Sunday, April 24, 2016

Keep Calm and "Hands On"

Recently I had a chance to visit Mrs. Ann Rose Wright’s Pre-Kindergarten class at Hardy Elementary.  She was teaching her students about the life cycle of plants.  She could have shown them pictures of the different stages, or even had them grow seeds in cups in the classroom, but she carried the lesson a step further.  She took a class of four and five year olds outside to the raised garden beds to plant their seeds.  They actually turned this in to an experiment.  Some of the seeds they planted had been soaked in water while others had not.  Soon they will see if water has any affect on the growth of the seeds.  They can watch the seeds develop into mature plants, with leaves and flowers.  While the students were planting the seeds, they got their hands dirty and there may have been an incident of some thrown dirt.  Instead of stopping the experiment and sending everyone inside, Mrs. Wright dealt with the situation and the students continued with planting seeds.  I applaud Mrs. Wright for having the courage to provide these opportunities for her young students.  Instead of restricting the environment because a student may make a poor choice, she anticipates what might happen and handles the behavior accordingly.  She doesn’t eliminate these experiences for her students.    

I asked Mrs. Lynn Briggs, Director of Communications, to put together a video of Mrs. Wright in action with her class.  Of course, she was doing an experiment with her students related to their study of the Arctic.  Students were learning about the types of animals found in the Arctic and their adaptations for surviving in the cold weather.  They learned about blubber and how it helps to keep the animals warm.  Mrs. Wright could have just told them that blubber insulates animals and moved on to something else.  Instead, she turned the lesson into an experiment.  Each student got to place their hand into a bucket of ice water.  Then she showed them the “blubber” they were going to put their hand in before placing it back in the water.  First, she had them predict what the temperature would be when they put their hand back in the water—cold or warm.  Then each child got to place their hand in a glove surrounded by shortening in a plastic bag.  This had the potential to be a very messy activity, and there was some mess, but she knew that ahead of time.  Mrs. Wright also knew how learning this lesson through a hands-on experiment would be more meaningful than just being told the function of blubber.  

As we move forward toward project based learning, I’ve heard more questions about how this will look at the elementary level than middle and high school.  This is what it will look like.  I commend Mrs. Wright for taking a risk by introducing hands-on activities with her Pre-Kindergarten students.  I appreciate her courage for taking risks with her students and realizing that learning is more than what is found in a book.  I hope you will watch the video below that shows how our youngest students benefit from an environment that encourages them to use their brains, and their hands, for learning.