Saturday, 31 May 2014

how big is the sun?

Our "outside welcome circle" is a time spent singing song, reciting our poems, listening to bird songs and other sounds around us, and noticing life all around us. This week our focus also extended out to the sky.

This week began differently than the last four weeks, by virtue of the fact that our "visitors" (in fact caterpillars which emerged as painted lady butterflies) who'd so enchanted everyone were now all gone. (click here for storify version of the visitors). The last of our resident butterflies had been released into the dandelion-filled long grass in our beloved "no-mow zone" on the Friday. After everyone was gone, my afternoon partner Sanchita and I removed the large gauze tent where the butterflies had been fluttering and feeding on fragrant foods all week. The "visitor" centre gone, along with my recent removal of old documentation from bulletin boards, now the room seemed much emptier. I wondered what interests might fill the space.

The Sundog 
The week also began differently due to an unfortunate and mundane occurrence: a water pipe break on the upper floor on the weekend meant arriving early at school on Monday to discover a crowd of school staff gathering outside the entrance, awaiting details and permission to enter the premises. As information came in from the various staff working hard inside to contain the water, we soon realized that while school would be open, several of us would not have access to our classrooms, including the entire Kindergarten team. Thankfully the damage was minimal this time, mostly pertaining to ceiling tiles and bulletin boards along the internal wall of our classrooms, though carpets also got wet. The teamwork was inspiring, with help arriving from all around our family of schools including our wonderful Superintendent who jumped right in to help out. Our side of the pod had dry, clean washrooms and a water fountain easily accessed from the K-yard, so we knew we'd manage.

The storify embedded below contains the tweets sent from my class on that sunny, magical day, as well as the following day when our new inquiry began to emerge.

During our "play and learn" time when students choose where to explore and whom to work with, individual or small group interests were still playing out: ramp-building with various materials, "body balance" challenges with big blocks and planks, mandalas with loose parts such as flowers, beach glass, and stones, and drawing labelled diagrams at the "look closely" table. Each day when we met as a whole group, however, whether inside under the large chart poem or outside under the sun, the same ideas kept coming up.

Several students (strong readers) noticed my error in the first line. I decided to leave the poem this way as a discussion point and it did lead to several mini-lessons about spacing, best work, and when to let an error go (such as when you love the artwork you made to illustrate the poem!)

In the true spirit of adventure, when we first set out for our meeting under the blue sky, I had students grab our grass mats, I grabbed my iPad and a copy of the poem, and we were off. What I hadn't anticipated was such a rich conversation that I would want to record - every word - and that I'd need my usual clipboard because I'm simply too slow with the iPad and outdoor recording is a bit difficult to hear upon replay. While I remember clearly the emotions that rose and the ideas that bubbled up all around our circle, I regret that I was unable to capture all the rich conversation of the morning session (though happily I managed to get quite a bit). So naturally when the afternoon class (like their AM class before them) picked outside meeting time, I grabbed a clipboard and tucked it under my arm before heading out to the front of our school where the lawn is shaded by plenty of mature trees. Somewhere between our door and the lawn, I lost the pen. Yet again, the conversation was so fascinating I was torn between sending a student to the office for a pen and simply being in the moment with the ideas bouncing between children and being rephrased. I chose to stay. This circle being on the front lawn and not out on the meadow, however, meant it was too noisy with traffic and the nearby train for me to record clearly. I did, however, learn my lesson. In the past when a huge interest has emerged and then trickled away before I could harness it (with provocations: books, video clips and/or materials to further the questioning) I simply let it go.

This time, with the sun shining down so brightly and the poem as our anchor each day, I decided to invite students to come speak to me during play and learn over the week. I told them I would like to interview them about their ideas. I wanted to get these ideas down while the topic was still fresh, and also while the students were practicing the poem (before it goes home in the weekly home reading folder). It was remarkable, and I'd like to share their ideas with you.

Sunlight filtered through the trees at the park.

My original question to my students as we met out on the grass was: do you think the poem makes sense? What do you think happens to the sun when you go to bed? I'm thankful that I thought to press "record" and just let our conversation flow. I managed to capture over 5 minutes though not all of it was audible. Here's what I was able to transcribe. I was asking a student to clarify his thinking as I pressed record. Please forgive the confusion, we have many students whose names start with M.

Me: "What's happening at night, then? Can you explain it to us?"
E: "There's one half, bright side of the earth, and one half, dark side of the earth. The dark side is night time and the bright side is day time.".
Me: "Did everybody hear what E said?"
All: "Yeah, yes".
Me: "So it's not that the sun is sleeping, it's kind of like the people on the dark side are sleeping. I like the way you described that. Now M, you said the sun stays, and you also said that the moon, what does the moon do? Show me what you're thinking".
M: "Okay, I'm going to be in the middle, and everyone is going to listen".
Me: "Sure, that's fine. What would you like to say?"
M: "There's one half of two, because the earth is in the middle, and that makes two halves of one (she claps her hands together) - one half morning, one half dark"
Me: "Right..."
M: "...and the half of morning makes the sun awake because it's always bright on that side"
Me: "And what happens on the other side?"
M: "On the other side it's always dark, but the moon shines its bright colour, so it's always awake too. And also, the earth moves to the dark side to make it night, and the moon doesn't sleep, we sleep!"
Me: "The moon doesn't sleep, we sleep. I like the way you said that".
M: "The sun doesn't sleep, we are awake and the sun is awake".
Me: "So, some of the poem is correct? Now M, let's let M tell, I see he has a thought to share".
M: "With the earth, they think to the sun that its day time, and when the earth says: "I don't want the sun to shine" and he faces to the moon, but sometimes he gets in-between, that means the moon right there is over there"
Me: "So the moon is doing something different than the sun. Interesting"
The next student is quiet and interrupted by children talking about a bee buzzing by. I interviewed him another day as I couldn't make out what he said.
Me: "This poem made people think really deeply about the sun. I love it. M, (a girl again) what were you thinking about?"
M: "I think that maybe when the sun goes down, it doesn't go to sleep, it goes under a lake when the sun sets".
Me: "And how does it get back out again?"
M: "Slowly rises".
Me: "That part reminds me of the poem: the sun gets up (everyone joins) in the east..."
(recording ends as another insect discovery breaks our focus and we follow that instead).

Here are the morning students responses for the one-on-one "interviews" on Thursday and Friday. Not all students came to see me for "an interview" though several watched with interest when their friends spoke to me. 

Me: "What happens when it gets dark? What is happening to the sun?"

D: "Sun goes down, sleeps with the stars. Why does the sun always sleep? All black, because we sleep". 
S: "Not sleeping" (she meant the sun is not sleeping when she goes to bed).
A: "It flies (at night), goes east - the earth is moving - the sun is on the other side, not sleeping".
M: "The sun doesn't go to bed, it's getting up in the east - the sun is like the moon at night".
M: (demonstrating the motion of the sun and moon circling the earth with his hands) "The sun doesn't sleep. No, wait it sleeps and the earth and the moon comes up and blocks the sunlight - so the moonlight is stronger - it blocks the sun from shining - it takes out the sunshine, takes all the shine for itself so it's dark again". 
R: "The sun doesn't sleep. In the night the moon comes - the sun doesn't sleep, it doesn't have eyes! It goes somewhere else. I don't know where".
K: "The sun goes to sleep - to an island and down to the sea.
H: (At night the sun is) "hiding".
U: "Shining all the way". (shook his head "no idea" when asked why we don't see it).
A: "The sun is far away. I think it goes to all the other planets - they're friends together - now he (the sun) not sleep - our planet is always awake (too)".
M: "One side of our planet is morning, and afternoon, and night" (she models this showing different times around the earth). "The sun - I heard about sunsets - the sun goes in the lake - it sleeps in the water. Night has arrived. So the poem is true!"
J: "I don't know - hide and seek - comes back".

I was so struck by the knowledge underlying these responses: students had ideas about the planets and moon in motion, about moonlight and sunshine, about time of day and possibly even eclipses, judging by M's ideas about the moon blocking the sun. I didn't want to lose the momentum before the week was through and we moved on to a new poem, so I made myself more available to the afternoon group (by not joining in at various explorations as I normally do) and as such was able to interview all who wanted to share their ideas with me.

Here are the afternoon students' responses. What stands out to me is how the original (not captured) group conversations have shaped the ideas in each class. See a different picture emerge in terms of their understanding of what's happening at night.

A: "It goes down to another country - Canada gets dark and the moon comes up, and the sun goes around".
A: "Maybe it goes where the grass is - it has to be dark - the sun sleeps at home, and in the morning it goes up".
G: "I see the sun up (points through the leafy branches overhead). At night - the tv has sun, too".
J: "The sun goes to another country, it makes it shine, then the moon comes, then the moon goes to another country and the sun comes back".
C: "When I go to sleep I see the sky is pink and blue and yellow and then I see the moon. I think the sun sets, it goes to sleep".
N: "It goes to the end of the world and then the sun sets - like colourful. It hides - maybe it turns into a moon, or maybe it turns around". (she was thinking as she spoke, revising her theories)
S: "The sun turns into stars only at night, in the morning the stars turn into the sun - they make a big sun altogether and in the morning they split up again. Maybe when the full moon goes down it's grey but in the day it's yellow. 
J: "Dark - the sun goes does and the moon goes up. The sun goes down, down, down below - it goes pink then dark. The pink and purple sky goes down, too".
D: "Maybe the rainbow is going up because it's night - and the sun changes to a moon" (I ask if the sun changes shape like the moon does, with full moon, crescent...) "Maybe - no, sun is round?"
A: (hearing his friend he had to add on, he was the first quoted above) "Sun is always round - the moon changes".
Z: "Night-time the sun goes down and goes shining to another country, like Pakistan. Pakistan has day, we have night - Pakistan has night, we have day. The sun is closer (than the moon) so you can see it bigger".
F: "It's always gone (at night) - it goes to bed".
M: "It gets down to the grass. (why dark?) Because we go to sleep, it gets tired, it goes to sleep".
D: "Gone - sleep".
A: "It can go down when it's night and when it's morning it gets up again - it goes west - shine somewhere else. It's always shining".
A: "Moon - night, day too. Sun - never at night - sleep".
J: "It disappears (the sun) - it goes down at night".

It was hard for me to record all of these ideas without clapping my hands together in glee. I did, however, mention to my team all week that asking about the sun had given me great insight into my students' thinking and wondering. 

I am still digesting the ideas shared by Suzanne Axelsson during her "The Art of Listening" talk at Acorn School last month (click here to see storify of that day); a big take-away was the fact that students are "knowledge thirsty" and capable of philosophical thought at a very young age, but need the time and space to listen and to be heard. While I haven't yet developed the level of listening amongst students where whole group discussions like this are possible except with the most provocative, exciting topics, I do see the value in uncovering students' so-called "wrong" ideas about the world in order to help provoke them to discovering or realizing their mistakenly held ideas. I wonder if the students who seem to have a more nuanced view actually do understand it the way they explain it, or if they've read books or seen movies that talk about how the moon rotates around the earth, for example. Ideas about ice, water, balance and motion are much more easily developed through natural, purposeful play experiences. The sun and daylight, however, is experienced directly and yet indirectly. Naturally I hope to take all these ideas and provoke deeper thought, through experiments, reading stories, more questions, and finding ways to invite cognitive dissonance which is the point of real, deep learning. 

Ms. Duric engaged in shadow exploration with her class in the K-yard this week: first they traced her outline, then had to direct her back into alignment with their drawing so I could take a photo. Lada gently prompted her students ("now what do I do next? Can you tell me what to do step-by-step?" and I marvelled at how it made them slow down and work together. I wonder if our inquiries will overlap.

So here I am, wondering what will become of our big ideas next week. I think many of my students will engage in discussing our inquiry at home when they read the poem in their home connection "Friday Folders". I can't help but wonder if some students will explore further, with books or online research done with their families. I am excited by what has come up so far, and I will share their words (or perhaps read the other class's comments instead) at an upcoming meeting. My next step is to do some research, to find resources to further expand our knowledge and look for other classes, perhaps older grades, with whom to correspond and gather new ideas. If you are interested in corresponding with my students via @FynesKs or have suggestions for us, please leave a comment below.