November 29, 2011

Beetles and Math?: Lessons in Binary Oppositions

I will start with a personal reflection. When I was completing my undergraduate degree at SFU I had to work part-time. The money I was making was suppose to go to my coursework and books; however I always managed to find an old VW Beetle that caught my eye, and I had to buy it! I loved working on them in my spare time. I have owned quite a few over the years. There is something I have always enjoyed about taking things apart and then trying to put them back together again, even though I didn't really know what I was getting myself into. 

"the before - destroyed version"
"the finished - created version"

On one particular 1968 Beetle, I took the original tail pipes off and put on a ferrari style exhaust system. I thought it looked and sounded pretty cool. When I put the gas pedal down, you could hear the rumble (with a few extra pops hear and there, but I thought that added to the effect). One day when I was stopped at a stop sign, I revved the engine a little and some guys passing me on the other side said, "Nice flames buddy!". WHAT?! The next chance I had, I passed by a set of massive windows at the mall and gave it gas. I was shocked and amazed at what I saw! There were literally flames shooting out of my pipes! I realized at that moment I must have not put it on properly. I wondered what those extra bolts were for! And so, the next weekend I had my beetle back on the blocks and disassembled the whole thing, got some new gaskets and put it back together again. It worked well after that, a little less exciting, but I knew I would stay alive at least.

"my exhausting beetle project"

One of my very favourite Beetles was a 1959 convertible, a very rare find! It wasn't even for sale, but I convinced the owner to sell it to me. Everyone has their price! I drove this beetle with pride until one day I the split-case transmission seized on me. For months I wondered what I would do. I decided to pull the engine and transmission and put another newer set in. While I was at it, I figured I would completely restore it from the ground up. So I pulled every bolt and piece apart that I could find, the roof came off, wheels, fenders, seats, everything was in boxes. I never saw that car hit the road again. I sold it for a third of the cost for something even more magnificent that caught my eye...I was getting married and needed the cash! I am happy to report that it was well worth it, but I still think about that beetle from time to time.

"in the process of dismantling my baby"

So some dreams are not realized, but they lead to other unanticipated, wonderful adventures. I would have never imagined when I started that project that I was about to get married. The trajectory of my life changed and I let that idea go and pursued another, better one. Likewise, in teaching I find that I may have an idea in mind of where I want to go and I jump in fully and start dismantling old ways I use to teach or even questioning theories behind how concepts are presented in textbooks and teacher resources. It's a little scary at first, but there is always something positive that comes out of this. We don't have to be perfect and sometimes we have to go back and refit things if there is a problem. The Imaginative Education Theory uses binary oppositions as a core concept for engaging students imaginations with the curriculum. I can use the destroy / create binary to make sense of what I was doing...and this is something I believe can be used in the classroom. 

Binary oppositions help us to make sense of the world by comparing and thus mediating our understanding. Just this week I taught a math lesson using the binary: small / big. At first glance this doesn't seem so important: however a binary opposition can be very powerful as a basis for a lesson or even an entire unit. In fact binaries are one of the earliest forms of understanding numbers. In this lesson on Place Value, I wanted to expand students' understanding of larger numbers. So I had them draw the base ten blocks that they are familiar with. One, ten, hundred, thousand...what comes after that? What does a ten thousand look like? A hundred thousand? A million? I designed a lesson that I hoped would allow them to use their imaginations to think of what they knew from the smallest units and move them to a point of experiencing and thinking about numbers beyond their current knowledge. Here is a student's work for base ten models:

"base ten models to 1 000 000"

I had students do a rough copy idea for homework the day before, then in class we tried to figure out how big these blocks would actually be. I had students come up to the white board and draw in their ideas, and we constructed an actual to-scale version in the centre of the classroom using meter stick and students. At the end I took the single cube and dropped it into the centre of the million cube and said, "There are a million of these inside here." To which I heard a few gasps. I asked if we should order some of these million cubes or do they even exist? Where would we store all of them? I knew I was starting to get their attention. Then I asked them, "So what is bigger than one million?" Okay, million, billion, trillion...gazillion - is that a number? 

Next I told them the story of Googol. A mathematician named Edward Kasner once wrote a 1 followed by 100 zeros. So I had the students do this. It took most of them about 2 minutes, if they didn't lose count that is. When he wrote this giant number, he asked his nine-year old nephew, Milton Sirotta, to give ti a name. Milton thought for a while and then said, "Googol". Ever since it has been known by this name. And later of course someone came up with the Googolplex. I will let you research that one. Having students understand that numbers are symbols that have been named and created by human beings throughout history connects them in a more meaningful way to what they are doing in their number work. I had also previously used the story "One Grain of Rice" by Demi. A colleague at my school who is currently completing her PhD using IE in mathematics, suggested this story as a way to engage students with the wonder of the size of numbers.  

Using stories and imaginative activities in math is not a waste of time. I wanted the students to deepen their connection to the concept of really big numbers. It's not just about naming them, it's the emotional connection and realizing we are a part of the knowledge that has been constructed that is necessary I think.  Vygostky (2003) said, 

"It is precisely human creative activity that makes the human being a creature oriented toward the future, creating the future and thus altering his own present. This creative activity, based on the ability of our brain to combine elements, is called imagination or fantasy in psychology. Typically, people use the terms imagination or fantasy to refer to something quiet different than what they mean in science. In everyday life, fantasy or imagination refer to what is not actually true, what does not correspond to reality, and what, thus, could not have any serious practical significance. But in actuality, imagination, as the basis of all creative activity, is an important component of absolutely all aspects of cultural life, enabling artistic, scientific, and technical creation alike. In this sense, absolutely everything around us that was created by the hand of man, the entire world of human culture, as distinct from the world of nature, all this is the product of human imagination and of creation based on this imagination."

Having students come up with "numbers that might not exist" and reading stories about people and numbers is an important contributor to their conceptual understanding and it creates ownership. Following this I asked the students three questions:

1. What have you realized about the size of numbers through some of your place value work?

Here are some student responses: 
"That numbers can get huge and have so many zeros."
"Some numbers can be really, really, really big and some can be small."
"working with big numbers could be really feeling is happy."
"This math that were doing has made me realize that even when the numbers are bigger it is still easy. I think that this math is easy."

For the next question I wanted to see if using the cognitive tool of "collections and sets" would help them make more connections with the concept of really big numbers. I told them about the different collections I have had over the years, and even my 6 Beetles I have owned could be considered a collection if I added them all up (this would be considered a small collection of a large object). I also gave them a few examples and showed them images on the whiteboard of ridiculously enormous collections. It's amazing what people will collect and the amount of time they put into their collections.

2. What is the biggest collection you have ever had or heard of before?

Here are some student responses:
"a girl somewhere has 1, 734 or something like that of pokemon stuff."
"my collection is silly bands is 472 sillybands and i got 15 rare ones."
"The biggest collection my friend had was a pencil shaving. He has 3 bags of all fulled pencil shavings. I think he has like one billion."

And then I really wanted to push their affective, imaginative connections.

3. Imagine a situation where you encounter a very large number. What would you be thinking, feeling, doing?

Here are some student responses:
"If a tsumai coming towards me and there is 1000000000000000000000000 water drop I'll feel too scared that I can't even move.
"What if I'm in a desert and 100000 elephants are around me I would hide under one and crawl under there legs."
"Imagine if you where sitting at a park eating a peanut butter sandwich then 50,000 rabid squirrels came and attact you!"

I love reading all the ideas my students come up with. This lesson started with the concept of small / big and I can see their use of the "size" of things in their responses to my questions. Binaries, stories, and collections are all used purposely to create an emotional connection and deepen students understanding and make learning more fun and engaging.

November 27, 2011

Kittens Take Over: Unexpected Changes

A few months ago I was convinced by my family into getting two pure-bred Ragdoll kittens...and they re-arranged our life. We had to change the layout of our living room to accommodate their litter box and scratch post. Uugh! Not exactly what you want your company to see when they visit, but they're so cute!

"Kiley & Skylar"
"the kittens take over"
They are a few months older now, and we don't have to watch their every move, so we put their litter box and scratch post downstairs and we have our living room back. The only thing is, we had to move the computer desk and "office" stuff from the den downstairs to make room for them. So now the computer area is in our living room. Amazing how one change has a snowball effect. It took me most of the weekend to make all the changes that were necessary, with a trip to Home Depot of course. I think you can probably relate! So what does this have to do with the classroom? I'll get there.

Throughout my teaching career, I have tried to pay attention to how changes to the physical space of my room might create a more warm and inviting space for my students. In reality, all I have done is added an area such as a "reading corner" with a couch, or a small table for "conferencing" with students. As stated in my first post, I have attempted this year to transform my classroom into an island with a meaningful connection to the curriculum. So I am not aiming anymore for just an inviting space; rather I am trying to create a space that encourages thinking and engages students' emotions towards what we are learning. 

This whole-scale theme started last year when my classroom space became a medieval castle of sorts.

"my covered and painted medieval door"

"my covered and painted cupboard"

"students' stained glass art covering our windows all year"

These changes were mostly on the perimeter of my room; nevertheless the light that came through that window did create an unusual myriad of colours that would shine in everyday. This was a pleasant unexpected result. More recently I have begun to think about the physical layout of the floor space in my room. I have been inspired by a few conversations with a number of teachers in my school district who are showing innovation by completely altering the design of their classrooms. One teacher told me about how he removed some of the desks from his classroom and built risers for students to sit on, do their work, and have large class discussions. (you can find his amazing ideas about innovation and design on his blog: "take your learning with you wherever you go", in the "about me" section of my blog). Another teacher told me about how she also moved out all the desks and brought in tables, lawn chairs, and lamps to create a relaxing atmosphere for her students to work in. Well, I am not quite at that point yet of abandoning the students' desks altogether; but I am looking at how I can maximize the floor space in my room to allow for new lessons and activities. I will give examples of how I have been playing with this idea in some future posts, it has been quite exciting for me!

When I started on this journey of using imagination in learning I knew that it would require many changes to my teaching practice, and the thing is that not all of those changes have been self-initiated or necessarily predicted. The components of imaginative work that I see as necessary are: flexibility, vision, and openness to the possibilities that result from some action or change (and this may mean changes to your environment). I had another intriguing conversation with a teacher who told me about a day recently where a chair flipped over in his classroom and the student sat down on the underside of the chair. Then he encouraged more of them to try it out. He mentioned that the students had a blast playing around with the chairs, holding onto the legs. As we spoke, we came up with more ideas of how the basic chair could be rearranged and used to add something different to the school day. It's interesting how one little thing like a chair flipping over can add a shift to the day. 

Then I remembered one of the first lessons that I tried using the "change of context" tool from the Imaginative Education theory. It had a little to do with desks and chairs. I believe that this moment was a turning point in my teaching career because I took a dramatic risk in doing something very different in my classroom, and it has rippled out and caused me to be more adventurous in my lesson designs. For this particular lesson I flipped all the desks and chairs over before the students arrived. We were reading the novel: Escaping the Giant Wave. In the story a young brother and sister are stranded after an earthquake that causes a tsunami disaster at the hotel where they are vacationing on the Oregon Coast.

"disaster strikes the classroom"
"a survival situation"

I had the students connect with the feelings and thoughts that the main characters were having by creating an "experience" for them as they had to "act" quickly to escape the oncoming wave(s). They had to find whatever they could and start making their survival lists. A student started putting his desk back and I said, "You don't have time for that, we need to act quickly."

"students completing their survival lists"
"student example of a mini shelter"

Following this the students created their own shelters and we read some more of our class novel. This took most of the day, but these are the kinds of lessons my students remember and talk about with me when they return to say "hi" years later. You might even say they "flipped" over this lesson:)

This week my chalkboards were changed over to whiteboards. When I arrived I was shocked to see them and I proceeded to spend a lot time in the morning thinking about how I might make more use of this in my class since I rarely used the old chalkboards. I moved some desks, and my smartboard screen and projector ended up on the other end of the room, and so on. I put both into use immediately that day and the students were very excited. I had a few students showing their math examples of base ten numbers up to millions on the whiteboard up front, I had students demonstrating what a million cube might look like in the middle of the room, and I was projecting images of Guinness Book of World Records "collections" on the screen at the other end (as it related to our lesson). This was really cool I thought, but even so, at the end of the day I noticed how stark-white the boards were and how this changed something about the "feel" of my room. I must do something about this, I'm just not sure yet. It will undoubtedly involve some fabric and further island decoration.

Some changes to the physical space of the classroom are anticipated and others are not. Whether we make these changes or we are responding to ones that "happen to us", all the outcomes can not possibly be predicted. It is our response to these changes that matters. This is the joy of teaching if we are open to it. I hope that I will continue to find ways to make learning fun for my students, and I wonder what other kinds of changes might be ahead, planned and unplanned, and what this might lead to for my teaching?

November 21, 2011

The River: an alternative context for learning

I want to bring attention to my blog title: A Place to Learn. My vision for this blog is to talk about how learning can be transformed into a fun and engaging process. A lot of my focus is on the classroom and the physical space that we occupy, and how that can be altered to become something new and wonderful. However it goes far beyond the rooms and seats we are designated to fill, because "school" is not a building where we learn; it is who we are and what we do together, and that can happen anywhere. There are some very special places  though, that can offer a fresh perspective on learning.


"My pastel of the Coquitlam River by our school"
There is a beautiful river that flows near our little school. It is only a two minute walk from the school grounds and where most of the students live. At the beginning of the school year I send out a newsletter asking my students' families if they would object to me taking the class on a walking trip there during the school day. No one sneezes at this thank goodness and I can hear what I imagine to be the most common response, "Well, I'm sure it wouldn't hurt!" But I wonder if most of us understand and consider the significance of the natural environment we are in and what it might offer us. Rather than thinking "it wouldn't hurt", what about a more positive orientation towards this place, "what might or could happen if we go there?" Well, no one has ever really asked me yet why exactly we go I will tell you about it's significance to me.


The river is the place where I see anything is possible. The river is both an educational metaphor and a real place that I go to with my students. Martin Buber (2005) wrote a journal article, Educating for Relationship. Ethics, Place and Environment. He identifies that teachers should not try to make things happen, but bring the world to the student, allowing the possibility of encounters with that world, providing support, offering relationships and meeting the students where they are at. I know one thing for sure, I want to give all my students the chance to be more thoughtful, more conscious of themselves as individuals, and more aware of their connection to nature and each other. I see the river as a way to build community and relationship with my students. It is the reason for the river as my focus as a context for learning.


The poem I wrote about the river, began in response to an article by Denton (1972) called, Existential Reflections on Teaching. I really connected to his ideas about how to cultivate and create a space where students can be themselves, and where anything can happen.

A fluid metaphor for education

The river is life
a place to reflect
a time and space to be still
it offers us freedom
from our constraints
the daily demands of 
reports, meetings, schedules and deadlines
the river, the river

Let us walk down by the river
let us rest awhile there
what do you see?
what can you hear?
there really is no emptiness
no voids, no silence
only brief moments of clarity
the river, the river

Screens, billboards,
newspapers and magazines
inundating us with "current" affairs
we are surrounded by 
confusing systems
distractions and debris
where can we see beyond the clutter?
the river, the river

In control of nothing
only part of something
much bigger and more beautiful
than you could ever imagine
where is our sanctuary?
our place to learn
and be ourselves?
the river, the river

Come with me
follow my steps
do you know the way?
where will you lead me?
what can we find together?
just imagine the possibilities
do you feel it?!
the river is calling

In Imaginative Education, we talk a lot about "imagining the possibilities". Combining these two concepts of imagination and spaces, I wanted to find out what could happen if I take my students to the river continually throughout the year. This produced a few more interesting questions for me. 

What will the students notice about the place they live in?

How will this positively affect their ability to be open and connect to what I am bringing them in my instruction?

What will they begin to be aware of about themselves and each other?

Will it engage them sufficiently over time or will it become tiresome and dreaded?

Will I be able to maintain their focus when we are there?

These are fundamental questions for education in general; so it gave even more purpose to our visits to the river.


Denton uses the idea, originally from Heidegger, about "Dasein" - which is paying attention not only to the subject matter or the student, but the whole dialogue which encompasses the student, teacher and the place they are in. He said that:

"All a teacher can ever do, as teacher, is to manipulate space, thereby making possible one's coming to understand." (Denton, 1972)

This idea of space is critical to building a classroom community where all learners have a voice. It also reminds me of an article that Maxine Greene (1988) wrote, Imagination and Education. She said, "Young people are not encouraged to look through the windows of actual on occasion, to regard things as if they could be otherwise." When students are freed to make connections, show reflectiveness and commitment then true transformation takes place. I see this as the act of awareness of being present in the moment (space and time) which leads to positive action. This can happen within the walls of our classrooms, and of course it should; however my thoughts turn back to the coupling of imagination and spaces. What if I took this metaphor of "looking through the windows" literally and actually went out there, outside with my students? What could be the possible outcomes of doing that?


The Imaginative Education Research Group (IERG) at SFU has developed an offshoot theory called Imaginative Ecological Education. Two leaders in this are Gillian Judson and Sean Blenkinsop. Sean Blenkinsop promotes this notion of the importance of outdoor spaces for learning, when he writes about the world as co-teacher. You may be familiar with his name, because he is one of the lead researchers behind the environmental school in Maple Ridge, BC. 

I like the idea of actually putting kids into the world as opposed to separating them from it through textbook readings and questions. Blenkinsop (2008) argues in his work, Imaginative Ecological Education: Six necessary components, that what is needed is direct interaction with the world. I agree that we are certainly too divorced from our natural surroundings. Sometimes being at the river might be the only peaceful moment where real listening takes place. I decided to plan these trips into my weekly schedule because I realized what I was aiming for was going to take some time. My thinking about what "school" is really started to be challenged, as well as my role as the teacher. I think we limit what school can be and what it could look like. Blenkinsop cautions that, "simply being outside will not necessarily contribute to learning or to students' sense of connection to nature" (Blenkinsop, 2008). Here are the six main components for ecological understanding that he identifies:

1. get the body involved (to make sense)
2. use stories (about the earth and places you are in)
3. establish a relationship (with places) to truly care
4. tie it to the curriculum
5. start early in life
6. get outside

Judson (2008) argues in her work, Grasping situation: Place-making tools, that the creation of special places is important. She asks how we can look at topics in a way that allows students the opportunity to explore the natural world around them. Judson asks how we can support students' sense of "embeddedness" in the world as part of their learning. She says that teachers will encourage students to stop and pause more often. This is what she refers to as "activeness". She makes the clear distinction between this sense of our own bodies in learning as a sense making tool as opposed to just involving the body kinaesthetically (moving around, but not necessarily in connection to what is being learned). Making sense of place is when, "...we encounter the natural world and where personal relationships with nature take hold in students' hearts and minds" (Judson, 2008). Certainly there is a meaningful inquiry that takes place by going outside with our students.

Playing a bit more with this metaphor of the river will lead us to a more literal and tangible understanding of the implications this has for teaching and building a classroom community of learners. The river goes where it wants, it carves through rock and remains throughout many generations. How do our lessons flow? Do they have the same kind of lasting impression and impact? What about how we shape the river through our intrusions such as building dams, bridges, etc... How does the river shape us? We touch it, but do we let it touch us? Or are we too afraid to get a little dirty or wet? We might be lead to believe that school can't happen outside because we don't have the resources that are necessary. How ironic? Rather than thinking about what might be lacking at the river, I wonder what we are "missing" in school (the place). Can't we bring the idea of "school" to the river and vice-versa? This is my aim.

It is my growing belief that we trivialize nature by building around it and making it a tourist, postcard attraction. Consequently, we lose a sense of what the places around us might teach us or contribute to our work, especially when are work is with students. We visit places occasionally, but how much do we feel them or know them? Have we considered what kind of impact nature might have on us if we spent more time directly in it? There is so much that can happen by spending time at the river. So I don't see it as idle or wasted time, or a break from learning. Certainly it is peaceful at times, but does that equate with no learning, certainly not! The river offers multiple perspectives, space and freedom to explore and for students to be themselves and reflect.

There is this idea of learning beyond the classroom walls by people such as Gruenewald (2003) in his writing, The best of both worlds: A critical pedagogy of place. He argues that, "Place-based pedagogies are needed so that the education of citizens might have some direct bearing on the well-being of the social and ecological places people actually inhabit." (Gruenewald, 2003). He also says that, "the study of places can help increase student engagement and understanding through multidisciplinary, experiential and intergenerational learning that is not only relevant but potentially contributes to the well-being of community life." I am trying to get a sense of what I can teach at the river, but I am also trying to be sensitive to what kinds of lessons might arise out of that place. This is a true part of "possibilities". The unknown, unplanned and unpredictable. We'll never know if we don't go!

"my students reflecting at the river"

The classroom and river sit in juxtaposition, yet they influence each other. What are the sights, sounds, emotions, thoughts that are fostered in the classroom? What sights, sounds, emotions, thoughts can be developed outside through a consistent interaction with a specific place? Buber gave me the notion that it can be a place that we get this true sense of belonging from. I have come to believe that, 

Sometimes building relationships
 doesn't involve an actual building

Some students  come from particularly traumatic backgrounds and are difficult to reach through tradition teaching methods. Buber talks about, "the good, that of God within, in everyone and even if the spark is encased in a thick shell, our challenge, is to break through and release it." I think of some of my students over the years who have come from extreme circumstances, and this typically limits their ability to function and participate properly in classroom activities or discussions; yet I have found that some of these same students open up and are more willing to be vulnerable in front of their peers when we are sharing at the river. What can be understood from this? The river is not just a place separate from us anymore at that moment. It becomes an important place and a part of the fabric of our class. It is a place to be desired, there are no constraints, no walls, bells, desks which hinder movement and expression. This is why I have started looking at the physical space of my classroom and started to alter it to become something other than a sterile box. All learning requires supportive relationships and the places we are in that can offer this nurturing.


"My winning banner for the City of the Arts - Port Moody BC"
My prediction is that there will be a tangible and long lasting change in the attitudes, connections, thoughts and emotions of my students to the places they inhabit. I still have a strong connection to my childhood home on the waterfront in Port Moody, BC where I use to walk, run, rollerblade, bike, and just spend a lot of time alone on the shoreline trail. I was so drawn to this place that even long after I left, I entered an artists' street banner competition - which I won. The theme I chose was inspired by the images in my mind and heart from all those years connected to the place I loved! 

I have moved many times since then (as my colleagues will confirm), but I have always managed to live near water, trails or mountains. I desire to share this connection of mine to the natural world with my students. I imagine that wherever I teach and live, I will continue to look for and find this connection. It is important for my students to see me in my "element" outside of the classroom. If I value nature, but my students never see me engaged with it, then I am teaching them falsely about what I believe to be important. Buber comments that, "the ability to see the other, understand and embrace the other without giving up the self", that this is true connection and inclusion.

The river by our school has come to be a place where I can really feel this community building happening, and it is spreading throughout the school. There have been many classes going on walks and taking small trips to the footbridge across the river to see the salmon spawning. Recently I took my class again and we went down to the river bed and my students were "awed" and commented on the dead, rotting salmon with missing eyes. You can't smell that in a book! This lead to a rich discussion about habitats and prey - predator interactions, along with scavengers (a type of consumer). This complimented what we have been studying in Science, but the true "teachable moment" happened right there at the river. When I ask my students what they want to find out about, they ask me if we can explore further and in different directions along the river. Last year one of my students asked about going to see the beaver dam. I didn't know there even was one along this river!! Looks like I have some further investigation to do!

The river is calling.

November 18, 2011

Welcome to Imagination Island

"Me in my island outfit"
 Aloha and welcome to my blog!

Since I am new to this, I am not certain about how this will go; but I am willing to take a risk and put a few ideas out there for discussion - which is what I hope will be inspired by my posts.

I have been teaching grade four and five for thirteen years now, and I keep looking for new ways to engage my students with the content of the curriculum. I just completed my Master's of Education degree from SFU in curriculum and instruction: Imaginative Education. Kieran Egan is a professor of Education at SFU, who is known internationally for his work in Education and specifically for his Imaginative Education Theory. You may be familiar with some of his books such as: The Educated Mind, Teaching as Storytelling, An Imaginative Approach to Teaching, The Future of Education: Reimagining Our Schools From the Ground Up, to name a few.

So why the outfit? Well this year I have an island theme flowing throughout the entire year which ties many pieces of the curriculum together into a meaningful study. My students have an ongoing research project about their own islands which requires them to apply what they are learning in LA, Math, Science, Socials, HCE, Art and French (did I miss any?) to their island at various points throughout the year. I am using the novel: The Cay by Theodore Taylor as my main inspiration at the beginning to connect students with what it might be like to end up stranded on a deserted island. I have set up my classroom like an island to further engage their senses and emotions with this topic.

Not to get too heavy into theory at this point, I would like to say that changing the context of the classroom is one of the tools that Egan proposes in his IE theory as a way to engage students' imaginations in their learning. So I have had some fun with altering the design of my classroom - and the main idea is that it provides an unexpected, fun, wonderous place to learn and explore new ideas (hence the title of my blog!)

"My window covered in blue celophane"

"My cupboard painting with a nice view"
The sign on my door reads, "Welcome to Imagination Island". I greeted my students at the beginning of this school year with an "Aloha" and a passport. I told them they were about to go on an adventure of a it is my job to live up to that!

"The view into my room with my painted rustic door"
I will certainly talk more about this idea of using IE and specifically the change of context tool in future posts, because it has become one the most powerful tools for learning that I use. Using the Imaginative Education Theory in my teaching over the past two years has radically changed my perception and understanding of how we all learn; and more importantly it has opened me up to the true potential that my students have when I step into my role as an innovator and curriculum designer. I am beginning to see the deep significance of how I build, present and implement new ideas in my classroom as a teacher. When I say "new" ideas - well, I am really talking about the ideas that have been part of our human history - culturally inspired, developed and passed along from generation to generation. What is "new" perhaps is how these ideas are framed and presented to the students.

So the island!? I believe that giving students their own island projects with the same theme as their classmates will encourage them to talk more to each other and share ideas about what they are including in their projects. They will also be making a collection of their ideas on their wiki pages, for all to view and comment on. Ultimately I know they will find that there are endless variations about the same topic, because they are all individuals with unique ideas and expressions.

So there are a few layers to this island thing.
1. I hope that my students are transported to a new place - not necessarily physically, but more somatically and yes even philosophically. Doing something unusual with the space we work in is a boredom buster!
2. The students have their own "mini" island research projects that they can take individual ownership over. While we are studying about a particular topic in Science or Socials, they can be thinking about what they might add or what might be needed for their island.
3. We have a collective island in our room that we can talk about and continue to plan together. For example I recently simply asked them what we should add to the centre space of the room. The responses from the "tribes" were: waterfall, palm trees, hammock, volcano! You know what...these are all possible!

Something I am coming to realize quite strongly is that there are no limits to what we can conceive with our imaginations engaged, and this is a collective construction of knowledge. I have borrowed this idea of doing an in depth project over a long time, and changed it in a way, from Kieran Egan's Learning in Depth model. He proposes that students are given a topic (each one a different one) and they continue to research this topic throughout their schooling. His idea is that there is no end to what can be found out about any topic, including things such as apples or dust! This collaborative element of knowledge construction and the use of cognitive tools in learning is where Lev Vygotsky's Socio-Cultural theory and Kieran Egan's IE theory come together. I will leave that thread to continue in my next post:)