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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Math and Science Investigations (M.S.I.)

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Math and Science Investigations (M.S.I.) is a building program I have been doing in Kindergarten since I started my career. I first learned about it during one of my practicums in a Kindergarten class when I was in teacher’s college. Essentially, M.S.I. is an inquiry-based program that uses building materials to encourage the development of math and science concepts, creativity, problem-solving, perseverance, planning, and much, much, more. My original resource for M.S.I (a worn photocopy from a book that used to exist somewhere in the board) is long since lost; however, I found a great replacement in the book Building Structures With Young Children by Ingrid Chalufour and Karen Worth:

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Basically, M.S.I. goes something like this:

1) I teach a mini lesson on the day’s focus.

2) Each student gets their own bin of building materials (blocks, connectors, cups, etc.) and takes it to a table. The bin goes on the chair and the children stand at the table and build. I circulate and facilitate discussion, pose questions, take notes, take photographs.

3) Reflection. I post pictures of interesting structures for discussion and feedback.

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We engage in M.S.I. as an entire class, one period per week. That being said, the building bins are always available during discovery time and it is common to find children selecting them to continue working on an inquiry we are engaged in. We also often find ourselves setting up provocations that support the learning that is happening in M.S.I., due to significant student interest.

Here are a few questions I often get about M.S.I:

Q: What kind of materials do you use? How do you organize enough bins for each child to have one?

A: We use a variety of store-bought traditional building blocks and some found materials to make up our bins. Wooden blocks, tree blocks, better blocks (kind of like Duplo), foam blocks, cups (laundry caps) from the recycling depot, anything that will stack! I purchased some materials from school catalogues, found others at garage sales and recycling stores, and got some for free from the recycling depot in our school board. Anything that can stack reasonably well is a good material for M.S.I. If you don’t have enough for everyone in your class you could always run the program with children working in partners or groups, and we sometimes do this as well depending on the focus of the lesson.

Q: What about space? Where do you store your materials? What if you don’t have enough table space for each student?

If you don’t have enough table space for each student to have their own spot, children can build on the floor. The idea behind standing and building at a table is that children are initially encouraged to build up with their materials. Standing helps the children stack their blocks more easily, and see their structure from all sides. Placing the building bin on a chair frees up table space for working. We store our building materials in two large rolling shelves. The shelves hold about 36 bins. I have a small space, but it’s not overwhelming in the classroom. I saw another school where the three kindergarten classes shared their M.S.I materials on a rolling cart that was parked in the hallway and could be easily moved to each class.

Q: What kinds of inquiries have you done? How long does one inquiry last?

A: The resource Building Structures With Young Children focuses on two inquiries: Towers and Enclosures. This year we have completed a Tower Inquiry (which I will write more about soon) and are now working on enclosures. We have also done inquiries on bridges and castles. In one school year, we usually have time to complete at least 2 large structure inquiries through M.S.I.

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Q: How is M.S.I introduced? What does it look like at the beginning of the year?

A: At the beginning of the year, M.S.I. time is mainly spent establishing routines and working on basic concepts of space, balance, making a plan, etc. There is a lot to be said just for helping the children locate a bin, find their own work space, build, and then tidy up. A lot of time also goes into establishing routines and expectations for sharing and reflecting on our structures at the end of the lesson. The most important part of the initial phase of M.S.I. is exploration and helping the children stay focused on solving problems rather than getting frustrated if/when their structure falls down. The children are often encouraged to choose different bins regularly to get a feel for the variety of materials we have available.

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I have to say, the children are always excited to see M.S.I. on the schedule. I continue to be amazed at how reflective and thoughtful they are about their structures and how mature they appear when giving feedback and suggestions to their classmates during reflection time. Although when I started teaching I successfully ran an M.S.I. program without a lot of fancy technology (none, actually), the access we now have to iPads, a classroom camera, and an interactive SMARTBoard have helped me take our building program to a whole new level. Being able to take a photo of a child’s structure and immediately post it on the SMARTboard for us to discuss is an invaluable part of the program. We regularly use the SMARTBoard pens to label the structure in the photo, highlight shapes in the design of the structure or draw on possible ideas to add next time.

If you have any other questions about how M.S.I. works, please don’t hesitate to drop me a line!

Snap Cube Workshop

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Lately I’ve been looking for ways to extend the learning that has been happening at my small building centre. Basically, snap cubes have taken over our classroom. What started as a daily activity by a small group of boys soon spread into a full-on class obsession with all things related to building with this “Lego-like” material.

I had never looked at snap cubes and thought “Lego” before. It was my students who clued me in when I asked why it was their number one choice of activity each day:

W.W. “These are just like Lego. You can build whatever you want with them.”

G.M. “Lego is our favourite. But we don’t have Lego here. It’s ok though, because snap cubes are just like Lego. They stick together and have different colours and you can make whatever you want.”

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Although I was completely amazed and inspired with what the children were able to construct with their snap cubes, how they problem-solved and worked together, and how they presented their discoveries and creations with the class, I’ll admit there have been times when I struggled with the snap cube craze in my classroom. There were certainly children that worked with snap cubes and only snap cubes, children that fought over having a turn there, and children who turned their noses up at the carefully organized provocations we put out at other centres.

In the end, we decided to embrace the interest in snap cubes. We moved them to their own centre (a Snap Cube Building Workshop) and, after some discussions with the class about balance and fairness, noticed that the children were able to make better choices about when to visit the snap cube centre and when to try something new.

Does your class have an activity or material that your students just can’t put down? How did you embrace the children’s interests?

You can read what happened next at this centre by clicking here: https://thecuriouskindergarten.wordpress.com/2014/03/10/snap-cube-workshop-inspiring-young-authors/

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