Tag Archives: collaboration

Building Collaboration in the Block Center

new construction 1

The block area in your classroom presents a perfect opportunity to encourage collaboration, creativity and curriculum connections. I’m going to share a little bit of what has been happening in two New York City public school classrooms.

The teachers noticed that the children who played in the block center seemed unfocused and were mainly involved in parallel play. We talked about some strategies to address this.

The first step was a class block lesson. The children sat in a circle and each child was invited to pick one block from the block center, any size or shape, return to the circle and put the block on the floor behind them. Then, one by one, each child had a turn to add his or her block to a growing construction. The only rule was that their block had to touch another block. As blocks were added, the children made observations about what the structure looked like. “It’s a letter y” “Oh, now it looks like a house.” “The house is getting taller.” “It’s a skyscraper”.

This activity was done a few times during the next two weeks. Then the teacher, at meeting, asked the children for ideas of what could be built in the block center. They had many suggestions that she charted. A zoo. Central Park Zoo. A Car Wash. A City. A Space City.

After children had time to come up with ideas, the teacher excitedly told them of her idea. She told them that the next morning, when they came into the classroom, there would be sign up sheets for working with a team at the block center. Each team could have four builders. Each team would have a full week to work together in the block center. The children were psyched!

When they came into the room the next day, the sign up sheets were spread out on the different tables and children excitedly signed up on one of the sheets. To our amazement there was no conflict about which sheet to sign up on. We anticipated that there might be a problem but we were pleasantly surprised.

After the sheets were signed, each group had time to meet and decide what they would be building together.

building sign up sheet

Then each group was given a week to work together. At class meetings, there were discussions about materials and blueprints. What was interesting was that some groups came up with their own ideas for creating blueprints. They cut strips and shapes from construction paper that they could move around until it pleased everyone.

discussion in blocks

 

what next?Some groups had changed the focus of their project by the time their week came up. That was fine!

One group thought of their work in terms of the construction that they saw happening in the neighborhood. They wore hard hats and goggles and added plastic tools to the center. Always, though, there was so much collaboration and pride.

coming in

 

goggles

 

%22only workers%22

One group worked on building a carwash.

car wash close-up

car wash two

 

car wash sign

One week the builders were constructing the Central Park Zoo but they felt like they needed more animals.

central park zoo

The teacher suggested that the children in the art center might consider constructing some animals for the zoo. Here’s how one girl planned out and executed the construction of a tiger.

tiger plan

the tiger

 

Here is her Choice Time Reflection Journal entry: tiger journal

Every once in a while, the teacher sat at the side of the center and jotted down some observations. Later in the day she used these notes to reflect on what was happening and to plan next steps to help scaffold the play.

teacher's reflections

I might consider opening a real woodwork center, but that’s another blog post in the future!

This wonderful work didn’t happen overnight. The teachers first worked really hard to rearrange their classroom environment so that there was plenty of space in the center for building and that the center was protected from the active movement in the classroom. They were also careful to arrange the blocks so that children could see the mathematical relationships between the different sizes and so they could be easily accessed and returned during the clean-up period.

It has been so exciting for me, the staff developer, to observe the growing excitement of the children and the satisfaction and joy of the teachers. Bravo to them!

The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct.                                                                  Carl Jung

A SURPRISING FIRST GRADE PET PROJECT

Ines labeled

Until one has loved an animal a part of one’s soul remains unawakened. – Anatole France

What happens when a group of smart, enthusiastic, dedicated first grade public school teachers get together to plan something new and exciting for their students? The Pet Study at New York City’s P.S. 42 in Chinatown is what happened!

Two years ago I worked as an early childhood consultant at P.S. 42. Rosa Casiello O’Day, the school principal, had attended the 2012 study tour to Reggio Emilia with me. She asked me if I could help her teachers move from a book-heavy thematic approach to social studies to a more inquiry project-based approach.

When I met with the first grade teachers, I was immediately impressed with their collaborative spirit and their love of their students. They told me that they wanted to do an animal study and they began naming some zoo animals that they thought might interest their children. I suggested that it might make more sense to study an animal that could be a part of their classroom. This would allow the children to observe the animal daily and to do research that would not be totally based on what they read in books or what is read to them. I waited for them to protest. None of them had animals in their classrooms. I was in for a surprise.

Not only did they go for my idea, but they brought it to a place that I didn’t even imagine. There were six first grade classes, three classes on the second floor and three classes on the third floor. The teachers decided that classes on each floor would work together. The teachers would pick an animal that they felt comfortable handling. They decided on insects, hamsters, frogs, and turtles. Each room would have a different animal. The children would pick which animal, on their floor, they would like to learn more about. They picked three choices and were told that they would probably get their first or second choice. Luckily it worked out smoothly and each child got a first or second choice of animal to study.

After the groups were established, the teachers arranged to have common “Inquiry study times” and the children moved to the room with the animal they were studying. I was afraid that this might end in chaos but I was totally wrong. The children very enthusiastically walked to their pet study room.

Something quite wonderful came of this collaboration. Because of a district mandate (not what the principal really wanted), there were three categories of first grade classes – bilingual (basically, children who just arrived from China and who spoke little English), ESL (children who could speak some English but not fluently) and monolingual (English-speaking children). When these three groups were merged during the inquiry period, children who never communicated with each other became friends. Children learning the language began speaking much more English. Children who had difficulty understanding or expressing themselves in a new language, had peer translators! The teachers were quite excited by this unexpected perk of having the children intermingle and work together.

Here are some examples of the work that the children did. Notice how the act of observing on a daily basis provoked children to have many “wonderings.” They researched for answers in many different ways: observations, books and the Internet and sometimes by asking an expert, such as when they visited a pet store. Without actually following a “common core curriculum” or “bundle”, the study had so many of the CCLS embedded into the children’s work.

The Hamster Study

*Hamster wonderings

*hamster questions

 

*domesticated tame

*hamster drawings*Fluffy's behavior*venn diagram*hamster group projects*big book plan*what it eats*hamsters eat

 

The Turtle Study

* turtle questions

 

*turtles are good at swimming

 

*turtle diagram

*slippty

*turtle paintings

we think he is a male because

*turtle diagram 2

 

The Frog Study

*at pre-meeting

 

*day 1 day 2 day 3

*why is our frog changing color

I notice that the frog is brown

*changing colors

*frog's eye

*the eye is

 

 

The Insect Study

*using our schema

*set up

*sketching, etc.*why do they die? stick insect

 

*stick insects

 

helpful or harmful