— Burlington Schools (@BurlMASchools) October 17, 2015
With the arrival of my first child this past September, my ears have been tuned more than ever to the research around how babies and young children learn. While I make no claims to being an expert on this topic, EarlyEdCon 2015, a partnership between the NAEYC and the Burlington Public Schools did give me an opportunity to share my understanding and experience around natural phenomena that engages young and adult minds alike, while sharing some of those best-practices identified by early childhood authorities such as the experts at the NAEYC and Boston Children’s Museum.
Fifteen educators from the Massachusetts north shore attended the two-hour workshop. Together we explored and shared our experiences with the following:
Asking the Right Questions:
Early childhood educators spend a tremendous amount of time sharing with their kids. While teachers like me often encourage students to explore the “why” of the world, when it comes to PreK kids the “what” is just as important, getting kids to articulate what they are doing and sensing. In addition, I also identified the following categories of questions adults can ask that further encourage children to explore their world.
We practiced coming up with questions that fit these categories by imagining a trip to the Stone Zoo with children and collaborating to come up with a few examples within each category. Problem-Posing and Action questions proved the most difficult to come up with, leading participants to realize that the simple concept of “asking questions” needed to be more deliberate than first imagined! Later, we practiced the questions again while exploring glue-borax-based oobleck, which everyone gladly took home to share with their students!
Scaffold the Experience:
There are endless opportunities for kids to explore the world around them, but adults can make the most of these explorations by “scaffolding the experience” asking students to bring their attention to specific elements of natural phenomena. During our workshop teachers explored “Eggs Full of Sound,” easter eggs filled with different materials that, when shaken, would make different noises. Educators can scaffold this experience by first showing them the materials and having kids predict which eggs are filled with which materials after shaking them. Later educators might simply provide the eggs without the examples and allow students to draw off previous experiences to make their predictions. Further still educators might add new materials to additional eggs, encouraging students to guess what kinds of materials they might be made of.
Two Negatives ≠ a Positive!:
During the technology portion of the workshop, educators had an opportunity to play with magnifiers and explore their surroundings. After a magnifier-orientation and a minute or two of exploring our hand, I surprised participants with crickets, that clearly put a few in their discomfort zone despite being encased in plastic containers! I encouraged everyone to do their very best to put on a smile, no matter how uncomfortable, knowing that kids pick up on our adult cues and as models they will often mimic our reactions. This not only included the crickets in the bins but the ways in which we engage in mathematics, and important part of science when it comes to measurement and comparison, not to mention an essential skill in all 21st century workplaces.
Before participants headed off I made sure to leave them with a link to my PreK Symbaloo, a visual directory of PreK STEM resources including all of the investigations we performed and then some. I specifically directed their attention to the work of Boston’s Children’s Museum and the publications of Peggy Ashbrook, author of The Early Years articles in the NSTA’s Science and Children Magazine as well as “Science is Simple”, a catalog of 250 science activities to engage your children with.