Monthly Archives: May 2012

Measuring in the Block Center

Nothing ever becomes real ’til it is experienced.

― John Keats

I recently had the pleasant experience of observing inquiry centers in Marta Quinones and Maureen Duffy’s inclusion first grade class at P.S. 142 in Manhattan.
This spring, they decided to begin an inquiry project focused on “My Fit and Healthy Body.” This investigation came out of Maureen’s particular interest in physical fitness and sports. The children were picking up on her enthusiasm for running and exercising. The teachers also hoped that this study might address some of the children’s poor eating habits.

The three of us began by  brainstorming ideas for where this study might go.We created an anticipatory web, listing possible activities, trips, experts, reading and writing projects and math experiences.

The next step was to launch the study and to discover what the children already knew on the topic. Marta and Maureen began collecting the children’s  initial questions or, as they called it, “wonderings”.

The questions flowed from the class! When they organized the post- its  (small sticky-notes that the teachers used to record the students’ questions), the children and the teachers noticed was that there were many questions about bones. How do they break? Can they bend? How do they get fixed? How many do we have? How do we take care of them? Can they bend backwards? Do animals have the same bones as us? The questions were filling up the page of wonderings.

The direction of the study was now clear – finding out more about our bones!

On the morning of one of my school visits, I met with the two teachers for a planning meeting. I wanted to know what had happened since I was last there and what the teachers thought should be the “next steps” in the study. Marta noticed that a  group of children were attempting to construct a model of a human skeleton in the block center. Their project, however, was becoming unfocused and chaotic. We discussed some possible strategies for supporting  this project. We thought that they might take some time to look at and discuss  anatomical illustrations with the children. Perhaps, after looking at the drawings, they might want to create a ‘blueprint’ on mural paper for their block skelton. Marta thought that she would give this suggestion a try. Maureen planned on looking at xrays with a group of children.

Later in the day, I visited the classroom during Inquiry Center time. The children in the block center were working on their blueprint. They were using a foam rubber life-sized skeleton puzzle as a model for their construction. They also used a ruler to assist them in measuring unit blocks. The wanted to determine which block would match the size of the puzzle piece. They wanted it to be just the right size for their block skeleton.

As I sat on the side, observing, I was struck by the children’s collaboration and also by Marta’s calm, non-intrusive support of their work.

To my delight, I witnessed an unexpected example of children making an important discovery – Piaget’s theory about the conservation of matter! We often assume that children understand numerical consistency. Young children, however, don’t always understand that  five blocks arranged side by side will be just the same size as five blocks stacked vertically. In this little video clip from Marta and Maureen’s classroom, though, we can see how important a discovery it is that 11 inches stays the same, horizontally AND vertically!