What happens when a child brings their tadpoles to school? With a busy classroom to manage, some teachers might politely set them to one side with a nod and a smile. At GEMS World Academy (Singapore), this curiosity is encouraged and respected. Educator and Early Years Leader Lynn White explains how a child’s simple yet inquisitive action can be a pathway to genuine and authentic learning.
The most authentic form of inquiry starts with a child’s personal interest or wondering. What follows is an unwavering commitment to find the answers to their own questions. Sometimes children share their inquiry with others and a “snowball” effect takes place, bringing with it a multitude of questions, ideas and theories. Teachers do not plan for these inquiries and they may not always connect with what’s taking place in the classroom, but they are borne of genuine interest and authentic curiosity. They are truly student-driven, with teachers playing the role of facilitators.
One example is five-year-old Aidan, who is in the Early Years programme.
He recently moved house and brought some tadpoles from his pond to show. We kept them in the classroom and the children were free to look at them and observe what they were doing. Very quickly they realised they could not see them very well as they were so small and the water was not clear. So, they asked for “close glasses” in order to see better.
Through our discussions, the children discovered that these were called “magnifying glasses” and we talked about where in the classroom they could be found. Once they knew this, the magnifying glasses were available for them to use. Next, they asked, “How can we care for the tadpoles and who will be responsible for them?” To answer these questions, they suggested that we “ask Google, or people who know tadpole stuff”.
More questions followed. Sofiya asked, “Can people be friends with tadpoles? Do tadpoles need friends?” This was a super question and a great connection to the current Unit of Inquiry topic, Who We Are. (A Unit of Inquiry is an in-depth exploration of a theme or “big idea”. Students will inquire into a central idea, guided by lines of inquiry and teacher questions.) We had been finding out about friends having things in common, so next we wondered if we have any connections with tadpoles?
For example, we both grow and change, but we don’t eat the same food. These connections generated further questions that we will continue to follow up on in class.
What’s the outcome from Aidan’s decision to bring his tadpoles to school?
It created opportunities to talk about aspects of science, mathematics, language, personal and social education, and importantly to make connections to the different strands of the school’s curriculum, within the International Baccalaureate (IB) Primary Years Programme (PYP) framework.
None of this was planned by a teacher; it was driven entirely by the children’s wonderings. This is what we encourage and value in our Early Years classes. Now, if only we could find someone who knows about taking care of frogs!
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