Monday, 20 April 2015

Building an earth caring classroom community

"Knowledge plus motivation equals action."
David Suzuki, David Suzuki's Green Guide (2008)

As Earth Day was approaching, I decided to read a book about caring for the earth to the students. After only a few pages into the book, hands immediately went up!

"We can water plants!" Z. G.

"Give birds seeds." P. I.

"We can plant seeds!" O. S.

"Pick up trash." J. K.

"Don't throw trash!" J. S.

"It is bad for the ducks." M. S.

"The air would get all stinky and when you breath it in it goes in your lungs." O. S

"I know what can happen if everybody throws garbage, I read it in a book. There's going to be nothing except one tree." H. S.

"If we ask people to clean the garbage, we can clean the earth!" S. C.

I never ended up finishing the book. Instead, a deep conversation sparked about the garbage students saw in their community and on trips they had taken with their families.  

"I went biking with my mom and picked up three pieces of garbage!" O. M.

"When I was at my cottage I saw garbage in the water. It was an elastic band." J. K.

"I saw garbage near a bush in Toronto!" S. C.

"We saw Canada Geese at Centre Island, we saw garbage near the water, a plastic bag!" R. & L. S.

Children need to develop a relationship with nature before they can be expected to heal its wounds...Without that deep, abiding sense of comfort in and love for the natural world, no amount of chastising about turning off the lights or biking to school is going to make a bit of difference" (Sobel, 2008, p. 148).

Living close to a forest and stream, I took some pictures of garbage I noticed. My hope was that students could see that garbage was found in these settings as well.  

Canada Geese video taken near my house. Further supporting a nature connection with students. 

I also showed them some pictures of animals that came in contact with garbage.

A striped skunk admitted late last year with a plastic dessert lid stuck on her neck has finally made it back home after 3 months in care and more than 20 stitches! Think before throwing out that empty cup, can or jar. Simple acts like rinsing your recycling or cutting plastic lids in half ensures that they don't end up stuck on wild animals' heads or feet. (Toronto Wildlife Centre Facebook Page)

After showing them the pictures, students had quite a lot to say!

"Animals might think garbage is food and they might eat it and choke!" H. S.

"Garbage is all over the beach, the water can get brown and the beach will smell bad. if the water goes brown it could make the fish sick." J. K.

"The seagulls can grab it and eat it!" W. E.

"Oh no, the porcupine can choke on the plastic!" L. B.

"They (animals) are eating the plastic bottles!" E. W.

"Garbage is bad for animals." R. S.

"If I saw a Canada Goose eating garbage I would grab it from them!" M. O.

"I know why garbage is bad for animals...because some is plastic and some is paper and they could choke on it." L. S.

I asked the students if there is anything we can do to help?

"We need to start picking it up in our neighbourhood!" O. S.

"We should start making signs for people to know not to throw garbage." O. S.

"We could make signs so people know not to throw garbage, for people to read in the neighbourhood." H. S.

"We could make a poster and flyers!" W. E.

"I saw a Canada Goose almost eating a can at the beach." S. T.

Posters made by students.

During Thinking and Learning Time, R. S. had a wonderful wonder question! 

"What makes water dirty?" 

I asked her if she wanted to ask the class? She agreed and so began an interesting discussion.

"I think garbage makes the water dirty and it will turn brown and black or grey because garbage is dirty." H. S.

"I think mud makes water dirty because the animals can drink the water and it could make them sick." W. E.

"They might accidently eat the dirt." K. W.

"But when I went to PEI I saw fish swimming in it and they weren't sick." J. K.

"The fish knew it was mud and didn't go there." J. S.

I asked the students how we can find out what makes was dirty? Below is what we came up with! 

Last day of experiment, water with garbage got too stinky to keep in the classroom!

"The garbage water was clear at the beginning. Then it started getting darker because of the garbage." A. F.

"I wonder why this one (water with dirt) is transparent, and this one (water with garbage) is not?" O. M.

"Garbage makes the water dirty." F. D.

"The water with garbage got much more stinky!" S. T.

"The dirt water I can see through it is transparent and it doesn't smell. The other one smells because the garbage made the water translucent." K. W.

"If you were an animal or plant, which water would you like?" Mrs. Ralph

"I would swim in the dirt one because it's cleaner than the garbage one." L. B.

"I would swim in the dirt one because in the garbage water I would get stuck." D. C.

"I would swim in the dirt water because it is clean." B. P.

"I would drink the dirt water because the garbage one is yucky." R. S.

"I would swim in the dirt one because the garbage one would make me sick." S. C.

"I would swim in the dirt one because I would get my head stuck in one of the garbages!" B. K.

I would swim in the dirt one because I would get my leg stuck in the garbage." L. S.

"I would swim in this one (dirt with water) because it is much more better than this one (garbage with water). S. T.

The following day, W. E. had a great wonder question to ask everyone.

"Why do people throw garbage?" W. E.

I was proud that this question came up because students were starting to go deeper in their thinking.

"People don't want it, so they just throw it out." C. C.

"They don't remember to throw it in the garbage." S. T.

"Sometimes they don't know where the garbage can is." D. A.

"Some people don't know (J. K.), or care (F. D.)!

That same day, J. K. also wanted to share some information with the class!

It's exciting when students bring in new information during our sharing time. It fosters new ideas, wonders, and theories, supporting new directions for investigation, exploration, and experimentation. In this case, students started discussing and wondering what items went in each bin. The compost or kitchen waste bin was very intriguing to students. 

I read the book Compost Stew which further supported their curiosity about composting.

Naturally the students wondered whether we should have a kitchen waste bin in our class. Since many had fruit and vegetable peels, and other organic material, we decided to place one on the snack table.

During our sharing time, M. S. had a wonder question he wanted to discuss with the class.

"It's where all the garbage goes." O. S.

"It's where garbage goes and some machines crush it and bulldozers come and bury it under the ground. I watched a video on it. The trash keeps getting bigger and bigger!" J. K.

"There is another pile, and another pile, and another pile!" A. F.

"Because people don't sort garbage and recycling stuff that why it gets bigger!" A. T.

"People don't know which one to put it into, recycling or garbage." K. W.

"It's not true, it goes into the ground where they dig a hole." J. K.

"No, it's not actually true that they make holes, because they put it on the ground and they keep adding to piles, it's like a park with mountains!" Z. G.

Last week, students sketched flowers from their garden that some of them created last year. They have been visiting the garden often to see how much their plants grew. Many wondered when they could start weeding as they did last year! One day A. T. and O. S. suggested that maybe we could try and make a compost so we can make soil for our garden! I read the book "50 Ways to Save the Earth", which suggested to dig a hole and place the kitchen waste inside. Then you cover it back up with soil.  

As we were digging we found a few neat treasures!

After finishing the compost hole, A. T. asked me this wonder question!

I asked her to read it to the class and see if anyone had any ideas?

"We can look in a book?" W. E.

"We can google it!" O. M.

"Maybe we can count how many days." P. I.

"Maybe we can check every single day to see if it turned into soil?" O. S.

"Maybe we can make a tally chart!" A. T.

With no direction from me, I allowed them to use the chart paper and any materials they needed to create their tally chart. They did a great job!

Neighbourhood Cleanup!

Last week the students participated in the school wide neighbourhood cleanup! They took great pride in finding garbage and placing it in the correct bag (recycling, compost, garbage bag).

Will our compost hole work? Stay tuned for this update and new wonders!

Friday, 17 April 2015

Our Marble Run Designs

It is very powerful to give students a picture of themselves working on a creation and listen to their interpretation of what was happening. 

When students document their work it allows them to self-reflect and gives the educator a deeper understanding of student thinking and learning. 

I listened to dialogue, observed how marble runs were created, and documented the experience, but when I listened to students explain what was happening from the pictures I gave them, I was amazed at how much information I had missed. They went deeper and talked about the trials and tribulations they experienced building their runs. They discussed persevering after multiple attempts were tried and things were still not working. And most importantly, they discussed their emotions, how they felt when things worked, didn't work, or peers bothered them. I was proud of their reflections, and their language development, both becoming more detailed over time. 

Come by and enjoy their stories, they are truly proud of their work!

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Ramps and Pathways: Play-based learning at its best!

Before the March Break, my teaching partner and I started pondering and reflecting on some changes and new additions we wanted to make to the classroom. During our Tower Inquiry, we both noticed that many students enjoyed experimenting with stability and challenged themselves to see how tall or high they could build their structure before it fell down. We observed that rather than getting upset when their structures fell, they were excited by the way the items came tumbling down. Building structures and watching them fall became a daily experimental amusement. Having witnessed this, we wanted to introduce something that would allow for instant excitement with the element of experimentation! 

It was around this time that I recently purchased an amazing book which I was planning to read over the summer, but for some reason started to flip through it one night. 

It turned out to be just what we were looking for to place in our class! 

I found the following quote to be very powerful:

"According to Piaget, children learn by encountering problems they feel compelled to solve; experiencing emotions such as puzzlement, curiosity, surprise, and frustration; and engaging in the intellectual and emotional work of overcoming obstacles to solving those compelling problems. It is through this process that children make mental connections (mental relationships) that are the construction of knowledge or intelligence. The role of the constructivist educator, therefore, is to provide children with an environment that makes this process possible."  (Ramps & Pathways: a constructivist approach to physics with young children, pg. 23)

We wanted to give the students a lot of choice in their selection of materials. We decided on wooden marble run pieces, and some recyclable materials such as cove molding (had a hard time finding this, found at a specialty wood and trim store, so worth it!), stair balusters (Restore), cans, industrial packing cylinders, and regular paper rolls. We also put out various sized marbles, and metal and plastic balls (thanks to my engineer brother-in-law who provided me with the balls). Our hope was that students would create marble runs which would allow for experimentation producing instant reactions similar to the excitement of the tower structure falls!

Once the materials were placed, our initial observations revealed that the students were super excited to interact with them. They instantly started putting pieces together and creating pathways. I should mention that sometimes when we introduce new items at a certain learning area we take some time to view how the students are interacting with each other, what the learning looks like, and whether or not we need to intervene. In this case, though it was wonderful that so many students were interested in using the materials, our space did not support it. We could see that students were having a hard time moving around to access materials, build their pathways, and many structures sadly were disturbed. We decided to intervene and call a group meeting. We discussed the situation with the students and they were in agreement that they were frustrated and having a hard time creating what they wanted because people were in their way. They agreed that less people needed to work at the construction area and everyone should get a turn by switching everyday unless they need one extra day to finish. I truly believe that students need to experience a situation that may not be working to fully understand and be able to make changes. Had we intervened by placing a set number of students from the beginning, I'm not sure that they would have truly made the connection.

Creating, testing, and refining...

One morning I noticed that S. T. was working hard to create her marble run. She explored the use of many materials and took her time adjusting her pathways so that they were perfectly lined up. She then grabbed a marble and placed it at the end of the cove molding and gave it a push. The marble rolled and went into the can. She attempted this movement several more times.   

Me: "What happens if you don't push the marble?" 

She placed the marble on the cove molding.

S: "It's not moving, I need to push it."

Me: Do you think you can get your marble to move without you pushing it?"

I decided to give her some time to ponder my question. Still viewing her from across the room I noticed her watching another student's creation. She put away her materials, grabbed new ones and proceeded to create her first ramp. I was so proud of her as I watched he marble roll by itself into the can. She had a smile from ear to ear! 

"When a teacher respects young children's unique thinking by giving them the chance to test and refine their incorrect ideas for themselves, they are more likely to go on to correct their misconceptions." 
(Ramps & Pathways: a constructivist approach to physics with young children, pg. 16)

Learning Stories

There are many variables (e.g. slope, supports, objects, connections, targets, and pathway designs) that students can make mental relationships with to further their learning knowledge of how objects move which is interrelated with increasing intelligence. 
(Ramps & Pathways: a constructivist approach to physics with young children, pg. 39)

  Mental Relationships

"A mental connection between ideas, created by the child to make sense out of his or her experience of how things work in the world." 
Ramps & Pathways: a constructivist approach to physics with young children, pg. 24)

It was fascinating to listen and observe this group of girls as they tested out their marble run. They talked to each other, asked each other questions and wondered how to improve their structure. They had a dilemma, their marble kept rolling off the ramp and was not going onto the ramp as they wanted it to.

I feel so fortunate that I was able to capture this moment of joy, satisfaction, and camaraderie!

A few more students joined the group of girls and new ideas were tested. Targets (dominoes) were now placed at the end of the track. Experimenting slope, speed, and the movement of the marble were now being discussed!

Creating pathways that made the ball change direction was also being experimented. Precision of the ramp height, pathway, and type of ball (wood, metal, plastic, glass) had to be just right so that the ball hit the can! 

Below is a snippet of a conversation showcasing the thinking involved in creating parts of their marble run:

"Maybe if my tunnel is at a different level it will go in the tube!" J. S.

"Maybe if I use a different marble it will work. I am going to try the wood molding piece not the white tunnel (baluster)." J. S.

"Oh no! Now it's too fast, there are different weights of the marbles. The wooden one didn't go through but the marble did!" J. S.

"Let's try the really big marble!" P. I.

"I am going to go back to the first tunnel (baluster)." J. S.

Notice the different ramps they placed and modified after a few times of testing their marble run. They managed to get the ball in the can once but were unable to repeat the result. They continue to work on this design.

E. E. adjusting the baluster so that the ball travels smoothly through it in to the can.

C. D. noticed that the big marble didn't go up her second ramp. It got stuck after going down the first ramp. After trying with some smaller balls, she said that the big marble is too heavy to go up the ramp and fall in the can. 

W. E. noticed that his marble kept going over the can instead of entering the can. After a few attempts, he made a revision by placing a few small blocks under the can to lift it up. He anticipated the marble going up, therefore he lifted the can up to catch the marble! 

C. C. Also experimented using different balls. She found that the big and little glass marbles and the gold metal balls worked the best with staying on the path and hitting the can. When she tried the wooden and plastic balls, they kept rolling off the path! 

"I think it's because they're too light and they keep flying off the cove molding!" C. C.

I saw this video from the kindergarten students at Thornwood Public School in the Peel District School Board. Their wonderful teachers, Laurel Fynes and Pooneh Haghjoo (Room 109), captured this video. They were experimenting with ramps and pathways and I was very excited to show the students their video because they were building in a way that we did not try yet. 

Once the students saw the video, they were excited and inspired to try creating a marble run that enabled the ball to change directions! Below are some of their attempts. They worked tirelessly until they got it!

Beginning stages of the structure. Notice the way the cove molding is placed and touching. F. D., B. P., and Z. G. soon revised this plan since they saw that their balls were stopping before the first corner.

Their second attempt revealed the realization of lifting the first cove molding and placing it on the second so that the ball would roll smoothly. Once they tried a few times, they noticed that the ball still didn't make it past the fist corner.

"We need another ramp here so the ball can roll down!" F. D.

F. D. added a plastic lid at the first turn. Once again they tried releasing a few different balls down the ramp. The balls kept roller off the second ramp not making the turn. Z. G. and B. P. Grabbed some cylinders and blocks and decided they needed to make a wall to keep the balls from getting off the second ramp.

The wall seemed to do the trick. They also decided to add another lid at the second corner in order to make another ramp to allow the balls to go into the wood dome. After a few attempts, F. D. noticed a problem.

"The balls are stuck. We need a ramp here!" F. D.

She was referring to the middle cove molding that joined the two corners. Since they used lids of the same size, the path was parallel. They revised again.

They decided they needed to make a ramp there as well but needed something shorter than the lid. As they searched, I told them they can look in the 3 D figures basket. Maybe we would find something there. They settled on using a hexagonal prism. They laid it sideways and placed the cove molding over top. 

P. I., A. F., R. S., and M. O. were also inspired to create this creation. They tested it out many times having trouble with different balls flying off the track, or the bigger marbles not having enough speed to make it to the second ramp. "We need to make the ramp higher so the ball gets more speed!" P. I. 

Our ramps and pathways investigations continue to motivate and enthrall students. They love to share their work which builds on the learning knowledge of other students allowing for more intricate structure designs.

"Of course, we want children to acquire correct knowledge and be able to use it. Yet we cannot ignore children's many misconceptions. Erroneous ideas are important because a child's own particular wrong ideas are necessary for that child to reach certain correct ideas. All of us, children or adults, know better and more solidly what is correct when we know what is not correct." 
 (Ramps & Pathways: a constructivist approach to physics with young children, pg. 2)