“it’s like a big seed”

gourds and cornWhat is a living thing? Pumpkins, gourds, calico corn, potted flowers, acorns, rocks and feathers are some of the items placed at the Discovery Table for the children to investigate. The obvious items such as the flowers and rocks were not given very much attention. The children were more intrigued with the gourds and the corn and they began to compare them. A fresh cob of corn was included with the flint and calico corn.

Here are a few of their observations:

P – This is fake and this is real (comparing the corn).corn

S – Pumpkins are real, but this one (the gourd) is fake, because if you throw it down it will break…I don’t think it’s real.

A – This is real corn!

“S” noticed the calico corn and said, “These are not real!”

“A” took the fresh corn and said,  “It is real. It has seeds inside and it’s real and it’s really hard.”

One of the things I found interesting as I listened to their conversations was just how intrigued they were. They kept comparing the gourd to the pumpkin and the fresh corn to the dried. The children kept referring to the “realness” of the object in determining whether it was a living thing. When they shared their investigations during our debrief, I asked, “How do you know if something is living?” Their attention once again turned to the corn and they began to talk about seeds and explained that living things grow. As a result of their uncertainty about the corn, I asked them how we could find out if the corn was living or not based on their theory that living things grow. “A” said, “If you give them plenty of sun and water, they will grow.” So, that’s what we did. Honestly, I wasn’t sure about the calico corn because it came with a “for decorative purposes only” label. After two weeks I was about to give up on it and then it happened. The dried corn began to sprout and the fresh corn began to dry out.  Their wonderings and observations continued:

corn sproutD – Why is there a red thing?

M – Maybe when it’s dying the colour was that and maybe it’s the same.

D – I see dirt on it.

M – Why is there brown stuff and black stuff on the side? “D”! Look! See?! There’s a red thing at the side!

D – There’s a seed popping up! And one over here!

Another group of students observed the fresh corn which was also sitting in water for the same amount of time.

shrinking cornR – I think it’s shrinking because it’s not getting enough water.

A – It’s shrinking because of the juices gets out (gestures shrinking with her hands).

N – The corn is not growing. It’s drinking water.

H- I think it’s living because when you touch it, it moves. This piece is getting longer.

S- It’s like a big seed because it’s growing.

sprouting corn

The sprouting corn continues to intrigue the Grade 1 students. They have been recording their research using pictures, diagrams and words.  As we continue to learn through inquiry, I’m realizing that the inquiry process itself is a “living thing” and that time, patience, and growth are to inquiry as sun, water and sprouts are to the corn.

more dots, curriculum, and inspirations from Goldsworthy

goldswrthyAround the time we were embarking on our 3-D dot project, we were also exploring creating dots using natural materials. We looked to land art and Andy Goldsworthy for inspiration. The students were quite amazed at the different ways Goldsworthy created dots and “not dots” and they took on the challenge of creating their own versions. As you can imagine, there was a lot of compromising, troubleshooting and problem-solving happening. Many of the students worked in pairs or small groups to create their own unique versions of their nature dots.

goldswrthy inspired1And so, the question arises…Why do you continue to play in Grade 1? Aside from the inspiration of watching the students engaged in this play, I began to think of the curriculum expectations. I knew we were addressing them, but I’m always surprised to see just how many are uncovered through one experience. Some of the obvious mathematics expectations around sorting were addressed in addition to the other 4 strands and the mathematical processes. Also uncovered were expectations in art, science, and language. While many of the children were interested in using these materials, some preferred to demonstrate their understanding in different ways and were given the opportunity to do so. Gr1Goldsworthy inspiredWhen I looked at our math text book, I realized that the entire unit was covered in just the first two weeks of school and we didn’t look at the textbook once. We talk about the importance of giving students experience with manipulatives and exploration, yet we often resort to, or begin with, textbook lessons where everyone is expected to do the same thing.  Reflecting on this experience is yet another reminder to me that “play” is powerful and definitely has a place in Grade 1.

slow down and smell the flowers

hyacinthOne of the major changes I’ve noticed in my practice since becoming interested in the Reggio Approach is the importance of slowing down, watching and listening. I think it’s one of the most challenging things for us to do. I used to think that I always needed to ask questions in order to guide discoveries. But the less I talk, the more I listen and the more the children show me how they think, what theories they have and how they make meaning of their world. Listening allows me to better understand what questions I need to ask or what materials or provocations I can provide that might extend their learning. Having said that, I also believe that it’s important for us to allow and encourage the children to slow down as well. There is a lot to be learned when children have time to engage with materials over extended periods of time.

painting hyacinthsIn preparation for observing the beautiful changes that come with spring, I added some potted hyacinths and pussy willows to the studio. Last year, the children’s investigations around pussy willows led to a planting project which included beautifying our outdoor play space. Since I’m at a different school this year, I thought I would still use the pussy willows to provoke the children’s interest, but they seemed to be much more interested in the hyacinths. At first they touched and smelled them. Our classroom certainly had a natural air freshener for about a week! They did a number of drawings and returned to the hyacinths several times over a number of days. The children represented them in different ways. Some used markers, others used markers and paint, and a few decided to paint their representations at the easel.

hyacinth representations

hyacinth painting 1

hyacinth painting 3

It wasn’t until we went outside yesterday to take a look at what was happening in our garden that I really noticed the time the children took to represent their observations. They garden drawing 1slowed themselves down to observe and the last thing I wanted to do was to rush them. Some drew, some drew and added words, and interestingly, one of the children who often needs encouragement when writing decided to represent his observations in writing! The children were excited to see that the “pyaz” they planted in the fall are now growing and blooming. Many of the children had the same question – how do flowers grow? I think the inquiry that began in the fall and “hibernated” throughout the winter is now reawakening interest in the children. And, like the blooming garden, its growth and beauty cannot be rushed.

garden representations

a home for worms – part two

deciding what worms eatWith the composter ready to go, we needed to learn what worms eat. The children investigated pictures of different types of food and a small group decided we should sort them into what worms can and cannot eat. They decided to make a “YES” and a “NO” pile. It took them some time to decide what went where and why. As usual, their conversations were very interesting. It was important to one of the children that we not feed the worms too much because when we eat too much we get what worms eatsick, and if we eat things that aren’t good for us, we get sick. She said that it would be the same for the worms and that we should be careful when feeding them. When we shared their thinking at group time, we agreed on the foods that should go into the composter and arranged our pictures onto a chart as a reference for the children. In order to give the children more ownership and to deepen their understanding, we plan on adding to our “yes/no” chart by taking pictures of the actual food scraps the children may be questioning as we learn what to add to the composter. Now, bring on the worms!

a home for worms – part one

rotting foodAt this point in the year, the children have a fairly good understanding of what belongs in the recycling and what belongs in the garbage. It  became clear that with the amount of food scraps ending up in the garbage, we needed to be more environmentally aware with regards to what to do with them. A while back, we had the children put the scraps in a bin and placed a lid on it. I don’t have to tell you what began to happen after a few days. Before the children came in one morning, we put the moldy fruit in a clear ziploc bag and left the bag at the Discovery Centre for the children to investigate. They had some interesting observations:

R:  There’s some dust on there. There’s germy stuff. I could see some rotting apple.

A:  I think the green things are leaves. Or rotten.

Av:  The green thing is squishy.

M:  The green thing was on the orange and the apple is getting rotten.

Mr. P.:  What do you mean when you say “rotten?”

M:  Rotten means you can’t eat it anymore. It’s not good anymore.

Mr. P.:  Is there something else we can do instead of putting them in the garbage?

M:  Put it in the compost. When things get rotten, you put it in the compost bin and the worms eat it and help the plants.

R:  When the worms eat the rotten things they make soil. There’s a special door at the front of the composter.

Mr. P.:  Are there worms in there now?

M:  No, because it’s winter.

N:  Maybe we can make something for the worms to live in.

DSC06428And so began the construction of our composter. We discussed what we might use. The children knew we needed a box or a bin. There are many different sources on the web for making your own vermicomposter. I found some very simple instructions from Shedd Aquarium and projected their picture of the compost bin. The children were encouraged to “read” the picture and decide how to begin to approach this project. They noticed the holes. Some thought they were for the worms to crawl through, others were sure they were to let air in so the worms could breathe. As we “read” the picture, we came up with our own instructions on how to make the composter. I asked the children how we could make the holes. At first they were sure they needed scissors. So they gave that a try, but soon found it wasn’t working. One friend said we needed a screwdriver. Another said, “We need something that has small holes and will turn on here (the bin) and will make holes.” I really wish I had some hand drills so the children could drill their own holes. Unfortunately, I did not and I had to get a little more involved than I would have liked. Nonetheless, the children found this quite intriguing. When I showed them the power drill, a few said, “That’s it!  That’s the screwdriver!”

drilling holes composter

Once our composter was built, we needed to prepare it for the worms.  We used instructions from Cathy’s Crawly Composters to learn how to prepare the bedding. The children tore strips of newsprint, white paper, coffee trays and packing cardboard fibre and added it to the bin. We added soil and spritzed it with water in anticipation of the arrival of the worms. Then we awaited their arrival…

composter bedding

more leaf inspirations

Last week we went on a leaf hunt. The children collected leaves of different shapes, sizes and colours. When we returned to our classroom, the children each took a leaf and described something they noticed. They discovered that some leaves have spots, some are droopy and others are “stinky”.  Using their words, we engaged in some shared writing.  As they took a closer look, the children also noticed that “leaves have lines.”  We are fortunate to have a light table, the leaves were placed on the light table for further exploration.  At first, the children sorted the leaves.  As a small group took a closer look, I revisited their idea that leaves have lines and encouraged them to trace their favourite leaf onto a piece of transparency.  This reminded me of some wonderful art work I had the opportunity to see at the Bishop Strachan School last year which inspired what follows.

Using the overhead projector, the leaf drawings were projected for the children.  Projecting their leaf drawings added yet another dimension to their experience with light, shadow, and their drawings.  As the children painted, more children became interested and were also inspired to trace a leaf.  Once their paintings dried, they added colour.  I was amazed at how much care even the younger children took as they painted.  We are now paying much closer attention to the lines we see in our environment.  I have a feeling this could be the inspiration for a line project!

more than a collage

We took the children on a nature walk so they could make some observations about things they noticed in the natural environment.  Although not many leaves had yet changed colours, there were several on the ground that the children found interesting.  We collected some of the things they found and brought them back to the classroom.  The children collected a lot of the same types of leaves.  We put what they had collected out on some butcher paper to see what they would do.  For me, this was another lesson in patience and honouring the unexpected.  I thought this would be the perfect opportunity for the children to sort and I could have easily told them to do so.  Instead, I decided to watch and listen.  A couple of children immediately brought the magnifying glasses over and began examining the leaves.  They noticed that some were soft, and some were “crunchy” (There was the sorting I had anticipated, but that was where it ended.)  A few of children decided to rub the crunchy leaves between their hands and enjoyed watching the leaves become “crumbs.”  Someone decided to make a picture and realized she needed some glue.  Her piece of paper was cut and she brought it over to the Studio to create her masterpiece.  

This encouraged a friend to come over and help.  The individual work of art now became a collaborative piece as the two girls created together.  Other children also wanted their little piece of butcher paper cut so they could create their own collages.  The girls’ collage became a story about their nature walk and a demonstration of cooperation.  What I thought would be a simple sorting exercise turned into a much richer experience.  The children observed, wondered about the crunchy leaves, engaged in a sensory experience, artistically represented their thinking, retold the story of their walk, and collaborated with peers.  What seems on the surface to be a simple collage of leaves, is really so much more.  It will be interesting to see what the children find on our next walk and the changes they might notice.