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Section Six: Exploring Curiosity Exploration Mondays: Discovering what we want to learn through play I asked my students during

the initial surveys where their minds wander in class, to help me understand what kinds of things they were curious about. 5 responses were cartoons, bugs, being the fastest runner, cars, and family. My 12 other students said they didnt have an answer. I was worried. Did this mean they stoppe d being curious or did they not understand the question? I was willing to bet it was the latter. I needed to find a different way to find out what my students were curious about. One afternoon, my students were supposed to be engaged in their learning centers while I was trying to interview my two focus students, Anna and Charlie. When I had asked Anna and Charlie the question What are you interested in? they both did not share anything. I looked up during my interview and saw the rest of my students doing centers differently. They appeared to be playing. I decided to resist the urge to redirect them and instead chose to observe and question them while playing, hoping and praying that my administrators didnt walk in my classroom. I observed the following : 7 boys were designing and experimenting with the counting cubes by turning them into various Bey Blades (a popular spinning top toy). They were sharing designs and ideas on how to spin them. 4 students were creating birthday hats out of sentence strips with messages on them for a boy who had his birthday on that day. This hat idea later turned into Celebration Hats to honor friends in class for doing something kind or to celebrate their work for the day. We decided to do this in conjunction with the Celebration Box we had for community meetings. I introduced the Celebration Box to dwell on how we contributed to our community. The students said they liked the idea but werent using it much in comparison to the Problem Box. But after they saw the Celebration Hats, more students were excited to write a sentence honoring another student. 3 students wanted to write their own version of our read aloud book James and the Giant Peach. He titled his book Nick (his name) and the Big Apple 3 students were designing beautiful mosaics out of pattern blocks. They were so proud of them that they asked me to take their picture. When I asked them why they liked the pattern blocks, they said they liked making something by themselves.

Abbey was making a Japanese house out of base ten blocks. Another student with her said she was building a dinosaur museum. I didnt know that these girls knew Japanese houses and were interested in dinosaurs! If it hadnt been for this exploration time, I may never have seen the unique things they were interested in. Anna was on the Starfall website. When I asked her why she chose that web site, she said because she could read it. This was interesting to me because she struggled with literacy in class. The website had plenty of picture support, games, and she could choose the letters or word families she wanted to work on. After Charlies brother rubbed a balloon on Andys hair and saw his hair stand up, Charlie asked, Why is his hair standing up? We then began to talk about static electricity.

Dixon-Krauss argues that implementing the innate need for belongingness to reach academic achievement includes both designing classroom activities that facilitate social interaction where students continuously analyze each others work and co -create meaning together (1995). The interesting thing about Dixon-Krausss statement is that my seven boys were naturally doing this with one another when they were playing and redesigning their Bey Blade-like cubes. More importantly, I didnt have to redirect children during this time. They were working well with one another, sharing their ideas, and celebrating the ideas that worked even if it was not their own. If an idea didnt work, they didnt get discouraged. They tried a different idea, looked at a nother students model or asked someone for help. Brown describes how my students play and work intersect to create meaningful learning experiences, The quality that work and play have in common is creativity. In both we are building our world, creating new relationships, neural connections, objects. At their best, play and work, when integrated, make sense of our world and ourselves, (2009).

Fostering creativity through play enabled my students to discover what they were passionate about and built knowledge through collaboration. This is what I longed to see in my students throughout the day. I wanted to use Browns idea of play and work in our next project. If it hadnt been for this exploration time, I may never have seen the other things my students were interested in. My initial instinct was to stop my students from playing around and get back to work. If I had acted on my instinct, I would have missed out on valuable information about my students. It was important for me to stop at that moment, take a step back to observe, and ask my students what they were thinking. During interviews, my focus students didnt volunteer this information. It made me wonder what other things my students had interest or passion in but werent given the opportunity to reveal them because of how school was traditionally set up. When I created space to talk and write about what my students were curious about in the form of interviews and community meetings, I got little information. But when they explored or played, I learned more about them. Not just what they liked to play with, but also how they related with other students. They also talked freely about their thought processes during exploration. Was this because they were more relaxed and confident with what they chose to do? After our unplanned play time, we discussed what they liked about it. Charlie said he loved that he could make a hat and a toy. Andy also liked making things. Deon said he liked how some students made him a hat. As I looked around, the students who were given a Celebration Hat, were all wearing them. I realized that I was able to gather more information about what my students were interested in when they felt like they were playing. I wondered if the relaxation from play made it easier for my students to share how they felt about what we did in class. Pink states that our basic nature is to be curious and self-directed (2009, p.87). Students experience autonomy when they make choices and explore what they are interested in. This seemed to come alive when my young students were immersed in play. I decided to take Browns advice, I advise allowing wisely guided personal choice, initiated by your child. Provide plenty of environmental opportunities and encourage early play patterns that have risen directly from the natural choices that your childs early play demonstrates, (Brown, p. 110). We decided to have Exploration Mondays so they could explore more of what they were interested in. I asked them if I could use that time to hear from them the ideas theyd like to use for our next project. During the three weeks before winter break, we co-created a project that allowed space for my students to discover more about who they were and show others their talents and passions. Although I saw increased confidence in all my students, there were others who needed more time making the adjustment to having voice in our classroom. My hope was that our next project would scaffold this adjustment for

students like Caleb and Ivan. The project had to have structures that utilized time to explore, provide choice, and safety to express their voice. Being Curious Georges Project What are we curious about? After our Exploration Mondays, I wanted to understand what and how my students would pursue what they were curious about. After reading Margret Reys Curious George books, the students decided George was a good monkey whose curiosity got him into trouble sometimes. But, they argued he needed to figure out the answers to his questions in different ways so that he could learn more. I asked my students if we could be like Curious George in our classroom where we could choose to explore whatever we wondered about but hadnt had the chance to. There was a resounding Yeah! to becoming little monkeys. I asked the students to pick a buddy to tell them what they were curious about like the character Curious George. They shared out their own or their buddys response. Then they wrote on post-its I am curious about. They placed their post-its on the curiosity wall. I read them aloud. We found commonalities and categorized them into animals, volcanoes, insects, things in earth, holidays, places, school, how things are made, and left room for new curiosities to emerge along the way. I was excited to witness my students comfortably share what they wanted to learn in this setting. When I interviewed them one-on-one in the beginning of the year about what they wanted to learn, they didnt know what to say. But they had a significantly easier time sharing what they wanted to learn after they had the opportunity to hear and exchange ideas with their peers. I started to see how collaboration would be key in enabling my students to dig deeper into what they were curious about.

Curiosity Wall

We formed teams the next day based on the categories we created together from our list of curiosities. The students chose a team with four members being the maximum amount allotted. I left one team name blank in case a group of students wanted to form a new one not listed. Mike created Sea Animals. Caleb was crying because he wanted to choose Volcanoes but it was full. He didnt want to choose anything else until Mike created the sea animal group. Caleb stopped crying and was excited to write his name with Mike for the Sea Animal team. It was interesting how Caleb couldnt remember other things he was curious about until Mike created another choice. Caleb reminded me of the student Pink and Deci describe as having anger as a bi-product of lack of choices. Choices were important in reaching Caleb. Without choice, he was easily discouraged and unmotivated. The following day, we brainstormed product ideas that would teach students from our school about our topic in a fun way. The students met with their teams and decided what the product would be, how they wanted to teach their topic, and whether they wanted to do it with their whole team, a buddy, or on their own. 2 chose to write a song 11 chose to write a book 1 chose to make a game 1 chose to make a model 4 chose to create a piece of art work using paints

I was surprised that 13 out of my 19 students wanted to create a written product. The majority of the class was resistant to writing in the first weeks of the school year. 9 students preferred working with a partner and 10 preferred to work on an individual product. Charlie chose to work on his own, but the others ended up working individually

through default (no one else in their team wanted to do the same type of product). 7 students wanted to present their product to a class and teach them by reading their book or singing them a song. Caleb didnt want to read his book in our last Family Project because he said there were too many people. But in this project he said he felt ok reading his book with two other students from his team to a class. My focus students chose the following products: Andy: book about gems, on his own Anna: art piece about Christmas using paint with a partner Abbey: create a big book about butterflies with a partner presenting to a class Charlie: make a small book about volcanoes on his own

After looking at the various product ideas from my students, I immediately panicked. How was I going to support all those amazingly different product ideas? I loved how each product idea revealed how my students were motivated to learn. I knew I could still use this as valuable information in how we learned together for the rest of the year. But I was worried that I would not be able to mange such a variety of products that I decided to come clean and share my struggle with my students. I told my students we would create one product together because I had a hard time figuring out how to help them with many different products and exhibition ideas. Since 13 out of the 19 students wanted to create a product with writing, I asked them if they would be interested in creating a small or big book to teach our topics to an audience. They voted for creating a big book. Although I limited their product to a class book I made sure I honored their autonomy and choice by letting them design their own page. Anna, one of my hard to reach focus students, was one of the 4 out of 19 students who wanted to do art work with paint. I wondered if I designed our project product according to Annas choice, would she become easier to reach. So I proposed we would make a Being Curious George class big book with water color paint. I asked my students to choose their audience for exhibition. I asked them to think about who would benefit from our teaching. I wanted us to decide on an audience at the beginning of our project so that it could guide us in our research, how we wrote, what our product looked like, and how we presented our work at exhibition. My students chose the kindergartners to be our audience. Learning How to Learn Together For the next five weeks we immersed ourselves in research within our teams.

I wanted to give my students a variety of experiences with making decisions as a team. I asked each team to come up with questions about their topics. Their team questions were: Zebra team: What do zebras eat? What are zebra habitats? Volcanoes team: What is lava made of? How do volcanoes erupt? Christmas team: How do other people celebrate Christmas? Who is Santa? Sharks team: What do sharks eat? What are the body parts of a shark? Butterfly team: What do butterflies eat? How do caterpillars change into butterflies?

At first each team read books together and looked on the internet to find answers to their teams questions. At the end of our project time, we gathered and debriefed what went well in their teams and what could have gone better. The first team gathering already had conflicts. I noticed that some teams argued. Abbey shared that even though she invited Ivan to the private conversation table, they couldnt resolve their problem. She told him what to do during their research but he wouldnt do it and didnt li ke being told by Abbey what to do. The other teams agreed that they struggled with similar problems. I asked them what they thought we should do to solve that problem. Abbey proposed that we rotate team jobs each day to divide the research. Each team rotated through the roles of team manager, internet researcher, book researcher, and diagrams/illustrations. After trying out these jobs, Abbey shared she was happy that her team was getting along better and she was proud that Ivan was doing his job. I was elated to see the sophisticated solutions students proposed when I trusted them to come up with their own solutions.

My students researched their questions through the internet and books during team time.

Using Exit Cards to Guide Instruction To generate a shared understanding of what a quality big book looked like, we critiqued some exemplar models together and co-created a rubric to guide our own big book. I pulled four big books that my students were familiar with already through their research to serve as models. I wanted to make sure they could read and understand them. I also chose these books because they had features I wanted my students to keep in mind as they created their own informational big book. Together, these books showed a variety of ways to design the layout of the pages, format paragraphs with headings, and include diagrams with labels. To create our rubric, I asked each team to choose one book that they wanted to model their own page layout in our big book after. We then discussed the characteristics that made the books fun to learn from. Each team shared out what made their chosen models exemplary while I wrote each teams ideas on a chart for us to refer to throughout the project. My students chose to include the following on our rubric to guide our work: The pictures look like the real thing The pictures and writing fills up the page Write labels for the diagram Some labels have sentences about the part it is pointing to

The subheadings tell you what the writing is about The paragraphs have details that teach you about the topic The writing teaches you the right thing

I also gave each team a copy of the book they liked the most so that they could refer to it throughout their drafting process. During the writing portion of the project I noticed many of my students had looks of frustration. I decided to give them an exit slip to find out what was frustrating them and discover what they needed. They wrote they needed more time to learn how to write a paragraph. My focus student Anna said, Projects are hard. The writing was hard. When I asked her what would help her feel like it wasnt as hard, she said she needed help sounding out the words, we needed to go slower, and give them more time to write. So instead of moving on the next day, I devoted our project time to show them how to write a paragraph and use small group instruction for those who needed even more time. According to Bringle and Hatcher (1999), reflective experiences like this serve as opportunities of self-exploration and clarification of a students personal learning goals and progress in learning. When students asked for support, I slowed down. This gave them confidence to own their learning experiences. I wanted them to understand that beautiful work takes time. I met their need for autonomy when I used exit cards and discussion to adjust classroom activities. Providing more support in small groups also led us towards competency while meeting a need of belongingness because they found safety among others who struggled with similar things. According to Assor, intrinsic motivation would increase when students felt autonomy, competence, and belonging (2002). My students motivation dramatically increased!
In the following exit cards, my students appreciated the opportunity to research with their team and draw details they learned. They also stated they needed more support with writing sentences because it felt hard.

Guiding Each Others Work through Critique Each team created a draft of their page in the class big book. We then critiqued each others work through a gallery walk. With the drafts posted on our classroom walls, each student was asked to walk silently and give warm feedback by writing how drafts contained items that met the rubric criteria. They wrote their feedback on yellow post-its and stuck them on the drafts. For round two, they were asked to give cool feedback by writing helpful and specific advice on how to meet our co-created rubric. This was also done silently. After we finished the gallery walk, the teams revised their drafts based on the feedback given to them by their peers. To be honest, I worried that my first graders couldnt handle being silent while giving feedback. Surprisingly, th ey did it! I wondered if

it was because they were creating work that had purpose for an audience. Their work mattered to them.

We wrote feedback on post it notes to guide revisions of our drafts.

Some common warm feedbacks were: I like the labels you wrote. I like how you draw stripes on the zebra. It looks like the real thing.

Some common cool feedbacks were: Can you make it bigger? You need to look in the book to draw it like the real thing. Write more captions and write neatly.

I noticed my students were beginning to give each other specific feedback so they would be able to know what needed to be revised. But I also noticed that there was feedback that wasnt specific enough, like I like your drawing. My first graders requested their fifth grade buddies give them feedback on their page and paragraph drafts. I was excited that my students valued the feedback their buddies gave them from our family project that they wanted feedback from them again. My students trusted their own voices to ask their fifth grade buddies feedback for their work. My students read their paragraphs and explained their big book page draft to their fifth grade buddies. I created a feedback sheet for the fifth graders that had the items from our co-created rubric on both warm and cool feedback sections since they werent familiar with critique. After I briefly taught the fifth graders about critique, the fifth grade buddies checked items on the feedback sheet and helped my students with things they asked for, like spelling, drawing, or researching more information. At the end of the feedback, I asked my first graders to sit in an inner circle and our fifth grade buddies to sit in the outer circle on our rug. I asked my students to share how their fifth grade buddies feedback strengthened their drafts. Valerie said, My buddy helped me spell some important words. I felt this was important because I wanted both my first graders and their fifth grade buddies to understand how their feedback and collaboration strengthened their work while also strengthening their relationships to one another. Layla shared, We looked at some books so that I could draw my zebra like the real thing. Bridging stronger relationships across grade levels was something that had been lacking in our preschool through eighth grade school. My heart swelled when I witnessed that relationships were strengthened when students engaged in meaningful work together. Another common response from my first graders during this buddy community meeting was, My buddy helped me find more details. I then asked our fifth grade buddies to share warm feedback on the drafts they read. They said the following: I liked how their sentences matched their illustrations. She drew the butterfly like from the book. I also liked her labels. They drew the diagram big enough to fit the page.

According to Gloria Ladson- Billings, students care . . . not only about their own achievement but also about their classmates achievement (Sluijsmans et al, 1994). When students learn to support one another they are doing more than improving the work, they begin to care about their peers achievement, their accomplishments. Rogoff calls this culture a community of learners (1994). She states: in a community of learners classroom [there are] complex group relations among class members who learn to take responsibility for their contribution to their own learning and to the groups functioning. Instead of one individual trying to control and address 30 students at once, it should be a community working together with all serving as resources to the others (1994, p.214). I witnessed this among my first graders and with their fifth grade buddies. Their fifth grade teacher and I were amazed to see relationships being deepened through this collaboration between our students. This community of learners not only enabled co-

creation of knowledge but also enhanced intrinsic motivation because it met a need of belongingness among my students. After reading through the feedback from our fifth grade buddies, my students revised their drafts again and began to sketch and water color paint their illustrations. I noticed when my students engaged with art during our project products, they were careful with their work and gave each other specific and helpful advice. My students were comfortable using exemplar models to guide their work. They brought out the books we used for our written research to guide how they painted their illustrations. One of our mantras during this Being Curious George project was to make sure we taught our kindergarten audience accurate information. We wanted to be good teachers.

Critiquing to Create Beautiful Presentations The week before exhibition we needed to prepare for presentations. Since we knew our audience was kindergartners, we had to have presentation skills that would hold their shorter attention spans. Before we practiced our presentations, we discussed what a beautiful presentation would look and sound like. My students said beautiful presentations look like calm bodies, holding up our work so the audience can see it, and face the audience. We also said that beautiful presentations sound loud enough for the audience to hear. We agreed that if we did these things then our kindergartner audience would pay attention to what we said. Each team decided who would welcome the audience, read a paragraph, teach the diagrams, and close the presentation. We spent our project workshop time practicing our presentations and critiquing each other. After each team practiced, they did their presentations in front of our class and we gave each other warm feedback like, You took turns speaking smoothly. They also gave cool feedback. Abbey said to the shark team, I like how you faced us but I couldnt hear you. What if you try speaking louder? At first I was worried that my students would be too kind and not give enough helpful and specific feedback to improve the presentations. I was amazed that my students gave a balance of kind, helpful, and specific feedback like, I appreciate how you held the page the whole time today even though it was dropped a lot yesterday. It would be great if you tried standing still too. My first graders knew what success looked and felt like. They helped each other achieve it. Each team took the feedback and implemented it into their presentations. As Cummins argued, power is not a fixed, predetermined quantity but rather can be generated in part through interpersonal and intergroup relations(Dixon-Krauss, 1995). My hope was that as my students became empowered to express themselves, then

they were more likely to help empower others. Through critique they were empowering each other to share beautiful work.

Hearing the Voices of Our Audience through Exhibition We had decided to invite only the kindergartners as our audience, but my students were also inviting their parents on their own. The day before exhibition, several parents texted me or approached me about our exhibition. One of my students became sick that morning and couldnt come to school. His mom called and said he wanted to come to school and was sad that he couldnt be there. Having choice and voice in our project made my students want to come to school. This was astounding to me because our school had difficulties with tardiness and excessive absences. Our projects gave my students a reason to be in class each day.
The Zebra Team: Crossing the Gender Divide

During the project, the zebra team felt like boys versus girls. I feared they wouldnt create one piece together. Samantha and Valerie tended to do most of the work and then tell Allan and Jake what to do. They finally came together after they decided, as a community, to rotate jobs. Samantha and Jake both drew the zebra, Allan wrote the heading, and Valerie drew the African continent. Samantha also asked Jake what he wanted to say at exhibition.

The Shark Team: Embracing the Teacher Role

Mike liked how one of the books they used for their research showed how a shark opens its mouth to eat. He drew a similar step-by-step visual guide for their kindergarten audience. During exhibition, Mike and his team brought the books they used for research to show the kindergarteners how they found their information. They took ownership over their new role as teacher!

The Butterfly Team: Sharing the Workload

During the research phase, Abbeys team had difficulty sharing the work load because they fought over who would do what. After Abbey brought their teams struggle to the community, they peacefully divided sections of their page among each other when painting. Abbey later said, First another person learns three new things. The division of roles enabled them to learn a new thing as they rotated responsibilities.

The Volcano Team: Reaching Out to Peers

In the beginning of the project, Charlies team told him they were frustrated that he would do his own work and not help them. As the project progressed, I overheard Charlie ask his team if they needed help. But more importantly, he invited others to help him make the map of volcanoes in the world. Charlie said, I asked Dante to help me with the map because it was hard to draw. I was elated to see one of my hardest to reach students, reach out to his peers.

The Christmas Team: Projects are hard.

Anna came up to me after exhibition and said, Projects are hard. In the past, Anna could hide behind others and slip through the cracks. Being in a team prevented Anna from hiding. She couldnt avoid being seen and heard by her team and exhibition audience. During the project, it was important that I modeled to her team how to create space for Anna to be heard and be given opportunities to contribute. We have a pull out system for students who need more literacy support through Reading Recovery. Anna told her Reading Recovery teacher she didnt want to leave because she missed out on what we were doing. Although Anna thinks projects are hard, she wanted to be part of it.

During the exhibition we asked the kindergartners to give us feedback. Since our purpose was to teach in a fun way, we asked them to fill out a sheet where they could write or draw what they learned and tell us if the exhibition was fun or could have been better. After the exhibition, each team read through the feedback slips. In a community meeting, I asked what struck them about the responses. They said that most of the kindergartners had fun learning about their topics. Kate said while smiling, They gave

us a thumbs up! This was a picture option on the feedback form stating they ha d fun learning. They also had a few kindergartners draw a picture of a volcano and shark from the exhibition. The students said they were proud because they got better at presenting their work with their team after each of the three kindergarten classes came. Lucy, from the Christmas team, said, We read our book louder after the first class. Mike, from the Shark team, said, I wanted to show them the books we used so they could learn too.