Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Session 6: Transforming the Early Childhood Classroom

I couldn't find the presenter's name in my notes. (Edit: Meghan Callahan. Thanks Jenny) I'll update the post when I find it.

I went because I wanted to see how the presenter integrated Patterns of Thinking in her class.

Main idea: Guided play is part of a rich learning experience.

Things I found interesting, but not necessarily that I agree with. My quick thoughts are in italics:
  The presenter is a head start teacher. Her presentation was on a cycle of play so the notes will focus on what that cycle looked like.
  1. Assess literacy skills and background knowledge. Provide relevant experiences and make connections to current topic.
  2. In a guided play session, give the play structure and occasionally step in to elaborate and move it forward.
  3. Connect the play experiences with topic discussion, focusing on roles, actions, and vocabulary.
The thinking skill she was working on was part-whole relationships. While I'm describing what happened, imagine the teacher constantly emphasizing, "This is a part of.... This is a whole made of ...."

For step one, she asked the students to make predictions about a firefighter visit. She prompted them to look and see if their predictions were correct and to notice what else the firefighters bring that we didn't predict.

When the firefighters came she had them engage in guided discovery. In addition to the previous prompt she asked them to walk around the fire engine and, "If you see something you're curious about, ask about it." The firefighters later commented that her students asked far more rich questions than other questions.

I always appreciate these kinds of loose structures. I know some people argue for open choice but it's paralyzing to have too many options. There's an example I've seen a few times where people are asked to, "Name things that are white." vs. "Name things that are in your refrigerator that are white." The second prompt generates more examples. This also relates to a point that Fisher brought up about cueing. How we perceive things is directly related to our level of expertise. I look at most art and can't tell the difference. I look at it but I don't really see art. If you said, "Pay attention to how the artist uses color to convey emotion," I would have a far richer experience. 

The next section was probably a more typical school experience. Students discussed what they saw. Created labels and drawings and a concept web. They read related books. One point the teacher brought up is that students would often describe things in terms of function so she needed to stay persistent with using the vocabulary.

That's true for my 8th graders as well. I don't know how many times I've heard a triple beam balance described as "the mass thingy."

They then planned and built a fire truck. There was a lot of nice stuff here. They were practicing sorting and comparing sizes. Best of all they kept referring back to their plan.

At some point you probably asked, "Why is Jason going to watch an ECE presentation?" Well, here's another reason. My kids will create elaborate build or lab plans and then completely abandon them when the tools hit the table. Obviously it's something I need to reinforce. 

Next came the guided play section. The main things that separated this from standard free play is that the teacher set the scenarios (Pretend you're going to the fire, then at the fire, then coming back) and that she was there to help extend them.

When my oldest daughter, who is the same age as the students in the videos, plays firefighter it looks like this: She's sleeping. The alarm rings and she gets up and runs to wherever this fire is. She sprays it with an imaginary hose for 3 seconds and then returns to the fire station and goes back to sleep. Repeat ad infinitum. If I were helping extend her play I might ask her, "What else would a firefighter do at a fire?" And yes, this is completely relevant to when students are conducting their own investigations.

Finally, they wrapped up the cycle with discussion and various literacy experiences.  Again, focusing on part-whole relationships. The whole process took about 2 weeks.

Takeaway: The focus of the presentation was on guided play and integrating part-whole relationships into the standard curriculum. That was good. But for me I was struck by the false dichotomy that science teachers tend to put forth about process and content. This was a rich learning activity that focused on both process and content. It's not either/or. This teacher did both. The students learned about relationships, sorting, planning, and questioning. But they also practiced literacy and counting and learned the "facts." Content and process are not in competition. If you think you're going to teach one and not the other, you're not actually teaching either.

I admit I may have completely missed on this one. Novices experience things differently remember? I'm going to defer to Jenny here to catch me in my errors.

1 comment:

  1. Actually, I think you hit it pretty spot on. I can add the presenter's name, Meghan Callahan.

    Honestly, I've really enjoyed reading your posts about sessions I attended as well. Why weren't we at all the same sessions so you could just do the reflecting for me?!?