One of my favorite parts of our day is story time. We read a variety of stories with silly voices and animated expressions. We take the students along in the adventure of reading a good book. But what makes a story great? What needs to be present in order for the story to make sense? This week, we have started discussing how many stories have a problem and a solution. Sometimes stories have one problem that needs to solved, while others have multiple problems.
Yesterday, we read a book called Mine-o-saur by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen which tells the story of a dinosaur takes toys from all the other dinosaurs. The students decided that the problem was that the Mine-o-saur does not know how to share his toys. He continually takes them from the other dinosaurs, and as a result, no one wants to play with him. He solved his problem by giving back the toys he stole and apologizing to the other dinosaurs. In this story, there is only one problem, but the problem repeats itself until he realizes how to solve it.
Today, we read a story called Pigsty by Mark Teague. The story follows a boy name Wendell and his very messy room. His room is SO messy, that pigs start to show up! The students decided that the main problem of this book is that his room is too messy, but there were several smaller problems as well. Each of the smaller problems happen because of the main problem. His basketball gets squished by one of the pigs, his baseball cards get chewed up, and his mom gets upset. The class felt that the solution was pretty simple. Wendell needed to clean up that pigsty!
While both of these stories have problems, they are presented very differently in the way they are written. For the rest of the week, we will investigate other stories with problems and how those problems are solved. What stories do you know of that have a problem and a solution?
Last week, our school participated in a worldwide initiative called The Hour of Code. This project is designed to help promote computer sciences in all classrooms and to spark the curiosity of children while they are young. It also helps to show children that computer programming can be as simple as playing games.
Our Pre-K students worked with the members of our technology department from the city campus and discussed how robots need instructions or commands in order to do a job. Some robots react to buttons or joysticks, while others use voice and face recognition. When you write code, you need the same ingredients.
We then played a game where one teacher pretended to be a robot that needed instructions from the students on how to build a tower of blocks. Instructions like “build the floor” were not specific enough for the robot to know what to do. The students had to really think about what words they needed to use for the robot to understand. Directions such as “pick up the rectangle block and put it on the floor” gave enough detail for the robot to do his job.
After our discussion, we broke up into small groups and played an app called Daisy the Dinosaur. The students had to choose different actions for Daisy to do. At first, the students just picked one action at a time, then they began making long lists for Daisy to accomplish. When they felt that the list was complete, the students hit play and watch Daisy perform her silly dance of flips and turn, growing and shrinking.
The students loved the idea that they were in charge of that happened to Daisy, and more importantly, that they were able to do it independently. We encourage you to look into some of the activities that promote computer sciences at home as well http://csedweek.org/learn . Perhaps someday your little one could be the next computer engineer!
Finishing up our last week of dinosaur study, many children are still collecting data about their personal research choices. They are choosing facts that they find interesting to write about in their journals. Some of the children have taken to this activity with gusto, writing new facts a few times a week. Others become interested when they see their friends writing about their dinosaurs.
This project has a few exciting by-products. The children are finding out that books contain much more than simply stories. Sometimes it comes as a surprise that anything you want to know about can be found in a book. (Many children are sure that most of the information that is available comes from the computer!) We are also provided with the opportunity to explore indexes, table of contents, and glossaries in an authentic way. Later, when we collect information from each child’s study and create a compilation of information, the children will experience the joy of being the “expert” in their own research.
My goodness! I hope you are hungry when you visit our classroom! The dramatic play center has been re-invented with the simple addition of a basket of blank menus. During a morning meeting last week, we talked about creating a dinosaur restaurant and realized we’d need two separate menus, one for carnivores and one for herbivores. This sparked some interest in what other types restaurants we could open. Some of the suggestions included well-known burger joints as well as menus devoted entirely to: tiger food, ice cream, bugs (I’m still unsure whether they meant food FOR bugs, or bugs to EAT), food for pets, fruit only fare, and even menus consisting entirely of candy.
Menu production began immediately and has continued with added gusto each day. Here are the first two menus. One includes prices while the other leaves it up to the customer to decide how much to pay.
After a lengthy period of random box building, we decided we were ready to build our box-o-saurus. The children suggested four different choices for a design. First, we drew sketches to give us an idea of how we might construct our creation. Next, we voted using tally marks to find the favorite option. The Ankylosaurus was a clear winner.
All of the children joined me in the block area so we could begin construction. As a group, we decided that hot glue would be the best binding agent. For safety, the children sat on the window seat and on stools around the staging area as we worked. They directed box choice and position while I glued. Referring to one of the pictures we have as a resource, they decided that it should have shorter legs in the front, a tiny head, and a club on the end of its tail. One the first day, we completed the legs, body, and head. The tail was almost finished, but needed some trimming the following day.
The next morning, one of the children asked for some of the scraps to cut up. Once he began cutting small strips, he remained diligently working on this task for about 20 minutes. When another child asked him what he was doing, he replied, “I’m making the spikes for our dinosaur.” He placed all of his small pieces in an empty box and put it in the block center for later use.
Later that morning during center time, I called over two children at a time to place the spikes on our Ankylosaurus. Some children were more drawn to the task, adding many, many pieces. Others put on two or three and then returned to their center.
More details were added that afternoon. We have been discussing the fact that human do not actually know for sure what color dinosaurs might have been. We can make guesses, but really any color could have been possible. With this in mind, each child chose their own paint color for our Ankylosaurus. At first, the children painted the spot directly in front of them. Then, they moved on to other areas of the dinosaur’s body. This was cause for some discussion since some children did not wish for their painted area to be painted over and other children wanted to paint over everyone elses colors to see what the mixture would look like. The children finally decided that each individual could decide if they wanted a friend to paint on their space and if you were invited, you could paint on someone else’s painting.
Mrs. Allan, our art teacher, was inspired by the children’s study of dinosaurs. They impressed her with their questions and facts about the creatures they were studying. Thus, an idea was born. The group began a sculpture project two weeks ago.
By the beginning of last week, they had completed our first sauropod model. In Mrs. Allan’s class, they used torn copy and construction paper to paper mache a large, scrunched paper ball. They used recycled materials for the legs, neck, and tail. They also designed eggs and a nest for our new classmate.
When it was completed, it came to live in our room. Here it is on its first day as a Pre-K student:
We then realized we had a small problem. No one knew what to call this lovely animal. Of course we knew that it was a sauropod and S. insisted that it was a Brachiosaurus (she added nostrils to the top of its head in case there was any doubt). Yet, the poor creature did not have a name. So we opened up the question on our Morning Message.
We had seven different suggestions (two thought it should be named Robby) and are currently at an impasse as to the final vote. We are considering putting the decision in the hands of the older children. Maybe if set up a voting area in the entryway, children could vote as they arrive in the morning?
For the first time this year, we moved our small sandbox inside. Encouraging the dinosaurs to roam freely in this new medium has brought about many ideas. The drift wood from the science center joined the sandy tableau and became a range of props from nests to surfboards to fences. Once the fences became popular, the small craft sticks were added so that they could make appropriate cages to keep the dinosaurs safe from predators. While playing with one child, I was presented with the perfect segue into our next activity. She pushed her hand down into the sand and exclaimed that I had try, too! She was so surprised by the detail in the print, she began making dinosaur body prints in the sand. She called them dino angels, referring to her own love of snow angels.
If you are looking for the academic knowledge found in this activity, look no further. We’ve sorted the contents of the sand box by size, by texture, and by type of material. The children have arranged dinosaurs in different sets and counted their totals. We’ve compared the heights of the dinosaurs and the drift wood. A miniature scale was created using a rock and a piece of drift wood to experiment with “heavy” and “light” objects. We’ve used our fingers to draw letters on the sand representing the beginning sounds of various dinosaurs. As the children built walls, fences, and cages, they were dabbling in early engineering, creating a design, testing it, and adjusting it as needed to develop a safe, sound structure.
Yet, as you know if you’ve been with us for very long, each of the children gained just as much social learning during this new activity. A willingness to share and take turns had to be an obvious prerequisite when some of the dinosaurs didn’t have a twin. Many of the tools we used for “zen gardening” came only as a single piece, to be shared slowly and with patience. The dinosaurs, themselves, told tales of family structure, friendship, anger, frustration, forgiveness, and joyousness. Watching the children work together to decide which dinosaurs would be the Mommies and whose would play the Daddies enlightened us about the children’s development in the areas of social confidence, willingness to share leadership, and comfort with our group. The students took risks when building new structures, practiced quiet frustration when they didn’t turn out as planned, or expressed pride when they accomplished a challenging task.
This is why our class learns via a project based vehicle. The children and I have access to all of the academic knowledge we might ever wish to absorb and assimilate while working on tasks and playing in ways that naturally spur our curiosity and social interactions. We learn, together as a class, as whole people. The knowledge we gain is intertwined with the actions we do, the emotions we feel, the mistakes that we make, and the challenges we approach. As we grow and learn, new information is examined and placed as it fits with the old ideas we hold. Theories that no longer make sense are tossed out (such as “if something is bigger, it must also be heavier”). The connections we make as we learn new, novel information are what make learning happen.
On Wednesday we had planned to begin construction on our box-o-saurus. I spread the boxes out on the floor, had paper ready for drawing plans, and asked the children to imagine the type of dinosaur we could build using boxes. Silly me! They informed me that it was impossible to build a dinosaur from boxes because they were the wrong shape. Ah, what to do?
“Well”, I said, “let’s see if we can build them out of blocks first, then.” No one even batted an eye. Off they went, gathering the materials they needed. Each child constructed their own version of a dinosaur. Some made the one they are studying for their research journals, others tried their hand at the ever popular sauropod.
Eventually, the children realized that their dinosaurs could not be complete without some added details. Faces were drawn, eyes were cut out, and signs were hung to make our models complete. As one sign points out, the dinosaurs in our museum should be looked at and not touched for fear of breaking them.
Sometimes when we get the wiggles, it’s important to invent a new wiggly game. In this case, we tried “How many pillows can you carry?” The whole process was quite silly. Most of the children attempted 4 or 5 pillows stacked on their backs right away. Understandably, they fell right off. Then they decided that one might be a better bet. The variety in form was great. Some of our dinosaurs had flat backs, some tried balancing pillows on their tail-bone.
The most exciting part for me was watching the children work as a team to find the best way to carry the pillows. They quickly realized that they could not bend down on all fours AND put a pillow on their own back. They needed assistance (or would it be assistants?) Sometimes the helpers held the pillows as the “dino” walked across the floor and sometimes they just helped with the piling and the cheering.