TEDx West Van Ed: I Wonder How to Encourage Wonder?

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One of the many reasons I love spending a whole day taking part in a TEDx is that it forces me to sit, listen and reflect. I attended TEDx West Vancouver Ed: Rethinking Education yesterday and now am filled to the brim with reflections and ideas of my role in education and as a parent. This will be the first of a few blog posts that I have rattling in my brain.

The first speaker was “Inquiry Based Learning Consultant” Kath Murdoch @kjinquiry (Kudos to her for having to go first!). Kath spoke about how classrooms need to be a place where we invite wonder in. I loved her image of a car being a wonder bubble. As anyone who has had to drive kids anywhere knows, car rides stimulate many questions from kids. The longer the car ride, the more out there the questions get! How can educators replicate the wonder inducing environment of a car ride into the classroom?

During lunch several colleagues expressed that they were frustrated that their students, when asked, weren’t able to come up with questions or wonders. They felt that their students needed to be taught how to ask questions all over again and that for some reason as early as grade one, the sense of wonder was stripped from their students. Last year, while introducing Genius Hour to several intermediate classes, I was dismayed that our students could not ask a good question or name a passion they would like to explore. I automatically chalked this up to the idea that kids have learned to expect to be told what to do and the older they are the more difficult it is to get them to independently learn or even want to learn.

While this is somewhat true, I have to wonder, what are we as educators doing to encourage an environment of wonder? Why are we expecting students to come up with great wonders on demand? How would you answer right at this moment if you were asked, What do you wonder about? I don’t know about you, but I get anxious just thinking about it. Will my wonder be good enough? What will everyone say about my wonder? Now I wonder… how do our students feel?

We all have an innate sense of wonder, it is part of what makes us human! We just can not expect students to reveal wonders on demand. While some students will share wonders with anyone, I believe most students (as most adults) need time and a conducive environment to germinate wonders. I love the idea of a wonder wall. I have seen many examples and think it’s a great idea for students to feel free to add to it at any time they have a wonder. Then, when it is “wonder research time” or genius hour, they have a wall of wonders to choose from. However, if students do not feel like they have a safe, respectful class environment, wonders will never be revealed. Maybe this is why car rides are so great for wonders!

So, with this all in mind, what are you doing to encourage an environment of wonder?

Yes, Genius Hour in Kindergarten!

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I have been reading a lot about Genius Hour and have been inspired by my own district’s Gallit Zvi and her journey with integrating it in her classroom. The teacher of our Grade Five buddy class went to a workshop that Gallit ironically spoke at and decided to integrate it into her class.  Wow, am I ever lucky that our classes are buddies!  Her Grade Fives have been doing amazing work during their genius hour time.

So, as January came to a close and we noticed that the kindies in my class were becoming more independent and fully capable of using iPads, we set them to work with their buddies in our first Kindergarten Genius Hour project. Because this was our first time, we had to put some parameters around it. I know, I know, less direction the better when it comes to Genius Hour… but you have to give us some credit for loosening most of the strings!

Our kindies thought of something that they would like to learn about and brainstormed some questions about the topic. The topics and questions that my kindies, yes FIVE year olds, were thinking of were beyond my imagination. They were vibrating with excitement at the possiblity of actually controlling what they were going to learn about. Some of the topics that were decided on were cowboys, cars, dresses, birds, and owls.

Then the magic happened.  The Grade Fives paired up with their Kindergarten buddies and off they went.  Engagement, conversation, collaboration, and critical thinking just happened… and we, the teachers, were minimally involved.  After meeting every Friday morning for a few weeks, the kids were ready to present their finding in a Keynote presentation.  I was so proud!  Our kindies confidently presented with their big buddies beside them helping them along the way.

IMG_0500I am excited to further explore Genius Hour more in our class, with the assistance of our big buddies. We will now be changing the name of “big buddies time” to “Genius Hour”! I also can’t wait to show the parents how much we are learning, once agian, from playing around in Kindergarten!

If you would like more information on Genius Hour, Gallit Zvi has some excellent posts on her blog here: Integrating Technology: My Journey

Below is a sample of some slides from a priceless presentation on Ninja Turtles.

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