The Super Hero Inquiry Project

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Last year my class was absolutely OBSESSED with Super Heroes. They were everywhere in the children’s play, indoors and out, but most especially at the small building centre. It really all started with two boys who began creating super heroes out of linking cubes. After sharing their creations with the class, more and more children began turning up at the small building centre to make and play super hero games.

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Can you guess who these Super Heroes are??

At the same time all this was going on, one of my favourite bloggers was also experiencing some Super Hero mayhem in her class. Mrs Meyers began posting some amazing STEM ideas based off the characteristics of Super Hero stories (along with many other super hero related questions, which she wrote about in her blog here: http://mrsmyerskindergarten.blogspot.ca/2017/03/what-we-learned-by-investigating.html)

All of the ideas we tried were hugely popular and led to a lot of experimentation and conversation in our class. We added some of our own provocations based on the children’s overall interest in certain materials (e.g., Plasticine, Lego). Here is a gallery of some of our work:

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This STEM flying challenge was VERY popular and led to a lot of collaboration and teamwork. In fact, many children challenged themselves to come up with multiple ways of making these Duplo characters fly. One group of boys was ecstatic when they figured out how to make a catapult. For days, Duplo Super Heroes were flying across the classroom!

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Another gem from Mrs Meyers! Our students loved making their own spider webs and looking in the non fiction books to learn more about them.

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By far the most popular provocation was this one which gave the children an opportunity to create a Super Hero out of Plasticine (modelling clay). Most students came here often to make a number of different Super Heroes. We loved sharing these at reflection time and talking about the aspects of the costumes that helped us identify each Super Hero’s identity. I was amazed at how detailed these creations were! We had a collection of Super Hero readers which I gathered from the library that the children were intent on consulting as they worked to make sure they got everything just right.

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A few of the super hero readers we had out in the classroom. These were SO popular – even the most reluctant readers were eager to look at these.

One of the thinking routines we relied on heavily for this project was “Can…Have…Are…” This unique take on a concept web really helps focus the children’s thinking on a specific topic. We used it to organize our thinking about villains, specific superheroes like Spiderman, and about Superheroes in general. Each time we used it, the children got more skilled at communicating their ideas.

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What Superhero inquiry would be complete without some creative costume making? The more we talked about superheroes, the more interested the children were in developing their own superhero personas. We used small cardstock cards to make masks and plastic table cloths to make capes.

We wrapped up our learning with a “superhero day” where everyone came to school dressed as their favourite superhero.

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In addition to celebrating our learning with a Super Hero day, we also celebrated by creating a display of our work. The children were so incredibly proud to see their work on display and could often be found admiring their work with classmates and friends.

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A BIG thank you again to Mrs Meyers for sharing her class’s learning online and continuing to inspire me and my students!

 

Playdough Provocations: Inventor’s Workshop!

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If you are looking for a way to jazz up the materials at your playdough table, I have a tried and tested provocation that I’m sure your students will love: The Inventor’s Workshop. I stumbled upon this amazing idea while perusing one of my favourite blogs: The Imagination Tree. On her blog, Anna has a list of over 50 ideas for using playdough which I go to whenever I’m in need of some inspiration. You can find her list as well as her recipes for playdough here: http://theimaginationtree.com/2013/01/the-z-of-play-dough-recipes-and.html

Before the children visited this centre, I set them up with some schema about what an inventor is by reading The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires and Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty (both titles pictured above). I have my own collection of technology cast-offs, but I also wanted to involve the children in the creation of this centre so I sent home a note asking parents for any old electronic materials that we could use. The very next day we got an awesome assortment of old wires (which we trimmed for ease of play), speakers, remotes, cell phones, etc. which we sorted into our loose parts tray. I also added some plastic caps and metal loose parts I had in my loose parts bin.

In addition to the playdough and a collection of loose parts, I also wanted the children to record their creations on paper. I created a recording sheet with “My Invention” at the top. I also provided the children with a new kind of paper to sketch on: graph paper. I told them it was a special kind of paper that planners and inventors might use. I even modeled how to draw a creation I made by sketching and labeling the parts of my machine (like the on/off button, etc.). The children couldn’t WAIT to give this one a go!

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“This is the ‘off’ button!”

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These students were working independently until they realized they could connect their inventions together with a long wire. They were so excited about this discovery!

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“This is a ‘potato maker’ – it can make all kinds of potatoes: chips, french fries, mashed potatoes…”

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This student took time to colour and label her drawing to match her creation. “I put a check mark to show that it’s done!”

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“A Tic Tac Toe machine.”

One of the interests that developed from this provocation was an interest in robots. This was in part due to our experimentation with the apps ChatterPix and ChatterKid. Both versions of the app are nearly identical but ChatterKid has a three second countdown before it starts recording so that students know when to start talking.

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Basically, ChatterPix allows you to bring photos, drawings, and creations to life. You simply “draw on” a mouth and record your message and your image will talk! Here is a sample that one of my students made. This particular student is generally quite shy, so him having the confidence to not only record something but then share it confidently with the class at reflection time was a breakthrough (you can click on the link below to see the video on Twitter)!

Here are a few of the robots the children created:

What I liked most about this provocation  (besides the fact that it is engaging, creative, and fun!) is that it provided so many opportunities for our students to engage in literacy behaviours. The children were actively telling each other about their inventions as they worked, negotiating the use of special materials, and of course recording and writing about their inventions. During reflection time, the class was rapt with attention listening to each other describe what their inventions could do and how they were made. Many students were inspired to visit (or re-visit) this centre after hearing about what their classmates had created there.

Have you ever tried an Inventor’s Workshop in your class? Are you using ChatterPix with your students? I’d love to hear about what you’re doing!

The Mystery Object Inquiry Project

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Don’t you love a good mystery? I know whenever I’m reading a book or watching a film with an element of the unknown, I am always SO curious to see how things will turn out in the end. This year, I decided to spark some interest in a new inquiry by adding in an element of surprise: a “mystery object.” I started with an amaryllis bulb. You can really use anything for this project, but a plant was a great option because of the fact that a plant is always growing and changing. I knew the focus of this inquiry was going to be on building the children’s capacity for making good observations and predictions, and I wanted them to be able to revisit their predictions as the plant grew and changed. An amaryllis blooms in about 6-8 weeks from the time of planting so the children had plenty of time to practice their inquiry skills!

I introduced this project with a game that our music itinerant taught us: “What’s in the box?” I placed the bulb, pot, and bag of soil in a box marked with question marks. We passed the box around the circle asking each child in a sing-song voice, “What’s in the box?” and the children sang back their guesses in turn. After everyone had had a guess, we opened the box to reveal what was inside. I passed around the bulb and each child tried to guess what it was. I recorded their predictions in my notebook. After we had all had a turn at guessing, I asked the class what they thought we should do next. Since there were no instructions with our mystery object, we would have to figure out for ourselves what to do. Right away, many of the children suggested putting the object in the pot with the soil. One child suggested that we need to put water in it too…because that’s what you do when you put something in a pot of dirt.

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Our Mystery Object in its bed of dirt. One student suggested we leave it on the windowsill at the science table so it could catch some sunshine!

We placed our mystery object at the science table. It was the first place most children visited when they entered the classroom each day! Every time there was a change in the mystery object, we took time to discuss our observations as a group. The children had access to our See Think Wonder and “My Prediction” recording sheets throughout the project. It was interesting for me to see which children changed their predictions based on new information and observations as the mystery object grew (and which children held fast to their original ideas).

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A.R. records her thinking about the Mystery Object on a “See, Think, Wonder” recording sheet.

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Some of the children’s predictions about what the Mystery Object might be/grow into: beans, a blueberry, a beanstalk, onions, an apple, salad.

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Our object changes! The students were excited to see these “sprouts” emerge – first one, then two, then three, then four!

One of the interesting questions that arose from one of our reflection discussions was “Is our mystery object a living thing?” This was a question that divided the class! We decided to do some further research to find out. Our librarian gave us a book called “What is a living thing?” which we read in hopes of answering the question once and for all. Again, some children could see right away evidence that our object was indeed living (it was growing, changing, requiring our care and attention) while other children had difficulty connecting the information from the book to their observations of the mystery object.

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The discussion this day revolved around the growth coming from our object. Many children noticed that the new “sprout” looked different than the previous growth. I was encouraging the children to be specific with their observations and descriptions. The leaves were described as “smooth,” “flat,” “pointy” and the new growth as “fat,” “curvy,” and “round.” Many children felt there might be a surprise inside the new growth which caused them to rethink their original predictions.

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The children measure the mystery object to keep track of its growth. J.T. visited the science table every day to measure the mystery object and update the class on how much it had grown!

The day our mystery object bloomed was incredibly exciting! We decided to google “bulb plant that blooms after 8 weeks” and found a matching image for our flower in our search! Giving our plant a name (Amaryllis) was quite satisfying to the children. Every visitor to our classroom was immediately shown to the science table and told about our mystery object – “Do you wanna see our mystery object? It’s an AMARYLLIS!”

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Our beautiful amaryllis bloom. We were shocked to discover that each pod (we ended up with two) held not one, but 4 blooms inside! Amazing!

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Taking a closer look with the magnifiers…

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Counting the blooms…and wondering what might be inside this little pod??

Overall, I feel like the mysterious element to this inquiry was an asset to piquing the children’s initial interest and keeping it sustained throughout the project. My goal from the beginning was to provide an opportunity for the children to practice their inquiry skills – and in that, the mystery object inquiry was very successful!

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Documenting our work

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We thought we’d add a little element of mystery to our hallway display…

Have you ever tried teaching with a mystery object? I’d love to hear what you used as the spark for your learning!

 

 

 

The Wonder Window

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Do you have a wonder window in your classroom? Perhaps you call it something else – an observation window or a nature window? I first read about the idea of an “Observation Window” in A Place for Wonder: Reading and Writing in the Primary Grades  by Georgia Heard and Jennifer McDonough. It’s one of my favourite resources for ideas about developing an inquiry based program in the primary grades, in part because the ideas are so practical (as you read about them you can instantly picture how they could work in your classroom) but also because the strategies so clearly create opportunities for rich dialogue and deep learning.

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I created a Wonder Window in my classroom because I wanted to give my students a dedicated space for scientific thinking…for looking out into the world, for noticing, for theorizing, for questioning. Our wonder window is located beside our Science and Nature Centre in the classroom, which gives me an opportunity to extend the children’s discoveries at the window into provocations nearby – or take provocations and extend them to the window.

I love writing poems, so to spark some curiosity about our window, I wrote the following poem. I copied it onto chart paper (to work on during our Shared Reading time) and placed this printout at the window (to help the children remember what it is I wanted them to do there):

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I originally started with blank paper at the window, to allow the children some free space to record their observations, drawings, questions, or theories. As I introduced the “See Think Wonder” thinking routine, I placed the recording sheets I had modeled during group time there as well.

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At first, I only had one student eager to visit the Wonder Window. However, this student made an interesting discovery – nests! Once we shared her thinking with the class, many other students were keen to go to the wonder window to record their own observations and ideas.

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Here are a few samples of the children’s work from the Wonder Window (I added the sticky notes for the purpose of sharing with parents):

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“I see a nest. I think it’s made of leaves. I wonder if a bird is inside.”

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“I see a nest. I think a bird lives there. I wonder if there’s a baby.”

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“I see a tree. I think it is so tall – taller than me! I wonder how it got so BIG.”

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“I see leaves in the tree. I think it’s a nest. I wonder when it will be Winter.”

Some children are totally independent about their work at the wonder window – visiting of their own accord, documenting their own thinking. Others seek me out when they want to visit the Wonder Window. Some simply want to look out the window and discuss what they see with me, some want to take pictures of what they notice, still others want to write or record their thinking on paper. There is something to learn from each of these learning moments and all are just as important and valuable as the other. I often get interesting ideas/questions to talk about with the class from these small group or individual conversations at the Wonder Window. It really has proven to be a source of awesome learning and inspiration!

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After spotting nests in the trees outside our window, the children were interested in seeing how many nests we could find in our neighbourhood. Here, one student keeps a tally of how many nests we spotted.

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Many students were inspired to make binoculars at the Art Studio for observing at the Wonder Window…

 

Butterfly Inquiry: Inspiring Young Authors with Tap the Magic…Egg?

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As mentioned previously on the blog, my students were totally inspired by the book Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson (you can read about it in Books That Inspire Young Authors). When it came time to design some provocations for the writing table for our butterfly project, I was thinking about how I could give the children an opportunity to show their learning about the butterfly life cycle. Since the children were already familiar with the cyclical nature of Tap the Magic Tree, it seemed like a good jumping off point for talking about the cycle of how caterpillars grow and change. As a class, we brainstormed a version of Tap the Magic Tree called “Tap the Magic Egg” (which, of course, the children were completely excited about!). After some modelling with the entire class, we placed some inspiration books, book covers, newsprint, and sample vocabulary at the writing table. As with our other Tap the Magic Tree experiences, this centre was immediately jam packed with children creating their own life cycle stories. I was able to assess the children’s understanding of the concept, but each story was unique to the child who wrote it. We certainly got a lot of enjoyment out of hearing the stories read aloud at reflection time!

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You can read more about our butterfly project by clicking here.

The Butterfly Inquiry

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Have you ever had live creatures in your classroom? There is something quite magical about having a living, breathing part of nature in the classroom to inspire some deep thinking. Beyond the obvious scientific connections, having live creatures in the classroom also provides opportunities for social development around respect, responsibility, care-giving, and self-regulation. Over the years I’ve had many insects, amphibians, and animals come through my door but butterflies are definitely my favourite. The whole process of watching and waiting for metamorphosis to occur provides endless opportunities for observations, predictions, hypotheses, and of course, lots of excitement!

This inquiry project turned out to be quite all-encompassing and there is a lot I want to share here. This post will be mainly photo based, with some captions for the photos to describe what we were doing. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask!

Our caterpillars on the day of their arrival. We ordered our live caterpillars from Boreal Science.

Our caterpillars on the day of their arrival. We ordered our live caterpillars (Painted Lady Butterflies) from Boreal Science.

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E.A. thought our caterpillars should have names – here, she made name tags for two: “Zigzag” and “Stripey.”

Our literacy connection for the start of this inquiry was The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. Here, a student records a shadow-puppet retelling of the story on the iPad.

Our literacy connection for the start of this inquiry was The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. Here, F.S. records a shadow-puppet retelling of the story on the iPad.

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The children take time to record their observations of the caterpillars in their science notebooks.

A closer look at the science notebook.

A closer look at the science notebook.

 

We represented each phase of the butterfly life cycle through an art piece. Here is our collaborative art piece for the caterpillar, based on Eric Carle's famous story.

We represented each phase of the butterfly life cycle through an art piece. Here is our collaborative art piece for the caterpillar, based on Eric Carle’s famous story.

Racing caterpillars at the math centre. The children negotiated the length of the course and recorded the results of their races.

Racing caterpillars at the math centre. The children negotiated the length of the course and recorded the results of their races.

Our caterpillars inspired so much writing at the writing table!

Our caterpillars inspired so much writing at the writing table!

Writing letters to our butterflies while we wait for them to emerge from their chrysalises.

Writing letters to our butterflies while we wait for them to emerge from their chrysalises.

We found this idea on Pinterest - recording the growth and change of our butterflies. We kept this record on the SMARTBoard.

We found this idea on Pinterest – recording the growth and change of our butterflies. We kept this record on the SMARTBoard.

 

Art and Fine Motor Instruction: learning how to draw a butterfly. Much of this lesson was dedicated to symmetry.

Art and Fine Motor Instruction: learning how to draw a butterfly. Much of this lesson was dedicated to symmetry.

Our See, Think, Wonder graphic organizers were available throughout the entire inquiry. This one says, "I see the butterfly has spots. I think it is camouflage. I wonder how the butterflies get their designs."

Our See, Think, Wonder graphic organizers were available throughout the entire inquiry. This one says, “I see the butterfly has spots. I think it is camouflage. I wonder how the butterflies get their designs.”

 

One of our main questions was "how can we care for our caterpillars/butterflies?" This led us to think about how to create a  habitat for the butterflies where they could thrive while we had them indoors. The children recorded their ideas on butterfly habitat planning sheets and looked for their materials in our outdoor classroom.

One of our main questions was “how can we care for our caterpillars/butterflies?” This led us to think about how to create a habitat for the butterflies where they could thrive while we had them indoors. The children recorded their ideas on butterfly habitat planning sheets and gathered their materials in our outdoor classroom.

Our representation of the chrysalis stage: creating a chrysalis out of papier mache. The children added finer details with permanent markers when their work was dry.

Our representation of the chrysalis stage: creating a chrysalis out of papier mache. The children added finer details with permanent markers when their work was dry.

You can see how excited the children are to catch a glimpse of our first butterfly!

You can see how excited the children are to catch a glimpse of our first butterfly!

Representing our butterflies with beautiful watercolour paintings. The children worked very hard to create symmetrical designs on the butterfly wings.

Representing our butterflies with beautiful watercolour paintings. The children worked very hard to create symmetrical designs on the butterfly wings.

Documentation of our learning. We layered the children's work in a display that captured not only the growth and change of the caterpillars but of our own learning and understanding.

Documentation of our learning. We layered the children’s work in a display that captured not only the growth and change of the caterpillars but the growth and change of our own learning and understanding.

More documentation.

More documentation.

Our butterflies were clipped to our chrysalises and hung from a branch suspended from the ceiling.

Our butterflies were clipped to our chrysalises and hung from a branch suspended from the ceiling.

We celebrated the end of our learning journey with a butterfly release party in our outdoor classroom where the children sang songs and talked about their wishes for our butterflies as they flew into nature.

We celebrated the end of our learning journey with a butterfly release party in our outdoor classroom where the children sang songs and talked about their wishes for our butterflies as they flew into nature.

 

 

 

 

 

Snap Cube Workshop: The Spinner Project

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If you are a regular follower of the blog, you will know that the students in my class LOVE snap cubes. They love them so much, we dedicated an entire centre in my classroom to them (you can read about our journey to embrace the the snap cube craze here: https://thecuriouskindergarten.wordpress.com/2014/03/10/snap-cube-workshop/ and here: https://thecuriouskindergarten.wordpress.com/2014/03/10/snap-cube-workshop-inspiring-young-authors/).

The Spinner Project evolved out of a popular way the students used the snap cubes at the snap cube workshop: they spun them. Constantly. At least once a day someone took a cube and tried to spin it. With some investigation, we learned that the children were trying to recreate “Beyblades,” a popular toy many of them had at home. (This isn’t the first time I had heard about Beyblades. In fact, for the last 5 years or so, I have been wondering what to do with the children’s interest in these toys.) The trick to coming up with an engaging and meaningful inquiry I find is coming up with just the right problem/question. It was during one of our reflection discussions that the question jumped out at us. Two boys were talking about spinning the cubes and each had made a spinner that was slightly different. We were trying to figure out if one spinner worked better than the other, and why. And viola!

The next day, we posed the following question: Can you build the best spinner? The children were so excited about this question! Before discovery time, we spent some time talking about what the word “best” would mean. The children came up with three criteria which we posted at the snap cube centre:

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In addition to creating our criteria, we talked about the tools the children could use to assess the success of their spinners. For “spinning super duper fast,” the children decided capturing the spinner on video would be a good way to measure this. For design, we would take pictures of our spinners and/or save them to show at reflection time. And for “spins a long time” we showed the children how to time their spinning spinners using the timer on the iPad.

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There were so many interesting discoveries made during this project! Here are some images and ideas we captured of the children’s experimentation:

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The spinners got more and more elaborate as design became the focus of the children’s attention. We learned that, generally, the more elaborate the design, the slower the spinner spun.

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The students were fascinated to explore the paths and patterns of a spinner’s movement.

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Many children worked collaboratively: K: “We attached our spinners together and made it so BIG! It spins so much faster when they are together.”

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In a large group discussion, we brainstormed a list of things that spin.

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J.K.: “Mine is a square, but when it spins it looks like a blade, sharp. I was just experimenting to see if I can make the best one.”

 

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Problem solving and experimentation were evident: S: “Mine is flat and I can still spin it. What if I add another cube on top and then I can use that to spin it – like a handle? [He tries it.] Hmm…that slows it down. So that is a bad idea.”

J: “My spinner is the best because it spins the fastest and for 29 seconds. Also, if you put a red block beside a while block it turns pink when it spins because white and red make pink.”

M: “I discovered you can make a spinner with just one cube. It’s small and it’s good to just use one cube because it won’t break and you can fit it in your pocket!”

Have you explored a spinning inquiry with your students? What questions/ideas did you explore?

 

 

 

 

 

Enclosures Inquiry: A House for Snuffles

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Our second major inquiry of the year in M.S.I. was an inquiry about enclosures (you can read about our first inquiry on towers by clicking here.)

To introduce the idea of enclosures, I read my class the story Snuffles House by Daphne Faunce-Brown, about a hedgehog who sets out to build himself a new house after his house burns down. In the story, Snuffles experiments with different shapes and designs for his house, each with their own flaws (e.g., the round house rolls down a hill, the triangle house has too small of an upstairs) until he decides on a rectangle shaped house. As you can tell from the description, this story provides a lot of opportunities to talk about shapes. Snuffles House is out of print (so if you find a copy, grab it!), but you can find a video of it being read on YouTube. You can also tell the story orally by making your own props (I made a set of different shaped houses using brown construction paper). Alternatively, a story like The Three Little Pigs also lends itself well to this topic.

After reading the story, we talked about the problems Snuffles encountered and what features were important in the construction of his house. I then gave the children the task of building a house for Snuffles with blocks. To help the children, I provided them with a basket of small stuffed hedgehog toys to use for checking the adequacy of their structures. The children loved having a tangible “Snuffles” to work with!

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The instructions for our initial building time were sparse. I basically read the story and sent the children to “build a house for Snuffles.” The purpose of this initial building time was for me to gauge what ideas/skills/experiences the children had around houses and enclosures. As the children worked, many of them demonstrated some ideas about walls and doors. Still others worked on some kind of roof-like covering, though this proved to be a challenge for most children because of the size of their blocks. During reflection time, we pointed out these successes and challenges. Naturally, a brainstorming session began on how to solve our roofing problems. It was decided that a roof was an essential part of our enclosures in that it would protect Snuffles from weather and predators. But how could we make a roof when our blocks were so small? I challenged the children to look around and see if they could spot anything that might make a good roof material. Immediately, the children started shouting out ideas: “books!” “carpets!” “paper!” Suddenly, we had so many ideas for roof materials! We decided to make a basket of roof materials for the next M.S.I. lesson.

During our initial building, one student modifies her structure to add a roof. We talked about her decision during reflection time.

During our initial building, one student modifies her structure to add a roof. We talked about her decision during reflection time.

A photo showing a student who struggled with adding a roof to her structure.

A photo showing a student who struggled with adding a roof to her structure.

Throughout this inquiry, we explored so many important ideas around enclosures, almost always by examining more closely the children’s own structures. For example, many students built enclosures that the little stuffed hedgehog just barely fit inside. This got us thinking about space. We looked around our classroom and realized how high the ceiling was and how far apart the walls were. Why was space so important? What did having space in our enclosure allow us to do? How did space add to our comfort? These are some of the ideas we explored.

Snuffles seems like he needs a little more space!

Snuffles seems like he needs a little more space!

The idea of space really came to life when we added a Snuffles House provocation to the light table. With the window blocks and the light shining from underneath, the children were really able to get a sense of how much space Snuffles had inside his house – it was quite the breakthrough! The light table also gave the children an opportunity to collaborate and the enclosures that were created were amazingly elaborate!

A collaborative structure at the light table.

A collaborative structure at the light table.

Another idea that popped up during this inquiry was the idea of drawing up blueprints or making plans for building. In the computer lab, the children were given a chance to work with a partner to design a house for Snuffles using KidPix. After printing out their plans, many children continued to work on adding details to their drawings at our classroom writing centre.

Students continue adding to the plans they designed in the computer lab.

Students continue adding to the plans they designed in the computer lab.

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Enclosures also began popping up at the classroom big blocks centre:

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After several weeks of experimenting with different designs for our enclosures and talking about the important features for enclosures, the children were given one last opportunity to design a dream house for Snuffles (by this time, we had co-created success criteria for enclosures on the SMART Board which were reviewed and added to each week).

Our collaborative success criteria for Snuffles' house.

Our collaborative success criteria for Snuffles’ house.

Whereas in our Tower Inquiry the students sketched their towers after they were built, this time the children were encouraged to draw their plans first, label them, and then build. While building, the children were able to refer to their plans and make sure they had all their important elements covered.

This student focuses on using a variety of shapes in his design.

This student focuses on using a variety of shapes in his design.

This student adds labels to his design plan.

This student adds labels to his design plan.

"Inside Snuffles house are so many toys. I used the square blocks with the colours because you can see through them. They are windows."

“Inside Snuffles house are so many toys. I used the square blocks with the colours because you can see through them. They are windows.”

"First I made a square and I thought I could use blocks for the roof but it was too small for Snuffles so I made it so he can fit. It has 2 chimneys and a 2nd floor where he sleeps."

“First I made a square and I thought I could use blocks for the roof but it was too small for Snuffles so I made it so he can fit. It has 2 chimneys and a 2nd floor where he sleeps.”

"I put the bed upstairs and a kitchen downstairs. There’s rain outside but it won’t get in the house. I made 5 floors on mine!"

“I put the bed upstairs and a kitchen downstairs. There’s rain outside but it won’t get in the house. I made 5 floors on mine!”

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See, Think, Wonder: Developing Thinking Routines in the Classroom

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Today I thought I’d share a strategy I use to help my students communicate their thinking during the inquiry process. See, Think, Wonder is a thinking routine I use with my students to help them think critically about an object or idea and express their ideas with others. See, Think, Wonder is a strategy that developed out of Harvard’s Project Zero. It was originally developed with a view to help children think critically about art and artwork, though I use it across my program and have found it particularly effective during inquiry projects. If you haven’t checked out the Project Zero website, I highly recommend it! There are a number of amazing strategies and projects there which anyone working with early learners might find useful.

See, Think, Wonder falls under one of Project Zero’s “Thinking Routines.” Basically, the idea of a thinking routine is that you approach it the way you do any other routine you want to establish in your class, with lots of modelling, practice, and a gradual release of responsibility. As a kindergarten teacher, the idea of establishing routines is a familiar one. We have routines for entry, snack time, carpet time, etc. Why not have routines for thinking as well?

When I was thinking about how I would introduce this routine to the class, I knew I wanted to create a visual element to accompany the language prompts as I thought it might help my students connect to what I was talking about. I created the following template using both words and images. For “I See…,” I included an image of a magnifying glass (not just a picture of eyes, as I had originally thought, because I wanted to impart the idea of looking deeply at something); for “I think…,” I included a picture of a brain; for “I wonder…,” I put a picture of a thought cloud (this is specific to my class because I have a bunch of thought clouds on sticks that we use to communicate our “wonderings,” so I knew my students would connect to that and know what I wanted them to express). Here is the finished template I created – you can click on it for a pdf version:

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To begin, I use an electronic version of the template on the SmartBoard to model my own thinking. This year, I started by using a photograph from a recent nature walk we went on as a class so that the children would have their own schema for the event that I was talking about. However, you can just as easily use a new image or object. Over the coming days and weeks, I repeat the routine but gradually involve the children’s ideas. I always record our thinking on the same template.

When I feel that the children are comfortable with the template and the language, I place copies of the template at our discovery centre. Here, the children are given an opportunity to communicate their own ideas. Some children draw pictures to show their thinking, and others attempt to write their own ideas down with a combination of letters and familiar words.

Here are a couple examples from our butterfly inquiry last year:

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I see the caterpillars eating. I think the caterpillars are ready to turn into a butterfly. I wonder why they turn into a butterfly.

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I see it fell. I think it is frozen. I wonder why it is not moving.

What do you think about using See, Think, Wonder as a thinking routine for your class? Are you using any other strategies for encouraging deep thinking with your students?

Nests, revisited…

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One of the things I’ve noticed about inquiry projects is how everlasting the learning is. Our projects never really end; though we may “shelve” our thinking and ideas for a time, we often revisit our projects throughout the year – or even in the following year. Earlier in the fall I wrote about a nest inquiry we embarked on after one of my students brought in a nest she found on her way to school (you can read about it here: “Whose Nest is This?”). This Spring, students started thinking about an inquiry from last year where we studied the birds in our yard. As the weather warmed up, the children started noticing our sparrows territorially guarding the bird houses in the courtyard and began speculating that the birds might be preparing nests for their babies, as they had done last year. This created some interesting discussion and wondering about nests. Some of the questions that came up were:

Why do birds (and other animals) build nests?

How do they build nests? What materials do they use? How long does it take?

We really wished we could see inside our bird houses so we could see what the birds were up to! To that end, I found a clip on YouTube that showed a time lapse of a bird building a nest inside a birdhouse (some clever person had set up a video camera in the roof of the house to capture the whole process – boy, did my students think THAT was a genius idea!).

To capitalize on the students’ interest in nests, I created a provocation at the Art Studio. We had been working with clay over the last few weeks and I wanted to give the students a new experience with this popular material. Here is the provocation:

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Students were asked to sculpt a nest out of clay and make sure that it could safely hold at least one egg. Students were also asked to add “texture” to their nests using a variety of materials. Fitting an egg proved to be a wonderful challenge that encouraged the children to problem solve as they worked  – making their nests deeper, wider, or taller as necessary to safely hold the egg. When it came to adding texture, we spent some time holding real bird nests and describing how they felt – “rough,” “prickly,” “scratchy.” “soft,” “smooth,” etc. Children were given simple tools (popsicle sticks, toothpicks, forks, etc.) to add the texture they felt was appropriate. This was a new experience for my students, as our previous work with clay had required them to make their pieces as smooth as possible. Some children had a hard time scratching up their work – in their minds, the nests needed to be smooth because “that’s what clay should feel like.” I was fascinated by this line of thinking. It just goes to show that we often misinterpret the messages that children receive from us from our teaching.

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S.M: The inside of my nest is very big so all the eggs can fit and won’t fly out because of the wind!

Y.T: I made my nest with clay. First, I made a circle and then I put my thumb in and pushed. First the egg didn’t fit and then I pinched it more and tested it but it still didn’t fit, then I tested it again and it fit!

G.M: Nests are for baby birds. The nest keeps the eggs from falling out on the ground where someone might eat them.

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J.M.: Nests are very scratchy. I’m going to pinch it to make it rough. I really enjoyed making this!

J.K.: Nests have a bumpy texture.

S.M.: My nest has a rough texture on the outside and a smooth texture on the inside. It’s smooth in the inside because we don’t want to hurt the birds.

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After completing our nests, the children were given the opportunity to paint an egg to put inside. We read An Egg is Quiet by Dianna Hutts Aston and Silvia Long (one book of many in a wonderful series – definitely worth checking out!) where we learned about the different sizes, shapes, designs, and textures eggs can have. We also discovered that eggs can be laid by a wide variety of animals! While working on their eggs, the children were asked to imagine what creature might hatch from their egg – a wonderful, creative exercise that greatly influenced how the children designed and painted their eggs.

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M: That’s a crab egg. It’s red with black spots!

M.B. I knew he was making a crab egg. I knew it because he made it so red!

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M.C: I’m painting my egg black because there’s a black snake inside!

R.K.: Mine is a blue jay egg. It’s just blue because a blue jay is blue. Oh, I love my egg!

J.M.: I made my egg green with white, yellow, and blue. I put on black speckles and blue lines. There’s a little robin inside.

Our display of nests and eggs is in the centre of our classroom, at the children’s level. Our students can be found admiring their work daily (and they can’t wait to take them home!).

Are you working on a bird or nest inquiry at the moment? What kind of thinking is happening in your class? I’d love to hear what you are up to!