Children's Questions and Curiosities
If we value children as thinkers, it is important to design the classroom culture as one in which children are encouraged to make their thinking visible and evident. The world of science and mathematics should be one that is inviting and accessible to all children. Traditionally, these disciplines have not always been connected to the real lives of children. In her book Talking Their Way into Science, Gallas (1995) tells us, “I haven’t met a child (or an adult) who was unable to think and talk like a scientist. I have met people who couldn’t use the appropriate terminology or factual references about a scientific phenomenon, but they were all in full possession of a natural ability to question, wonder, and theorize about every aspect of the natural and physical world” (p. 3). When children are encouraged to ask questions and feed their curiosities, they are given opportunities to construct meaning about their world.
“Almost all young children in almost all environments ‘do science’ most of the time; they experience the world around them and develop theories about how that world works” Conezio & French, 2002, p. 13.
When children enter the classroom, they are met with newness in people, things, routines, and environment. Think about what children see when they enter your classroom. Do they see interesting things to explore? Are they allowed to touch them? Do you provide familiar and novel items to investigate? Can they reach the objects without disturbing other objects? How we fashion such an environment is critical to what will happen and unfold before our eyes.
If we want to encourage children in natural exploration, we must provide interesting things for them to explore. We must also model the joy of wondering, being curious, posing questions, and exploring. Our classrooms should have an assortment of familiar and unfamiliar items from nature. If your classroom has a collection of pinecones and seashells on a sensory table or in a touch center, children see that these are valuable parts of their classroom. They should be encouraged to contribute other natural items that are of interest to them. As children bring in natural items, allow them time for show and share, because the social contexts of these items are important. Perhaps an item is from a family outing or something discovered while taking a walk in the park. The item may even be a family treasure. Sharing these contexts tells children that their lives outside school are important and valued. Mathematical ideas of sorting, counting, measuring, and graphing also can be introduced as children observe the collections.
|Seashells–What We See, Hear, and Feel|
As children bring items in to school, sorting these items can be a worthwhile experience. Children can construct their own classification schemes with the shared items. For example, looking at an interesting collection of seashells, we can observe them with our senses and use rich language to describe what we see, feel, hear, and smell. Children’s descriptions can be recorded on an experience chart (see the figure above).
Then children can be encouraged to group the seashells in ways that make sense to them. For example, shells can be grouped or classified as clamshell shapes or cone shapes, smooth or ridged, big or small, long or short, wide or narrow, and pink or brown. Sometimes, children can develop three or even four classification schemes. It is important for children to explain their classification scheme to you and to the class. At this point, a new shell can be introduced to the class to be placed in one of the groups. Such experiences utilize observation and logical thinking. These classification schemes can be recorded on the experience chart with the sensory descriptions. For support, you may want to read books about seashells, such as Pluckrose’s (1994) Walkabout Seashore. The book displays beautiful photographs of seashells of different shapes, sizes, and textures. Using this book will spark the adventurous spirit of children to find shells like those featured.
As children see their ideas about seashells growing on the experience chart, other conversations about seashells can occur. We can move their thinking from observation, which is what they can actually see, feel, and smell, to inference about seashells, or what they do not actually experience. This movement from observation to inference is an important step for young learners, because it relies on experience, social and cultural contexts, and knowledge passed along from other sources such as parents, books, nature videos, or an oceanographer. An experience chart like the one shown in Figure can be constructed.
Such discussion and conversation can lead the children to ask questions about seashells—a beginning step for scientific investigation and research. The National Science Education Standards (NRC, 1996) explains that “inquiry...includes the ‘process of science’ and requires that students combine processes and scientific knowledge as they use scientific reasoning and critical thinking to develop their understanding of science” (p. 105).
|What We Know about Seashells|
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