Thursday, September 28, 2017

What's going on in there?

The genesis of project work in a preschool classroom

In an experiment, an
Oak Room student closely
watches a snail move toward
either a tomato or new shell.
Here at Sabot at Stony Point we are often asked how we determine project topics for our students. Since we don't have pre-set thematic curricula in place like some early childhood programs, visitors and parents want to know how we choose a course of research for the classroom; and, how we  scaffold engaging experiences for these inquiries. Our first response to these types of questions usually centers around how we listen, notice, observe, and document- all great tools that we utilize to help us really understand (hopefully) what questions the children are asking. We ask ourselves, what is the big idea here?

Pair these observations with our prior experiences as teacher researchers in the oldest preschool classroom. What are the common knotty questions of older 4s and 5-year olds? What questions often engage the social-emotional and intellectual world of this age group?
A student closely observes the raw documentation
on our classroom panel- including photos, children's
observational drawings, and teacher notes.

Ultimately, however, we try to stay open-minded as much as possible about the children's work and words. Each cohort of children- despite the similarities in development- are, in fact, unique. So we discuss, reflect, and deeply consider the words and actions of our students. The resulting provocations- activities available in the classroom designed to provoke an interested response and further inquiry- will help us determine if we are headed in a direction of sustained engagement, healthy disequilibrium, and joy.

This work is never done. The cycle of listening, documenting, and reflecting continues throughout the entire life of a project- indeed, throughout the entire life of the classroom.
Oak Room students have many theories about the hidden
life inside conch shells. These girls are using the shells
to call mermaids and each other.
At the beginning of our school year (just a few weeks ago), my co-teacher and I noticed a universal interest in the magnifying glasses on our light table.
A student observes layers of
transparent color up close on
the light table with a magnifier.
It appeared that the initial intriguing aspect of the magnifiers was seeing detail up close. But later, the children starting asking questions about the hidden characteristics of an item.

A group of children working at our studio table set up with 
magnifying glasses, a snail habitat, and natural items (beehive,
conch shells, acorns, flowers, seashells).
Observational drawing of
a snail shell; snail habitat
on table as well.

Listening to two conch shells!
With these two interests in mind, we provided a space with more magnifying glasses, some paper and pens to represent thinking or to develop predictions, and of course, interesting materials for examination.

The snail habitat and conch shells were of particular interest. One student asked if we could break a conch shell open to see if an animal was still living on the inside. The magnifying glasses couldn't see inside these shells, but we could hear sound whooshing through them. Some children wondered if animals stilled lived inside these shells. After all, our snails are living animals inhabiting similar types of shells.

In one experiment, we watched a snail closely to see if
it would prefer to crawl to a new shell, or crawl to a tomato.
The magnifying glass allowed us to observe the snail's out-
stretched antennae and mouth.

The tomato was the preferred choice!

Many questions and a few theories about the snails were generated from our observations and reflections.
For example, how did the snail shell grow with the animal?
     -Maybe the mommy created the shell around the baby which lives in the center. 

Why do snails' antennae stretch out?
     -That's how they show they feel safe. When the antennae are pulled in, they feel scared.

And also, if we offer a snail a new, larger shell, will it crawl into it and live there, or would it rather eat a tomato?
     -It was hungry, so it went to the tomato.

Are snails afraid of light?
     -It still moved toward the tomato even with a small light behind it. 

The lines of inquiry regarding conch shells and snails continues, and a follow-up blog will dive more deeply into these threads, and include our reflection.

One student noticed the similarity in
shape of these shells, but a large
size and color difference.
We haven't actually broken a conch shell as of yet- this place of healthy disequilibrium is the perfect spot to slow down, stretch our thinking, and explore these questions intentionally, thoughtfully, and with a variety of media.

And, coincidentally, look at what we now have in the Oak Room:
Monarch chrysalis on left side of photo.

A monarch caterpillar hitched a ride on a plant given to me by a native plant grower recently. It pupated into a chrysalis within a day and now it's the center of attention in the Oak Room.

What's going on in this hidden world?
A digital microscope magnifies the chrysalis- but we still can't
 see what's happening inside it.

After 10 days of creating theories about the chrysalis,
a monarch butterfly emerged.

The Oak Room students and teachers are still residing in that happy place between things we know for sure, and things we don't- particularly about the chrysalis and the butterfly. Watch this space for further documentation and reflection regarding this miraculous process and our feelings, observations, theories, and narratives about this transformative and captivating metamorphosis in our classroom.

1 comment:

  1. Elaine, I am excited by the link you have drawn between the magnifying glasses and the desire to see inside! Was it that very same pull to see closer, and closer, and closer that led to the first anatomists and to the development of the microscope?


We love dialog! Please give us your thoughts here (unless you're a mean, ugly spammer. Then please go away)