education

Project Based Learning: Beginning a Year of Exploration

Now that Squirm has turned 2, we’re starting to explore the world of project-based homeschooling (PBH). That’s a name which feels really heavy and loaded, especially when it’s used in regards to a 2 years old, but basically it’s about committing time and resources to explore a child’s interest and helping them find ways to investigate, create and share what they know.

At 2, Squirm isn’t ready to develop a full on project like some older children do. At the moment we’re at a pure exploration stage – we’re exploring his interests (things which move), we’re exploring different ways of playing and we’re exploring different mediums of creating.

This has been surprisingly easy to organise – I bought a fabric cube for keeping things together, plus a range of art supplies (as well as ones we already had) and different kinds of paper. The most important thing we got was a journal – just an art journal – which Squirm has fallen in love with.

It was the journal which taught me my first lesson about PBH.

As a teacher, one of the hardest challenges for me was letting go of control. There are definitely times when control is essential in a classroom. But there are also times when it’s ok to let the children take control – and when I did, there were often some amazing results. But it’s easy to fall back into the old habits, and when I presented the journal to Squirm, I had definite ideas about how it was going to ‘work’.

Squirm had his own ideas.

I glued in a photo of him building a tower out of blocks. He loved seeing that in the book and talked about it and drew next to it. But then he saw some pictures of vehicles which I’d printed and cut out for him to play with. And he wanted them in his journal too. And not just on the next page, but the next 6 pages. And he’d like to use the glue stick himself.

And after a bit of panicking (he’s not following ‘the plan’!), I remembered that it was his journal, not mine. That something which he had control over would mean more to him than something which I kept under strict control. So I let go.

So far, Squirm has drawn, added stickers, glued in pictures, asked me to glue in pictures, drawn on the pictures, added colour to old drawings, skipped pages and generally had a brilliant time. I add dates and notes where I can, and participate if he asks me too (mostly with sticking), but it’s his creation. And you can see him trying out different things when he draws – he moved from scribbles, to spirals, to trying to make shapes in a couple of days. He went back and looked at old pages and added to them. He spent time just looking through the journal.

It’s going to be a challenge to curb my teacher-control impulses – but I can definitely see the benefits of doing so. And I think this is going to be a fun year.

PBH 2014_08_121 PBH 2014_08_122 PBH 2014_08_123 PBH 2014_08_124
Advertisements

Week 5: Watercolours (52 Weeks of Provocations)

Provocation 5 : Watercolours

You can find more information about provocations here ๐Ÿ™‚

Provocation 5 - Introducing Paints - Adventures of a Subversive Reader

Background Information

We’ve played with watercolours before, but back before Squirm was walking. Now he is walking and he is a little taller, I was able to pull out an easel and allow Squirm to explore watercolours in a whole new way

Materials

  • Watercolour paints (from Big W)
  • A selection of brushes
  • Water and water container
  • Easel (from Ikea)
  • Big pieces of paper (Mine were left over from when I was teaching, but you can get great pieces of big paper from Storage places)
  • Table
  • Mirror
  • Various pencils and crayons

Set Up

At first I just set up the easel with the watercolours and water on the ground. This was successful, but meant that Squirm needed to do a lot of crouching and standing. The next day, I placed the easel next to the table and set up the watercolours, mirror, water and pencils and crayons on the table. This was much more successful. I gave Squirm a new piece of paper each time, though some had writing on the back from my classroom days. I made sure the watercolours were wet before Squirm began

Provocation 5 - Introducing Paints - Adventures of a Subversive Reader

Experiences

Squirm seemed to remember the watercolours from when we’d played with them before. To start with he stuck with his brushes, putting them in the paint and making long strokes on the paper. Some of the time he put the brush in water between colours, other times he didn’t. Later on he experimented with using a crayon to dip in the paint instead of a brush, and he tried some small twigs as well. He mostly kept his lines to one part of the page, though he would paint over my lines if I made any. On one of the days, he enjoyed the fact that he would use the water and the paint to make a hole in the paper.

Provocation 5 - Introducing Paints - Adventures of a Subversive Reader Provocation 5 - Introducing Paints - Adventures of a Subversive Reader Provocation 5 - Introducing Paints - Adventures of a Subversive Reader Provocation 5 - Introducing Paints - Adventures of a Subversive Reader

What Next?

Art, art and more art ๐Ÿ™‚ The easel was a massive hit, so I’m sure we’re going to use it for drawing, pasting, and painting with different types of paints. Squirm also seemed more receptive to art experiences – this has carried over into drawing which he does most days. There’s a wonderful post at How We Montessori with different art activities, which I’m definitely going to use for ideas.

Provocations are experiences offered to a child, based on past knowledge or interests, with the aim of extending the child’s ideas.

Our provocations present a small range of materials – some which are part of Squirm’s every day life, others which are new to him, or only known from other provocations. The aim is to present them in a thoughtful and (hopefully) attractive way, and to allow Squirm to investigate them in any manner he wishes. These provocations will remain in place for around a week, and then a new provocation will be presented.

7 Ways to Encourage Science with Toddlers and Preschoolers

7 Ways to Encourage Science - Adventures of a Subversive Reader

It was the toy car which brought it to my attention. Squirm has become more and more interested in his toy cars and making them move. One day I noticed that he was picking them up and moving them onto the lino to play with them – he’d noticed that they rolled better on the lino than the carpet.

It struck me that he was exploring friction and forces – he was exploring science. And this wasn’t the only time he’d been exploring science – he explores gravity when he drops something and biology when he examines the ants crawling on the path in front of him or watches a bird preening. In fact, a lot of the time, his world is one big science exploration. I guess it’s probably the same for a lot of toddlers – whichย  amazes me and thrills me.

As an upper primary teacher I know this fascination with science doesn’t hold out. Students might enjoy experiments, but they’re not always interested in repeating them. Or finding out the ‘whys’ behind it. Or applying their knowledge to other situations. And it often gets bogged down in important, but rather dull lessons about scientific method and how to write up experiments. Or is held hostage to safety concerns or (sadly) a lack of resources in the schools.

Teaching science is hard. Often these are massive, complex concepts which are continually being researched and examined at university level. As a teacher you have to understand them and then work out a way for kids to explore them, without being spoon fed any of the information. Resources are tight (both for experimenting and for explaining) and time is limited. Teachers who excel at teaching science should be celebrated.

But maybe we, as parents, could help these teachers out a bit. Maybe we can play our part to preserve the curiosity and exploration which is evident in our toddlers. Here are a few simple ideas to honour science with our children:

1. Give them space and time to explore

Exploration doesn’t happen in 10 or 20 minute blocks. Children need the chance to observe the world around them and to figure out what interests them. Offering extended times to just play independently – inside or outside – gives children the time they need to explore and process different ideas.

2. Respect their questions

According to my mother, I was the kind of child who had hundreds of questions about everything. It’s important to let children know that their questions are valid and worth asking – after all a good scientist is curious about how things work and how they could work better

3. Offer opportunities for tinkering

Offer opportunities to pull things are and put them back together, to play with different materials and to make grand plans for mundane materials. This TED talk looks at a program devoted to tinkering:

And TinkerLab is a wonderful website with tonnes of ideas. But for younger toddlers, tinkering could be as simple as offering a range of household materials to play with or even a cardboard box. Squirm ‘discovered’ the cardboard box that my new frying pan came in the other day. He realised that he could manipulate the lid in different ways until it made a great slide to roll blocks and other toys down.

4. Give children opportunities to share their learning

One of the things my students used to find hardest was writing up their experiments. It can be extremely difficult to share what we do or what we observe, so it is great if children get into the groove of sharing their experiences and understandings from the beginning. They might want to talk about it, or record their voices on the computer, or they might be a visual person who likes to draw what they understand. An adult can also scribe their ideas for them. Sometimes the act of writing things down or listening to their ideas might spur them on to further exploration or clarification

5. Help them to extend their understanding

The jump from experimenting or observation to concepts can be a hard one to make. If you have a child who is really into a scientific topic, then you might like to extend them with the help of your local library. Lots of libraries have great non fiction sections for kids, and books will often explain different concepts and give children ideas for new explorations.

6. Invite science into your house

Make science a part of your life the same way you might make reading or writing part of your life. Have books about science topics or scientists. Talk about cool things you’ve seen in nature, or the awesome science you saw on the news. You can even get music about science, like the awesome Here Comes Science from They Might Be Giants. This is my favourite song and video from that CD

7. Go out and find science

As well as the science you find naturally around you, there’s also awesome places with tonnes of science information and exploration. Squirm and I recently visited a local nature centre which had lots of science information, science books and microscopes for children to look through, as well as a cool nature walk. When I used to take students to the Queensland Museum, one of their favourite areas was the Discovery Centre which had drawers of animal poo! There’s lots and lots of places where you can discover science when you get out and look for it!

Week 4: Foam Block (52 Weeks of Provocations)

You can find more information about provocations here ๐Ÿ™‚

Unfortunately we had some work done on our house which halted . . . well everything for a while. The disruption caused some problems both in the areas we could use, and with Squirm’s behaviour at the time. We seem to have everything slowly getting back to normal though, and I’m restarting the provocations – beginning with one we actually did during the disrupted period.

Provocation 4: Foam Block - Adventures of a Subversive Reader

Provocation 4 : Foam Block

Background Information

It started with a pin cushion left just in the reach of my ever growing Squirm. To my horror, I found him crouched on the floor, intently pulling out each one of my very sharp pins! Obviously, this was incredibly interesting to him, but in no way safe. But it got me thinking about what could we do to mimic the sensory experience of pulling pins out of a pin cushion. This was our (sometimes surprising) alternative.

Materials

  • Foam florists block (from the local discount store)
  • Golf tees (from the local discount store)
  • Platter for holding the block
  • Container for the tees
  • Splash mat (because we did it indoors)
  • Water

Set Up

We set this up on the floor of our kitchen on top of the splash mat. First I wet the block to make it less ‘flaky’ then pushed in the golf tees. I placed the block on an old platter I had (non breakable) and put it on the mat with the container.

Provocation 4: Foam Block - Adventures of a Subversive Reader

Experiences

Squirm LOVED this provocation. The tees and the block worked extremely well together and he enjoyed pulling the tees out (there’s a slight ‘pull’ before they come out), and pushing them back in. He also likes using the tees as tools on the foam – making holes and ‘carving’ paths and lines with them. He also enjoyed using his hands to push and pull at the block – demolishing a whole corner at one point. The tees continued to be a toy separate to the block as well – used for poking and prodding and tinkering.

Provocation 4: Foam Block - Adventures of a Subversive Reader Provocation 4: Foam Block - Adventures of a Subversive Reader Provocation 4: Foam Block - Adventures of a Subversive Reader Provocation 4: Foam Block - Adventures of a Subversive Reader Provocation 4: Foam Block - Adventures of a Subversive Reader

What Next?

The foam block made me think about using clay and the different experiences Squirm might be able to have with that. As we begin to move into more art based activities, I’m sure there’s be clay available to play with. I’d also like to use the golf tees again since Squirm really enjoyed manipulating them.

Provocations are experiences offered to a child, based on past knowledge or interests, with the aim of extending the child’s ideas.

Our provocations present a small range of materials – some which are part of Squirm’s every day life, others which are new to him, or only known from other provocations. The aim is to present them in a thoughtful and (hopefully) attractive way, and to allow Squirm to investigate them in any manner he wishes. These provocations will remain in place for around a week, and then a new provocation will be presented.

Week 3: A Collection of Stones (52 Weeks of Provocations)

You can find more information about provocations here ๐Ÿ™‚

Collection of Stones Provocation: Adventures of a Subversive Reader

Provocation 3 : A Collection of Stones

Background Information

I wanted to return to the stones which Squirm enjoyed so much in the first week, while introducing a few different types of stones. However, I thought I would also continue to use some of the excellent materials which worked so well in the second week. So this provocation kind of became a combination of the two. Plus we finally had a table to use!

Materials

  • Two stainless steel bowls (from KMart)
  • 6 large river stones (from the local discount store)
  • 6 large blue ‘glass’ stones (from the local discount store)
  • 6 large green ‘glass’ stones (from the local discount store)
  • water
  • Mirror (from the local discount store)
  • Table (from Ikea)
  • Plastic covering (from Big W)
  • Rug (from KMart)

Set Up

Because the table is a little tall for Squirm, I discovered the materials worked best if they were set up close to the edge of the table. I put the plastic covering on the table first (because we were working with water), then the rug on top. On one side of the rug, we had the bowl with the stones in it, on the other side a bowl with water, a mirror in between.

Collection of Stones Provocation: Adventures of a Subversive Reader Collection of Stones Provocation: Adventures of a Subversive Reader

Experiences

Squirm really enjoyed the feel of the ‘glass’ rocks, picking them up, turning them over in his hands, dropping them on the ground (to hear the sound) and trying to make them spin on the ground. He really enjoyed dropping them in the water, then tipping the water bowl (water everywhere!) to get them back again. He also spent a lot of time just playing with the water again. He continued his more cautious approach from last week, but also enjoyed tipping it over a bit at a time to see the water spill.

I was able to get a video of some of Squirm’s play (note, the cup was from last week’s provocation. He wouldn’t give it up ๐Ÿ™‚ )

Collection of Stones Provocation: Adventures of a Subversive Reader Collection of Stones Provocation: Adventures of a Subversive Reader Collection of Stones Provocation: Adventures of a Subversive Reader Collection of Stones Provocation: Adventures of a Subversive Reader Collection of Stones Provocation: Adventures of a Subversive Reader Collection of Stones Provocation: Adventures of a Subversive Reader Collection of Stones Provocation: Adventures of a Subversive Reader

What Next?

We’re going to give the rocks and water a little break for a while now, but I’ll be very interested in how Squirm approaches them when we pull them out in the future. I’d like to include some short sticks and even some blocks with the rocks, especially as Squirm gets more interested in stacking.

Collection of Stones Provocation: Adventures of a Subversive Reader Collection of Stones Provocation: Adventures of a Subversive Reader Collection of Stones Provocation: Adventures of a Subversive Reader Collection of Stones Provocation: Adventures of a Subversive Reader Collection of Stones Provocation: Adventures of a Subversive Reader Collection of Stones Provocation: Adventures of a Subversive Reader

Provocations are experiences offered to a child, based on past knowledge or interests, with the aim of extending the child’s ideas.

Our provocations present a small range of materials – some which are part of Squirm’s every day life, others which are new to him, or only known from other provocations. The aim is to present them in a thoughtful and (hopefully) attractive way, and to allow Squirm to investigate them in any manner he wishes. These provocations will remain in place for around a week, and then a new provocation will be presented.

Week 2: Water Play (52 Weeks of Provocations)

You can find more information about provocations here ๐Ÿ™‚

Water Play Provocation: Adventures of a Subversive Reader

Provocation 2 : Water Play

Background Information

At first I thought I would do a direct follow up to last week’s provocation. However, during the week, we noticed that Squirm was really interested in scooping up water and playing with it during bath time. We’ve slowly been introducing Squirm to cups and other drinking implements during meal times, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to extend the ideas he’d been playing with in the bath.

Materials

  • Two stainless steel bowls (from KMart)
  • A plastic mug and ‘glass’ (from KMart)
  • A small rug (from KMart)
  • A ‘tough’ mirror (from the hardware section of our local discount store)
  • Water

Set Up

At first I set this one up on the ground, with the mat laid down, two bowls of water next to each other, and the mirror, glass and mug in front. However, Squirm wasn’t great at moving around when sitting, so we moved it to the upturned crate. Although this made access easier for Squirm, it did make balancing things more precarious. I’m really glad I’ve bought a small table now!

The small rug was a wonderful way of ‘setting’ the activity – making it clear that this was something separate. It was also heavy enough that it didn’t move in the wind, and dried really well when hung up between play.

 

Water Play Provocation: Adventures of a Subversive Reader Water Play Provocation: Adventures of a Subversive Reader

Experiences

Squirm’s experience with the water was quite messy. His initial approach was to smack his hands into the water, resulting in some spectacular splashes and some of the times the water bowl would tip. As the week went on, I noticed that he approached the water more carefully – hitting it more softly or splashing only his fingers in it. He still played with tipping the bowl over, and enjoyed playing with the water that splashed on the ground.

When he’d emptied the water out of the bowl, Squirm enjoyed playing with the bowls themselves. They made a wonderful clatter when they were dropped on the concrete floor, and because the base was very rounded (with only a small flat bit) they wobbled and spun in a really enjoyable way. Squirm loved to tip one side, then release it, watching the way it would rock back and forward on its own.

Because he’d been scooping with a cup in the bath, I thought he’d do the same with the cup and mug here. However, he was less interested in that than playing with the cup and mug themselves. He loved the sound of them dropping on the concrete, but also the ways they would move – the cup would roll in wide circles, while the mug was stopped by the handle. He did drop them in water occasionally, but didn’t pick any water up with the cups.

Water Play Provocation: Adventures of a Subversive Reader Water Play Provocation: Adventures of a Subversive Reader Water Play Provocation: Adventures of a Subversive Reader

What Next?

I’m definitely going to continue to offer provocations with water to Squirm – he is endlessly fascinated by it and the way it moved – plus it’s easy to play with, especially as it heats up. I’m also going to keep using the mat, which really defined the working area, and the stainless steel bowls, which were just so nice to look at and manipulate. I may offer another provocation using the cups in the future, but without any kind of preconceptions next time!

Water Play Provocation: Adventures of a Subversive Reader Water Play Provocation: Adventures of a Subversive Reader Water Play Provocation: Adventures of a Subversive Reader Water Play Provocation: Adventures of a Subversive Reader Water Play Provocation: Adventures of a Subversive Reader Water Play Provocation: Adventures of a Subversive Reader

Provocations are experiences offered to a child, based on past knowledge or interests, with the aim of extending the child’s ideas.

Our provocations present a small range of materials – some which are part of Squirm’s every day life, others which are new to him, or only known from other provocations. The aim is to present them in a thoughtful and (hopefully) attractive way, and to allow Squirm to investigate them in any manner he wishes. These provocations will remain in place for around a week, and then a new provocation will be presented.

Week 1: Stones and Water (52 Weeks of Provocations)

Welcome to the first of my posts about the provocations I offer Squirm. You can find more information about provocations here ๐Ÿ™‚

Rock and Water Provocation: Adventures of a Subversive Reader

Provocation 1 : Stones and Water

Background Information

We’ve noticed that Squirm is very interested in the way things feel. He likes to pick things up, likes to thoroughly examine them. He’s also a big fan of water. I wanted his first provocation to have some familiar objects, but offered together in a way they hadn’t been available to him before.

Materials

  • ย 12 river stones (from discount store)
  • Water
  • 2 paint brushes (part of a pack from Woolworths)
  • Small tongs (from Spotlight)
  • Hard plastic bowl (from discount store)
  • Plastic container (from discount store)
  • Silver tray (from discount store)
  • Mirror

Set Up

I placed the stones into the bowl and placed it next to the container of water. These were both offered on the tray, along with the mirror, the brushes and the tongs. (All of these were presented on an upturned crate-style box – I’m hoping to get a small table soon)

Rock and Water Provocation: Adventures of a Subversive Reader

Experiences

I was amazed at the huge range of activities Squirm explored with this provocation, very few of which I had expected. He spent a fair amount of time picking the stones up and dropping them into the water – which was probably closest to what I expected – but there were many other things he discovered while playing.

Most of the play was with individual items. Although he had been exposed to all these items before, this was the first time he’d really explored them – probably because it was the first time they were available constantly and in an uncrowded way. The stones were probably his favourite things – he spent a lot of time picking them up and moving them around, but he also explored the way they sounded (dropping them on different surfaces, banging them together) and the way they moved (his favourite thing was getting them to spin on the cement floor).

Sound was a common theme throughout the week – Squirm also used the brushes and the tongs to bit against different surfaces and objects, exploring the different sounds he could make. He spent a significant amount of time with the tongs, working out how to squeeze them together (though he doesn’t yet have the strength to carry things with them).

There was also a significant amount of water play. Squirm’s favourite thing was hitting the water, although he wasn’t always thrilled to be splashed by it. He also enjoyed tipping it up and examining the way it moved on the tray or the concrete.

Rock and Water Provocation: Adventures of a Subversive Reader Rock and Water Provocation: Adventures of a Subversive Reader

What Next?

Although I’m not immediately offering a similar provocation, there are a number of ways I can see this provocation being extended and changed. We could offer alternatives to the stones, or offer different materials as well as them. We could also replace the water with something different. Squirm really enjoyed this, so I can definitely see us revisiting something similar in the future.

Rock and Water Provocation: Adventures of a Subversive Reader Rock and Water Provocation: Adventures of a Subversive Reader Rock and Water Provocation: Adventures of a Subversive Reader

Provocations are experiences offered to a child, based on past knowledge or interests, with the aim of extending the child’s ideas.

Our provocations present a small range of materials – some which are part of Squirm’s every day life, others which are new to him, or only known from other provocations. The aim is to present them in a thoughtful and (hopefully) attractive way, and to allow Squirm to investigate them in any manner he wishes. These provocations will remain in place for around a week, and then a new provocation will be presented.

Contemplating Reggio and Provocations: 52 Weeks of Provocations

52 Weeks of Provocation: Adventures of a Subversive Reader

When I wrote up our trip to Ipswich Art Galleryย the other day, I mentioned that I’ve been spending a lot of time learning about the educational history and philosophy of the Reggio Emilia approach. This is an absolutely HUGE topic, with an amazing background, but there are some elements which consistently stand out to me.

One of these is the understanding that children are capable, that they are interested in the world and that they can construct their own learning. Often this is demonstrated through the use of projects, initiated by the children and mentored by the adults working with them. Other times children are given a chance to explore through provocations.

Provocations: deliberate and thoughtful decisions made by the teacher to extend the ideas of the children.Journey Into Early Childhood

There’s some wonderful things being written about provocations out there – one of my very favourites is from An Everyday Story (go check out the whole wonderful blog) which talks through how to set up a Reggio-inspired activity. You can also find more information here and here. But although I’ve seen gorgeous provocations for older children, I’ve seen less for children around Squirm’s age (12 months).

So, once again, I turn back to An Everyday Story to think about provocations for Squirm – there’s my guiding principal, right at the top of the Activity page – “What have they been wondering about?”

Squirm is pre verbal, so working out his wonderings is based entirely on observation. And when I started observing, I started noticing a lot! Squirm in interested in so many things, meaning that there are many, many provocations I could set up for him to enjoy.

And there’s my plan – to aim to set up a provocation each week, adjusting them and building on them as Squirm explores. As each week draws to a close, I hope to blog about them, to share the explorations, wonderings and learning that come out of them. I have no doubt that some weeks will be more successful than others, but I’m also mindful that the provocations won’t always be Big Things – that sometimes they’ll be a walk to a new place, or a slight change in a successful provocation from before. And finally, it’s important to me that these provocations are open ended, that they encourage a sense of wonder and fun, that they don’t become overly structured or prescriptive.
I think it will be a challenge. But I also think it will be a lot of fun. I’m really looking forward to learning more about Squirm and the world over the next 52 weeks ๐Ÿ™‚

Our Trip to Ipswich: Part 2: The Wonder of Learning

Adventures of a Subversive Reader: The Wonders of Learning

While I was terribly excited to go to the Ipswich Art Gallery for Squirm to experience the Light Play exhibition, the real attraction to me was the Wonder of Learning exhibition, highlighting work of the early learning centres in Reggio Emilia. I haven’t really talked about it here, mostly because it’s a huge topic, but I’m been spending a fair amount of time learning about Reggio Emilia and the wonderful learning outcomes they have achieved. (By outcomes, I’m obviously not talking about test results, but real, authentic learning). While the Reggio Emilia experience is unique, it is definitely possible to learn from and be inspired by what they do.

Unfortunately, the exhibition didn’t allow photography, and although catalogues were mentioned on several of the exhibits, I wasn’t able to find them in the gallery shop ๐Ÿ˜ฆ Luckily I had my notebook with me, and Squirm was sound asleep on my back, so I was able to get some notes.

The outside area gave an overview of tonnes of different projects. There was building with different materials, and how a pictorial language was developed so that others could follow the ‘instructions’. There was a look at a gift to a tree and talk about story telling. It was like seeing a little glimpse into the world of Reggio Emilia, and the way there was more than just early leaning centres – it involved the whole community.

Through the doors there was a more in depth look at the 100 Languages, before moving onto specific examples of projects. I took some notes of things that particularly stood out to meย  (though at this stage, Squirm was just falling asleep, so I cannot 100% guarantee the accuracy of my notes).

Here there are children and adults, seeking out the pleasure of playing, working, talking, thinking and inventing, together in friendship.

This seems particularly powerful to me because it considers both adults and children as capable people, able to work together in a partnership. It’s a radical shift from the teacher-as-leader concept. I also love the emphasis on pleasure, as well as the fact that playing comes first on the list of things which are done.

There was a whole section devoted to light – a powerful and important part of discovery and learning in the centres. Often times the children were involved in wonderings about light because light was a part of their environment – a clear third teacher. The children became scientists – putting forward theories and testing them; inventors – designing and testing machines; and celebrators – acknowledging that light was wonderful and worth enjoying. One of my notes from this section was “Environments can multiply the marvellings” – what an interesting concept to think on!

Coming from the light play exhibition in the children’s section to seeing what children could do over a long period of time was particularly thought provoking. I was probably more aware of the materials the children were engaging with in the pictures, noticing mirrors of all different shapes and sizes, CDs, overhead projectors, sunlight, torches (flashlights) and white paper being used in their explorations of light. There was also an interesting point on movement – on taking the machines the children had created, or the ideas they had theorised, from one place to another and how their ideas were altered or expanded.

Another part of the exhibition focused on writing, and how the children of Reggio Emilia centres construct personal systems of written communication. It was fascinating to see how they built up language, how familiar (or standard) letters became included in their work.

The last section focused on how three different groups of children responded after a visit to the Reggio Centre. Two of the groups focused on the hall of columns, but in vastly different ways. One group focused on the plain columns themselves, examining them and finding ways to decorate them (I think it says something about me that this was the part of the exhibit I spent the least time looking at and took no notes on . . . ) The other group focused on their movement around the columns, ‘writing’ down how they moved around them and using these representations to create a dance. The third group, however, focused on a set of stairs and the noises they could make on them. They explored how to represent these sounds, before creating sound sequences with the help of computer equipment.

This was a wonderful and inspiring exhibition, and I only wish I’d had more time and taken more notes. However, I have been inspired to continue learning more and more, to take some time to consider my understandings of early childhood education, and even to take time to think about my own spaces and environments. I’ll finish here, though, with the last note I took at the exhibition – Education is about finding the extraordinary in the everyday

A Subversive Reader’s Guide to Taking NAPLAN

This week is NAPLAN week in Australia, and students in Year 3, 5, 7 and 9 will be undertaking tests in reading, writing, maths, spelling and grammar and punctuation. With standardised testing becoming more high stakes in Australia – for schools, teachers and students – the stress can easily build up – especially for those students undertaking them for the first time.

This is the first year since NAPLAN started that I have not taught a class taking the test. So I know a fair bit about the test and how students handle it. Newspapers have had ‘how to deal with NAPLAN’ articles which basically just repeat parts of the test, while matching them with scare stories about nightmares and schools hiding students in closets so they can’t take the test (I made up the last bit, but give it time . . . )

So, here’s my take on NAPLAN.

The Subversive Reader Guide to Taking NAPLAN

1. Read the questions.

I cannot stress this one enough. NAPLAN is, for all purposes, a reading test. It might be a maths problem in front of you, but it is still a reading test. The more attention you pay to the words in the test, the better you will do at the test.ย  There are only so many ways you can make a multiple choice test ‘tricky’ (to find those students who are achieving at the higher levels) – one of them is using potentially misleading wording. Last year I co-supervised with a maths teacher. We were looking through the Year 7 maths test booklets and I said that I thought it was pretty easy. She said that there was a question she couldn’t answer . . . until I pointed out a little sentence quirk. Reading is the absolute key to doing well in NAPLAN

Subversive Reader Guide to NAPLAN

2. Plan and Take Your Time

This is mostly for older students – it’s way too much to think of for the younger ones. NAPLAN can really rush you on time, especially the maths tests, the reading comprehension and the writing. Have a rough idea of how much time you will need to devote to each question. Remember that if a question is too hard to solve in a reasonable amount of time skip it and come back! It won’t disappear when you’re not looking, and the break from the question might help you solve it better. Plus you’re not missing potential marks on questions because you didn’t get to them

Subversive Reader Guide to NAPLAN

3. Eat a good breakfast

Everyone knows the good night sleep/good breakfast combo. Sleep can be a harder thing, but a good breakfast is more easily achieved. It doesn’t have to be a special breakfast, but trying to do the test on an empty stomach is not a good idea.

Subversive Reader Guide to NAPLAN

4. Don’t cram for the tests

At this stage, there’s not much you can do to cram more information in before the tests. Use time at home to relax – get outside for a play, read a book to your child, put on some music and have a dance party. The more relaxed and comfortable they are about the test and the time around it, the better.

5. The test is not that important

I cannot stress this one enough. This is a point in time test. Even if private schools are asking for the test, they will not ignore years of good reports and focus on one bad NAPLAN mark (and if they do, it’s probably not the best school for you). Teachers will not be fired because your child forgot how to spell ‘whimsical’. The test is a point in time test which provides some helpful information to teachers and schools and gives education ministers something to talk about, because it’s too much work for them to actually understand what goes on in a school.

No one is going to care how you did in NAPLAN when you finish high school, no one is going to look up your NAPLAN test result when you apply for a job. Relax. Breathe. Read the test carefully. Try and include a joke in the written section for the poor markers. Have a good time. Smile at your teacher when you finish.

Subversive Reader Guide to NAPLAN

 

Do you know someone doing NAPLAN this year? Or what is your best advice for someone doing a standardised test?