Friday, May 20, 2016

the easy thing

The easy thing would be to give them a set of rules to follow.

The easy thing would be to write out a step-by-step procedure or to walk them through the process by modelling it for them.

The easy thing would be to give up when the first attempt fails. 

The easy thing would be to only show them one way, the right way, so that as soon as they have a finished product, they move on to something else.

I've never been much into the easy thing.

I provided the materials and a very brief explanation of a picture I saw of an airplane made from circles and straws. They got to work, asking for help to hold materials in place while they taped. We agreed that the hall was a good place to test our first planes.

The first planes flew a short distance but didn't produce a "Wow!" from any of the engineers. We gathered and discussed what we might change. One student thought the first ones were too big, using a full length straw and paper that was cut into 2" strips.

We discussed how we might downsize the first design. We cut straws in half and used narrower strips of paper. We also made the circles smaller. The second prototype didn't produce a "Wow!" either.

We talked about the variables. Yes, that's a big name for a little dog, as my Grandma used to say. But children ages 4-6 are much smarter than most people think. We realised that one variable we hadn't changed was the thickness of the paper. I cut up some old file folders and the young engineers sat down to build again.

We took these planes outside to test. This time, they flew! Some flew really well, and some just, well, flew. A few children ran back into the classroom to add wings, and even tiny straw rocket boosters.

Then I noticed that one JK student had taped her circles onto her straw a bit crookedly. One was pointing up and the other was pointing down. THIS plane flew in a perfect spiral, covering more distance than the others. This was one variable even I hadn't considered!

We then had the opportunity to talk about science, and life, and the mistakes we make that teach us more than the successes. Deep stuff for Kindergarten! But they are ready to come back to the creation station to build again, this time following the design of another student's "mistake".

I'm glad I didn't do the easy thing. Our whole day was full of statements liked:

Can you help me?
I can help you.
I can do it!
I did it!

And the very best statement of all:

I wonder...

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Orca Beans and Math

Bobble, our classroom "pet" (a rabbit in a hat puppet!) had a little surprise for us this morning: a small cup filled to the brim with beautiful black and white beans.

We've been knee-deep in seeds and planting so the children guessed right away that they were seeds. I gave them the hint that the beans were named after a black and white animal. A zebra bean? A skunk bean? A cow bean? A panda bean?

I asked them if they had ever heard of an orca. A few students knew that this was a name for what is more commonly known as the Killer Whale. I explained that these beans were called orca beans because of their shine and their black and white pattern. 

Our sensory table has been filled with a variety of dried beans and seeds for a few weeks. The children sort the beans into cups, use their construction vehicles to scoop and dump, explore capacity, and just enjoy the sensory experience of running their fingers through the beans.

Today I offered them the provocation of finding 25 orca beans in the sensory table! I showed them the 10 frame tracking sheet that would be nearby and we talked about how we'd know we had found all the beans. I was surprised at how hard it was to spot the orca beans among the black beans, navy beans, yellow and green split peas, and kidney beans!

We started with a huge group of children surrounding the table but as the interest wore off there was a core group left. I loved seeing how they worked together and hearing their conversations about how many more they needed to find (by counting the blank squares on the 10 frames). Their approach shifted from carefully sifting to scooping up handfuls and letting the beans drift slowly as they watched for the orca beans. 

This exploration was a popular centre all day long. Sometimes the same children would find all of the beans only to pour them back in again and start all over! 

When we weave math instruction into play we see students who are usually less engaged (during formal instruction) diving in, asking questions, sharing their ideas, and growing their understanding. They choose to think mathematically and learn as they play. 

This is the beauty of play-based learning!