The Window: A Glimpse Into Our Classrooms
Curiosity Killed the Cat?
In an age dominated by search engines and high-speed Internet, I often question the longevity of wonder. Facts and information are more readily available to a broader group of people than ever before in history, which is both a blessing and a curse. I frequently catch myself "googling" a question to satiate my curiosity about something.
For instance, as I began this piece, I quickly typed into my search engine, "history of saying curiosity killed the cat," and learned that this phrase, which so many adults in particular use to quiet children's inquisitiveness, only relatively recently came to hold that meaning. The original saying uses the word "care," meaning worry, to mean that worry killed the cat. Interesting, I thought, but forgettable. In seconds, I was able to derive an answer to a pesky question, which so many questions seem to have become. Rather than roll my question around in my mind like a unique and intriguing object, I glanced at it and tossed it aside. It may seem that there is no harm done by engaging in the bits and pieces of trivia available online. Yet when our children (arguably much more digitally savvy than I am) develop a relationship with "trivial" knowledge, I become concerned about the place of wonder in their lives.
As the dictionary defines it, to wonder is to "be filled with admiration, amazement, or awe" at something. If Google cannot provide that to our children, certainly it is our place as their educators to create pathways to wonder. But how do we do that? One way is to ask juicy questions that provoke deep and generative thought. Another is providing the full amount of time it takes for children to answer that question for themselves. During my own experience as a 3rd grader, I can remember my teacher showing us a pull-down map of the world with the Pacific Ocean occupying two opposite sides of the map. She simply asked, "How can that be?" I can remember the class chewing on that question, diving into a rich discussion of the possibilities. Had Google been available, she might have asked us to do a quick search for the answer. We would have found the answer, but it might not have stuck so well or opened up the world of curiosity that the class then had about our study of explorers' crossings of the Atlantic, of medieval understandings of world geography, and of cartography. Finally, the question must be of some—and preferably great—interest for curiosity to light up within a child. As part of our focus on differentiation this year, we are committed to learning what children want to know, giving them opportunities within the same class to pursue different questions —and in a way that leads to wonder.
Here is an article that offers examples of targeted ways in which teachers can plan curriculum and instruction in such a way as to account for students varying interests. Please also find examples below of what this type of instruction looks like here in our classrooms at Green Acres and in other core aspects of our programming.
Gonna Make a Forest Grow
In September, our Kindergarten class began their tree study with a nature walk on the grounds of Green Acres, noticing all of the beautiful trees and formulating “wonder questions.” Over the past couple of months, the children have explored many aspects of trees, keeping in mind the overall guiding question: Why are trees important?
Their curiosity and research led them down many paths of discovery which included a class visit from a tree expert, working with 6th graders to survey Green Acres’ trees, participating in a Home Tree Survey, and a field trip to Locust Grove Nature Center for a program called “Trees are Terrific.”
As part of a culminating event to bring closure to this unit of study, Kindergarten students planted a dogwood tree in the Woods Playground. Parents and teachers joined the children, using small shovels, to plant this young tree. Led by our music teacher Nan, the children sang a specially-altered version of “The Garden Song” to fit the occasion. This culminating experience concluded with a viewing of the “Tree Kids” video starring the Kindergarteners. The video highlights the knowledge they have gained about why trees are important and shares some facts about a selection of Green Acres’ trees. The children were thrilled to see their production and excited to present their families with a sapling to plant in their yard or neighborhood.
“Inch by inch, row by row, gonna make a forest grow…”
The Green Acres School mission statement encompasses our core values as a school. The Service Learning program is designed to align its approach more intentionally with our mission statement, and reflection is at the center of our new initiatives. It is important to understand that there are distinct differences between service learning and community service. Service learning has projects, assignments, and initiatives that stem directly from the content curriculum, whereas community service is a project or action that benefits others, but does not align tightly to the learning in the classroom. For example, in 2nd grade math classes, students are dedicated to a monthly service learning project of making soup for St. Martin’s Church in Gaithersburg. Not only do the students enjoy the experience of helping others, but the cooking focuses on the current math skills in classes at the time.
An example of a community service project is our upcoming school-wide book drive for Maryland Book Bank. This book drive will take place at December’s Book Festival, and while the book drive does not stem directly from the curriculum, students will still have conversations with their teachers and families about how and why a book drive is important in helping those in need. Both service learning and community service have a valuable place in our School because regardless of the lesson or initiative, reflection is at the center of the program, and it is vital for students of all ages to understand how helping others can influence positive change.
There is no better example of both encouraging student reflection and influencing positive change than when our fourth grade students joined our Middle school last week in a day of service. Each fourth grader traveled with other students and teachers from multiple grade levels out into our broader community to donate his/her time to a local, age-appropriate organization who completes charitable work. The process for placing students on these particular trips began weeks ago when the fourth graders were presented with a list of partner organization and ranked by interest which trips that they would individually find most meaningful. The groups were then built from these lists, giving each student a choice that would be interesting, challenging, and rewarding. The students came back from the day not only having participated in work that helped others, but also with powerful reactions to the work they completed. Fourth grade student reflections included:
- Doing this makes me feel I am making Mother Nature happy. Animals have a better chance of living now.
- I felt really good about doing it because … we were making a difference.
- Going to A Wider Circle was really fun and important to a lot of families that don’t have homes.
- My favorite moment was when we came back from bringing toys up and some families were picking up and looking at stuff, and it made me feel that I made a big difference to families everywhere!
On the outside of service learning coordinator Kara Combs' classroom door, a quotation reads, “No one can help everyone but everyone can help someone.” The Green Acres School Service Learning program centers itself on reflection—how students feel about an experience and how it will empower them on their next experience. Through reflections, cross-grade volunteer experiences, partnerships with a variety of nonprofit organizations in our area, and teaching the children how to give back to their own school, our Service Program supports our school’s mission and core values.
In Jen and Irene’s 2nd grade classrooms, students and their families maintain a family journal. These journals create a space for the children and parents to communicate weekly through writing. Not only do the journals teach the students important writing skills (including organizing their writing and letter writing), but they also strengthen ties and relationships between the children and their parents. In preparing each entry, students first brainstorm what to write, using their interests and questions to drive their topic(s). Several students often choose to share interesting thoughts or ideas that they have been exploring here at school while others use the journal as an opportunity to ask their parents about what is going on in their lives. Parents then receive the journal and write a response, adding questions or thoughts of their own. Students have also been using what they have been learning to draft interest-driven pen pal letters with another class from a local elementary school.
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