Go Outside

Moving and learning and feeling the fresh air in your lungs. Is there anything better? I have been watching a couple of the kids in my class when they go outside. They immediately take a deep breath and then run out to play. Some kids just need to be outside. How can we bring the classroom outdoors?

Here are a couple of activities we did outside in making angles and exploring quadrilaterals:

Angle Making Game: 
- everybody stands somewhere in a dedicated rectangle (this is our boundary) in a space of their own
- secretly each student chooses two other people that they will 'track'
- when the teacher says 'go' everybody starts to wander round the rectangle, keeping themselves situated in between the two people
- they can try and keep themselves between the two people in a right angle, obtuse angle, acute angle, or any other variation you can think of

Quadrilateral Marching
- make groups of four
- each group of four makes a quadrilateral with their bodies, each person is a vertex
- the group has to march through an obstacle course, in quadrilateral formation
- at the end, someone from a window above takes a picture of the formation
- students take the picture and measure the angles, seeing how accurate they were

The Natural World

I just finished reading Richard Louv's Last Child in the Woods (upcoming #pypchat book club). I love the sentiment and main idea of the book. We need to connect and explore with the outdoors more. There is a synthesis here with the work Gregory Bateson in Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity, who argues that our thought process should mirror the complexities of nature, and the problems of our world result from a disconnect between the way our mind works, and the way nature works (warning: not an easy read if you are not into philosophy and epistemology). He is right that we need to focus on the beautiful side of nature and evoke a sense of awe and wonder. This topic is not a new one, people have been arguing for the decades about a need to improve Ecological Literacy. Check out the Center for Ecoliteracy. Great resources, books, and overall philosophy.

Aside: I do think that Louv's book is a bit simplistic about the whole environmental movement, and that his solutions to some of the problems he speaks about are overly optimistic, and at times, downright unrealistic when we consider the implications of scale.

I have always been passionate about the environment, and a strong believer in the need to incorporate Ecological Thinking (Complexity, Systems Thinking, etc.) into the classroom. That being said, I don't think I have been that good at it, and I want to explore this topic more, and push myself into new direction. I have been feeling overwhelmed this year, in part because I am trying to do too much. A good friend suggested (rather obviously) that I needed to focus on what I was passionate about.

Well, this is it. Where to start?

The Natural World

I decided after reading to try and spend more time doing class outdoors. Not an easy proposition considering the weather here in Germany, but I think that is part of the challenge. I hope to share some of my ideas for getting outside and connecting with nature.

Observation Journals:
We are starting observation journals. Once every week I hope to get outside to the park, or the school playground, and have each student examine something in close detail, sketching it and asking questions, or making observations (if you have read the Evolution of Calpurnia Tate you will know what I mean).

Lines of Inquiry:
I hope to push the school to include at least one line of inquiry on each of the units to include some kind of Ecological theme.

Making Systems Thinking Visible:
I have been using Making Thinking Visible routines and drawing attention to the Thinking Moves for the last two years now. I love it. It has been transformative for me as an educator and for the focus in the classroom. That being said, I have always felt that all these Thinking Moves start to float away into the ether and disappear. They know the terms, and are beginning to tell the difference between some of the harder ones, but what it is all saying? There is no central core, except for thinking itself. I think, therefore I am. Descartes is a bit too linear for my tastes. I am going to tray and adapt the Making Thinking Visible frameworks and cast it into the light of something that is closer to home for me; Systems Thinking (or Complexity Science, or Non-Linear Dynamics, or Emergence; so many names!). What does this have to do with outside; well, hopefully we can 'see' these thinking moves in action in the great outdoors.... that is the seed of the idea anyway. Not sure where this road will lead, or what this artefact will look like.


Math Ideas

I always love reading posts by +Cristina Milos (@surreallyno). Always thoughtful and well written.

A while back she posted "Mathematically Speaking", which outlined a bunch of ideas for the math classroom. I have had this on my TO DO list for a couple of weeks now, but I finally got around to visualizing it. It is nothing fancy, just lists of ideas, but it all fits on one page, with my own ideas added in. I will be sticking it on the wall next to my desk at school, hopefully to give me ideas when planning engagements.

Click image to view larger version

When drops of dew can be seen on the ground

Up until the end of the Edo period in ancient Japan, the year was broken down into 24 seasons based on the phases of the moon and swelling of the tides. Life was simpler back then, work in the fields, harvest the crops, buying and selling of goods in the marketplace, etc.

The calender helped put people in constant contact with the nature that surrounded them, and acutely aware of its subtleties. The mountains, the sea, the rice fields. People noticed small differences in their environment, small alterations in the surroundings. They must have been incredibly tuned in, and sensitive to the world outside their doors. After all, they depended on that harmony with nature to live their lives. Not only were they aware of the small changes, they celebrated them and brought them to the attention of the entire community. Finding the first worm of the season might have been a badge of honour.

Some of the names of the seasons coincide with the phases of the moon (Seimei; 15 days after spring equinox). Everyone was a stargazer. Some of the names are based on the things we see in front of us (Keichitsu; when the worms start to come out). Others are based on the cycles of farming (Boshu; seeds of cereals). And yet others are just based on realizations, or feelings that you experience (shosho; when the summer heat is forgotten).
  1. Shokan ("small chill") when a winter chill starts.
  2. Daikan ("big chill") when the chill becomes severe.
  3. Risshun ("start of spring") the first day of spring according to the lunar calendar.
  4. Usui ("rain water") when the snow melts away.
  5. Keichitsu ("going-out of worms") when worms start to come out of the ground after a long hibernation.
  6. Shunbun ("spring equinox") when winter is gone and spring starts.
  7. Seimei ("clear and bright") 15 days after the spring equin.
  8. Koku-u ("rain for harvests") when spring rain falls for the coming harvest season.
  9. Rikka ("start of summer") when songs of summer begin.
  10. Shoman ("half bloom") when flowers and plants start to come out.
  11. Boshu ("seeds of cereals") when people start seeding.
  12. Geshi ("reaching summer") Summer solstice.
  13. Shohsho ("small heat") when the summer heat starts.
  14. Taisho ("big heat") Hottest time of the year.
  15. Risshu ("start of autumn") when signs of autumn can be seen.
  16. Shosho ("keeping out of the heat") when the summer heat is forgotten.
  17. Hakuro ("white dew") when drops of dew can be seen on the ground.
  18. Shubun ("the autumnal equinox") when day and night are of equal length everywhere.
  19. Kanro ("cold dew") when temperature becomes lower.
  20. Soko ("frosting") when it starts frosting.
  21. Ritto ("start of winter") When the winter season starts.
  22. Shosetsu ("small snow") when a light snowfall can be seen.
  23. Taisetsu ("big snow") when it starts snowing hard
  24. Toji ("reaching winter") when day time becomes the shortest in the year
This, of course has me thinking about education and my classroom, and it has me asking the following questions:

How sensitive are we to the small changes in student thinking? The unspoken subtleties? Understanding? Knowledge? We cannot map out all the seasons of knowing, but how can we attune ourselves to their diversity?

How often do we let our feelings, just our most basic realizations, guide our planning and teaching? How often to we experience a hunch, and run with it?

How are we providing opportunities for children to be out in nature? To be sensitive to its changes? To marvel in the cycles and seasons that are all around them? To be aware how much we need it to be alive?

How can we help kids to notice the small, almost perceivable changes to their own thinking? To their own physical bodies? To the ebb and flow of the classroom collective?

How do we celebrate these changes? Bring them to the attention of the learner? The collective? The community?

Should we increase student sensitivity, not by making things more simple, but by making them more complex, and then living in the complexity?

What are the subtleties of learning? What can we be looking for? A look on the face? A comment? A type of question asked? A flicker of understanding? Confusion?


A sea of ideas (or Me Being Honest)

I have been disengaged lately. Maybe it is the time of the year, maybe it is living in a new place with new routines, or maybe it is that I feel more tired with a much larger, more energetic class than I have previously had.


Yet, I also have been feeling overwhelmed with the amount of information out there. Twitter, Google+, email correspondence, books, blogs, journals, resources, etc.

It is endless.

The problem is not that there are so many bad ideas, the problem is that there are so many good ideas. So many positive ways to get to the deeper learning that interests me.


Maker spaces.


Visible Thinking.

Emergent curriculum.

Character education.

Decentralized Classroom.

Bottom up schools.


Ecological literacy.

Growth Mindedness.

Global classrooms.

Systems thinking.

Free play.

Genius hours.

Artful thinking.

Student directed inquiry.

Teacher guided inquiry.

Project based learning.

Place based learning.






And many, many, many, many, more....

They are all amazing. They all inspire the hearts and minds. They all point away from the what you need to know of outdated curriculum models, and point to a more robust and richer conception of teaching, learning, and knowing. I believe we are at a point in education, what Malcolm Gladwell would call a tipping point, where the system is ready for a major change. And not a cosmetic change like the Khan Academy, but a fundamental shift to the reason we have education.

So, why I am feeling disengaged?

It's just so much. There is only so many hours in a day. We can't do it all. So, what do we focus on? On that list, I value all of those things. They are all great ideas, they all have potential to transform and change what we do.

The more prescient questions is: what do I focus on? Each teacher is unique, and they bring with them their own histories and ways of thinking. Adopting a program or a model is great, but how does it fit into me as a person? And how does it fit into my classroom?

I think these ideas will change from group to group.

The thing that stays the same over the years is me.

But I don't want to stay on the same course.

I want to evolve and grow,
but in what direction do I go?
When you see a new road,
How do you know to take it,
or to leave it alone?
If I find myself on a new road
Should I ask myself,
Why am I here?
Or should I just follow the road
Where it wants to go?