I ate lunch with a group of first graders last week. As I sat down with my tray of food, a small group was deeply engaged in conversation about a recent experiment in science class. These children were talking excitedly about volcanoes. When I started asking simple questions, I soon learned that I needed to increase the sophistication of my questioning technique.
First graders at Walker spent the month of September learning about volcanoes — the prompt for this unit of study was the anniversary of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius (August 24th in 79A.D.) Children’s innate interest in physical science (and things that explode!) is fascinating and an incredible example of how students experience lessons and units that connect to their passions and keep them engaged and learning for days and weeks to come. In this case, it was mid-October and these students were still talking about a science lab that was completed in September!
As I ate my lunch and listened to these students, I was reminded that there is so much we adults can learn from children. At the lunch table, I became the student and the first graders were my teachers. They told stories, shared statistics, and explained everything I needed to know about their science experiment and their new learning related to this scientific phenomenon.
A recent New York Times article, Scientific Inquiry Among the Preschool Set, offers a glimpse into the power of free exploration and guided inquiry in the classroom:
When engaged in what looks like child’s play, preschoolers are actually behaving like scientists, according to a new report in the journal Science: forming hypotheses, running experiments, calculating probabilities and deciphering causal relationships about the world.
In the Lower School, science teachers Suzanne Waddington and Denise Mullins capitalize on children’s passions and willingness to take risks with an array of learning activities. These activities often look like child’s play — like the creation and eruption Mt. Vesuvius depicted in the video below — but such play allows children to explore and test multiple hypotheses and travel down varying roads of investigation.
This short video offers a brief glimpse into the first grade unit of study on volcanoes. It also demonstrates the many ways in which our Walker School teachers cultivate students’ spirit of wanting to know in every setting…which is our promise to the families we serve.