Science in a constructivist kindergarten classroom

Light.  It is fascinating as well as useful.  Children seem drawn by it, whether it be with their shadows, creating rainbows or playing with their reflection.  But how do we go about creating a light curriculum for kindergartners in a constructivist classroom?

Introduction

First off, lets define what constructivism is and give some more background information on this theory.  Constructivism can be defined as

a theory of learning that posits that children construct knowledge through interaction between their own ideas and experiences in the social and physical world.  Children come to each experience with a rich background and ideas of their own, and, as they engage in interactions and experiment with their ideas, they develop new theories and ideas.  Motivation for learning…is intrinsic, as children are constantly trying to make sense of the world and expand their ideas…constructivism is the theory that underlies the choices and decisions you make about how you set up the classroom, choose the curriculum, and respond to the children’s work and ideas (Chaillé, 2008, p. 5).

Essentially, this is a social based theory that lets children build on the knowledge they already have to create new ones through experimentation, play and exploration.  A constructivist curriculum is not one where it is teacher led, but one where it is children led and educators are there to guide.  Right now, we will focus on a light science curriculum.

Provocation

A provocation is something that sparks the children’s interest or their natural curiosity.  Through this, you can begin to create a science curriculum.  For example, I noticed my nephew, who happens to be in kindergarten, playing with his shadow.  He loved creating shadows or blocking the sunlight that was coming through the window with his shadow on the floor.  He was fascinated by it.  That inspired me to create this light science curriculum resource.  As an educator, a light provocation can be as simple as the children noticing their shadows on the wall or ground during recess.  Or, if you go out on nature walk and see the trees create shadows on the ground, or even seeing a rainbow after it rains.  There are many other different ways and if the children seem interested in light, start asking them open-ended questions like “What do you like about it?” “Do you know how you can see your shadow?” “How do you think a rainbow is formed?” “Should we find out together?”

Big Idea

An overall big idea is the overall understanding or idea and is usually the basis for curriculum planning (Chalufour & Worth, 2006).  The big idea for light can be found under physical science: properties and characteristics of light (Chalufour & Worth, 2006).  Other big ideas that can be found in the Full Day Early Learning Curriculum (FDELK) are:

  1. Children are curious and connect prior knowledge to new contexts in order to understand the world around them (under the area of science and technology)
  2. Children are effective communicators (under the area of language)
  3. Young children have an innate openness to artistic activities (under the area of the arts)
  4. Children are connected to others and contribute to their world (under the area of personal and social development) (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2011)

These are just some of the big ideas out there, there are many more that can be used as well.

Getting started

You know what the children in your classroom are interested in and you know what your big ideas are, so now what? Well, below are some suggested routes children can take during a light science curriculum and just some of the many different materials that can go with them.

ideas for light provocation

Mind map #1

There may be many different areas that have not been listed that children will wish to explore.  As well as many different materials that have not been listed, like flashlights, paper, markers and other objects that can be found around the classroom and used/manipulated to explore light.  Remember, as an educator you are there to guide and support the children and their learning, not lead them in a certain direction.  The materials and classroom can be set up so that children can either explore light with other children or by themselves; giving them a variety of options and materials that they want to continue to explore and experiment on.

As the children begin to experiment and hypothesize about light and the many facets of it, they may start to ask questions and begin to inquiry about light.

The Inquiry Process in a Constructivist classroom

The inquiry process can be broken down into 4 categories:

  1. Initial engagement
  2. Exploration
  3. Investigation
  4. Communication (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2011)

With the first process, the initial engagement can be the provocation.  Children are notice lights/ shadow and are curious or wondering about it.  As educators, this is the stage where you observe and listen to the children.

Exploration is when the children start to explore the concept of light and begin to ask questions and observe their surrounding.  This is also when they try and connect with the knowledge that they already know about light (ie. if they are at a projector, they know if the light is on they can make shadows, if the light is off they won’t be able to see their shadow as well).  At this stage, educators can encourage children to talk amongst their peers while starting to ask thoughtful open ended questions like “What happened to your shadow when you turned off the light?” or “Why do you think you can’t see the light when you pointed it at the book but you can see it when you point it at the tissue paper?”.  Open ended questions about the materials that they are exploring will encourage them to think on a deeper level and can lead to the next stage of inquiry.

Investigating is when they can start to make hypotheses about the questions that were asked or questions they came up on their own.  Encouragement to work together with other children who have similar questions can be done at this stage if they choose to work with others.  This way, the children can gather and interpret data from different view points.  Investigation stage is also where they can use a variety of simple tools to further investigate their hypothesis and write them down.  As educators, being able to provide those materials for them would be ideal at this point.  If they were investigating different reflective surfaces, they can use materials that are both reflective and non-reflective to see if all surfaces reflect the same way.  Or if they want to explore how a rainbow is made, materials like a prism, flashlight, water and blocks can be given for them to experiment on and see if they can create their own rainbows.  These are just a couple of the many questions children can come up with.  Educators should also keep asking children about their inquiry and get them to clarify and expand on their thinking.

Once the children have finished working together to collect their data they can communicate their findings with others.  They can work individually or as a group to discuss and listen to each other as they begin to make connections and build on their already existing knowledge about light.  Going back to my example earlier about the shadow and them knowing that without a light source, a shadow cannot be formed.  They can start to make new connections as to why a light source is needed and how a shadow is formed.  As educators, this is when you can help them make those old and new connections by getting them to explain their answer and ask more clarifying questions.  Encourage the children to write/draw or somehow record their findings and conclusion.

The inquiry process is very much child led and teacher guided.  Taking advantage of children’s natural curiosity and their capacity to learn and play, the inquiry process can teach children about making predictions, analyzing data and coming to conclusions at their own pace with things they are interested in. It is important as educators to observe the children as they are going through this process in order to be able to reflect on one’s own practices.

Reflection process

“Educators who are reflective practitioners integrate theoretical frameworks, research findings, and their own daily experiences to guide their interactions with young children and their families” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2011, p. 25).  Educators who have good reflective practices can look back and figure out what went well and what did not work well in the curriculum and alter it for next time.  They also have the ability to observe the children in their classroom and able to scaffold children’s learning.  The reflection process starts by observing and recording the children’s interaction with one another and with the material and curriculum provided.  Recordings can be done in forms of pictures (if consent is given), video/voice recordings (again, with consent) and/or samples or copies of the children’s work. Afterwards, being able to go back and critically reflect on what worked and what needs to be changed is important as this will help with planning the next curriculum, making it even more enriching for the children.

Observation and critically reflecting on one’s own practice will also provide a clearer picture of where the children are in terms of their learning and development and where you would like them to go.

Putting up the pictures/ children’s work with words of what the children actually said as well as a brief description of the light science experiment in a place where it is easily accessible to everyone, including other staff members, parents, students and community members will further the reflective process.  This is because other people will be seeing this documentation and will invite dialogue and critique, as well as a fresh perspective that you may have never thought of.  This is called pedagogical documentation and is the last step to the reflective process.  It is very much Reggio inspired and very social as it invites others to view and critique the process and make it more enriching for next time.

Other learning domains?

Other then Science and Technology, the light science curriculum touches upon other domains that are outlined in the FDEK.  Below is a mind map highlighting some of those domains as well as the overall and specific learning outcomes that can be seen during this curriculum.

Mind map #2.

Mind map #2. (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2011).

A light science curriculum does not just touch upon the science domain but all of these areas too.  Those listed are only some of the learning areas.  These can be demonstrated in their interaction with the materials and how they choose to represent their findings. They can verbalize their findings, write it down, or even draw/paint/ make clay structures of their findings on light.  Either way, with any curriculum, whether it be math, physical activity, other aspects and domain will come in as a factor.  This is why pedagogical documentation is important.  Not only is it a great reflective practice tool but it allows others to see the children’s thought process and take a step back to see what other areas did they explore in.

Other people to follow

These are blogs from kindergarten teachers that can also make good resources when it comes to a constructivist curriculum planning.  Enjoy!

References

Chaillé, C. (2008). Constructivism across the curriculum in early childhood classrooms: Big ideas as inspiration. Boston, MA: Pearson Education.

Chalufour, I. & Worth, K. (2006).  Science in kindergarten. Retrieved October 11, 2014, from http://www.rbaeyc.org/resources/Science_Article.pdf

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2011). The full-day early learning- kindergarten program. Retrieved October 11, 2014, from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/elementary/kindergarten_english_june3.pdf