Monday, November 21, 2016

The Eagle Project: A Student-Led, Interest Based Inquiry

I work really hard to listen and observe the kids to see what they are interested in.  I like to use their interests to guide the curriculum.  I have found that when the curriculum stems from their interests, they naturally use the literacy, math, and 21st century skills needed as they explore and investigate.

From the beginning of this year, the kids had been showing an interest in bird nests.  Every time we went out on the playground, they were making nests.  They also started gathering every stick we could find in order to build a more sturdy nest in our classroom since the one on the playground disappeared every day.



Since we were still building a learning community in our room, I observed and put this on the back burner to revisit later, hoping the interest would hold.  It did!!  I put out an invitation to look closer and see what they noticed about the nests before we started building one.


I also put out an invitation to create nests in our clay area.


I predicted that maybe our nest inquiry would lead into an interest in birds so I also set out an invitation to learn more about birds to see what would happen.  A few kids were interested and enjoyed it and learned from it, but not a majority of the kids.  Birds would not be a large scale inquiry.  I decided to stick with nests and see where it would take us.


As we started a See/Think/Wonder Chart about nests, a picture of a bald eagle on its nest was noticed on our promethium board. All of a sudden, all of their questions and wonders were centered around these Bald Eagles.  You could feel their excitement as we discussed and wondered about these amazing birds of prey! I asked if they wanted to explore these eagles further and they were very excited about the prospect!


We watched many videos and live cams showing us eagles.  The kids never tired of watching these!

Based on their wonders, we created four expert teams.  The Nest Experts (for those who were originally into the nest making), The Eagle Experts, The Eagle Family Experts, and The Eagle Prey Experts.

I put out paints and clay in our Art Studio Area that would inspire them to use art to show what they notice about eagles.  I loved how many tried to show that they noticed the curved beak of the eagle!





The Eagle Experts learned that an eagle can get up to 43 inches high and have a 7 1/2 foot wing span!  They measured out the width and height of the eagle and I drew it out for them.  These birds can be massive!  They were amazed at how big they were! They enjoyed seeing how much bigger the eagles wing spans were compared to them!


They then looked closer at the feather colors and used ripped paper to create the long feathers of the wings and short feathers on its belly.  They learned that they have curved beaks and sharp talons to hunt their prey with and learned the terms predator/prey and what they mean.




The nest experts used the sticks we had been collecting and started out by throwing the sticks everywhere on a little branch I provided for them. They soon realized this wasn't going to work as all the sticks started falling off.  I loved listening to them talk about it and problem solve.  I heard terms and phrased such as "team" and "We won't give up!"  They asked to look up a picture on my iPad. I had them look closely at an eagle nest to see what they noticed.  They noticed the sticks went around the outside in a circle-like way and there was grass in the middle to make it soft.  They then watched a video on the computer of an eagle making a nest.  They noticed that she tried many places to put that one stick before she decided on where it would stay.  When they went back to the nest, they were very careful on their placement of sticks!



It was very hard and I still had to wire some pieces together to keep it from falling apart.  This team learned how amazing it is that birds can make such strong nests with just two feet and a beak!  They came to the conclusion that humans are not as good as birds when it comes to making a good sturdy nest, but we did our best and it turned out great, though fragile! They created a "Stop! Do not touch" sign.



The Eagle Family Experts wanted to show what a typical eagle family looked like. They learned that the mom eagle is bigger than the dad eagle and that the mom have one to three eggs at a time.  Both help keep the eggs warm and take care of/feed the babies. Two friends chose white clay to make an egg. One put a crack in it as though it were getting ready to hatch.


After studying the colors on the birds, they used paper tubes to create the eagle family.  They made sure the mother was bigger and that her and the father were brown with white heads and yellow beaks.  The babies were fluffy gray with black beaks.






They prey team used the computer and researched the type of animals that Eagles hunted and decided to use clay to show some examples.  


We created a web map in our room to organize our wonders and what we learned.



Here are the finished displays to show what we had learned during our inquiry!  The kids labeled and added the facts that we learned around our large eagle.

It was amazing to see where the students took this!  It was entirely based on their interests and changed with them!  It took a little while to develop into a large scale inquiry.  Not all of their interests go that far, and that is okay.  This easily could have been a small scale nest inquiry done by a small group!  I just had to listen to them, pay attention, and be willing to set out opportunities for them to explore further based on what I observed!  So far, I have noticed two other very heavy interests shared by the class as a majority.  Superheroes, and creating sounds and rhythm in different ways.  I have noticed these interests since the beginning of the year and those interests continue to be strong, so while many other small scale inquiries may be going on, after the holidays, we may start one of these!  I can't wait to see where the kids will take those interests! 

Here are some other things going on in our room! In math we are learning about making numbers up to ten in different ways to develop their number sense.  



They are also working hard to be able to write their numbers to 20.  Some are even trying to get to 100!  It took this friend 3 white boards to get to 80! Her goal is 100!


A lot is going on literacy as kids are getting very excited about how much they have learned to read and write! In writing all of the kids are working on different writing skills from drawing a story to letter/sound correspondence to spaces and punctuation!  In reading we are focusing on learning as many sight words as we can and noticing blends in words.

In our science area, the kids have expressed a new interest in potions.  I set up their first potion experiment for them.  This station will continue through the holidays.


In engineering, the blocks have been largely ignored in favor of K'nex!  After reading the book "The Most Magnificent Thing," the kids have enjoyed creating their own magnificent things and showing the class what they do and how they work!  Lots of creative and critical thinking are going on here!


Stay tuned to see what will happen next in our classroom!  You can never tell what it will be!

Saturday, November 5, 2016

The Kindness Jar: Spreading Kindness in Kindergarten

A wonderful friend of mine came to visit our class for a day and told me about an amazing idea that she does in her classroom!  Thank you Grace for this idea!  It is so wonderful that I had to pass it along!

A bit over a month ago, we had a visit from the Kindness Elves.  They were only here to drop something off and ask us for help.  They said their job was to spread kindness throughout the world, but it was too big of a job for two little elves. They wondered if our class could help them spread kindness.



They brought us a "Kindness Jar" and another jar filled with warm fuzzies.  Whenever someone is caught being kind, they get a warm fuzzy!  Before they go home, they put the warm fuzzy into the Kindness Jar.  When the Kindness Jar is "overflowing with kindness," they get to secretly spread the kindness to others in any way they choose.

Our class came up with a brilliant way to spread kindness in our school.  When our jar is overflowing with kindness, they decided to bake cookies for another class and secretly leave the cookies in their room while they are gone.  They want to be known as the Cookie Monsters.  They love the idea that everyone will be wondering who these "Cookie Monsters" are and it being our little secret! We put all of the teacher's names in a jar and drew one.  Mrs. Addington's class was drawn to get the cookies first.

The kids went through their day and every time I noticed a friend doing a kind act, I gave him/her a warm fuzzy.  I kept them in my pocket.  Some earned fuzzies because they were being kind by allowing the other kids focus on their writing, or because they were being kind by sitting quietly while I was teaching to allow the kids around them to listen without being distracted.  Some helped others when they were hurt or when they noticed friends being upset.  It was beautiful to watch the empathy and compassion for others that they were showing. Now they do it because they know its the right thing to do and not just to get the warm fuzzies!

It took almost a month for them to fill the Kindness Jar.  Finally it was Baking Day! The kids got to practice measuring skills and life skills as they created the homemade cookie dough.







They made a note to leave with the cookies.


Our last step was to sneak the cookies and our note into Mrs. Addington's room when they were gone!



When we snuck back to our room, they were literally glowing with happiness!  I have never seen smiles so big!  We talked about how being kind to others makes you feel good too.  They can't wait to spread kindness again.  Who knows when the Cookie Monsters will strike next!

Mrs. Addington told me that right after the kids realized this was an act of kindness done by another class, THEY wanted to spread kindness too!  Now the kindness will even spread further!  It is amazing what one act of kindness can lead too!  

The kids have also been working on syllables, letter/sound correspondence and sight words in our literacy area. They are also working hard on our first three reading strategies: 1) Look at the picture 2) Use your pointer finger and 3) Get your mouth ready for the first sound.  In writing, some are working on labeling and some are working on writing sentences.  




 In math, we are working on writing numbers to 20 and focusing on remembering that the one comes first in teen numbers.  We are also working on sorting by attribute and guessing our friends sorting rule.


We are starting to think about adding more up to five.


We are also starting to create math stories.  This will help with understanding what both addition and subtraction looks like.



We opened up our pumpkins and counted how many seeds were in each one!  We used our 100 charts to count our groups of 100.  Our green pumpkin had the most!




We have also started our first inquiry and projects!  I will let you know in my next post how it is going.  Stay tuned!

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Mixing Art and Science As We Learn About Fall

Children love art!  They love to take paint, pastels, watercolors, crayons, colored pencils, markers and clay and create things of beauty.  The things they love to create when they have a choice are more about the process than the end product. They want to create lines and colors and see what happens!  We spent the first month learning how to take care and use the tools that artists use. I didn't have to teach them how to be creative!  They come to me creative!  They look at things with artist's eyes and create like artists, taking their artistic liberties by making rainbow apples and pink houses, purple horses and green people. It is my job to make sure I do not stifle that creativity with my view of what is art! They love being creative and creative thinking is one of the 21st Century Skills we want to foster.

We will always continue and have opportunities to look at things with artist's eyes, but we also need to learn how to look at things with scientist's eyes and record what we see with some accuracy.  We used the Fall season and our art materials to practice this. I set up the environment with experiences to get them thinking and wondering as scientists about things we are seeing this Fall, and then offered art materials for them to show what they notice with some accuracy.

Here they looked close at leaves.  They used fine-lined permanent marker to try to draw the shape and the veins of the leaf.  Some of these leaf shapes were very difficult and took a lot of persistence!  They tried to match the colors of the leaf with watercolor paints.



At this area they looked closer at pumpkins and gourds.  They used twistable crayons and colored pencils at this area to draw and write what they noticed.





Here they looked at pictures of trees and tried to create Autumn trees with clay.  They have learned how to create multicolored sculptures without pressing the colors too hard and mixing them together.






Here they were supposed to try to match the colors of the leaves, but instead they were experimenting as scientists and wondering about and creating different shades of each secondary color. 



Here are some examples of what we call "Observational Drawings" which is what we create when we look closer and document what we notice. As you can see, they are becoming very good at drawing what they see accurately!


The Reggio Philosophy says that children have 100 languages with which to express themselves and their learning.  Using art gives them some different ways to express what they notice and learn! It allows them to use both critical and creative thinking skills at the same time! For some reason, us adults tend to squash some of these languages by telling kids they have to do things the same way as everyone else. Year by year, they loose many of the 100 languages until they hardly have any creative thinking skills left at all and no longer know how to think outside of the box.  It saddens me, but here in our room, we will continue to foster the 100 languages and let them take pride in their way of thinking, doing, and coming up with solutions.

Here are some other things that have also been going on in our room!

Using clay and letter stamps to try to spell words phonetically.
Big Books we have read multiple times together are available for them to read.
We are learning how to partner read and to be a good, helpful partner!
Engineers are creating and sharing how their machines work.
Measurement and weight are being explored.

Matching our friends names to their pictures to help us learn to read their names.
Stringing hard words together as we try to spell phonetically.


We are also creating trees to represent the seasons as we experience them.

Tree Blocks made by my husband are being used very creatively in our building area.
Our room is definitely a very busy place!  I think we are ready to start an inquiry based on the students interests! This group has so many it will be hard to choose! Stay tuned to see what we do next!