Monday, August 10, 2009

Assignment 1: First Graders Observe the Garden

When Emily suggested that she wanted her first graders to work in the school garden this year, I was SO excited! At last I had a teacher who was not only interested but willing to initiate outdoor learning. As a teacher who's main goal it is to invite students to inquire and think through the lens of science, I was ready, willing, and able to make this happen.

Last week, we had our first class together. The students sat before me in the classroom and I told them we were going to learn like scientists this year and find out about nature. We would use our school garden to see what we could find out. I told them that today we would go out into the garden with a clipboard, a sheet of paper, and a pencil and record what we could find. The kids were wide-eyed. This was going to be exciting!
I made a chart that said, "What is in our garden?" I made a t-chart and on one column wrote, "predictions". I said, this is a good guess about what we might find out there. When we come back we'll see if we were on the right track. We made our predictions-- rocks, ants, earthworms, dirt, flowers, bees, etc...
Each student carried their own materials. (We made sure to bring extra pencils-just in case.) We walked to our garden and circled around it. The kids began talking excitedly about what they were seeing. I pointed out an acorn, a dead beetle, and they busily pointed out many other things. The students sketched and wrote on their papers. They got in small groups or partners to share out loud what they were seeing. The teacher seemed a little nervous about all the talking, but I said-- this is exactly what we want. They are talking about their findings. It's perfectly scientific!

We got back into our line and walked to the classroom. We compared our observations with our predictions. I made check marks on our predictions that matched our observations and added new things we hadn't thought of. We talked about how it was ok to not know something but to find it out. It was an exciting science experience and good groundwork for our future explorations and investigations in the schoolyard garden.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Outdoor Classroom at My School

This week a couple new developments have occurred about the use and improvement of our outdoor classroom. I was having a conversation with a first grade teacher and she said that she wanted her students to actually go outside to use the garden beds to learn about the plant life cycle. Of course, this really excited me, so I volunteered to help her and use our collaboration time in science to do this together. Wow!

Then I shared this with other first grade teachers and they were on board, too. The garden beds have been laying dormant for at least two years. This authentic, hands-on learning will be great for the kids and will provide a rich learning experience.

On top of that, the principal asked me if I would be interested in coordinating the outdoor gardening area for the school. I happily agreed. But that's not all! She said that improvements were in the works and that we were going to be providing tables for kids to use outside and other things. She asked if I'd like to work with the outdoor crew on that and I said YES! I was ready to sit down and write a Lowes' Grant for tables, benches, and gardening tools, but now maybe I don't have to. It's starting to come together. This is such a great turn of events. I have dreams of a beautiful and use-able outdoor classroom environment!

Back to School and the Topic is Science Notebooks

It was a wonderful first week at school. After attending MEMTA, I felt so energized and inspired to bring inquiry-based science to our school and if not the school, well at least MY classroom!

This week I began sharing some of my experiences from the academy. I decided to start with notebooks because, as I found out, they are a great tool for kids to develop their thinking and understanding about what they're learning. I want out science notebooks to be student-centered.

Hopefully we can get away from copying or cutting and pasting ready made notes. I'd like this to be the place where kids formulate their own thoughts, predictions, and findings.

I'm also thinking a lot about the 5 E's structure for lesson planning-- engage, explore, explain, elaborate, and evaluate. There's a really good handout that explains this showing teacher behaviors and student behaviors. Go to to learn more.

This is all very exciting, but the proof will be in the student achievement outcome. Our science scores were really low for the last few years. Science should be loved by all kids and they should excel at it. Obviously what we're doing should change. We can do so much more to bring science learning to the kids. I'm hoping this will be the beginning of that change.