The Plant Project

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Every April the plant kit arrives from the science department.   The kit includes traditional lessons, but I wanted to use a more inquiry-based approach, so here's what I tried.  

I placed the kit in the center of the carpet and gathered the children around it.  Then, I said, "Look what came today! I wonder what is inside?" 

The children made predictions. Some of their guesses included:
school supplies
science materials
plants (this child read the label)
and lip "glosses" (lol!)

Then, I opened the box, took out each object, and asked, "What is this called?"  Once all of the items were revealed and named, I asked the children, "How do these items go together? What do you think we are supposed to do with them?"

Their responses included:
make a garden
they are for planting
making our own plants

I then asked if the box included everything we will need to "make plants" and we made a list of what plants need:


When we listed dirt AND soil, I asked if they were the same. Most of the children said, "Yes," so I took note that this might be a great question to research.

There was also some discussion of how plants get sun that included talk of putting the plants indoors and outdoors.  I noted that this might be an experiment we could do to further explore the best growing conditions. 

So in that first exploration, we did some predicting, vocabulary development, classifying and listing.  I also was able to determine what they already knew about what plants needed to grow and to identify two questions for research and experimentation.  We were off and running! 

Growing Seeds
I integrated our plant study, with our procedural writing unit.  I usually begin this unit by co-creating a How-To book with the children to provide them with a model, before they go off and write one independently.

So together we each created a How to Plant a Seed Book and then later that day followed the steps to plant our seeds.


Following the planting, I asked, "Who will help me take care of these seeds?" Luckily, the response wasn't, "Not I!" This began a conversation about whose job it would be to take care of the plants.  We talked about what it meant to be responsible (one of our social studies key concepts) and what that looked like when caring for a plant.  

We read The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss and Jasper's Beanstalk by Nick Butterworth and examined each character's responsibility to his plant.  We then identified good times for watering and explored solutions for days we were absent or school was closed. 

I brought in a couple of "mystery objects" and asked children to guess what they were (avocado and coconut seeds).  None of the children guessed correctly and many thought they were nuts which led us to a discussion about the difference between nuts and seeds.  The coconut is actually a fruit, nut and seed!

When we returned from a Memorial Day weekend, many of the plants had sprouted!  They were very excited and a crowd gathered at the window.

Over the next few days, I sent some plants home to be transplanted outdoors.  When we were left with many "sproutless" pots, I gathered the children together and talked about how their plants were doing. They shared their successes and failures and gave reasons why their plants didn't sprout. Most believed it was due to too much or too little water.  I suggested that the "fun" of the spray bottle may have played a part in their plants getting too much water and many agreed that they may have given a few too many "squirts!" So we revisted the term "responsibility" and how they had been charged to take care of a living thing.  I asked if any would like to try again and learn from their first experience.  Several of them took me up on this and planted a new seed.

Other plant "tragedies" led to learning experiences too - mostly with how plants must be handled with care!

The children were very engaged in caring for their plants right up until our last days of school.  It was messy with dirt spills and overcrowding and stuff other than plants being sprayed, but they were learning about taking turns, and patience, and living things. 

With one day left of school, a little girl said, "I didn't get a plant."  I asked her why she thought that was and she said, "I overflowed it." She was taking personal responsibility for this. She was learning through failure. We talked about what she might do differently next time and I sent her home with a packet of seeds. 

I must confess that there have been many years where the children planted seeds and I took care of them.  Where was the learning in that?  I realize now all that they had missed.  I taught "about" plants through read alouds, worksheets, and booklets rather than allowing experience to be our teacher. 

Inside Vs. Outside 
To explore the question, "Do plants grow better inside or outside, we took identical seeds, pots and soil and placed one inside and one outside.  

The children made a prediction and gave a reason why. 

Two days later the outside pot was missing.  The children thought it must be the animals that took it because they couldn't read the note!  So we set it up again and got some surprising results. 

The inside plant didn't sprout at all, while the outside plant was thriving.  We reviewed what was the same about the two plants (the pots, the seeds, the soil) and what was different (the amount of sun and water).  The children wondered why some of them were able to grow a bean plant inside while this one did not sprout at all. We read The Empty Pot by Demi and the children realized that not all seeds were exactly the same and that there might be some seeds that just won't sprout.  

What I liked about this experiment is that it expanded children's thinking beyond what plants need to grow into some beginning work with variables.

Dirt Vs. Soil 
We began our research of dirt vs. soil by reading Dirt: The Scoop on Soil by Natalie M. Rosinksy and Soil Basics by Mari Schuh. In the first book it said, "Dirt is another word for soil."  Yet in a video we watched the gardener differentiated between the two and stated that "dirt is what you find under your fingernails, while soil is what is used for planting."

So I gave them some dirt/soil to explore to see what they could find out.  They described it as cold, tickly, soft, smooth, squishy, dark, black, and brown. They also discovered grass, leaves, sticks, roots, and "white stuff" in the mix. 

We then compared dictionary definitions of the words.  One big difference was that soil contained a mixture of organic remains such as clay and rock particles, while dirt did not.  I started to think it was a little like soup where you have the broth, that some might consider to be soup, and then you have soup that includes vegetables, meat, noodles, etc.  This seemed to help them understand it all a little better.  

We then went back to what we had used to plant our seeds and I asked "Is this dirt or soil?"  They all agreed that it was soil because they had found other "stuff" in it and we talked about how this "stuff" provided food or nutrients for growing plants.  

At this point our work with dirt and soil began to merge with another  project that had been ongoing for most of the year.  

You can read more about the Pumpkin Project in a future post!

Upon Reflection, I learned a lot through this project as I compared it to the way in which I'd previously taught our plant unit.  It felt simpler, more authentic, and responsive to what children understood and misunderstood about plants. Opportunities for research and experimentation unfolded naturally from children's thoughts, ideas, and misconceptions. It allowed us to go deeper into the content than the traditional lessons as many children had experiences with plant basics in preschool.  Also, learning about plants didn't just happen from 2:30-3:00 during a science block.  Noticings and wonderings happened throughout the day as is the way with project work.  

If there is anything I would change about this project, it might be to start a little earlier to give us more growing time (the kit arrived in April, but we didn't begin until May).  We could easily begin in March and continue learning about plants throughout the spring.   I would also eliminate a few of the seed choices as some brought better learning opportunities than others (beans vs. grass) and a bigger WOW factor in the children's eyes.

If you are beginning in inquiry, plants might be a good place to start.  Give it a try and let me know how it goes!

Thanks for stopping by!

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Teaching Poetry with Choice and Voice

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Our poetry unit began during recess on a rainy April day, when a child asked me, "Can I have a piece of paper so I can write a poem about how the Earth counts on me?" I found this curious as we had not been talking about poetry or the Earth, so I gave him a sheet of paper and this is what he wrote (note: rf=Earth).

He shared it with the class and then the next day two more children asked for paper and wrote "poems" about the Earth.  

Now at this point, my plan had been to launch a nonfiction unit of study.  There was great interest in the eagles we had been watching on a webcam and Zoo to You had just visited our classroom.  Yet, I knew poetry had a lot to offer as well (descriptive writing, fluency, reading with expression etc.)  So I thought it over during the April break and decided to test the waters on poetry when we returned.

Here's how the first day went! I asked the children what a poem was and they said things like:

Something that rhymes.
It's a little story.
It's a word. 
It's a song without music. 

I asked if all poems were about the Earth.  They said, "No," and named several things that poems could be about. One child said, "Poems are about Everything." (Remember this as it becomes important later!)

Then, I asked if anyone knew a poem.  Only one hand went up and this is what he offered:

Here comes Santa,
quick, quick, quick.
You better go to bed,
or Santa won't come.

I asked him if he had written the poem himself (he very proudly said yes!) and said he learned how to write poetry from his brother who was in seventh grade.  

And it was from here that the poetry unit really took off! We talked about how this child used repeating words in his poem and then other hands went up and now they too had poems to share.  They were starting to understand a little bit about poetry and even more importantly, they felt empowered to write them. 

So I gave them paper and they were off!

As I watched them work, I found many teachable moments coming through in their writing and jotted these down.  Every lesson from that day on was built on something notable that I saw in a child's writing.

At the end of writing workshop, on that very first day, someone asked if we could, "put our poems in a book?" I told the children that this was called an anthology and wondered if they wanted to make a class anthology or each have their own.  They wanted their own!

The next day they came in asking when we would be writing poems. Their energy and enthusiasm was high!  

I began by reading a few of the poems they had written the day before that had elements I wanted to highlight.  They loved hearing their work read aloud using my "poet's voice" and were truly learning from each other.

This child's poem taught us that poems sometimes ask questions.

We began a list of "What Poets Use" for them to have as a reference.

Because they were asked to give each poem a title, they gained some great practice with main idea in a real vs. an artificial sense.

The days that followed continued in a similar fashion and we added to our list as we went along.  I also began reading published poems to the children and we explored the techniques each poet used.

You may have big books like these hanging around that were part of an old reading series.  You can also find them on Ebay.

I loved the variety of topics the children wrote about and how their unique voices came through.

They began to get inspiration from objects they saw in the classroom and asked to bring these items to their table so they could look at them closely.

They wrote about the solar system, butterflies, animals, spring, the Easter Bunny, slime, mixing colors, camping, construction workers, trees, Batman, and more!

One child wrote a poem about farts with the last line being, toot, toot, toot. I had to really think about this one!  It didn't feel right to tell him that he couldn't write about that. After all, we did say that poems could be about EVERYTHING and I knew many examples of silly poems that were wildly successful.  On the other hand, I was worried that the whole class might start writing about topics that might be less than appropriate and that our poetry unit might head in a new direction.

So I spoke with this child and told him that he might be surprised to find that people respond differently to his poem.  Some people will not want to hear a poem about this topic while others might think it is very funny.  I also told him that it would not be a poem he could read over the loudspeaker at our school, because the principal would probably not allow it.  He seemed to understand and I didn't feel that I diminished his work in any way.  And as it turned out, I didn't get any other poems about topics such as this except from this child who wrote about his brother clogging the toilet and peeing his pants.  He was definitely going for humor and that can be poetry too!

Our poetry unit also spilled over into reading workshop where we began reading poems for fluency practice (and enjoyment)!  These came from a book called Sight Word Poetry Pages by Rozanne Williams.

I continued to point out different poetry elements as they came up in the poems we were reading. We also worked on scooping our voice (phrasing), reading with expression and changing our voices to match the punctuation marks.

To bring closure to our eagle studies, we wrote poems rather than "All About" books.

I chose to type up their poems vs. using their own handwriting, to provide an opportunity to teach them about the visual look of a poem. I also liked that this leveled the playing field so that all children's poems could be read and enjoyed despite their writing ability.

After a few really enjoyable weeks of poetry writing, I created an anthology for each child and they illustrated their poems.  

I then asked for volunteers to share their poems with the rest of the school following the morning announcements. All but four children chose to participate.  

To prepare, they practiced reading their poem several times and also took them home over the weekend for additional practice.  It felt great to be really working on those often forgotten speaking standards! 

Most were very nervous when it came time to actually read over the loudspeaker.  One child, who volunteered to go first, lost his courage and just wasn't able to do it.  

Another child made me cry!  When he came to kindergarten, he was described as being a select mute and cried every day for the first week or so.  And now here he was reading his poem out loud in front of the whole school!  What a moment!

Then, I bundled up their poetry and sent it home for them to share with their families.

I am really glad that poetry "came up" for us this year! It is not one of our units of study, but because it offered so many opportunities to teach several language and speaking standards, I plan to do it again next year.  And I think that if I begin planting those "poetry seeds" in September by making poetry breaks a regular part of our day, they will be well-versed in this genre by the time spring comes.

Have you tried poetry writing in kindergarten?  How did it go for you?

Thanks for stopping by!

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End-of-Year Slide Ceremony

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Spring seems the perfect time to end the school year as the children's growth mirrors that which is happening outside the classroom window.  

This past week, our kindergarten team celebrated their "blooming" with a Slide Ceremony and Fun Day.  The slide ceremony itself, was shared with us by a colleague (Thank you Sara!) at another school.  We loved how simple, yet meaningful, it was and how it offered a rite of passage as children moved from one grade to the next.  Here's how it all worked:

Parents were invited to attend and rotated through four stations with their child and class.

My group started at bubbles and chalk where families were invited to explore the question, Are all bubbles round?" while making pipe cleaner wands.  

They could also use chalk to play tic tac toe, show off their newfound drawing and writing abilities, or trace each other's bodies.

Next, we moved to our wooded area where families found blankets spread throughout the grounds.  The children were given their book bags and chose a blanket for their family.  There they shared their reading as well as their Show How You Grow books that documented their drawing and writing throughout the school year.  

This was probably my favorite part of the day.  It was so touching to see the children nestled among their families, at the center of their attention, while sharing the story of their growth. 

Following that we headed to our smaller playground where we set up a garden of pinwheels.  

Each child had written something they had learned how to do in kindergarten on each petal.  They found their "flower," shared it with their families, and then played on the swings and monkey bars.  

Our last stop was the Slide Ceremony.  At the beginning of the year, we explained to the children that they were not allowed to use the twisty slide until the end of kindergarten when they were ready to become first graders.

Usually at some point in the year, one brave child reveals that they have been to the playground with their parents and used the twisty slide and then several more disclose that they too have been on it.  It's all very cute, as they think they are getting away with something, but it doesn't take away from the ceremony itself as they are still very excited to begin using it every day as part of their outdoor playtime. 

So here's how the ceremony worked! Each child took a turn going down the slide while families gathered around and watched.  In past years, we have had them share something they have learned how to do (I can...), but this year one of our teachers had an on-the-spot idea while practicing to have them share what they want to be when they grow up from the top of the slide before going down.  We all agreed that this was much cuter (i.e. When I grow up I want to be a Monster Truck Driver)! At the end of the slide we presented them with a certificate and congratulated them.  

At this point, the day came to a close and the children said goodbye to their families.  I was surprised to find that I had SIX children crying as we headed back to the classroom.  In trying to figure this out (after all, this wasn't the FIRST day of kindergarten), I realized that the children so enjoyed being the center of their parent's attention and just didn't want the day to end!  

We had wrestled with the idea of whether or not to allow siblings, as we knew this might make it difficult for some parents to attend, but in the end all 21 of my children had family there and it would not have been the same experience if younger siblings had been present!  We sent home a RSVP ahead of time, so we could make arrangements for a substitute adult to fill in, should there be a family who was not able to come.

I've done class plays and song fests over the years to celebrate the end of kindergarten, but this is by far is my favorite way of wrapping it up.  We didn't have to spend weeks practicing for a performance and it was truly a celebration of their growth! 

What are your end-of-school year traditions?

Thanks for stopping by!

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