Archive for the ‘Opal’ Category

creating spaces for playful inquiry: January 2017

Posted on: March 9th, 2017 by jnovakowski No Comments

Richmond’s Playful Inquiry Mentors hosted their second dinner event of Creating Spaces for Playful Inquiry series. For this session, we focused on the theme of identity and its connection to the core competencies as well as curricular competencies and content in BC’s curriculum. As sixty Richmond educators joined us in the Grauer multipurpose room, the playful inquiry mentors had set out provocations to engage in.

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A handout of the provocation questions and curricular connections can be downloaded HERE.

Three Richmond teachers (Kelly, Anna and Christy) who visited the Opal School in Portland last June shared how their visit to Opal has inspired their learning environments and their teaching practice.

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Kelly’s presentation on the impact her visit to Opal on her own teaching was summed up in two words – her presentation can be seen HERE.

 

 

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Christy’s presentation on Fine Arts Provocations with her grades 5&6 students can be viewed HERE

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For our professional learning area of focus for the evening, Marie and Hieu shared their thinking about using loose parts as an inclusive practice that particularly supports English Language Learners in our classrooms.

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After dinner together, we broke out into mentor groups to discuss specific areas of interest and to collaborate and plan together.

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Some of the playful inquiry mentors along with some of the participants in this series will be attending a Lower Mainland Study Tour to the Opal School in Portland over spring break and will bring back new sources of inspiration for playful inquiry to share with teachers in Richmond.

~Janice

creating spaces for playful inquiry: October 6 2016

Posted on: October 16th, 2016 by jnovakowski

In the Richmond School District, we have a history of groups of educators visiting the Opal School in Portland, Oregon as it is a school that enacts many of the goals of BC’s redesigned curriculum and the teachers have been researching their practices together for years and share openly through their blog, twitter and visitation days and symposiums. In response to a visit there in January 2015, we have developed a professional learning series in our district to further nurture our thinking around playful inquiry in our school district. Educators who have visited Opal become our district’s “playful inquiry mentors” and open their classrooms to visitors and contribute to professional learning events. This year, our main series is a three part dinner series open to 60 Richmond educators. In September, our playful inquiry mentors met together to think about their role and what their own professional goals are. We thought of a powerful word that captured each of our goals and then wove these words together on a loom.

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We thought about ways to enact and nurture playful inquiry in our classrooms, schools and within the district.

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And finally, we planned our first session of the three-part series. For each session we focus on a big idea or “theme” and after much debate, we settled on the big idea of community for our first session. After hosting this series for two rounds, we have a bit of a structure that works – open with provocations, sharing by educators, a professional learning segment, dinner together, breaking out into interest-based mentor groups and then a closing.

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And so on October 6th at 4:00pm, 60 K-7 Richmond educators descended on IDC and engaged with provocations about community created by the playful inquiry mentors.

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An overview from our BC curriculum was provided as to ways the big idea of community is woven throughout curricular areas and competencies:

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Erin Cammell (grades 4&5 EFI at Dixon) and Kevin Vines (grades 6&7 Quilchena) shared how they began their school years focusing on community, identity and using circle pedagogy. The importance of building relationships was a theme throughout their presentation.

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Sarah Yick (grades 1&2 EFI Dixon) and Carrie Bourne (K-12 French Teacher Consultant) shared how they were both inspired by the responsive learning environments at Opal and are transforming their classrooms (a process…) to better meet their students’ needs and to create access to materials for students to use for thinking and representing their learning.

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Brooke Douglas (VP at Anderson Elementary) led us through the focused professional learning segment of the evening – connecting provocations to the core competencies and using I can statements for self-assessment. Her slides are now available on our site on the portal.

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After a lovely dinner together, educators chose an area of interest and met in small groups to share, ask questions, discuss and set goals. Each group was facilitated by playful inquiry mentors.

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After a few closing words from Marie Thom, reminding us “that we are all researchers of life,” teachers left the event with a large black felt mat and a collection of beads, wire and wire cutters so they could use these materials with their students, mirroring one of the provocations teachers had engaged with earlier in the evening.

We have an open group on our Richmond School District portal so that we can continue our conversations and share between our sessions. And of course, there’s twitter ;)

~Janice

reflections and highlights from 2015-2016

Posted on: June 30th, 2016 by jnovakowski

The end of June always brings lots of good-byes. We are losing about half of our curriculum department for Learning Services in Richmond – it has been an emotional month and change is always hard. We’ve been through a lot together as a team over the last three years and this year was particularly full with the addition of the two Curriculum Implementation days in our district. Through planning and hosting those two days, we have dug deep into understanding the aspects and layers of BC’s redesigned curriculum.

We have spent much of June “populating” the Curriculum page on Scholantis and planning for next year’s professional learning opportunities in Richmond.

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Next year will be an exciting year for our district as we embrace and enact BC’s redesigned curriculum. My portfolio is shifting from a focus on both K-12 Mathematics and Science to mostly focusing on K-12 Mathematics. Although I will continue to work on interdisciplinary projects the responsibility of curriculum “implementation” in science will be shifted to another teacher consultant’s portfolio (position to be filled soon).

As I look back on this past year, some professional highlights for me include:

  • the Creating Spaces for Playful Inquiry dinner series – this large group of K-7 teachers came together to engaged in provocations and think about playful inquiry across the curriculum; it was exciting to see this embraced beyond the early years and to see a large group of teachers in our district begin the ripple effect in their schools
  • sharing work from our district at the Northwest Math Conference in Whistler in October
  • the Provincial Numeracy Project – as a pilot project this year, three school teams took part in this project modelled after Changing Results for Young Readers
  • Science Jam was back for its thirteenth year at Aberdeen Centre – this year there was greater evidence of students’ personal inquiry questions being reflected in their projects
  • attending the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Annual Conference in San Francisco in April (thanks to the RTA for Major Conference Funding)
  • attending the Opal School Summer Symposium with a team of 17 educators from our School District
  • helping to support Inclusive Learning Communities projects at Cook and Boyd and thinking more deeply about inclusive practices in mathematics
  • continuing to the develop a working relationship with the Musqueam community as we think about storytelling, plants and mathematics
  • the number of mathematics and curriculum evenings I helped facilitate for parents this year
  • being a part of the BCAMT Reggio-Inspired Mathematics collaborative professional inquiry project – this project has grown in unexpected ways and it is so inspiring to work alongside teachers interested in making mathematics engaging for their students

And both a personal and professional highlight this year was celebrating 25 years of service to the Richmond School District – such a special event celebrated with colleagues.

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Thank you to my CNC colleagues for an amazing year together – best wishes as you move on to new adventures – Brooke, Sarah, Diane, Kevin, Gordon and Lorraine! And a special thank you and good-bye to our administrative assistant Lisa Buemann for all she has done to support me!

Have a wonderful summer!

~Janice

Opal Summer Symposium 2016

Posted on: June 26th, 2016 by jnovakowski

A team of 17 educators from the Richmond School District attended the Opal School’s Summer Symposium (at the Children’s Museum in Portland) from June 16-18. Our team consisted of four teacher consultants, one elementary school principal,  two Strong Start teachers and ten K-7 teachers from both French Immersion and Neighbourhood programs. We joined educators from all around the world (and quite a large Canadian contingent) for three days of examining what it means to invest in a pedagogy of play. We heard inspiring speakers, visited the amazing classrooms at the Opal school and engaged in studio experiences. As we were inspired to think deeply about our practice, we made connections to our context in Richmond and to BC’s redesigned curriculum and how taking a stance of playful inquiry, of seeing inquiry as a state of being, can be transformative for education.

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“Be curious, try it out and say I can do it.” – lots to be learned from children as we aim to continue to create, nurture and grow spaces for playful inquiry in the Richmond School District.

~Janice

creating spaces for playful inquiry: April 2016

Posted on: May 16th, 2016 by jnovakowski

For our second year, a team of Richmond educators who have visited the Opal school in Portland, Oregon, have facilitated a professional learning series called Creating Spaces for Playful Inquiry. Blog posts about our first two dinner sessions this year can be found here and here.

Our third and final dinner session of the year was held on April 21 at Diefenbaker Elementary. Educators were greeted in the library with several provocations prepared by our playful inquiry mentors that focused on connections to the natural world and the use of art materials and visual tools. The following question was displayed to provoke thinking and engagement with the materials:

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During and after engagement with the materials, we asked educators to share what they noticed about the affordances of different materials and what connections they were making to our redesigned BC curriculum.

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Some teachers had been invited to share what they have been working on with their students since our last session in January. Christy and Jo of Cook shared their students storytelling experience connected to the First Peoples Principles of Learning and their study of residential schools. Jaclyn Cruz shared how she has been using morning literacy provocations and how she extended students’ storying with materials to think about “cover stories” inspired by book covers. Melissa Vervegaert has visited the Opal School the week before so she shared some of her experiences, specifically noting how the teachers and students accessed and used and were inspired by art materials.

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After a lovely dinner together, we came together in our different mentor groups – intermediate, primary, kindergarten, mathematics, outdoor learning, non-enrolling (teacher-librarians and learning resource teachers) and engaged in discussions and sharing facilitated by our playful inquiry mentors.

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This has been such a powerful series for teachers in our district and we have grown a community of teachers committed to playful inquiry in our K-7 classrooms. The following are some of the reflections from educators in the series:

What did this series offer you as an educator?

A chance to listen to others and hear their ideas – knowing that we are on a path together.

We can all try strategies in our classes but we truly gain a deeper shared understanding through engaging conversations.

It was a great opportunity to hear about what other teachers are doing in their classrooms and how they are taking risks and opening the door for their students to explore.

 An understanding of the power of using materials to scaffold thinking, build stories, develop relationships and self-awareness.

 A way to connect with others in the district and the inspiration I left with each time – what an amazing experience!

What will you take from your experience in this series that will endure in your teaching practice?

From this experience, I will take with me a different approach to my teaching in all aspects – my outlook, my word choices, how I view my students, how I tackle “subjects” and so much more!

 That I need to connect and talk with like-minded colleagues. Sharing circles, provocations, playing with a purpose.

 Creating an environment that supports deep thinking, community building and communication.

 Use of materials in many different ways. Arranging the classroom environment to better support student engagement.

 Inquiry happens naturally – honour the curiousity.

 Letting go.

 Risk taking…the courage to let go and make small but significant changes.

Wow. Rich professional learning.

We have a team of 16 Richmond educators visiting the Opal School in Portland for a summer symposium in June. Our playful inquiry community continues to grow and we look forward to continuing this series next year!

~Janice

creating spaces for playful inquiry: January 2016

Posted on: January 24th, 2016 by jnovakowski

Almost 60 teachers came together at Diefenbaker on the evening of January 14th for the second session of our three-part dinner series: Creating Space for Playful Inquiry. This is the second year of this series, with most of the participants having attended this series last spring. This series was inspired by a visit to the Opal School in Portland in January of 2015 by myself, Braunwyn Thompson, Hieu Pham-Fraser and Michelle Hikida.

As teachers came into the Diefenbaker they were presented with invitations to provoke their thinking about light and darkness.

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Three teachers from the series shared what they have been playing around with in their learning spaces – Amanda Chura, teacher-librarian at Diefenbaker, April Pikkarainen, primary teacher at Blair and Karen Choo, intermediate teacher at Blair. We were all so inspired by how they have been engaging in inquiry themselves and with their students.

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Before and after dinner, teachers chose from six interest groups facilitated by our inquiry mentors. Teachers shared ideas, collaborated, posed questions and discussed their area of interest with like-minded colleagues. During the after dinner session time, teachers considered what their plan was going to be for this term and how they might engage their students in playful inquiry in a particular curriculum area – with materials, ideas or language.

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The discussions were rich, vibrant and inspiring. Many teachers commented that they felt “filled up” and inspired to move forward in new ways with their students. Teachers sharing their learning with each other is so important but I also think the community we are building is equally important in providing a support system for teachers to try  new things, take some risks, develop new pedagogical habits – we are truly better together.

An archive of blog posts about playful inquiry initiatives in our district can be found here:

Playful Inquiry in School District #38

~Janice

creating spaces for playful inquiry – September 2015

Posted on: October 9th, 2015 by jnovakowski

Last spring we held a very well attended series called Creating Spaces for Playful Inquiry. This series was a result of a visit to the Opal School in Portland by Braunwyn Thompson, Michelle Hikida, Hieu Pham-Fraser and myself in January 2015. We reflected on our experiences and how they connected to what we were already doing in Richmond as well as to the changes in BC’s redesigned curriculum. The group of 50 teachers attending this series wanted to continue the conversation so we have scheduled a three-part series for this school year. We opened the series with an event that welcomed teachers new to this series as well as visiting educators from seven other school districts. With about 120 educators filling the gym at Blair Elementary, it was an inspiring evening thinking about playful inquiry with Susan MacKay and Matt Karlsen from the Opal School.

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Teachers arrived to find a “buffet” of loose parts, most gathered locally. These materials were going to be used during the evening for educators to engage in playful inquiry themselves, to consider how materials might help them engage in inquiry, represent their thinking or consider metaphors.

The teachers also received a small bag of local natural materials to take back to their classrooms.

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When some of our teachers hear “Opal” they immediately think of story workshop, which is one pedagogical structure that Opal educators use to enact playful inquiry in their classrooms. This evening though was focused on playful inquiry more broadly and is very closely aligned with the goals and principles of BC’s redesigned curriculum. Susan and Matt engaged the audience in rich professional thinking and learning beginning with the provocative quote by Carlina Rinaldi:

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Professional learning is not linear and neat but messy and takes time. What are we curious about? What are own own inquiry questions? Just as we want our students to engage in playful inquiry, we need to embrace a stance of inquiry ourselves and see ourselves as teacher-researchers.

Quoting Brene Brown:

“We have to be willing to not know, to figure out – because thats the find of play that brings joy.”

Susan and Matt asked: What new questions are alive within you?

What was emphasized through the evening was a pedagogy of listening – of the importance of listening to children so that we can be responsive and help to develop and sustain their capacities.

I hope that teachers were abel to consider the notion of playful inquiry and deconstruct and unpack what that means for them. What does playful really mean? In talking about “play” I remind parents and educators that play isn’t only about playing with “things” but that we can also play with ideas, concepts, language and story. Susan and Matt reminded the audience that play is not an “activity” but a disposition or a strategy.

How are you nurturing a playful stance in your learning environment?

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Susan and Matt showed an excerpt from a DVD about a year-long inquiry from their school. The young students were curious about wild animals and spent months thinking about their relationship with wild animals. The clip that Susan and Matt showed revealed just the very final part of the inquiry, when the students visit the neighbouring zoo, wearing animal masks they had created. This short clip seemed likely out of context to me, for the teachers in attendance who did not have a sense of the whole inquiry. Having seen the whole video a few times, once presented by the teacher involved, I was very inspired by the inquiry as a whole and wonder what questions those in attendance had. What more do they want to know? What was the journey that took the students and teachers to this point? Both Marie Thom and I have the DVD “Inquiry into Wild Animals” – please contact us if you would like to borrow it so that you can see the whole story!

More information about the Opal School of the Portland’s Children Museum Centre for Learning can be found HERE.

Opal school’s blog can be found HERE.

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Because the evening was scheduled on the same night as some of our school’s “meet the teacher” events, we had the session video-taped by media students at Hugh Boyd and we will be hosting some after school sessions for teachers to view and discuss the presentations by Matt and Susan.

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We are looking forward to continuing this conversation through the series and other professional learning events this year.

~Janice

playful inquiry dinner series

Posted on: June 14th, 2015 by jnovakowski 1 Comment

This spring we held a two-part dinner series, sharing our stories and experiences inspired by our visit to the Opal School in Portland in January. Braunwyn Thompson, Michelle Hikida, Hieu Pham-Fraser and I facilitated the series which involved us sharing what we noticed at Opal and what we took from our visit and investigated in our context.

The series was called Creating Spaces for Playful Inquiry in the Classroom: Teachers’ stories inspired by Portland’s Opal School and the sessions were held in the Diefenbaker library on April 18 and May 7. Over 50 educators attended the series including K-7 classroom teachers, teacher-librarians, learning resource teachers and administrators.

For the first session we prepared documentation panels of our experience at Opal focusing on learning environments, questions and mathematics. We prepared provocations for the educators to engage with as they came into the space. After each of us shared our stories about playful inquiry, we enjoyed dinner provided by The Healthy Chef and then we broke out into facilitated inquiry groups. Each group was mentored by a Richmond colleague who has visited Opal School. Areas that educators were interested in exploring were – morning meetings, intermediate provocations, including all learners (non-enrolling teachers), provocations in K and early primary, learning environments, inquiry questions with curriculum in mind and outdoor learning spaces.

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The educators left the first session with the goal of trying one thing with their students and bringing something back to share for the next session. We provided a small kit of loose parts and some acrylic frames to place questions in.

For the second session, after a short introduction, we broke out into our mentor groups to share what we had tried. All of the groups reported back to to the whole group and all were very inspired the richness of the inquiry experiences and provocations that had been provided. We are still trying to figure out how to compile and collate our ideas so that we can be inspired by each other!

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Our provocations for this session focused on cross-curricular big ideas and provocations that Michelle, Braunwyn and I had provided to students.

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For both sessions, a range of resources were shared, many from the Opal School. Opal School publications can be ordered HERE.

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We wil be continuing this series during the 2015-2016 school year and are excited to announce that Susan Harris MacKay will be a presenter at the launch of the dinner series on September 24, 2015. Registration will be available through Richnet in early September.

An article by Susan Harris MacKay on the principles of playful inquiry (click to link to pdf)

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~Janice

a visit to Opal – January 2015: Hieu’s story

Posted on: February 4th, 2015 by jnovakowski 2 Comments

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Margaret Mead

Today, six days after our visit to Opal School in Portland, Oregon, I find my mind is still reflecting, questioning and creating meaning from the experience. Every moment of the conference gave me new insight to the practice of teaching.

On the first evening, my colleagues and I entered empty classrooms and observed the projects and environments that children were engaged in.  As I wandered in and out of the six classrooms, I was taken aback by the aesthetic of the materials, the walls and the artwork produced by students as young as three to as old as 11. Some questions popped into my head. “How did the teachers come up with these ideas?” “How did the teachers know what they wanted children to learn?” “How could these students come up with such complex ideas and how did they learn to express their ideas in such sophisticated ways?” 

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“How might we use the wire to create a balanced composition that represents the idea of a community?”

However, it was not until the next day when we returned to observe teachers and children in action did I realize that nothing in the environment compared to the interactions and conversations I heard and saw. In every movement, every comment, every question, there was genuine care and respect. I saw students hugging each other, smiling at each other and displaying positive body language during whole group and small group conversations. In small groups, I heard only one voice at a time; children gave the speaker attention and responded truthfully and thoughtfully with their ideas. It did not seem as getting the “smartest” or “rightest” answer mattered, it was that each person had a voice. In this community of learning, competition did not take precedence and students and teachers felt they could take risks in areas where they felt most passionate and connected. Though I didn’t hear phrases such as “well done!” or “that’s a great comment,” I also didn’t see students seeking for teacher attention or affirmation. These students displayed a high level of self-awareness and self esteem at such a young age.

In the afternoon, at the Museum of Learning, we sat and listened to the teachers speak of their practice, I discovered that teaching was their life’s work and this place allowed them to share a core set of values. They spoke of teaching as a craft and as project in humanity. I realized their practice as individuals and as a collective is powerful because of their values. I reflect now on my own values. What do I believe education is? What do I see children as? What is authentic learning? Who sets the goals for learning? How is authentic learning measured? By measuring a child’s learning, what practice places judgment and what practice prepares the child for the step?

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Each teacher that came up to speak spoke of the work they do as teacher-researchers. I have come to understand that this is a subtle but very significant shift in perspective when it comes to effective professional development. I asked teachers in a small group discussion what they did to harness their values and improve their practice. They said that they committed themselves to a reflective share in a circle space together once a week. Just as they planned circle time for students to share ideas as equals, they too, share their practice, their queries, and their need of help. From there, they work together to imagine and create possibilities for their students.

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I learned the power of circle within my own practice from my colleague and friend, Lynn Wainwright. I was able to witness the affect of a commitment to deep listening of each other’s stories. It is through our collective stories that help us to reflect on ourselves and give us knowledge and courage to transform our practice for the sake of children’s learning. The teachers at Opal not only teach the process of inquiry, they also live it themselves.

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At Blair, we value collaboration. We believe that an inquirer must have certain capacities, those capacities include the ability to reflect, communicate, and to think critically and creatively. But above all else, we know that a safe environment of community must be fostered before any depth of learning can occur. We are working to “walk the talk” through our own collective practice. This year, in my role of teacher-librarian, we have carved out blocks of collaboration time that can last for a full term of three or more months for interested teachers. The collaboration blocks allow students time to dive deeply into the big questions and enduring understandings; but, they also free teachers from time restraints so that we can reflect on patterns of our practice and develop our hunches and follow through with action learning (Halbert & Kaser, 2013). I am inspired by the collaboration I saw in Portland. I am wondering, “How can I open up spaces for teachers so all are invited to challenge their own practices?” “What are the structures we can use so that we focus more on the process of learning rather than the product of the weeks we have together?” “What do I need to do to improve my interaction as a collaborator to my colleagues?” To answer this latter question, I am reminded of two quotes I encountered in the past weeks.

“Listening is the simplest form of respect.” By Bryant H. McGill

and

“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” By Simone Weil

My personal take away from my days at Opal is to exercise restraint. In restraint, I can allow space for others to speak and feel. In restraint, I can allow myself to think carefully the language I will use to show respect and gratitude.  In restraint, I will try to not react to my own emotions or my own assumptions.  This is a goal for both my personal and professional relationships with children and adults.

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I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to attend the Opal School Visitation Days. I truly felt that I saw the art of teaching before my eyes. I am eager to try the many other facets of inquiry learning that I witnessed there including the use of studio materials, the strategy of story workshop and many others. I believe that there is much that can be applied to our British Columbian context and also to our Richmond context. My learning journey is richer because of the teachers and students of the Opal School and because of the organization of The Centre for Children’s Learning.

Thank you, Hieu

Blair Elementary (teacher-librarian and resource/ELL teacher)

a visit to Opal – January 2015: Michelle’s story

Posted on: February 4th, 2015 by jnovakowski 1 Comment

The Gift of Time

 I consider myself so lucky to have been given the opportunity to visit Opal School.  What an amazing experience to see playful inquiry in action and spend three days reflecting, questioning and examining my own practice.  So many things connected, challenged and extended my thinking.  Although not a new idea, I was struck by the depth of thinking shared in the Opal 4 class (ages 9-11).   Listening to these students engage in discussions was nothing short of inspiring.  Not only were they actively listening and responding to each other in such a respectful manner, but their comments, connections and questions reflected a higher level of understanding of the content being discussed.  What was it that nurtured this kind of deep thinking?  As I reflected upon the how’s and why’s I kept coming back to the same thing and that was that this classroom was not rushed.  These students were given time to formulate their own ideas and then time to each share their questions, theories, and ideas.  Each morning we were there, the students were given an invitation to ponder upon as they arrived in the classroom.  One day it was a quote from a text to reflect upon in writing and the next day it was an invitation to sketch their mental images.  These opening activities gave the students time to reflect and formulate their ideas.  The class then met for their opening meeting.  The children sat in a circle and each shared.  Once again, these children were given time to listen and engage in meaningful discussions together in a safe and respectful community.   I believe the children were so engaged because they knew their thinking had a purpose and would be listened to.  I truly believe that each child has a different connection, perspective, or question to share that will enhance or challenge the thinking of a group.  Put simply, each child has a right to be heard and we need to slow down, be present and really listen.

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This notion of time and thoughtfully building ideas together was in all of the classrooms at Opal.

Michelle Hikida

grades 2&3 teacher, Diefenbaker Elementary

 

*all photographs were taken at the Opal School with the Museum Centre for Learning at the Portland Children’s Museum, with permission to share here