Monday, February 21, 2011

The Deer Cast Results!

I was worried when I checked my comments to see that cement actually heats up when it is setting. I thought our experiment to make casts of the deer prints we found in the snow was doomed.

After the snow thawed and the children gently scraped off the debris, we were thrilled to see the definition of the two part deer hoof. We could see the two tear drop shapes with the division in the middle just like our tracking books showed.

When held upside down, each one looked like a deer foot. It was a success!

If I do this again, I will try spraying the site with cooking spray first and using plaster of paris. Perhaps we would get even more definition that way.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Using Technology with The Project Approach

I do not have a computer in my classroom.  None of the classrooms in my school do. Our population has access to computers in their homes and we feel that in our little red schoolhouse, we want them to play, see, smell, touch, listen to and taste real materials.

That said I do use technology with my projects as one source of information.  We talk a great deal about how we can learn and the different resources we can use.  When we are in the midst of a project and technology can help us with one of our wonderings, I bring it in. 

An example occurred today.  One of my fellow teachers who knows we have been investigating questions about winter animals-the latest project that emerged, sent me a link to a great article.  Scientists have created simulated bear caves and have footage of bears snoring.  We made a cave in our our classroom and we are in the middle of preparations for the play, Bear Snores On.  This article was perfect for us.

I played the snoring from my laptop and had the students listen a couple of times and make predictions as to what creature made the sound.  Then I skimmed the article for them into language they could understand and showed them the pictures.  They felt like cutting edge scientists as they had made a bear cave of their own.  It was fascinating for them to hear that you can grow up and have a real job building bear caves. 

We also had been reviewing our project web to see if we had any questions left unanswered or if they had any to add.  We realized that we still had a question about what raccoons eat.  The children were curious if they ate bunnies. 

We couldn’t find it in any of the non-fiction books we had in class about animals, so I showed them how I typed the question into the computer and the raccoon information that came up.  We read the paragraph about what raccoons eat.

Today I learned along with my class, that raccoons do eat small animals, but they do not eat bunnies. 

And my class learned that technology is one way to help us answer our questions.  

Friday, February 11, 2011

A letter to my class

Dear boys and girls, my naturalists,

Today after you left, I was working in the classroom setting up for next week when I noticed so much commotion on the window sill and outside the door. 

The food that you put out today was certainly noticed by our furry friends.  I captured them in action with my camera.  Now you can see that your predictions of who made those prints near the fence were correct.  There must have been seven squirrels out there today.

 And remember the woodpecker we heard outside?  He came to our window to feast along with a cardinal.  I even saw my favorite, the tufted titmouse!  The cardinal was very nasty and did not like the other birds near her.  Isn’t it curious that the sparrows and chickadees come when we are all in the room and the cardinal and woodpecker wait until the room is empty?

Did you tell your parents about the deer we saw today?  Did you tell them about how he was slipping on the ice because he only had three feet?

Oh, how I wish you had been with me this afternoon to see the rest of the animals. I just couldn't wait until Monday to share this excitement with you.  

We are very lucky to be surrounded by so much wildlife right outside the door of our little red school house. 
I am so proud of the observant naturalists you have all become.  I am excited to uncover our impressions this week and to see what else we can discover about the animals around our playground. 

Have fun playing this weekend.  See you next week.  JDana

Documentation Panels

One of the pieces of emergent curriculum and the project approach that I am challenging myself to learn more about is documentation panels.

I brought out photos of the various pieces of our study that we have been invested in and the children and I put them on poster board.  Then they dictated information that they remembered about what was in each photo. 

It is a wonderful tool to use to assess what the children have learned from the experiences as they recall the events depicted in the photos.  The panel with the trip to the nature center had a lot of information that the children had learned from the naturalist.  They were recalling from memory what they had heard during the trip. 

On one of the panels that depicts the experiment we did putting out food in hula hoops had photos on it that allow the children to actually count the number of apple slices remaining each day.  We documented what their predictions were and what the result was of the experiment as well. 

The photos that we are not using, I put next to their science journals and the children can choose to glue them into their journals and write or dictate the information they think is important about that photo. 

There is much more to the process of documentation panels than capturing dictation surrounding photos, but with learning any new skill, getting started is the most important step. 

What are you doing with documentations panels?  Please share your experiences.

The Tracking Adventure Continues...Right Outside Our Door!

A shout out to Ron King at Natural Playgrounds Company for helping me to see outside the boundaries of our playground fence.  We had an amazing meeting with him and are so inspired to get started on our natural playground-but that will be another post.

During his visit, he walked the wooded area behind our playground fence.  He came back to tell me about the evidence of deer he had seen there.  I knew they walked behind there as I had seen them before, but it didn’t occur to me to take my students for a nature walk just beyond the barriers of our very own fence.  So yesterday, we did just that. 

We walked and used our knowledge as budding naturalists to look for evidence of deer presence.  We found it.  We came across many piles of deer scat and beautifully preserved footprints in the icy snow.  I knew we had to seize this moment!

When we started our playtime inside I worked with small groups of children to mix cement

Find a good print

Put a frame around it

Clear out any debris collected on the print

And then pour the cement into the footprint

We did this for four different prints.

This morning we went back and dug them up.  
The cement stuck to so much snow and mud that we had to take the entire chunk inside. 

We thought it would melt, but when class was over, the impressions were still muddy, icy frozen blocks.

We are leaving them on trays to check on Monday.

I hope the impressions work.  I have never done this before.  It is part of what makes emergent curriculum so exciting.  My students are challenging me to learn new things right along with them!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

We are naturalists, we are animal trackers!

We finally made it on our field trip this week. We had been snowed out three previous attempts.

We went to the Darien Nature Center.  Before the trip I spoke on the phone with the naturalist and explained what the interests of the children were and some of our questions.  She was excited that I was actually willing to take the children on a walk through the woods in the snow.  She doesn’t get many teachers willing to do that with their classes.  Of course I was willing!  We wanted to explore the snow and hunt for tracks. 

We came prepared with our web of questions.  We also brought along our science journals to do some sketching. 

The naturalist, Ioa, showed us live animals first.  A rabbit

two kinds of turtles,

a snake

and a ferret. 

The children really enjoyed petting the animals.  They were actually able to explain quite a bit about hibernation to our naturalist.  She helped us narrow down the animals that could have actually eaten our homemade birdfeeders, by talking about which animals lived near us and which ones would be out in this kind of weather. 

We were able to spend some time in the “zoo” room which houses many other animals. 

Unfortunately due to time constraints, we weren’t able to stay in the room and sketch as Ioa had another class coming in for a tour.  She was actually worried about the children walking in the woods since the snow had gotten quite deep and with the rain we had had a few days earlier, didn’t think we would see much in the way of tracks. 

Not one to divert easily from a good emergent learning experience….I forged ahead with my crew into the woods.

It was amazing!

Not only did we see many, many tracks, but we saw evidence of animals crawling out of burrows under the snow.

We could see tracks from tree to tree.  We could see where animals hopped up to a stream to get water.  I could hear exclamations of, “look at those tracks”, “a squirrel was here”, “and I think a bunny made those”.  It was first hand learning about animal tracking.  We were “reading the stories in the snow” as the naturalist had just explained to us moments ago.  The pages of the books we had been reading were coming alive before our very eyes.  The excitement of the children and the parent chaperones was palpable.

When we returned to school, we immediately sat down to do some memory sketching in our science journals and record our thoughts of the trip. 

On this day, we were naturalists, we were trackers and we were doing incredible learning through our play.