Celebrating our "Think Work"

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

One way we try to promote parental engagement and meaningful connections between home and school is through the form of what we like to call, "Think Work." The term "Think Work" was shared with me by my mentor, Tania Sterling, a few years ago. The idea came from the desire to transform the stigma associated with "homework" and make it into something that students would find fun, engaging, and thought-provoking and would also allow them to think deeper about a particular inquiry, topic, etc. Once this idea was shared with me, I began to see the true value in the term "Think Work" and being intrigued, I jumped on using it with our Kindergarten class about two years ago! It's been a hit every since!

Presently, my DECE, Heidi Theis, and I utilize this concept in ways that foster excitement around extending the learning going on in our classroom with our families! Our "Think Work" is not something we create on a weekly basis nor is it mandatory for all families to participate in. We just wanted to provide our families with meaningful opportunities to extend on the learning occurring in our classroom in a fun and engaging way! 

The excitement, joy and enthusiasm that our students showcase before, during, and after presenting their "Think Work" in front of their peers is truly incredible and exactly what we had hoped for - a true testament to the love for learning! Moreover, the positive feedback we have received from our families goes without question that this type of learning opportunity presents our parents with multiple entry points to the learning going on within the walls of our classroom. Similarly, it provides our families with multiple opportunities to engage in purposeful talk at home and a diverse way of exchanging and showcasing their child's learning by sharing photos, transcriptions, and/or videos with us and the class!

Talk about a powerful home/school connection that can be celebrated in both learning environments!

When sending home our "Think Work," we always include question prompts for our parents that they can use to help engage with their child before, during, and after the learning. This is one of the main things parents have said help them facilitate purposeful talk at home and give them the opportunity to truly become an active participant in their child's thinking and learning

Some images captured from our class Leaf Hunt!
Our Leaf Inquiry has begun!
Students created Leaf Books about the leaves they
collected from our class Leaf Hunt.
Which tree does this leaf come from? We
used the app LeafSnap to investigate!
Over the month of October, we had two wonderful opportunities in our classroom that led to perfect "Think Work" activities! The first was our Leaf Inquiry and our students profound natural curiousity for the changing seasons and what they noticed about the leaves outside. That being said, Ms. Theis and I wasted no time in creating an activity that students could do with their families that truly enhanced their thinking about leaves and connected to our classroom learning at the same time. In brief, we asked our students to take their families on a "Leaf Hunt" similar to the one we went on as a class. 

Emily's Leaf Hunt was a real hit and her energy was definitely contagious!

Whether it be to a forest, in their backyard, or at a family member's house, students were able to make meaningful connections to their home environments and tie it into our classroom learning. Furthermore, and as a way of incorporating mathematics, we provided our students with an open-ended template that would encourage them to record down the types of leaves they found and how many of each. The way students recorded their thinking was completely unique to them (e.g. tally marks, check marks, pictures, numbers, words, etc). Here is evidence of our students' Leaf Hunts as their "Think Work" activity:

Some recorded responses and E.S.'s homemade Leaf Book!
Documented responses help gave insight into J.S.'s
insightful conversations with his parents!
G.B. investigating some of the leaves she brought in
from her family Leaf Hunt and discovering which
trees they came from!

Secondly, Halloween and the tradition of "Trick-or-Treating" naturally lent itself to a meaningful "Think Work" activity and one that revolved around a Halloween Math Challenge! With our students excitement building as the date got closer, we noticed our students having conversations around what types of candies were their favourites, what candies they hoped they would get and which candies they didn't like. So.....we created our math challenge and again, supported our parents by providing them with questions they could ask their child before, during, and after trick-or-treating. Furthermore, we invited parents to share photos, writing, videos, etc of their child's learning so that we could build in those rich connections and conversations as students got to present their "Think Work" at school in front of the class! 

J.S. sharing how he began his challenge!
R.K. talking about what she did with her candy.
T.P. highlighting how he used his "counting finger" to
count all of his candy!
T.B. telling us step-by-step how he did his
Halloween Math Challenge! 
C.S-J. talking about how she lined up all the candy to
help her count.
D.K. pointing our his Mom's favourite candy - Kit Kat!
G.V. sharing how she made an AB pattern - chips, chocolate,
chips, chocolate!
R.V. sharing how she made lots of piles of
the different candies.
Here are the photos that our wonderful families sent in showcasing their child in action as they completed our Halloween Math Challenge! One family even experimented and made their very own PicCollage!

Dev's Halloween Saga was a huge hit and was created using the site called "haikudeck."

T.P. counting all of his Halloween candy.
C.S-J. and her family documented her thinking
and learning using their first PicCollage!
J.L.'s family recorded her counting!
R.K. sorting her candy after counting each piece!
J.H. counting and sorting his Halloween candy for our
Math Challenge!
T.B. sorting and counting his candy!
G.V. and R.V. sorting and making AB patterns with
their collected Halloween candy!
J.S.'s family documented his entire thinking and learning
process through a series of photos showcasing the
steps he took to draw conclusions! Incredible!
This is just one of the many ways we try to build a positive home/school connection and foster a sense of engagement and conversation with our students and their families. For other educators, I hope that this post has inspired you to think about ways you foster parental engagement and we would love to hear from you! Please feel free to leave any comments, questions, or further inquiries below!

We couldn't be more thrilled with the number of family responses and we are so fortunate to have such dedicated, involved, and supportive parents - so THANK YOU for your continued involvement in your child's learning. The following photos and videos were shared with us by our families and we thank you for letting us share them on the blog!


  1. Dear students and families,
    thank you so much for sharing your own sharing with us here. How exciting! I am amazed at how the children have demonstrated so much: thinking, sharing, sorting, researching, presenting, talking, inquiring and most importantly, inspiring!
    Hats off Ms Theis and Ms Schmidt for setting the conditions for this learning to flourish.
    Mr. Collins

  2. Love this idea for connecting with families and extending the inquiry process into the home so that families become aware of the shift that is taking place in the full day programs. Just wondering how the parents sent in their pictures and videos? did they email them or send them in on a jump drive or post them some how?

    1. Hi there,
      Thank you for your comment. We are very proud of our idea and the positive feedback from our families speaks volumes! Parents were invited to share photos, videos, transcriptions, etc in anyway that they felt comfortable doing (e.g. sending us an email, sending them to school on a jump drive, developing photos). This makes our Think Work activity accessible for all families. Then, with their consent/permission, we are allowed to post on the blog.
      Thank you for your interest and I'm thrilled that we've inspired you!

  3. Ms. Schmidt, you are a very inspiring teacher and a true partner in raising our kids. The learning journey that we are going through with you is phenomenal and sowing the seeds for great things in the future. Thanks for the opportunity and partnership.

    1. Hi there,
      Thank you so much for taking the time to follow our journey and support your child's learning at home and at school. We couldn't ask for more from our parents! We are so thrilled that we have such positive relationships with our students' families, and you summed it up well by saying how it's a "partnership." We truly look forward to all of the wonderful things the rest of the school year has in store!


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