We are always reflecting in my classroom. What did you know? What do you know now? How do you know you know what you know? My poor students have to reflect, explain their thinking, and recalibrate their ideas at every twist and turn. But today, the tables have turned. Today, I unveiled the summative assessment task for a Unit of Inquiry about diversity in our community. I blogged about my plan a few weeks ago but today’s reality proved to be far from expected.

While showing the students the case studies, they became excited (read: eager) to welcome these fictitious students to our classroom community. But once they had some drawing paper at the ready–ideation flopped! All things creative took a turn for the peculiar.

Where had all the creativity gone? Had I screwed up all the steps of the Design Cycle? Hmmm… Let me revisit what I’d done:

The students were introduced to their case study students and their questions and concerns proved they had empathy for the fictitious students. Students shared: “Of course Bronny can come to our school. She is smart and a good writer” and “Just because he’s short doesn’t mean that Kevin can’t come here.”

Empathy. Check.

We worked together to define the problem: We will make a change to our school so these diverse kids can come here. (Reminder to Grade 1 selves: We are not trying to think about a change to our behavior but more importantly, a change to our school facility!)

Defining. Check.

And then… ideation. That’s where everything fell flat.  Here’s an example of the dialogue I had 3 times in 5 minutes!

Me: Which student do you want to help?
Student: Bronny. She has a wheelchair.
Me: What change do you want to make to the school so she can join our class?
Student: We need to carry her up the stairs.
Me: Is that a change to the school or is that a change in our behavior?
Student: Our behaviors.
Me: So can you think of a permanent change we can make to the buildings?
Student: *blink* *blink* *blink*
Me: It’s OK. You can share any idea.
Student: An elevator?

After having this conversation again and again, I pulled all the students to the carpet to remind them… their ideas can be as creative and inventive as possible. And then, to spark some synapses, I asked if anyone had an idea they wanted to share. Hands flew up and I called on the most creative thinker I could find. His response: an elevator. Most hands went down while the students grumbled, “That was my idea” to which I responded: *blink* *blink* *blink.*

My shoulders slumped. I looked at my watch and contemplated a read aloud rather than one more second of this… when, out of the corner of my eye a lone hand emerged from the sea of confusion.

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… and that was it. That was how we evolved from “elevator” to flying wheelchairs, hanging track systems, wheels that convert to stair climbers, slides, ramps, and brain message glasses/headphone contraptions.

So what went wrong?

For the last 5 hours, this question has been haunting me. What could I have done better? Why didn’t they get it the first time? And after brainstorming, sharing, and (drinking a few glasses of wine while) talking to an Early Childhood teacher I reached my ah ha moment–they haven’t been playing!

Sure, they students have been playing on the playground during recess time, but there has been a lack of play in the classroom. First grade is a year full of pressures (even if they are perceived pressures): Make sure they ca read. Get them to write. Is their mathematical foundation solid? It feels as kids can’t play because we have “real learning” to do. But I’m an advocate of play-based learning. And we do play. But it’s contrived, teacher-directed play: we engage in building, thinking, and writing using play dough to help explain thinking, math games, and creative unit of inquiry games. But the free creative play that I was so used to in my early childhood classroom has been exchanged for phonics sorts and math games that reinforce conceptual learning. The free play–where PURE creativity lingers– is lacking.

And that needs to change!

So as I reflect on how I will revamp this in the new term, we must get on with the Design Cycle and turn these amazing ideas in to prototypes. Then, we start back at the beginning and have the students reflect on their designs by inviting critical eyes (read: Principal and Assistant Principal “school architects”) to offer feedback. I can’t wait!