The rest of the time at this powerful seminar, Engaging Children's Minds, was spent simulating a project.
We had to organize ourselves in groups and choose a topic to study. Earlier I had seen a man inside of the fountain in the lobby walking around in it with very tall boots. This had intrigued me. Speaking with a couple of other teachers I had met the day before about this, we decided to investigate the water features of the hotel lobby; the pool, the fountain and the hot tub.
First we took on the role of the teacher and prepared for this study. We had to brainstorm 100 words that could describe these features and then organize them into a web to formulate our thinking and help us decipher all the various directions this study could go. This exercise was done to help us get the scope of the questions that may come up and to see the interesting vocabulary that could be used. It was not about brainstorming the activities or the learning centers that could be set up: that is more for emergent curriculum. Their feeling is that the more you prepare yourself as a teacher on a topic of study, the more prepared you’ll be when you are discussing the topic with your students.
Then we became the students and participated in the initial activities done in the first phase of project work. We shared a personal experience with our group that had to do with a water feature, we drew a picture of a memory and we did a piece of writing. The telling of personal stories is such an important part of getting authentic questions and wonderings from children. We started asking each other questions about our stories and started to become invested in this topic. At this time, we were shown many slides of initial drawings that children as young as two had done. These pictures were used to focus the children on the topic, to help them share what their experience has been so far.
We engaged in a brainstorming of questions and made predictions. This part was quite fun as we were wondering such things as “How long can you sit in the hot tub before feeling uncomfortable?” “Can you drink wine in the hot tub?” “Are there rules about this?” “Who enforces the rules?” And so on…
Next, we planned our field work and decided how to best investigate these questions; would we take photographs, interview experts, do on site drawings?
All of these steps were part of just Phase I of project work. It is during this phase that it is important to send a letter home to parents informing them of the project. Some teachers send home the question/prediction chart so that families can continue the discussion at home furthering the interests of the children. It also allows families to see areas in which their background might be useful as an expert.
In my previous project work I did not spend a lot of time of the sharing of personal stories before the investigation. I have never done a pre discovery drawing and then sharing with the students. I would have some conversations with individuals and various groups of the children, but would usually start with the question brainstorming. I can see how this addition to the process would bring much more depth and meaning to the children relating it to a personal event.
I am interested in how this initial process has worked for you.