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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, April 7, 2018

What is the teacher's role?

About a year ago, I wrote a blog post on children's scientific explorations with rocks in the sensory table.  Looking back one of the episodes in the post, I think I got one wrong. Here is the episode I think I got wrong.

Some experiments children create do not have the intended result.  In the video below, two children try to plug a funnel with rocks.  After adding rocks to the funnel, the sand still flows through the bottom of the funnel.  One child brings more rocks so the funnel is completely full of rocks.  However, when he pours sand in the top of the funnel it still flows out the bottom to his consternation.

Plugging the funnel from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

When I asked him why the rocks do not plug the funnel, he said he does not know.  At this point, they no longer pursue this investigation, but move on to other explorations with the clear plastic tube and sand.  Scientists reach dead ends all the time, but like these two, continue to explore new veins of inquiry.

In looking over my documentation, I found a subsequent video that casts a little different light on this episode and opens up a different line of thought for me.

Let me start with the different line of thought.  After adding more rocks to the funnel, the child says he does not know why the sand still flows through the funnel.  At that point, I could have explained that there are still spaces between the rocks so the sand can still get through the funnel.  To prove the point, I could have also suggested that they put their contraption on the ground so they could see the sand flow through the spaces between the rocks.  Instead, I decided to keep quiet.  I thought that if I interjected myself at this particular point in time, I would necessarily change the direction of their inquiry.  And, I don't think my job is to always give children the answers to their questions.  Rather, it is more important for me to give them time and space to further play with those questions.

As it turns out, the children did not really reach a dead end.  They actually continued this same inquiry with the rocks, sand, funnel and tube.  However, it did take an interesting tangent.

In the video below, the sand has stopped flowing through the funnel.  It is not because the children have plugged it with rocks.  Rather, the sand in the tube is so high that it plugs the funnel so no more sand can flow into the tube.  In fact, the sand has backed up into the funnel so the funnel itself is full of sand.  At this point, the children start to take the rocks out of the funnel.  The sand still does not start to flow.  The child in the red shirt starts to lift the funnel out of the tube.  To their great delight, the sand starts flowing again.  The child who is holding the tube squeals with delight.  Interestingly, the pitch of her squeal rises as the sand rises in the tube.  As the sand empties out of the funnel, the sand forms a little mound just above the height of the tube.


Plugging the funnel 2 from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

They may not have figured out exactly why the rocks did not stop the flow of sand through the funnel.  They may not have understood that the sand in the tube blocked  the flow of sand through the funnel.  I do think they were starting to understand a bit about flow and volume.  The most important outcome of their investigation, though,  has to be their palpable joy. 

My overarching question is: How do teachers decide when, where and how to intervene in children's explorations and play?  Are we so driven by a superimposed need to make sure children are learning all the time that we intervene too often?  In this particular instance, I am glad I stepped back so the children could direct their own inquiry and reach that point of pure joy.  And the great thing about joy is that it reinforces their agency to keep exploring.


2 comments:

  1. (Politely) sidestepping your question about the teacher's role, my question from watching the videos is about "plugging" vs. "filling" the funnel and tube and how these ideas are related in these children's thinking at this point. I'm not sure whether or not "plugging" was a word from the children. Watching and listening to the videos, I was struck by the squeal of delight in the 2nd video and wondered whether it is from seeing the tube filled with sand–tall, colorful, and a new state. In the drift of play and exploration, new ideas about what's going on suggest themselves. For instance, an interest in plugging becomes an interest in filling becomes an interest in some new endeavor.

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    1. I think there may be even more questions. Why put the funnel in the tube in the first place? The sand goes from a wide mouth---top of the funnel---to a small stream coming out the bottom of the funnel. That in itself is a nice little transformation which gets revisited when the sand starts flowing again. Why put rocks in the funnel? Was it an attempt to plug or was it an attempt to change the flow? I was surprised at the squeal and how the pitch increased with the increase in volume. It was almost like she was giving voice to rising sand.

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