Observe, Reflect, ReportAs part of the Monarch project and our ethnography studies, our class has been spending a lot of time making observations and talking about what to do with those observations. Why is this important?
The philosophy of constructivism is at the heart of progressive education, and shows through strongly in our current studies. (If you don't have time to read the wiki entry this quote highlights a key idea: "Learners look for meaning and will try to find regularity and order in the events of the world even in the absence of full or complete information.")
Making good observations is the foundation that must precede the search for "regularity and order" if the endeavor is to be solid. This is why we spend so much time, right at the beginning of the year, observing, discussing, categorizing and evaluating. The students MUST be able to make useful observations and to know what that means in context, whether it means numerically precise, appropriately detailed, and/or properly quoted.
But When Do They Learn How to Do _______?This approach need not, and in fact is best when it doesn't, completely leave behind traditional academic tasks and the occasional direct instruction (i.e. lecture).
For the ongoing study of Monarch butterflies, students have been tracking their growth, quantitatively, measuring the length of the caterpillars and the time they spend in their chrysalids before eclosing. (Ask any 5/6 student for a definition of eclose.) They've also been making more general qualitative observations about behaviors and appearance of their Monarchs.
After looking at their data, the class volunteered the questions, "How long is a monarch caterpillar when it pupates?" and "How many days does a Monarch spend in it's chrysalis?" These questions emerged simply from the students keeping track and thinking about what it might mean; however, to answer these questions scientifically the students were in need of some tools that merited a direct, specific and relatively traditional lesson about graphing data on a set of axes. Thus, learning a transferrable skill, graphing points on a grid and looking for trends, rather than being taught abstractly with a meaningless collection of points, is fully grounded in the need to answer the student generated questions. Thus, the whole exercise has a direct and obvious link to the real world and proceeds from the students intrinsic motivation "to find regularity and order."
Ok, But That's Still Pretty Teacher Led...In an more student directed project, we have also spent a lot of time studying ethnography and making observations of the kindergarten class. Even after only a few visits (and with some examples from the research of our visiting ethnographer, UofM sociologist, Heidi Ganzer), the class has started to generate their own possible questions for study:
- What are the standards of behavior at recess? lunchtime?
- How do the K's interact with each other? the physical space?
- What kinds of play do they engage in?
- How does Val redirect and otherwise manage the class?
In the coming weeks, each member of the class will be thinking deeply about one of these, or a similar question as we continue to watch and listen, measure and record, analyze and reflect.
We will also get into some further teacher-led lessons on data analysis (coding qualitative data especially) and reporting our findings (which is when we'll talk about: what to include in a report, writing mechanics, the difference between what our observations tell us about how things work and our conclusions about why it might be that way.