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.

 

 

 

 

 

Playdough snowmen…inspiring young poets!

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Well, here in Toronto this week we got an early blast of winter with 5 cm of snow. It was perfect snow for packing and sculpting too – which meant lots of opportunities for making snow creatures! So, in honor of our first snow of the season, I thought I’d share a wonderful playdough activity that provides many opportunities for language and literacy skills.

This activity begins with a poem (which we explored as a class during Shared Reading time) and a provocation at the playdough table. Here is the set-up:

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The children were encouraged to construct and decorate their own snowman/snow creature. While they worked, the children talked about their experiences in the snow and were encouraged to describe their creations. Each snowman was photographed (in fact, most children were keen to snap the picture themselves!).

Here are some of our snowmen:

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The photos of the children’s snowmen were printed and added to the writing table where the children were encouraged to write poems about them.

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Here are some samples of what the children created:

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Snowman

Snowman has a smile

But he is meltie

So we put a blanket over him

But he melted

Snowflakes

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Snowman

Snowman, snowman

How are you?

Are you cold?

Are you meltie?

Snowman

Boo Hoo.

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Snowman Mommy

Snowman mommy

I love you.

Snowman mommy,

You love me.

Snowman!

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ABC Snowman

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P

Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Lion snowman

Roar!

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Snowman ABC

A B C D E F G

Don’t break the snowman.

H I J K L M N O P

I like snowman.

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Snowman 1 2 3 4

1 2 3 4 carrot

1 2 3 4 eyes

1 2 3 4 smile

1 2 3 4 buttons

1 2 3 4 scarf

Snowman!!

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This student had some very creative words of his own to add to his poem! He was hesitant to write the words on his own so I scribed them for him, but encouraged him to write the title and special ending words “Splash! Coocoo!” on his own.

We were so impressed with the children’s creativity and enthusiasm throughout this project! Each day, we dedicated some of our class reflection time to listening to each other’s poems. Here are some things we did to help the students achieve success with this activity:

*The topic developed out of the children’s own interests in making snow creatures outside.

*The poem we read helped the children understand/think about the process of making a snowman and served as a model for the type of writing we wanted the children to attempt (poetry).

*We talked about the features that made the snowman poem interesting and fun for us to read. There was a particular emphasis on the ending of the poem and how it was an exciting finish.

*The children had an opportunity for hands-on exploration with materials. The conversations we had while making the playdough snowmen lay the foundation for our poetry writing.

*We wrote several poems together as a class (modelling) prior to students attempting to write their own poems.

*All students were encouraged to write a poem regardless of their level of skill in writing.

*All children were celebrated for their creativity and success.

 

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?

Inspiring Young Authors: Riddles!

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Last week at the writing centre we created a riddle-writing provocation for the children. The idea came from our last “show and tell” idea which was “Secret in a Bag.” Each night, one student took home our “secret in a bag” bag and chose an item to put inside. Then, they thought about three clues that would describe their object. The next day, they returned the bag to school, shared their clues (most students wrote them down on paper and read them aloud) and we all had a go at trying to guess what the object was. When we guessed (or didn’t, as was sometimes the case for some tricky items!) the student was able to talk about what they had brought and we asked questions about it. The children absolutely LOVED “Secret in a Bag” and looked forward to figuring out each others’ riddles each day.

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Because of the success of “Secret in a Bag,” we decided to encourage the children’s interest in clue-writing by creating an opportunity for them to write riddles at the writing centre. Along with a question (the back of which contained some sentence starters such as “I am…” “I can…” “I have…” and “I like…”) we placed folded card stock and markers at the table. The children were encouraged to write their clues on the top flap and draw a picture of the answer to their riddle inside the fold. This centre was a huge success! We are in our second week of riddle writing now and the children aren’t slowing down! We’ve posted some of the riddles on our classroom door for passers-by to enjoy and the children also excitedly take their riddles home to try and stump their families!

Here are some samples of my students’ riddles. Please note that we don’t spell anything for the children; they are encouraged to use words from our word wall, sound things out, or ask a friend for help:

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“I am yellow. I have black polka dots. What am I?”

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A giraffe!”

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“I am wooly and I live at the farm and I run on the grass. Who am I?”

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I am a sheep!”

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I have big teeth. I have big feet. Who am I?”

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A dinosaur!”

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Growing an Imaginary Garden

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Today I’m back with another of my most treasured children’s books to recommend: The Imaginary Garden by Andrew Larson. In this story, Theo and her Poppa share many special days in Poppa’s garden. When Poppa downsizes to an apartment with a windy balcony, recreating that garden becomes a creative inspiration! Instead of plants in pots, Theo and Poppa set about painting an imaginary garden on a large canvas.

My students really responded to this book. We have been anxious for signs of spring, but since it has been a rather slow start to the growing season this book is just what we needed to tide us over until the warm days arrive. After reading the story aloud, the children were immediately interested in creating an imaginary garden of our own. We did a group brainstorming session and decided we wanted to begin where Theo and her Poppa began: by setting the stage for the garden by creating the soil, a garden wall, and the sky.

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Our class compilation of ideas for the garden, generated after one of our read-alouds

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The children get to work on painting the garden wall – they wanted the bricks to be in “an A-B-C pattern.”

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A group of students work on painting the soil.

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The children work on painting the sky. They really enjoyed mixing the paint to make different shades of blue.

Last week we continued our garden planning by setting up a planning station at the classroom writing centre. Along with a copy of the book, clipboards, planning sheets, and markers, we also included whimsical objects such as small gardening tools, pots, gloves, and real plants to get the children inspired. We also put out some books about different kinds of flowers. As the children completed their plans, we clipped them to the hanging display at our science centre. Throughout the week, children were invited into the hall to add their ideas to the mural.

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Our Imaginary Garden provocation

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Each student planted a seed in the garden and labeled it with their name. The children were asked what kind of seed they were planting/what they hoped their seed would become:

J.K.: Mine is going to grow into a Lego flower!

Y.T.: My seed is going to be a sunflower – a GIANT one!

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Some children were interested in the idea of painting sprouts, just as Theo and Poppa had done. ‘”These are our baby plants.”

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F.I.: “I’m planting wheat in the garden because I just love bread so much!”

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J.M.: “We are painting vines. I got the idea of doing it when Poppa said, ‘The vines are reaching for the sun.'”

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This is how our garden looked on Friday before we headed home. I can’t wait to see what will appear this week! The children have already established that next week our Art Studio will be dedicated to “painting flowers for the garden.” I’ll be sure to post an update soon so you can see how our garden has grown!

*Update

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The spring bulbs popping up in the courtyard outside became a source of artistic inspiration for our students. Along with photos of our flowers outside, we also added pictures of spring flowers and some real potted plants I brought in from home to the Art Studio. The children had access to any colour of paint they wanted (and many decided to mix their own colours!). Many children visited this centre daily and waited anxiously for their painted flowers to dry so they could cut them out and “plant” them in our garden mural.

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Our flower painting provocation at the art studio.

Below is a picture of our completed Imaginary Garden. After our project was complete, we reflected on our work as a class. As one student said, “Our garden gives us happy tears because we love it so much.”

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Spring Inspirations

When you dream of spring, what does it look like?

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Spring is finally here…sort of. Despite the fact that it is still chilly outside, spring has sprung at the Curious Kindergarten! This year, the children were particularly excited about the arrival of spring – doing their own countdown in the days leading up to March 20th. When the first day of spring arrived, some children were naturally disappointed that when they woke up that morning there was still snow on the ground, a chill in the air, and a winter jacket to wear to school. We wanted to latch on to the children’s natural excitement about the changes that were still ahead, so we created a “Spring Inspiration” table at our classroom science table.

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Above: Birds nests, birds, eggs, and early spring plants inspire the children’s thinking around the creatures we have already observed in our Outdoor Classroom.

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Above: Insects, a bug house, planting supplies, animals, and non-fiction books about spring changes help the children envision what they might begin to see and do outside now that the weather is changing.

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Above: These fairies and garden gnomes were a huge hit, providing ample opportunities for dramatic play, storytelling, and the development of ideas around how creatures respond to the changes outside.

The question we have been asking leading up to spring (and after) is: “When you dream of spring, what does it look like?” In order to support the children’s thinking, we have been reading a lot of books (both fiction and non-fiction) about spring and engaging in visualization exercises. Many of our classroom activities have been designed to help the children communicate their thinking in a variety of ways. For example, at the playdough table we created a provocation with green dough and spring-themed loose parts (mushrooms, flowers, butterflies, stones, wood chips, etc.) in which the children created their own “spring scenes.” At the writing table, children have been encouraged to write their own poems about spring, and at the art studio, children were given the opportunity to paint a still-life portrait of a tulip.

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M.F. and M.B. created a collaborative drawing that tells their story of spring creatures.

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“Hello Spring” is a poem written by one of our JK students at the writing table.

What an exciting time! It really does feel like there has been a “spring awakening” happening in our classroom. How have you marked the arrival of spring with your students? What kinds of inquiries and ideas are you talking about?

Snap Cube Workshop: Inspiring Young Authors

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G.M.: Inside my book is a man and an invisible ship and a laser sword. I put how many of the cubes you need. For the man you need 5 blues, 1 purple, 1 black, and 2 browns. I want someone to build the invisible ship and then play with it. I did one for the laser sword and then W.W. looked at my instructions and made it.

Earlier, I wrote about embracing the children’s interests by creating a Snap Cube Workshop with the ever-popular snap cubes (You can read about it here: https://thecuriouskindergarten.wordpress.com/2014/03/10/snap-cube-workshop/). The children in my class view snap cubes like Lego – something they can use to build whatever kind of creations they want. In looking for ways to extend the learning at this centre, I ended up having a conversation with some of my students about the similarities and differences between Lego and Snap Cubes. One of my students pointed out that his Lego sets come with instruction or inspiration booklets to help him make the structures in the kit…and Voila! A new idea was born! The children were immediately interested in creating instruction booklets for their creations, with a view to helping their classmates re-create their structures. “How did you make it?” is the most popular question the children ask each other during reflection time, so it seemed logical for the students to not only tell each other, but show each other what to do in a diagram. Beyond adding some blank paper, markers, and a stapler to the Snap Cube Workshop, the children required very little guidance with how to create their instruction manuals since most of them were well-versed with Lego booklets. The children who did not have experience with Lego booklets simply learned from their more experienced peers and were soon well on their way to their own Snap Cube construction kits. We provided the children with a place to store their manuals (clipped to a string hung at the centre) and many children came by throughout the week to add to their booklets or borrow booklets to try to recreate the structures within.

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