WRITINGS & RAMBLES

Curriculum, Educational Theory

Of Whales and Wood-Chopping: Personal Musings on Emergent Curriculum

Emergent curriculum is the idea of powerful, personal learning in which what is taught is most relevant as a result and an extension of a child’s own experiences and connections. It is typically closely associated with (the fabulous) schools with Reggio Emilia approaches and often references Vygotsky’s theory of social constructivism.

Photo from NAEYC

I found myself twirling around notions of emergent curriculum in a somewhat meta fashion and reflected on my own experiences of emergent learning and growth as an educator and learner in many contexts. Have a peek at some of my musings:

I have powerful and vivid memories of stumbling across a 5-ft marine worm when taking a school group tide pooling in Kachemak Bay in Alaska; I remember standing in the foot of the boat I worked on as a marine science educator watching a grey whale and her calf breech repeatedly next to us, making what I could have sworn was eye contact. I’m reminded of azure skies above the Tetons and laughing until our bellies hurt with a group of students from rural Wyoming. I’m reminded of smiles shared over steaming cups of tea in a barn, my Ama beaming with pride over my corn-kerneling skills- she a woman from rural Nepal and I a young woman with Scandinavian roots, both somehow adept at the same skill, despite little, even a language, in common. I’ve been extraordinarily lucky to have been a student of place and to be mesmerized by the magic of unknown.

Though, these were big, in-your face and “obvious” moments of learning underscored by awe. I’ve omitted from my musings some the moments of frustration and things gone “wrong” in days before and after those moments- of plans falling through, or students/parents/colleagues/administrators with whom I was frustrated (or in turn, frustrated myself). I’ve also omitted any classroom scenarios as well as many other memories in which experiences I was SURE would generate wonder, amazement, curiosity, and general poignancy in fact fell flat for one reason or another. Perhaps the memories I listed were ones in which I felt wholly present and connected in a time and space with others- a moment in which I felt significant yet small, aware of the grandness of the world but also the improbability of it all. There’s simply no way I had any control over these moments beyond setting up an experience and trusting and stumbling, as the text said, in the unknown.

I’m currently in the throes of marathon training, a seemingly masochistic activity, but something that makes me feel grounded and connected, while humbled. “Chop wood, carry water” is a phrase those in the endurance community use to describe the mundane or otherwise unextraordinary work we tend to do in between the flashy or even the sorrowful work. One great workout will not promise me a fast race; a bad workout will not guarantee a slow race. Rather, the sum efforts of showing up, trying new things, and trusting in the one known- that I am capable of coming out on the other side in any workout- is what makes the magic possible. Chop wood, carry water. Perhaps it’s the same way in teaching: that the act of balancing our knowns, our structures, and our continued act of showing up set the stage on which the magic will be performed. A stellar field trip is not enough to ensure a school year of vibrant learning and engagement, though one botched lesson on neutrons surely isn’t enough to derail it all. Chop wood, carry water, allow the magic.

  • Where have you seen emergent curriculum successfully implemented?
  • What are some of your own ideas on emergent curriculum?
Must-Reads

All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir (Nicole Chung)

AllYouCan
Photo from Amazon.ca

  • The Stats: 240 Pages, published March 2018 
  • Who Should Read It: Teachers, school administrators, educational program designers
  • My Rating (out of 5 ♥): ♥♥♥.5
  • My Thoughts: This book was recommended by my library (the Vancouver Public Library), and I admittedly did not expect to be so moved by the Nicole Chung’s story. Chung shares a raw, honest account of her upbringing as a child adopted from South Korea by a family in the Pacific Northwest. She shares candidly about how not knowing her parents or culture; balancing gratitude and connection with her adoptive family with an ever-present sense of wonder and longing of her birth family; stumbling through the institutional racism in the overwhelmingly white community in rural Oregon (“where are YOU from?”); all the while navigating the expected trials of childhood. Chung begins the book by sharing a recent conversation of a well-intentioned friend, herself looking to adopt, and Chung finding herself not able to answer in the simplistic,”Yeah, all adoption is great!”

Chung’s story weaves through difficult realities of meeting and knowing her birth family, while navigating this with her partner and her adoptive parents. While it is anything but cookie-cutter, it’s also surprisingly relateable in how Chung’s story of disappointment, pain, curiosity, and ultimately, love and connection.

Why should educators read this?

I was surprised at how little I realized I knew about adoption, as well as the hidden assumptions I didn’t even realize I was holding onto. Chung has a relatable voice, yet doesn’t sugar-coat anything about her story, and shares insight and truths that tugged at my heart. The trials Chung faced from anyone from her teachers and classmates to hairstylists highlighted to me that adopted children are nearly always reminded they are adopted, which while I’m sure comes with some highlights, also clearly comes with stigmitized, complicating, confusing, and even traumatizing feelings. To understand this as even just one person in a child’s life can be there to listen, undertand, and love.

Thank you, Nicole, for sharing your story.

Educational Theory, Professional Development, Recent + Research-Based, Technology

Looking to 2020: New Year’s Teaching Resolutions!

With a new year comes new opportunities to reflect one the year, which many do with a look towards health, habits, and perhaps even new gym memberships (go for it!). Why not do the same in the classroom? In January, I wrote about how teachers can use the new year as an opportunity to re-evaluate classroom norms, habits, and goals. As we round out the year, let’s take a look at what we can reflect on and look forward to as teachers in the new year. What will I be doing? Check out my 5 resolutions!

Audit My Classroom Library

Library Audit BINGO, created by Dr. Katherine Fishman-Weaver; from Edutopia

Dr Kathryn Fishman-Weaver, faculty at the University of Missouri, recently created a brilliant Classroom Library Audit BINGO, as featured on Edutopia. The audit itself addresses common problems in classroom libraries and is an invaluable, even fun, resource. Fishman-Weaver’s BINGO game is especially helpful for any teachers who feel intimidated by the grand task of ensuring they have representative and inclusive libraries.

Expand Classroom Inclusivity

It’s 2020, and dialogue has changed significantly. Things on the news become more and more raw, real, and scary and include difficult topics, such as consent, racism, homophobia, violence and terror, hate speech, and more. Our students are witness to these things daily, from the news to YouTube to all sorts of social media platforms, and beyond. While it’s ultimately up to each family to decide how, when, and in what manner they talk to their children about the real, raw, and scary, as teachers it is a disservice to ignore these topics. At times, however, it’s challenging to know where to begin. The most trusted and courageous resource I have found is Teaching Tolerance. This website includes easily adapted lessons, learning plans, student tasks, teaching strategies, learning plan tools, film kits, and posters on a wide range of topics for grades K-12. My resolution is to use 1 resource per month from Teaching Tolerance.

Experiment with Apps for Inquiry

Just a small sampling of the TONS of games and resources available through the Goose Chase app.

Confession: technology is not intuitive for me, particularly when it comes to using apps. I find I’m always a bit clumsy with respect to how to best incorporate apps into the learning, rather than have the app take over the instruction and learning entirely… though I’m learning sometimes this is okay, too (for example, MathGames or RAZKids). I’m going to challenge myself this year to get comfortable and plan a lesson around ONE app, and go from there. (I like setting goals I know I have some hope at achieving!). The app I’m thrilled to try is Goose Chase: an interactive, customizable scavenger hunt app and one that is easily adaptable and lends itself well to discovery, student-directed learning, and inquiry. I was introduced to the app as an online Learning Design student through the Harvard Extension School, and I loved it! I’m particularly excited to dive into the full Game Library that Goose Chase provides, which includes topics from Christmas wreath coding (cool!) to English language learning to ecology to field trips, and seemingly everything in-between!

Practice Responding Over Recreating

As mentioned in my November post regarding B.C.’s curricular overhaul, Indigenous knowledge and philosophy are critical pillars and lenses for learning and teaching. One of the key learnings for me in navigating and re-calibrating my positionality in response to these curricular changes has been the notion of responding to, instead of recreating, cultural practices, traditions, and art. My resolution in this regard is to continue to challenge my lessons and applications of the First People’s Principles of Learning, particularly in the way of how students can respond to art, stories, and lessons. Specifically, I’m creating my own essential question: What is the most valuable, meaningful, and authentic way students can connect to their own and other’s cultures? Luckily for me (and all B.C. teachers), there is the First Nations Educational Steering Committee (FNESC), who have SO generously provided extensive lesson plans and classroom resources addressing this very need. B.C. Ministry of Education also has some excellent resources to help guide me on this question.

Learn!

This one may seem like an obvious one, but too often, teachers can get bogged down in the many day-to-day details that go along with loving and wanting the best for our students and their learning…that we forget to take a breather and look around. My goal/resolution there is simply to keep my ears perked and stay curious about new ways of teaching and learning. All of our students are so beautifully unique, and any expansion of our pedagogical toolkits can only help everyone. Recently, I’ve been diving down the rabbit hole of Whole Brain teaching...which seems great and also quite controversial (is this not true of everything to some degree?). To be honest, I don’t know much about it! If you do, what should I know?

  • What are your teaching resolutions for 2020?