“Real learning, attentive, real learning, deep learning, is playful and frustrating and joyful and discouraging and exciting and sociable and private all the time, which is what makes it great.”
~ Eleanor Duckworth, “The Having of Wonderful Ideas and Other Essays on Teaching and Learning”
Dr. Eleanor Duckworth at the Harvard Graduate School of Education is my most important mentor for my work in STEAM education with young children. Last week I was re-reading her book and thinking about our Young Steam Inventors. As it happened, I realized that Friday October 11 was the UN International Day of the Girl Child. The 2019 theme for the day this year was “GirlForce: Unscripted and Unstoppable.” At the same time, several related articles came across my email feed that caught my attention, such as this one from Forbes magazine about several travel companies that are actively promoting programs and activities to inspire girls to be the next generation of leaders in the travel industry; United Airlines promoting Girls in Aviation Day, and this one about an all-female airline crew that flew 120 girls to NASA to get them excited about careers in aviation.
I was inspired by these articles and others about programs that are encouraging girls to step into the shoes of scientists, inventors, designers, naturalists, builders, and readers. My own mind was full of these ideas last week while I observed the children researching, designing, and building. What I was able to observe that day led to further thoughts, and I realized that I was watching the having of wonderful ideas in action. As Eleanor Duckworth says, providing young learners with the space, the environment, the encouragement and freedom to generate and test their own ideas is critical to their cognitive growth. Balancing unstructured play time alongside the structured curriculum that is required allows young learners to be engaged in what I like to call work-play.
Work-Play In Science
For the last three weeks, students have been imagining, wondering, and curious about what they are observing outdoors. One student said:
“The fall,’ or ‘the autumn,’ which is another way of saying fall because maybe you don’t like the word ‘fall’. That word means you fall and hurt yourself. Maybe the leaves are feeling that, too.”
“I made this perfect the first time. It doesn’t need anything else. I want to make something else now and think about what my brain is thinking.”
As I moved around the classroom, I began to observe one of our Young STEAM Inventors at work in the block area. But as I watched, she shooed me away and said: “Ms. Alicia I have an idea. Come back later and see what I’m going to make.”
I did come back later and saw that she had built a complex block structure. It was asymmetrical and at first glance looked off-balance, like it might fall at any time. But before I said anything I realized that her building reminded me of world-renowned architect Frank Gehry’s buildings. Two famous examples are the Stata Center at MIT and the Guggenheim Museum in Abu Dhabi.
I realized that this five-year-old scientist was having her own wonderful design ideas and was able put them into action. In asking me to come back later she was letting me know that she needed the freedom and space to do this. I praised her ideas that are very much like the ideas of this older international prize-winning architect.
K0/K1 and K2
In addition to providing the time and creative space for the young scientists to put their ideas in action, I also make sure that I am meeting the subject-area standards, being culturally proficient, and meeting and the language goals, especially for our students who are English Language Learners.
In the past week, the K0, K1 and K2 classes have been exploring the following questions:
- What are the parts of goldfish?
- What do goldfish need to live? What do we need to live?
- How are goldfish and guppies different? How are they the same?
- How can you design and build a shelter for these animals?
Next week, we will turn our attention to birds in our school yard. Our guiding question will be, “What birds visit our schoolyard?” This exploration has three sessions that will take us outside, and we will use our five senses to observe, to draw and record in our science notebooks, and read stories about birds. I’ll present an engineering challenge for them using natural materials.
Our Grade 1 scientists are exploring Air and Weather. They have been going outdoors to explore wind and weather over the last few weeks. Our guiding question has been, “What can air do?” We have explored parachutes, propellers, small and large parachutes, and airplanes.
We’ve started talking and noticing the weather and read stories about the fall/autumn season. Next week, we will explore airplanes and create a weather calendar.
September Open House at the East Boston EEC
It was wonderful to meet parents last week at the Open House. I smiled at the wonderful stories you’ve shared about your children wanting to be scientists and inventors, how science is carrying over into your homes and how your Young STEAM Inventors can’t wait to come to class in the Science Makerspace! I feel very inspired.
I’m very excited that PBS has officially announced that their new animated series Hero Elementary will launch in the summer of 2020. I am teamed with PSB Kids and along with Ms. Maria in the K0-K1 classroom will be piloting Hero Elementary science curriculum interactive digital activities. Stay tuned here for more updates about this exciting project!