Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Light in the Darkness

The book, Harvest of Light, offered a wonderful prompt for discussing Chanukah with a natural approach.  We began the conversation with the question, "what makes light in the darkness"?  Not surprisingly, the answer "candles" was very popular.  Other ideas included, a flashlight, the moon and sun, a lightbulb, and a firefly.
I read the book, Harvest of Light.  At the conclusion, I asked the question again, "what makes light in the darkness"?  And the answer was, "olive oil".

We decided to try and create a light using the olive oil.   We compared the flame on the candle with the flame from the olive oil.  They 
decided that  the olive oil made a larger
Next, we conducted a taste test.  The book explained that green olives were not ripe.  Before they are eaten, they need to be pickled.  The dark olives are the ripe ones.  They are the olives that make the oil.  The students tasted both types.  Most everyone liked the green olives the best.

In this experience, we incorporated literacy, home and cultural connections, and Judaic concepts and observance. In addition, through sensory and hands on experience, the students gained an understanding of the origin of the Miracle of Light story, where the oil comes from, and the multiple uses of the olive.

Tops & Bottoms

Our Toddler playspace has a small raised garden bed.  Here the young ones experience the feel of soil on their hands and discover wiggly worms.  Sensory experiences abound with the fragrance of mint, the colors of swiss chard, and the sweet juice of a cherry tomato.  We used this space to enjoy a hands-on discovery of tops and bottoms in the garden.
I began with the wonderful Big Book entitled The Vegetable Garden.  The children were able to identify the pictured vegetables. 
We looked at the pictures and noticed that some of the vegetables had soil surrounding them. But, other pictures showed fruits up in trees or beans hanging on a vine.  We decided to go out to our garden to see what we could find.

Pulling the tops of the plants provided a delightful surprise at the bottom.

Delight results in a carrot dance.
Assessing our harvest.
We took our harvest into the room to wash off the soil.  Now we are ready for snack time.
On a rainy day, we created the same experience indoors.  As you can see, the delight of discovery is still evident on their faces.

These Toddlers gained an understanding of how plants grow and of their structure.  They know that sometimes they eat roots - the bottom of a plant.  And, sometimes, they eat the tops.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Structure and Function

Continuing our exploration of plants,
we began a conversation about structure and function.  I opened the conversation with the question, " What parts make up your body?"  Not surprisingly, the answers came easily, such as, legs, hands, brain, tummy, bones, and knees.
I then asked, "what job do those parts do for your body?"  This question took a little more thinking, but eventually the answers were offered.  The students said legs were for walking, teeth help you eat, ears help you hear, and bones help "carry your brain".  We all agreed that every part of their body had a specific job  that helped the whole body function properly.

Next, I showed them the plant recently pulled from our garden.  I had it mounted onto a presentation board so that everyone could see it.  I asked them to name the parts of the plant.  Each student that volunteered the answer had the opportunity to write the name next to the part.  This activity incorporated literacy skills in a relevant manner.  I asked each student if they preferred that I write the word on a piece of paper so that they could see the letters first, or if they wanted me to spell the word out loud as they wrote each letter. 
Then the students watched a video that described the function of the root, stem, leaves, and flower.  The students learned that roots act like a straw as they drink up water from the soil.  The stem carries the water throughout the plant, and supports the plant.

The leaves make food for the plant, utilizing energy from the sun.  We decided the leaves were the "kitchen" where the food is prepared.  And finally, the flower is where new seeds are formed so new plants can grow.  One student described the stem as "a long neck".  Another student said the roots "make it (plant) still and it sucks the water".   The Pre K students completed their investigation by documenting their understanding.

The Three Year Old classes explored living plants, and had to locate and name each part of the plant.  They used hand lenses to look at the tiny roots.

The last week of the plant discovery, the students had the opportunity to apply their learning.  Several stations were available for the students to revisit the various concepts learned over the previous weeks.
The light table had an assortment of plant parts to investigate.  Another table displayed a variety of plant seeds.  A research center provided books and authentic samples to compare and contrast.

Finally, the students went out to the garden to locate parts of the plants and discuss their functions.  Several days after this exploration ended, a 4 year old boy was showing his family the garden.  A pod was picked from the hyacinth bean vine.  His mother said, "oh that is a bean".  The student said, "no it is a seed".
Over the course of several weeks, this concept allowed for differentiated learning experiences.  The students received information from live samples, science videos, a digital microscope,books, and verbal discussion.  As a facilitator, I was able to assess understanding in multiple ways.  Students could respond verbally to questions, they could visually document their understanding with a drawing, or they could locate real examples from their environment.  Literacy, science, wonder, discovery, and understanding all came together in a conversation about plants.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Life Cycle of a Plant

The students understand that plants require soil, sun, and water to grow.  They spent this week investigating how a plant grows.

First, the students told me what they know about plants.  One girl said, "plants need time to grow".  Another student said that he was watering his plant at home and it was growing.  One student was excited to share that her tomato plant at home had already grown and "we picked a lot of tomatoes".  Next they watched a video that showed the different stages in a plant's life cycle.  They also saw a time-lapse video of seeds sprouting and growing into a sunflower.

After the video, the students used several types of resources to investigate and gain understanding.  There were posters visually depicting the stages and each stage was numbered in order of sequence.  We had several books, also.  The most meaningful resource , of course, was the authentic example.  The students had previously planted seeds and some of them were developing into plants.  We observed several of the containers to determine which stage they were representing.

To further enhance the experience, we uncovered several new plants and labeled the particular stage of growth.

To assess understanding, the students went out to search for different life cycle stages occurring in our garden.  Among the discoveries were the seed head of an echinacea flower and new leaves on the beet sprouts.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Growing a Plant

Last week the students investigated different types of soil and gained an understanding of what makes a healthy soil for plants. This week they created healthy soil by adding the composted humus to the garden beds or containers. Then they planted seeds and transplants.

Before they planted, the students discussed what plants need to grow.

Answers included: rain, sunshine, dirt, a seed.

We held out our arms and raised our faces to the sun to feel how much heat the sun makes. They understood that the warm sun helped the plants grow.

They added humus to the beds and tilled the soil.

Next, they planted......

Two year olds planted pumpkin seeds.  Two weeks later, the plant has grown a stem and two new leaves.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Soil Sense

We've just finished celebrating the harvest festival of Sukkot.  It is fall and we are ready to plant a new garden of winter crops.  But, before we get to the planting, we need to understand what makes a garden grow.  Healthy plants are the result of healthy soil.  Not DIRT, but living, nutrient rich soil

Soil is alive with  microscopic bacteria, fungi, protozoa and nematodes. Soil will contain
 earthworms, arthropods, and other visible crawling creatures.  This week, our scientists explored three different soil samples, comparing and contrasting as they discovered.

Using  investigative tools, their five senses, the students spent time at each sample.  The bin containing the clay soil elicited the common description of "it's hard".  Dallas, Texas has primarily a clay based soil, sometimes referred to as "black gumbo" because when it gets wet it sticks to everything!  Another comment was "it's solid".  What a great science word.
Another bin contained a sample of sandy soil.  One boy noticed the temperature was different, "it is cold".  Another scientist commented "this is mushy, but that one was hard".  Another student observed "it feels like sand".

The last sample was silt, or loam.  This sample was obtained from the compost bin.  The students noted that the sample contained  a lot crawling things, including worms and ants.  In the wise words of one three year old, "it has stuff in it", referring to the sticks, leaves, and worms.  But my favorite description was "it feels like soft pillows".
This experience required  the students to explore in a multi-sensory manner. And of course, holding a wriggling, squirmy, slimy worm ranks in the Top Ten of sensory experiences.

AFTER THE SOIL INVESTIGATION WAS COMPLETED, WE DISCUSSED the life cycle of a plant.  The students said that "you put a seed in the ground".  I asked them which soil sample would be the easiest for a root to grow in.  They agreed that the hard clay would not be good.  But, the silt was too loose to hold up a plant.  We experimented by combining portions from all three bins and obtained a nutrient rich soil that would hold water and support the structure of a growing plant.  I reminded them that the reason they compost each day, is so that the garden beds will have rich humus to loosen the hard clay soil.

We took some of the humus and added it to the raised bed.  Then they planted beet seeds and reminded me that the seeds needed water and sun.

To end the lesson, the scientists searched the garden for plants producing seeds.  This scientist is dissecting a bean pod.