Tag Archives: investigation

Transporting a Classroom Towards Inquiry

I could almost hear a chorus of silent groans coming from the teachers sitting around the table in the staff room at P.S. 10 in Brooklyn. It was March 17th, 2005, my first day working as a consultant at the school. The new principal, Jett Ritorto, wanted me to introduce inquiry projects and investigative Choice Time to the kindergarten teachers. But it was mid-March and this was just one more new addition to their already over-programmed day. I wasn’t welcomed with open arms!

“We can’t do an inquiry project. This is when we start our transportation unit.”
I recognized this plea from my own not-so-long-ago days in the classroom. I had my theme, my materials, and my time-schedule all set up and then, in would walk a new staff developer with her own agenda, turning all of my plans upside down.

I assured them that we would not be dropping the transportation unit. Instead we would see what happened if we approached it in a new way. I suggested that they each go on a neighborhood walk with their class that week, with a focus on exploring the different ways that people could travel, to, from, and around their neighborhood. After the walk, they should encourage children to share their observations. This would give the teachers a sense of what the students already know and also what form of transportation seemed to interest them the most. That would allow them to narrow the focus of the class’s transportation study.

When I came back to the school the next week, I met with each teacher individually. The inclusion team, Dana Roth and Karen Byrnes, were excited and eager to share their experience with me. Their children had lots of questions about the subway and that was where they wanted to focus their study. The three of us spent the rest of the period preparing an anticipatory web, plotting out the many possibilities for a subway study. All seemed well.

Later in the week they contacted me and sadly told me that a subway study was out of the question. One of the students was confined to a wheelchair and would have to be excluded from all subway trips. They decided to switch to a bus study. I suggested, however, that they first bring the problem to the class and see what kind of solution the children came up with.

The children were outraged! “That’s not fair! Saim should be able to go on the subway just like us!” Here began a most unusual transportation study – The Wheelchair Project.

The class decided to find out more about Saim’s wheelchair and what it was like for him to move around the school and neighborhood. Saim was pleased as punch to be the center of attention (Dana said that she would not have pursued this route if the child was sensitive about being singled out).

They began the study by interviewing Saim. After the interview, they all sat around him in a circle, observing and drawing. The teachers began webbing what children already knew about wheelchairs and also collecting their “wonderings” on post-its and adding these to the web. From these activities, they decided to focus their study on movement and accessibility. These were the two areas where the children had the most interest.

News about this unusual transportation study traveled around the school like hotcakes. When the school’s physical therapist heard about the investigation, she provided the class with an unused wheelchair. This became a very popular wheelchair observation center. Children used magnifying glasses, tape measures, and detail finders (a square of black paper with a peek-hole cut in the center) to look closely at the different parts of wheelchair. They drew the wheels, the brakes, and the gears. Then they shared their drawings and ‘recordings’ with the children in the block center who were constructing their own version of a wheelchair. This chair took many days to construct. It sometimes fell over and was rebuilt often and eventually was held together with yards of masking tape!

 

 

The class visited the school bus that brought Saim to school to see how the lift helped children with walkers and wheelchairs get on and off. They interviewed the driver and also met Manny, a very affable upper-grade child who used a walker to help him move about. Manny was invited to the classroom where he was interviewed. He then gave each child an opportunity to try out his walker.

After this experience, a lift-bus was built in the block center. After a few days, it was deconstructed and the children built “a better lift bus.”

They walked took neighborhood walks, checking to see which stores and sidewalks were “wheelchair friendly.” Then they walked around the school to find out if their school was wheelchair accessible. The front of the school had lots of steps! How did Saim get into school? In an exciting moment of discovery, they found the symbol that they saw on the lift bus, along with an arrow. The class followed the arrows until they came to the ramp entrance. Problem solved!

They visited a neighborhood house that had been altered to make it wheelchair accessible and they interviewed the owner of the building.

This study certainly held the interest of the class and raised a new awareness of the challenges in Saim’s daily life. The children developed a feeling of respect for Saim and for the other children in the school who used wheelchairs, walkers and crutches.

Over the years, I have returned to the school to visit Dana Roth and I’ve always been intrigued by the variety of studies taking place in her classroom. On one visit, the children were investigating colors – inventing colors, exploring the various names of Crayola crayons and coming up with their own inventive names for their newly mixed colors. On another visit, the children were building a school in their dramatic play center, reflecting their investigation of their own school. Dana still does some thematic studies but she also listens closely to her children and develops inquiry projects based on their interests and wonderings.

I haven’t worked at the school for the past five years, but I’m going back in the fall to, as Laura Scott, the new principal, says, “Give a refresher course” in inquiry studies to keep it alive and well at the school. Let’s see what happens.

INTRODUCING MR. BILL!

Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition. ~Jacques Barzun

This past summer I spent a lovely afternoon having lunch with my friend and former colleague Bill. As always happens when two kindergarten teachers get together our conversation drifted to the classroom. Bill talked about how current trends in education nationwide have made school more stressful for children and for teachers. Even in Bill’s school, where the administration understands the social and intellectual importance of explorative play, there is often not enough time for children to become involved with interesting projects that they can direct at their own pace. Bill spoke, with a wistful voice, of the last few weeks of school when the children were happily engaged in an investigation of bridges. He devoted long stretches of time each day to this interesting project and noticed that the children were working with more self-directed independence and that many yearlong social tensions seemed to dissipate.

Out of this discussion came Bill’s decision to begin the year with, what he hopes will be, an exciting, child-directed study of playgrounds. We both believed that this inquiry topic would ‘speak’ to all of the children in the class.

Bill (or Mr. Bill as the children call him) wrote to all of the families on his class list informing them of this project and encouraging the children to think about playgrounds during their summer vacation. So far, the email responses from parents indicate that they are mostly concerned that their children have fun, enjoy school and grow as a person. It certainly seems as though they will be eager to support and become involved with their children’s investigation into playgrounds.

I became quite excited about this project and asked Bill if I could ‘follow’ his children and him along this journey of exploration. Bill was intrigued with this idea and so, on my blog, we will be visiting Bill’s classroom and meeting with Bill to plan and reflect throughout the year.

During the week before school was to begin, Bill started getting the classroom set up. To support play and explorations, it was important to leave ample room for extensive block building and also for dramatic play, science and art. This became quite a challenge. I remembered so well wanting to stretch out the walls of my classroom, giving enough room for all my centers and maintaining a sense of space and openness.

Bill decided that, instead of designating a separate classroom area for dramatic play (pretend play), he would use hollow blocks and prop baskets, keeping them stored in a corner of the classroom meeting area/library. That would give the children a lot of space for their play and also the ability to reinvent their ‘script’ each day. Doing this also created more area for a spacious block-building center. When I visited Bill, the day before school was to open, he was in the midst of getting ready for the children…. putting names around the room, setting up a cozy reading corner, hanging curtains, setting up his art center, and completing the myriad of details that will let the children know that this welcoming space is ready for them!

Time to begin unpacking!hmm...now what should I do next?Time out for a song!A place to meet, to talk, to listen, to read, to play...

hmm...now what should I do next?

Time out for a song!

A place to meet, to sing, to talk, to play....