Whoever first said, “Kids say the darnedest things” must have taught young students. When you’re educating kids at that age, what adults consider to be common knowledge can’t be assumed to be commonly known.
Children, as they age, develop theories based on their observations and on what they know up to that point. When you ask them to flesh out those thoughts and theories, you get some great answers and even greater learning opportunities.
“The moon goes to bed, but it goes into the ocean during the day.”
“The moon was put in the sky by a rocket launcher.”
“I think stars are baby suns because when you go in space they look yellow like the sun.
“The moon goes to bed during the day; it sleeps under the Earth.”
“Stars are (shaped like) triangles on the sides put together.”
“The moon has to go to sleep when the sun comes up and the sun has to go to sleep when the moon comes up. They cannot be up at the same time because they would get too tired.”
Those quotes, straight from Grade 1 students, are a few weeks old; from before Ms. Naomi Eden and Ms. Lynn Porteous began studying the observable sky with their classes. The classes are fluid, and both teachers allow the students to take their learning in the direction they want. By highlighting critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity, the Grade 1 classes have really taken ownership of their learning and how they learn.
“We’re really following the kids’ affinities to get them excited about it so they learn more. And a lot of their dialogue – in the classroom, on the playground – is about what they’re learning. If you were to listen to them they’re like, ‘Oh, that spacesuit’s not going to work because it has to repel 36,000 degrees of heat!’ and another student will say, ‘Well then what are we going to do?’ They’re having big discussions,” says Ms. Porteous.
“There’s a swirl of excitement around their ideas and their theories, and it just builds the more the children get into it. Sometimes you don’t know what exactly you’re teaching; we spent three days learning about craters, because they really wanted to go into craters, asteroids and meteors. It’s fun,” Ms. Eden adds.
While the topic of observable sky started broadly with larger group discussions about the sun, moon, seasons and day vs. night, each class has narrowed its focus to the large celestial bodies. (Ms. Eden’s class is looking closely at the moon, while Ms. Porteous’ class is learning about the sun.)
Ms. Porteous says the unit provides cross-curricular benefits – as it touches on not just science, but also language arts and visual arts – and students’ interests surface when they have the opportunity to take charge of what they want to learn.
Of great importance to both teachers with this unit is allowing students to learn through discovery. This centres around the teachers guiding the students to help them; to give students a literal voice.
“Honouring their voice and their theories at the beginning of each topic is important. Their oral language is more developed than their written at this age, so it’s exciting to honour that and document that,” Ms. Eden says. “They get to express themselves using their own words in a way that’s better than having them write, and as soon as one student says something, their classmates get in on the conversation and it builds, and they contribute to building these ideas and theories together.”
Both teachers say honouring students’ voices, through theories and discovery, is important at home, too, especially as students bring their excitement about the moon and the sun home. Parents are encouraged to ask questions that make their children think about their learning process: “What are you curious about? Why do you think that? How can you find the answer to that?”
The walls in both Grade 1 classes are covered in space-related questions (ie. What is the moon made of?) and theories (ie. The moon is made of dust, white rocks, black rocks and moon rocks), as well as mounds and mounds of artwork.
Students have also taken it upon themselves to start collaboratively building their own spaceships to go on a field trip to outer space. Some students are building the telescopes, some are building the engines, some are creating the spacesuits and some are building the laboratory where they’ll conduct science experiments in zero gravity.
“When we stand up at the front of the class and just deliver a lesson, they’re not questioning us. They’re not learning to be a student who pushes themselves to say, ‘Oh, I need to figure this out,'” Ms. Porteous says. “That’s why we’re starting them now with this kind personalized learning. This is how kids grow up to be so creative; they’re collaborating, they’re working together, they’re sharing ideas.”
“We’re not just focused on the end of the unit; the product and what they get out of it and what outcomes we can check off. We’re really trying to focus on the children’s experience and the entire learning process,” Ms. Eden says. “It’s really about the children and honouring their voice. It makes our job fun and easy, guiding them along the way.”
Now that students are well-entrenched in learning about the observable sky, here are some of their favourite facts they’ve learned so far:
“You can use a telescope to look at the moon. I’ve learned that people don’t leave a lot on the moon, except for moon buggies and a U.S. flag. The first person on the moon was American.” – Sami
“The moon has craters that are made when an asteroid hits it. There’s no such thing as moon monsters living in the craters. There’s no gravity on the moon. When the first people went to the moon, their landing craft almost ran out of fuel.” – Samnit
“I learned the moon doesn’t change shape. I know there is a dark side, and the light side is just where the sun is facing the moon.” – Bowen
“You can’t look directly at the sun with a telescope or you’ll go blind. A telescope zooms in to places you’re not able to see in real life. – Everest
“The Earth rotates around the sun. It’s spinning right now at 1,600 kilometres an hour.” – Arpit
“The sun has sun spots and solar flares. It doesn’t really look like how you draw a sun, it’s really the biggest star.” – Mylan
(photos by Naomi Eden, Lynn Porteous and Kyle Slavin)