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Early childhood education has been my life for over 30 years. I have taught all age groups from infants to 5-year-olds. I was a director for five years in the 1980s, but I returned to the classroom 22 years ago. My passion is watching the ways children explore and discover their world. In the classroom, everything starts with the reciprocal relationships between adults and children and between the children themselves. With that in mind, I plan and set up activities. But that is just the beginning. What actually happens is a flow that includes my efforts to invite, respond and support children's interface with those activities and with others in the room. Oh yeh, and along the way, the children change the activities to suit their own inventiveness and creativity. Now the processes become reciprocal with the children doing the inviting, responding and supporting. Young children are the best learners and teachers. I am truly fortunate to be a part of their journey.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Born scientists

I have been reading the book by Alison Gopnik called The Philosophical Baby.  On page 91, she states that children have an innate drive to experiment.  That innate drive, in turn, allows them to learn things that are not innate.  According to her,  they have built-in techniques that help them discover what is not built in.

Her theory appeals to me, especially since I have always considered the sensory table a de facto science zone.  Can I find tangible examples at the table of her theory?

The past two weeks I have written about this year's version of the cardboard divider apparatus. Besides adding a horizontal cardboard tube, I also added two inclined tubes.
With this apparatus, what kinds of experiments do the children undertake using their built-in techniques for discovering their world?

Pouring has got to be one of those built-in techniques.  What happens when a child pours the corn down the tube?  Of course, it depends on how he pours.  If he pours too fast, a lot of the corn misses the tube.  If he pours carefully, he can get most if not all of the corn down the tube.  Watch the concentration on this child's face as he carefully pours the corn.

Pouring down the tube from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

What does he discover with his actions that he did not know before?  One thing for sure is how corn slides down the tube.  Such an observant child will file this information away so when the medium changes or the incline changes, he will have prior knowledge with which to to compare his new experiences.

Catching also has to be one of those built-in techniques.  How many ways are there to catch the corn coming out of the tube? The simplest way is to hold your container under the tube to watch it fill.  Or is it?  Watch as the child in the video below figures out how to catch the corn hands-free.  

No-hands catching from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

What prompts her to wedge the cup between the tube and the cardboard divider?  It certainly changes the catching experience.  As a consequence, she can carry this experience over to be used when she wants to catch hands-free again in a different context. 

What happens to the catching experience when a child plugs and then unplugs the flow of corn coming out of the tube?  Watch as this child removes the plug he has inserted into the tube.

Blocking the tube from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

What goes through his mind as he realizes his container is full and the flood of corn does not abate?  His hands are full so he cannot re-plug the hole.  His understated "whoa" says it all.  Does one learn to control flow by loosing control over the flow?

Is blocking the flow one of those built-in techniques?  The previous video certainly supports that notion.  Watch another example of blocking.  One child pours corn down the tube while the other child blocks the flow of corn---with her eye.

Blocking the corn with an eye part 1 from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Did the child simply want to see the corn sliding down?  What is amazing is that her eye is open until just before the corn hits her eye.  She closes her eye at the last second; flinches as the corn hits her eyelid; and squeals with delight.  I cannot begin to guess what she has learned from this experience.

She must have learned something interesting because her actions are contagious.  The boy who was pouring asks to switch places.  Watch. 

Blocking the corn with an eye part 2 from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

These two eye-blocking exploitations may look the same, but they are different.  Whereas the girl wants to see the corn coming down and is happy to let it out, the boy really wants to block the corn for as long as he can.  He presses his eye up against the tube with more force and he uses he right hand for leverage to keep the corn at bay.  He ends up plugging the tube until the corn fills the tube.

I cannot begin to guess what he has learned from this experience.  He has learned something and what he has learned is different from what his friend has learned.  That tells me that the same built-in techniques lead to different outcomes for different people.  What does that mean for standardization of learning for children?

Gopnik also has something to say about this on p. 92:  "When we actively experiment on the world, we are really and truly interacting with a real world outside ourselves, and we can't tell beforehand what lessons the real world will teach."  

I might add that we don't even know what function or purpose those lessons serve down the road of life.   I would like to think that this kind of experimentation leads to the type of exquisite tinkering explicit in this final video.  It is not my video, but it has everything I love: marbles, tubes, funnels, etc.


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting these - they're really interesting and creative - especially seeing what the kids end up doing with them.