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