested help in organizing information to share with parents. This year I thought I would post some suggestions to pass along to parents. I think this content would be a great parent letter home or a nice list to share when the families visit the classroom.
How Parents can Support Classroom Learning
- Always make positive comments about the classroom and the school. Saying negative things about school gives your child the message that school is not a good place to be and he/she does not need to respect the classroom. If you have concerns, please speak with the teacher directly and solve the problem.
- Make sure your child gets plenty of sleep and a good breakfast. Being rested and having proper nutrition helps a child think. Your child’s brain cannot function well when it is not rested and supported with proper nutrition and water for hydration.
- Read to your child. Research indicates that children who are read to, simply know more. Being read to is such a good model for learning to read and understanding new words and other important information about our world. Children who have been read to are almost always further ahead in reading and math when they attend school.
- Ask the teacher for activities to help your child at home. Early childhood children are building the foundation for all of their lifelong learning. Ask the teacher for suggestions on how to help support your child’s learning at home. Often the teacher will send home suggestions. Don’t hesitate to ask for more suggestions or for a clarification of the teacher’s suggestions.
- Please follow through on all concerns. If the teacher or school contacts you about a concern with your child’s behavior or learning, please support your child by helping to make the situation better. The best support is to not get defensive or take your child’s side against the teacher or the school. Remember that your child’s behavior is developing. Negative behavior in early childhood can get worse and become magnified as the child gets older. The best time to help your child learn appropriate behavior is now. You don’t want your child to suffer continually from negative behavior for the rest of his life. Help your child take responsibility for inappropriate behavior and work together on improving it.
According to many research studies, the number one factor for a child’s success in school is the involvement of her family. When the family members are supportive and place importance on school, the child has the most supportive environment in which to learn.