"Give pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking, or the intentional noting of connections; learning naturally results." John Dewey argued for this type of education 100 years ago in his book Democracy and Education. When a group of children is working to make a "horse-catcher trap" on the playground, I see this at work. They discuss the relative value of different materials - where do they put the jump ropes and the hula hoops? They make knots, experiment pulling on different ropes to make the whole thing rise into the air, and revise their design when it doesn't work right. They are learning about physics, compromise, and storytelling. If you ask them what they did at school, they say, "I played."
Our Theme: Maps
How do you translate three dimensional space onto a flat sheet of paper? It's a complicated task. We started by using pentominoes, Legos, and other materials to make models of our classroom. We talked about what should be included in our model (big things like tables, shelves, doors, and the toilet). Some of the children really wanted to include some of what I considered smaller things, like the jobs chart. They made some convincing arguments about why they were included in their models, and ultimately they got to decide. Then they had to hide a "gold doubloon" in the classroom. A gold cube was placed in their model to show the location of the doubloon. Then, a partner had to use the treasure map to find the missing doubloon. The children offered some feedback to their partners as they attempted to figure out the maps. The next day we built on these skills and used a paper map of the classroom to do a similar activity. We had now moved from three dimensions to two dimensions. We read the key or legend on a series of different maps and created a compass rose for a map. All this hands on wrangling with maps will hopefully help make all of the vocabulary of geography seem real and relevant.
We read about maps as well this week in Pirates Don't Change Diapers, Follow that Map!, My Map Book, and The Secret Birthday Message. As soon as I pulled out The Secret Birthday Message the children said, "That's an Eric Carle book!" It's nice to know that they have that down.
Nancy was here on Wednesday this week to talk to the class about how animals get through the winter. The children compared mammals, birds, reptiles, and insects. Nancy had an impressive collection of insect evidence from a cicada skin to a peacock fly home. The children gently handled each offering and examined them under magnifying boxes to see the details. Nancy also shared a story about the stars with an unlikely hero, but you'll have to ask your child for more about that story.
We try to keep our math work grounded in the real world whenever we can. Theresa had her class outside counting and working on numbers on the playground. The older children made a "Time Book," showing what they do at various times in the day. If you have a few minutes, ask your child to read the book to you, and talk about the daily routines in your life. We are continuing to work with coins, recognizing them (a task made more challenging by all those different state quarters and the new nickels), counting them, and making change. I set up a monster store during math where the children could buy feathers, tissue paper, puff balls, and foam shapes to make a monster. Each supply cost a certain amount, and they had 100 cents to buy what they needed. They worked to add up their purchases, figure out what coins they needed to pay, and make sure that I gave them the correct amount of change. The more time they spend practicing these skills, the easier they become.
We will keep learning by doing this year. I think John Dewey would approve.