Monday, January 26, 2015

My Reggio Inspired Journey....Transitioning From Themes to Inquiry Based Learning

I admit it. At one time I was a very thematic based Kindergarten teacher.  I taught for quite a few years without a formal curriculum, reading series or math series.  As a new teacher teaching thematically was a way to organize all of my lessons and centers in a way that made sense.  I've collected many prop boxes and files over the years all focused on the typical Kindergarten themes such as "snow, transportation, dinosaurs and butterflies."  But I always wondered "What about the kids that may not find dinosaurs all that interesting."

In my early years I focused my own learning on finding out more about the The Reggio Approach.  I like many others who find this approach interesting focused on changing my classroom environment. I also added as many bits and pieces of this approach as I could over the years within the confines of my ever changing curriculum and administrative expectations of what a Kindergarten classroom was supposed to look and function like.

Our math investigations area using lots of regular manipulatives and natural materials.

Fast forward to my twenty second year of teaching and I'm once again researching and finding out as much as I can about this approach.  It seems to be a good fit for where I am at now and the expectations of what my administrators would like to see in a typical classroom.  As I continue to change my environment and plan more engaging "provocations" or  center activities I still struggle with using themes.  It's hard to not just pick a new theme each week and focus all of our activities around it!

Reggio inspired classrooms typically use a negotiated curriculum.  Those of us in a typical public school setting of course have standards that we have to teach that are non-negotiable.  There is  no getting around this.  However, the topics and centers in  which we choose to teach those standards can  be negotiable.  For instance it's currently January and in the past many of my reading lessons and centers would focus on snow/Winter.  You can only read so many snow books to a class, paint so many snowmen or put out so many snowmen themed math tubs   before they begin to get bored with the whole idea.  So this January I decided to follow the children's interests and see where it takes us. 

Although it's a little more involved than what I'm sharing here today we have several areas of interests currently being investigated in our classroom.  Once we returned from our Christmas break I had the kids working on our basic literacy and math activities.  We did read a bit about snow and had a few snow focused centers but it was not overwhelming.  As the first couple of weeks progressed the children began expressing an interest in various topics during their writing time, recess time and general center time.  Gradually a few investigations into new topics began to evolve. Math and literacy standards are being integrated into the new investigations in order to meet all of the requirements that are expected of today's kindergartners.

I'm not sure if any of these will turn into a full blown project but it is interesting to see how engaged they become when working on something that they are not only curious about but they also initiated. In the few short weeks since we have been back I've also noticed how the children are taking their time with their work. They are really invested in doing their personal best whether it be a writing project, science / math investigation or an original piece of art.  More so than if I would have given them a cute thematic center that I created on my own. 

Here are a few areas of interest that are currently happening in our classroom...

It began with the Arch.  A few kids decided to build the St. Louis Arch.  They were very detailed and even included the elevators in the legs and the museum that is underneath of it.  This interest continued for several days but then fizzled.  To see if I could spark a new interest I borrowed "The Structure Book" from one of my coworkers. She has printed out photos of various well known structures from around the world. 
Each day the block group must have a meeting to decide what structure they will be working on. They make a plan of the materials needed and delegate jobs. They also create labels and signs to go with their structure. 

Our Arch inquiry binder and the block structure book.  The photo is a shot of the last piece being inserted into the Arch. 

This group chose to build the Chrysler Building in New York.  I love their use of the natural materials to show the rest of the city below their skyscraper.


Although I would prefer the new inquiries to be something the children have some familiarity with (such as the above structures) I do have a group of boys that have been showing an interest in outer space since this past September.  So we initiated the "Space Station Planning Committee."  This group used my various materials from my "space prop box" to create a space station in our house area.  Once they felt the space station was ready for missions they began bringing other members of the class to the station to go on missions together.  They typically will pick one planet at the beginning of their work time and will read / look at pictures of it.  Then the plan their mission together. Once their mission is over they have been writing "reports" of what they learned or what they are still wondering about. 

The Space Station

They became very interested in the outer planets.

A documentation board of their questions and what they have learned.

Being a Scientist

I have a group of girls that love to play scientist with our various science tools.  Here is an example of what a typical day in the science area looks like in our classroom. The girls sorted some of our "gems."  On the white board they recorded their information .  "5 W J" stands for "Five white gems."  The did this for the other colors and then recorded their total gems which was 25. 

Once the group finished this portion of their "science work" they observed the gems with magnifying glasses and tried to use the magnet wands on them to see if they had "magnets in their cores." 

Animal Hibernation

Right before the "structure" inquiry began several did show an interest in animals who hibernate.  We read books and wrote about what we learned but I just loved their representation of the animal dens who hibernate in the Winter.  Although you can't see it in this picture they have a stuffed bear sleeping in one of the dens and a toy bat who has made a home inside one of their "trees." 

January is winding down and I'm anxious to see where the kids interests will go to next. My next goal is to increase the engagement and find more ways to meet the required standards while focusing on meeting the needs of the whole child.  Have a great week!

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