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9/16/09 Observations

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Observations from 9/16/09
Emily Lovejoy
Today I visited a local friends school for children from three years through sixth grade. The school has a diverse population of students and has strong Quaker values.  It especially focuses on teaching students to respect all people and also focuses on engaging them to be involved in peaceful problem solving.  I observed a 5th/6th grade class (Teacher A) and a 1st/2nd grade class (Teacher B).  Both teachers were participants in Bryn Mawr's summer institutes for K-12 teachers.
Teacher A's 5th/6th grade classroom:
In today's visit, Teacher A's class was learning and practicing science though a lesson on Oobleck.  Oobleck is a greenish substance made of glue, starch, and food coloring that is a great demonstration of a non-Newtonian fluid.  When Oobleck is poured, it acts like water and can ooze out of your hands.  But, when force is acting on the substance, it has properties of a solid.  Though I wasn't present during the class' exploration of the substance, I learned all of this about Oobleck from the observations the students shared with me.  Teacher A told the students that the samples she shared with them were brought back from Planet Oobleck.  Teams of three students worked together to figure out the best way to get to the planet to explore more.  Each student had a role as either: the artist, the technical writer, and the imagineer.

  • the artist: The artist in the group got to come up with a design for the space ship the group would use to travel to and from Planet Oobleck. The space ship needed to be able to land in the Oobleck substance and be able to take off without getting stuck.
  • the technical writer: The technical writer was to write two paragraphs explaining the type of fuel the space ship would use and the mechanics behind how the ship would take off and land on Planet Oobleck.
  • the imagineer:  The imagineer was to write two paragraphs about what the exploration to Planet Oobleck would be like.

While walking around and observing the children, I was able to hear their ideas and thoughts on the lesson through their discussion with each other.  All of the students seemed enthusiastic and had a lot to say about the Oobleck substance; I was not observing the class when they were exploring its properties, so I had to base my observations on their comments about the previous day.  In each group, there was a mix of 5th and 6th graders.  I did not see any sort of competition or looking down upon other students.  I found this very interesting and reminded me somewhat of my own experience with multi-grade classrooms.  When I was in a 1st and 2nd grade class as a second grader, I remember enjoying being the older student who could assist the younger kids with things that they had not learned yet.  I saw the older students in this 5th and 6th grade class acting as mentors.  The students seemed to understand the basic principles behind solids, liquids, and gases.  Earlier in the week, they made a list of characteristics of Oobleck.  They knew that a large surface area would be needed to land their ship on the planet without it sinking.  When designing the space ship, the students had to think about what the surface of the planet would be like and then take that into consideration when designing how it would land and take off from the planet.  The technical writers wrote about the specific gadgets that their spaceships would have.  For example, one group described having water guns built onto their ship which would be sprayed at the surface of the planet to help get their spaceship "unstuck" from the Oobleck.  The imagineers of the groups all seemed like they had a lot to say.  I overheard many of the students asking if they could write more than two paragraphs, but Teacher A made it clear that she preferred that the students have shorter, better quality writing.  After each member of the team completed their task, they all went over each others work to make sure they weren't missing any pieces or had any spelling and/or grammatical mistakes.  The teamwork that I observed was fascinating; when I think back to my own experiences in school at that age, I remember being very independent and not wanting others' input on my work, thinking that the only person's opinion that mattered was the teacher's.  But, in this classroom, each student valued their peer's comments and took them into consideration when finishing their final drafts. 
Teacher B's 1st/2nd grade classroom:
I was only able to observe Teacher B's classroom for a short time.  Teacher B teaches first and second graders at the same friends school.  Her students had quiet time in which they were able to read or draw on their own in silence.  After, the students gathered around in a circle on the floor to read a book as a class.  As Teacher B read, the students had many questions to ask her about what was going on.  She also asked them to predict what would happen later in the story.  All of the students were extremely engaged and excited.  I sensed some competitiveness between some students over who could answer questions the fastest.
I will be observing Teacher B's class again on October 6.  During this time, her students will be partaking in more inquiry-based learning.