Nothing ever becomes real ’til it is experienced.
― John Keats
I recently had the pleasant experience of observing inquiry centers in Marta Quinones and Maureen Duffy’s inclusion first grade class at P.S. 142 in Manhattan.
This spring, they decided to begin an inquiry project focused on “My Fit and Healthy Body.” This investigation came out of Maureen’s particular interest in physical fitness and sports. The children were picking up on her enthusiasm for running and exercising. The teachers also hoped that this study might address some of the children’s poor eating habits.
The three of us began by brainstorming ideas for where this study might go.We created an anticipatory web, listing possible activities, trips, experts, reading and writing projects and math experiences.
The next step was to launch the study and to discover what the children already knew on the topic. Marta and Maureen began collecting the children’s initial questions or, as they called it, “wonderings”.
The questions flowed from the class! When they organized the post- its (small sticky-notes that the teachers used to record the students’ questions), the children and the teachers noticed was that there were many questions about bones. How do they break? Can they bend? How do they get fixed? How many do we have? How do we take care of them? Can they bend backwards? Do animals have the same bones as us? The questions were filling up the page of wonderings.
The direction of the study was now clear – finding out more about our bones!
Later in the day, I visited the classroom during Inquiry Center time. The children in the block center were working on their blueprint. They were using a foam rubber life-sized skeleton puzzle as a model for their construction. They also used a ruler to assist them in measuring unit blocks. The wanted to determine which block would match the size of the puzzle piece. They wanted it to be just the right size for their block skeleton.
As I sat on the side, observing, I was struck by the children’s collaboration and also by Marta’s calm, non-intrusive support of their work.
To my delight, I witnessed an unexpected example of children making an important discovery – Piaget’s theory about the conservation of matter! We often assume that children understand numerical consistency. Young children, however, don’t always understand that five blocks arranged side by side will be just the same size as five blocks stacked vertically. In this little video clip from Marta and Maureen’s classroom, though, we can see how important a discovery it is that 11 inches stays the same, horizontally AND vertically!