This post comes from Opal School Teacher-Researcher Kerry Salazar. It discusses the work of Opal 2 (grades 1-2.) Learn more about this project – and see the panels themselves – at the Opal School Summer Symposium.
Children in Opal 2 spend a year immersed in a study of “The We That I Am,” exploring the complexities of the self within a community.
Together with their peers and teachers they consider questions such as:
What is a community?
What does it mean to be a part of a community?
What is my role within that community?
“The We That I Am”– What does that mean?
This year, we have been exploring these big ideas through the lens of belonging. As teachers, we recognize that belonging plays a huge role in community – not just within a school, but within all communities across our lives. As adults, we are interested in exploring these ideas with children and know the children will bring unique perspectives unlike anything adults will bring to this conversation.
We also know that conversations such as these bring risks and big emotions. With this in mind, we seek out opportunities to explore, play, discover, experience, and build trust as we construct these ideas together, over time, throughout the year. As teachers, we listen, observe, make connections and interpretations so that we might respond to the interests of the community, by bringing back ideas to further unpack or by providing new experiences to build upon together.
Each year, I have come to expect that when we listen, stay engaged and connected, and stay open to possibilities, we are very likely to stumble upon moments of wondrous happenstance. These are moments that we don’t expect and never could have predicted but have a magical way of presenting themselves to us in a manner that lifts our work and moves it forward in exciting, new ways.
This year a moment of wondrous happenstance occurred while James, a member of the Exhibits team at the Children’s Museum, was touring Opal 2 around the new Outdoor Adventure exhibit as it was in the process of being constructed. James had been charged with creating the design for a set of panels that would create a part of a fence in the new Outdoor Adventure exhibit. Luckily for us, James saw the potential for rich and meaningful collaboration and guessed that the children might take part in designing something more meaningful, inspiring, and provocative than adults could do on their own. So he invited us into his work and we eagerly agreed!
This invitation from James felt like a perfect opportunity to dive deeper into our research around belonging and we began the process of design by playing. We invited the children to play in Outdoor Adventure and consider:
What stories might you find about who belongs here?
Back in the classroom children formed small collaboration groups where they were invited to “snap their ideas together” to form one group story through drawing about who might belong in Outdoor Adventure. Joey and I knew that this kind of collaboration would provide another opportunity for all of us to reflect on our roles as members who make up a community.
Teacher: Collaboration. What do you know about this word? What does this word mean?
LD: It sort of means, say we were each building a structure, we could connect our structures.
Teacher: So if you’re talking about something, instead of building…
LD: We’d be connecting ideas.
RB: It means connecting your ideas.
TG: Brains together, hearts together.
With our brains together and hearts together we embarked on a journey of collaboration. Those small group drawings were snapped together with the other small groups’ drawings to make a landscape of imagination that held everyone’s collaborative ideas.
NJ: Yeah. What if we could draw designs together. Like I draw a part of it and then MT could draw a part.
LG: It’s hard to work together.
CN: Yeah yeah what LD said.
OR: No no no.
LD: Why do you always say no?
LH: OR, what’s your idea?
CR: It was really hard because everyone kept saying no, then we did majority rules. That didn’t work because people were upset that they got voted out. Then we tried rock, paper, scissors. But then we just heard everyone and snapped our ideas together.
This collaboration wasn’t always easy, but it was another experience that allowed us to learn more about one another – and what it means to belong.