This year-long project was the result of teachers’ desire to change the way they approached Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics in their Kindergarten classroom. Over the year, a spiral of implementation, observation, reflection, and adjustment, led us to a succession of key insights, important turning points and, most importantly, to the evolution of our understanding and our practice.

Early on in this process, we made a key discovery: there is a deeply ingrained and often unconscious bias to plan with an end product in mind. The success of the activity, project or situation is then measured against the achievement of that predefined goal. 

But when no longer working with a teacher-defined end-product in mind, we need to ask ourselves what needs to be done so that the children’s own creations reflect what they are FULLY capable of creating/making/doing. We need to provide a rich experiential environment so they acquire skills and insights that go beyond their first iterations.  The richness or complexity of what the children choose to make is a reflection and perhaps a measure of the quality of the process that we have implement and supported over time.

Turning Points

These are some of the discoveries made by the team throughout the year:

1- The habit of having an end-product goal in mind and focusing on planning the appropriate steps to achieve it is so ingrained that it can be both unconscious and unspoken. For our team, documenting and then reflecting on the process that was set in place made us aware of this bias and helped us design the next exploration differently, although it took several iterations for us to be able to articulate and implement clearly the change in direction required in order to shift the focus from product to process.
2- On-going observation of the students at work followed by reflection gave rise to adjusting “THE PLAN”, i.e. the originally planned steps for implementation. This aspect was summarized by a teacher as being “the difference between THE PLAN and PLANNING.” The latter is on-going, focused on following the children’s lead, understanding what is happening, and adjusting interventions and next steps accordingly. This is more easily done if teachers can work as a team bouncing observations and ideas off each other, but not impossible for the lone practitioner.
3- The importance, for students, of becoming familiar with “the medium”: the materials, their properties, the gestures to manipulate them, the techniques and the tools that can be used in conjunction with the materials.  The importance of this familiarisation process was made clear when they worked on the clay project in which the material (clay) was CENTRAL and the need for experimental discovery almost SELF-EVIDENT! But it can be generalized to all situations: painting, building, programming, etc.
4- Familiarity and inventiveness seem to go hand in hand. In the marble run project, the children used both materials and processes they are deeply familiar with: playing with blocks, stacking, aligning, rolling materials is part of their universe of spontaneous play. The situation just brought these and others aspects together in a problem-solving context. However, they had no experience with electricity and Squishy Circuits, so their exploration was limited to the first level of discovery, following instructions or a plan. Inventiveness and creativity need familiarity in order for the child (and the adult) to be able to imagine new uses and contexts.
5- With no specific outcome or end-product in mind, the teachers need to change their outlook in order to allow the children to go in directions of their own choosing and learn how best to intervene to support their journey. The team saw this partly as “letting the materials lead”, that is, enriching the environment with new materials or resources which can take the explorations in new directions.  However, it also changed the nature and quality of how they interact with the students, what they observe, how they question and how they document. “This project is all about learning to ask questions that are not outcome-based and making this your natural mode of intervention as you walk around the class and interact with the children.
6- When the children are allowed to play freely with no outcome in mind, there can be no mistakes. They have fun as they create and tinker. They will work hard to solve the problems that they create or encounter in their exploration when they are given enough time to do so and when they are allowed to come back to it over and over again. They develop a “stick-to-itiveness” attitude. Of prime importance also is that the teachers, and their helpers, learn to refrain from solving the children’s problems for them.
7- As the children play and explore, problem solve and create, the teachers’ role is to document, observe and interact with them. When they did this, the team became acutely aware of the rich complexity of the situations which allowed multiple aspects of child development and hence of the curriculum, to emerge. By not focusing on outcomes, they were better able to see the multi-sensory components of the play and they were then able to broaden the children’s experience in this regard through their questions and interactions. They not only realized the importance of assessing “in situ” but also saw that all that needs to be assessed can be seen there. 
8- Documenting learning can be done in a variety of ways but taking pictures and videos is now at our fingertips with easy access to simple technology. These visual documents can be  used in a variety of ways:     
  • To remind the teacher of a key observation     
  • To review or analyze a situation in order to understand what it tells us about the child’s development     
  • To show the children so that we can “remember” together with them what they did.
  • To include in their portfolios     
  • To create “books” like “Our clay gestures book”, “Things we can make with clay”, “We are engineers”, etc. This allows the children to tell and retell their experience, an important aspect of cognitive development.

Whereas the teachers originally tended to take pictures of children proudly displaying their final productions, over time their documentation shifted to action pictures and videos that illustrated the many facets of the learning that was happening in context.

9- The teachers told us that they saw a difference between the usual classroom “station”, “center” and a “maker space”. A station is usually a precise set up for a single purpose; a center is still teacher-directed with a specifically focused scope. The maker space is an environment in which children work and problem-solve over time. The teachers gradually add a variety of materials to support the children’s creative making process and they encourage the children to use any other resources at hand to make their project work. A Maker Space is perhaps more an APPROACH than it is an actual SPACE, although being able to provide a dedicated area to an exploration allows the children to return to their work over a period of time. But this time requirement can also be managed in other ways.
10- Teachers found inspiration for the presentation of their materials in the Reggio Emilia approach to Ateliers where materials are always presented and organized aesthetically, separated and sorted, placed in transparent containers, made easily accessible.  When they did this, the children naturally tended to put them back in the same organized way. “They just naturally put things back the way I had presented them! Why didn’t I think of this before?” It’s not that surprising when one observes how children naturally tend to order, sort or create sequences with the objects around them.
11- When faced with a situation that was totally unfamiliar to them (Electricity and Squishy Circuits), the teachers realized that they first needed to work through it as a prescriptive exploration. Only after seeing the students at work and when they themselves become more familiar with the technology and the materials did they feel they would be able to implement a broader context for playful exploration, tinkering, and creation. It brought home the fact that new or new-to-kindergarten teachers should feel comfortable taking a stepwise approach to shaping their practice in this direction and they should be made aware of the value of doing so.



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