About Me

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Early childhood education has been my life for over 40 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 28, 2018

Funnels part 2

Last year I wrote a post on funnels.   In that post I explained how I used funnels when I built apparatus and how children used them as loose parts.  After watching a video multiple times that I posted two weeks ago, I saw something new and different that made me want to revisit funnels.  What I saw in the video was how the funnel changed the flow of the sand into a narrow stream.

Plugging the funnel 2 from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

In essence, the funnel transformed the sand that was poured into a wide-mouth opening to a narrow and precise stream.  I began to wonder how else funnels were used by the children to create other transformations.  With a quick dive into my archives, I did find some interesting transformations.  Here are a few.

One of the first transformations was simply covering a large hole with a funnel.  In the picture below the child covered one of the vertical tubes with a red funnel.   If a child poured sand directly down a tube, it quickly disappeared down the hole.  But when the child covered the hole with a funnel, the sand filled the funnel and was channeled so the flow of sand was slowed and evenly regulated down the tube.
Because the funnel slowed down the flow, the child observed how the sand sank into the red funnel.  What he saw was the sand sliding down from the sides into the middle of the funnel.
In other words, the funnel transformed how the sand flowed through the embedded tube.

What did that transformation look like from the bottom?  In the video below, a child poured sand into a funnel that was placed over one of the tubes embedded vertically in a box.  As soon as he finished pouring the sand, he crouched down to see how the sand exited the tube.

Checking the flow from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

It came out as a pencil-fine stream.  I speculate that the transformation caught the child's interest because he could not see the actual transformation of the sand from his cup to a fine stream.  He could not see because the tube was embedded in the box making part of the operation invisible to him.  In addition, the thin stream was framed by the larger diameter of the pipe through which it traveled completing the intriguing contrast between how he poured the sand into the funnel and how the sand exited the tube.

Here was an interesting transformation using a funnel with water.  The child used a funnel to cover the end of a horizontal pipe.  Up until this point, the water flowed freely out of the bottom of the pipe.  When the child positioned the funnel over the pipe, the flow was first blocked.  As the pipe filled with water, the hydraulic pressure built up behind the funnel so the water was pushed out with enough force to form a waterspout.

The child pictured below had a different idea of how to use the funnel to transform the flow of water.  This child inserted the stem of the funnel into the tube.
Now instead of a water coming out of the tube like through a nozzle, the funnel dispersed the water so the flow was not so organized.

In the video below the child actually used two funnels to carry out a transformation with water.  Ostensibly the transformation was filling a bubble bottle using a combination of the two funnels.  The child inserted a plastic syringe (first funnel) into a blue bubble bottle.  She placed a red funnel (2nd funnel) onto the syringe.   After pouring a second cup of water into the red funnel, the water started to overflow from the top of the bubble bottle.  She tried to catch the overflow with another bottle, but that did not work.  Finally she took the syringe with the red funnel out of the bubble bottle and emptied the rest of the water from the syringe into another bottle.

Overflow from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

I appreciated how calm this child was throughout the whole operation.  She knew she was spilling but she seemed more interested in the transformation from filling to spilling.  Because the syringe had such a constricted stem, she was able to watch the transformation in slow motion.  And finally come up with a solution to the spilling issue.

Here was one last transformation.  The child in the video below used a long black funnel to redirect the flow of water coming out of a tube into another flexible tube.

Redirecting the water from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

In this case, the child used a funnel to transform the path of the water.   The transformation may not have been efficient, but it sure was joyous.

Are these examples with funnels really transformations?  I am not sure because the transformations are not permanent.  The funnels do transform and shape how the different mediums flow, but then the different mediums revert to their original state.  Is there such a thing as transient transformation?  If so, the children have used their agency to come up with a whole host of explorations to make some sense of this phenomenon.    

The question is: Am I making any sense?

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Conference musings

This past weekend I was invited up to Devil's Lake, North Dakota to do a building session for the North Dakota Childcare Providers Association annual conference.  

After my morning presentation of a building framework, the participants had about an hour to start their building.  Because we were working in the cafeteria and the tables we were working on were our lunch tables, they had to pack their unfinished contraptions into a corner during the lunch hour.  After lunch, though, they could not wait to start building again.

Two builders who were worked side-by-side made two separate but similar incline constructions.  Both used long narrow boxes on an incline.  Both cut holes as windows so whoever played with the construction would get glimpses of the marbles or beads racing down the incline.  They each set the boxes at an angle in a shoe box.  They cut holes in the end of the shoe box so the marbles or beads crossed through the box into receptacle boxes that they fashioned from the lids of the shoe boxes.  The two constructions looked the same, but were slightly different.
Though they each made separate constructions, their plan all along was to combine the two to make one construction.  This was a great illustration of how individual inventiveness could be combined to create something new.  See below.

Two other builders were ingenious in their own right.  Their idea was to make a ball cascade with pieces of gutter.   To do that, they fashioned a two cardboard pieces to suspend and hold the top gutter in place above the bottom gutter so when the ball rolled down the top gutter, it would drop into the bottom gutter and go on its way out the box.

For someone to build in a workshop like this, they have to take a risk, an intellectual and emotional risk.  The questions come fast and furious.  How do we start?  Oh, that doesn't work, so how do we modify it?  What is your idea?  How do we make it work?  There are also physical risks involved, too.  For instance, working with sharp tools carries its own risk.

Did I say risk? 

Niki Buchan was the keynote for the conference.  Niki is from Australia and does consulting around the world on outdoor learning for children and adults.  Well, even Niki got into building.  She created a rotating construction by making a cardboard washer between a cardboard base and a cardboard platform that held three small cardboard tubes.

At the end of the sessions, the builders were asked to leave their constructions in the hall so other conference attendees could see the possibilities for cardboard constructions for the sensory table.
On Monday after the conference, a couple of the educators sent me some pictures of things they had already built.  Below is one of those pictures.  I noticed that the incline for the apparatus was not very steep so the child needed to push the pellets down the cardboard chute.
When I mentioned that, the educator wrote back that the child was pretending that he was making cement.  He would push the pellets down the chute much like a cement worker would push cement down the chute coming off the cement truck.   She also said that he used a dust pan like a mixing blade to mix the cement in the pail.  She added that his dad was in construction.

In their play scenarios, children in early childhood settings recreate the work of adults.  For the most part, however, that play is in the housekeeping area of the classroom.  Because of the way this educator set up this apparatus in the sensory table, this child was able to represent in his play what he has seen his father do at work.  He could be his father in play.  How cool is that?

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.