Playdough Provocations: Inventor’s Workshop!

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If you are looking for a way to jazz up the materials at your playdough table, I have a tried and tested provocation that I’m sure your students will love: The Inventor’s Workshop. I stumbled upon this amazing idea while perusing one of my favourite blogs: The Imagination Tree. On her blog, Anna has a list of over 50 ideas for using playdough which I go to whenever I’m in need of some inspiration. You can find her list as well as her recipes for playdough here: http://theimaginationtree.com/2013/01/the-z-of-play-dough-recipes-and.html

Before the children visited this centre, I set them up with some schema about what an inventor is by reading The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires and Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty (both titles pictured above). I have my own collection of technology cast-offs, but I also wanted to involve the children in the creation of this centre so I sent home a note asking parents for any old electronic materials that we could use. The very next day we got an awesome assortment of old wires (which we trimmed for ease of play), speakers, remotes, cell phones, etc. which we sorted into our loose parts tray. I also added some plastic caps and metal loose parts I had in my loose parts bin.

In addition to the playdough and a collection of loose parts, I also wanted the children to record their creations on paper. I created a recording sheet with “My Invention” at the top. I also provided the children with a new kind of paper to sketch on: graph paper. I told them it was a special kind of paper that planners and inventors might use. I even modeled how to draw a creation I made by sketching and labeling the parts of my machine (like the on/off button, etc.). The children couldn’t WAIT to give this one a go!

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“This is the ‘off’ button!”

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These students were working independently until they realized they could connect their inventions together with a long wire. They were so excited about this discovery!

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“This is a ‘potato maker’ – it can make all kinds of potatoes: chips, french fries, mashed potatoes…”

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This student took time to colour and label her drawing to match her creation. “I put a check mark to show that it’s done!”

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“A Tic Tac Toe machine.”

One of the interests that developed from this provocation was an interest in robots. This was in part due to our experimentation with the apps ChatterPix and ChatterKid. Both versions of the app are nearly identical but ChatterKid has a three second countdown before it starts recording so that students know when to start talking.

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Basically, ChatterPix allows you to bring photos, drawings, and creations to life. You simply “draw on” a mouth and record your message and your image will talk! Here is a sample that one of my students made. This particular student is generally quite shy, so him having the confidence to not only record something but then share it confidently with the class at reflection time was a breakthrough (you can click on the link below to see the video on Twitter)!

Here are a few of the robots the children created:

What I liked most about this provocation  (besides the fact that it is engaging, creative, and fun!) is that it provided so many opportunities for our students to engage in literacy behaviours. The children were actively telling each other about their inventions as they worked, negotiating the use of special materials, and of course recording and writing about their inventions. During reflection time, the class was rapt with attention listening to each other describe what their inventions could do and how they were made. Many students were inspired to visit (or re-visit) this centre after hearing about what their classmates had created there.

Have you ever tried an Inventor’s Workshop in your class? Are you using ChatterPix with your students? I’d love to hear about what you’re doing!

Snowflake Loose Parts

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Before the winter break we set up this loose parts provocation at the science table. The children thoroughly enjoyed touching and combining the materials to make stunning snowflake designs. I watched with interest to see how some children randomly placed their materials on the snowflakes (by clumping, stacking, and piling materials together) while others were meticulous about creating symmetrical designs. All you need for this provocation is a selection of colourful loose parts (I went with blue, silver, clear and white pieces. The children particularly loved the gems!) and some snowflake designs. I found these wooden and cork snowflakes at my local dollar store, but printed out templates would also work. This activity would also be beautiful on the light table!

Take a look at some of the children’s stunning designs:

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Happy winter!

Writer’s Workshop

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Writer’s Workshop. I’ve been meaning to get to this post for some time. I often have visitors in my classroom, and when I do, Writer’s Workshop is by far the aspect of our program that gets the most interest and generates the most questions. There are MANY ways to run a writing program and mine is but one way to go about incorporating explicit writing instruction into the day. I have modeled my approach after the one created by Lucy Caulkins and modified it over the years to suit my own style and the needs of my students, as well as to include new learning I have gathered from current research and new publications.

So to start, here are the resources I recommend for learning about how to begin a Writer’s Workshop in your classroom: What’s Next for This Beginning Writer? by Janine Reid, Betty Shcultze, and Ursula Peterson:

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And, Launching the Writer’s Workshop (from: Units of Study for a Yearlong Curriculum) by Lucy Caulkins (*all of the books in the Units of Study collection are wonderful). When I first began implementing Writer’s Workshop many years ago, Lucy’s book “Launching the Writer’s Workshop” would sit perched on my lap during every lesson. In the beginning, I read her mini lessons out loud verbatim until I was able to find my own voice and comfort level for teaching. They were wonderful models, easy to implement, and engaging for my students. If you aren’t sure where to begin, I recommend starting with this book.

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Preparations for Writer’s Workshop begin even before the first day of school. I start by finding the special place in our schedule where Writer’s Workshop will take place. Although it doesn’t have to be at the same time each day, I find that having it occur as a regular and predictable part of our routine is helpful to my students. We do Writer’s Workshop after lunch about 3 or 4 days per week. The children are used to this routine, and are prepared and excited for writing each afternoon as they return from lunch. Many children are prepared as soon as they arrive in the morning, telling me exactly what they plan on writing about later in the day!

The other way I prepare for our writing time is by constructing our writing notebooks. You can purchase books from your school supplier, but I have found the quality of what is offered to be sorely lacking. The books are often too small, the paper too thin, and the number of pages fixed. I make my books using 8 x 11.5 inch paper with a cardstock cover and backing which I bind together using our school’s binding machine. I calculate how many pages I will need from September – December (we will use another system after the holidays – more about that later!) and voila! Our special notebooks are ready for the children’s wonderful ideas! You can download a pdf copy of the cover page I have created here: writing-notebook

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At the beginning of the school year, the goal for our Writer’s Workshop lessons is for the children to learn what is expected during writing time: what they are expected to do, what materials they are expected to use, what they do when they’re finished, where to put their materials, etc. Every Writer’s Workshop involves a mini lesson, writing time, and reflection. In our class, the reflection or sharing time always happens at the end of the day. I save a few pieces of work to share later so that the children can get on with discovery time as soon as they are finished their work. This is how we set it up: The classroom tables are cleared of their provocations (which are put aside on adjacent shelves) and the children’s notebooks are placed on the table along with the writing materials they will need to create with (pencils, markers, crayons, etc.). Pro tip: I date stamp each child’s page for the day and add a picture stamp (a smiley face, a heart, a sun, etc.) on the page the children will be writing on. This helps the children flip to the correct page for writing and focuses them on just that one page for the day (so the children don’t flip through and write or scribble on every page…which some children will do, out of pure excitement of course!). As the children finish their work, they bring it to a teacher to share what they have done and then put it away in the bin on the writing shelf and immediately choose a centre for discovery time. As the tables empty of writers, we re-set up the provocations for discovery time. I find that doing it this way allows for greater flexibility and flow in the classroom, i.e., the children don’t have to wait for the whole class to finish their work before getting on with their other learning centres, and those that finish early are able to get themselves engaged in other learning without the assistance of a teacher.

The mini lesson is extremely important. When I do a mini lesson I am explicitly modelling the writing behaviours I want to see my students exhibit. I draw my own picture each time, modelling with a think-aloud everything I think about and consider while writing. Where was I? What was I doing? Who was with me? What was the weather like? etc. I model how I choose colours. I model how I add details. I model how I draw myself. After I draw, I model how I can label the details in my picture. Over time, this is something I ask the children explicitly: “Can anyone tell me something in my picture I can label? ‘Me’? Great! How do I spell ‘me’? M-E. Wonderful!” We usually label using initial consonants at first, or names like “mom” and “dad.” Then I will write my sentence. At the beginning of the year I do this quickly. Over time, the children help me with this as well. We share the pen in an interactive-writing way. The children sometimes help me generate a sentence based on the picture I’ve drawn. This is where I teach the children about sounding out words, using finger spaces, directionality and punctuation. It all happens rather quickly, given that the mini lesson is only 10 minutes or so. But the practice we get doing this almost daily sinks in and I will see my students begin to use these strategies on their own during writing time.

Writing time immediately follows the mini lesson. All the children find their writing notebooks and get to work on their pictures. The teachers circulate and talk to the children about what they are writing about. Sometimes children need help thinking of a topic, but after a few weeks of Writer’s Workshop most children do this independently.  I should make clear that writing time is not a quiet working time. It is loud. It is lively. The children are engrossed in their work and love telling the classmates at their table what they’re writing about. They help each other spell things. They share markers. They give advice or feedback to each other.

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When the children finish their work they bring it to a teacher. This is when our mini “conferences” happen. I ask the children to tell me about what they have written and take note of the story they are telling. I do not scribe the child’s sentence on their work, but rather on a sticky note which I stick to the back of their work  (for my own reference later). I learned this from What’s Next for This Beginning Writer. The thinking is that the children lose ownership over their work once the teacher takes control of writing their thinking for them. Although skeptical at first,  I found the children were more likely to begin to write their stories themselves once I stopped scribing for them.

The feedback each child receives depends on what each child is working on currently. At the beginning of the year I focus heavily on picture making as a way of story telling. We work on choosing a good topic (I emphasize modelling events from my own life – from grocery shopping, to going out with my kids, to drinking coffee and reading books, etc.) and I encourage the children to draw themselves in their pictures. I want the children to write about authentic experiences so that they can simultaneously work on their oral language skills when talking about what they have seen/done. The children always have more to say about things they have actually experienced first hand rather than just things they enjoy (e.g., rainbows or monster trucks – though we often get a lot of those kinds of pictures too in the beginning which is ok. There is also a difference between a child writing about something they are inherently passionate about and something they just think is cool or pretty. I have students who’ve written many interesting stories about Minecraft for example.).

During writing time, I am busy looking for breakthroughs or roadblocks. I’m also looking for work to share during reflection time. Usually, it is work that reflects a concept I was teaching in my mini lesson. However, we also love sharing breakthroughs or personal bests, so if a child has suddenly started labeling or writing their own sentences we will share that new learning with the class.

After the winter break, I switch from using writing notebooks to using writing folders. These are two pocket folders that the children use to store their work. Instead of a notebook, the children use single sheets of paper to write on (I use the ones suggested by Lucy Caulkins). The paper reflects the needs of the students. Some children continue working on a blank sheet. Other children use a paper with space for a picture and one or two lines underneath for sentence writing. Still others use paper with space for a picture with lines underneath and lines on the back of the page as well. Again, the work is date stamped. At any time a child can use paper with lines if they need it. I mostly let the children self-regulate this step, but will also suggest it when I feel a student is ready. At the end of each month, the children choose their best work and that work is showcased on our Writer’s Wall. Before choosing their best work we spend time talking about what “Best Work” might look like and we co-construct success criteria together. I love meeting with each child to discuss the progress they’ve made over the month. It’s amazing how reflective the children become over time about their own learning and development as writers. Some children have a hard time choosing what their best work is and will invite their classmates to help them choose (last year one girl even took a survey of her classmates to help her pick!). Once the child has chosen their best work the rest of the work from the month gets stapled together with a cover page with the month on it. The children enjoy re-reading their “books”during writing or discovery time.

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Some children like to lay out all their work and narrow it down through a process of elimination.

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This student said, “It’s so hard to choose my best work because I always do my best!”

One thing I want to make clear is that Writer’s Workshop is for everyone. One of the reasons I dedicate so much time to it during the week is that for me, it is a high yield strategy. It is our reading and writing and oral language development all rolled into one. Whether or not a child can speak English or hold a pencil or draw figures or know their alphabet, they can all participate in Writer’s Workshop. The teaching, the individual attention, the flexible format of our writing materials meet our students where they’re at. If you are at all hesitant to give this a try, my advice would be just to go for it! Believe me, there are times in the first couple of weeks of school where I don’t see a whole lot of progress that I have to remind myself just to keep at it…keep encouraging, keep supporting, keep modelling..and always the payoff comes.

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The other thing I want to make clear is that our writing program is not limited to our Writer’s Workshop time. Most (if not all) our provocations encourage the children to draw or write about their learning. We use writing for routine tasks (like our daily message or calendar-journal, our sign-in, etc.), at learning centres, for special projects, at the writing centre, and during workshop time. Writing is encouraged always and everywhere in our classroom!

If you have any questions about our version of Writer’s Workshop please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below.

In the Art Studio: Plasticine Art Inspired by Barbara Reid

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This month we have been inspired by renowned Canadian author and illustrator Barbara Reid. Barbara Reid has worked on some of my class’s favourite read-alouds: Picture a Tree, Perfect Snow, and Subway Mouse. When reading, we often discuss how an artist may have created their illustrations. My students were very interested in how Barbara was able to achieve such realistic and detailed pictures using Plasticine.

Lucky for us, Barbara Reid has created a series of tutorial videos which you can find on YouTube (links below). In her videos, Barbara talks about how she goes about creating her artworks: from the planning stage (researching, sketching a picture), to creating a background, to adding fine details and textures to her work.

Video: Making Plasticine Pictures with Barbara Reid Part 1

Video: Making Plasticine Pictures with Barbara Reid Part 2

Video: Making Plasticine Pictures with Barbara Reid Part 3

For this project, I cut our Plasticine into very small pieces so it would be easy for the children to manipulate (and because a little goes a long way!). I arranged the pieces in small containers by colour. I also included some of Barbara Reid’s books and a non-fiction book about Barbara Reid herself. We also had dry cloths for wiping our hands (as Barbara suggested) and some tools for adding texture. For the planning process, the children had pieces of cardstock and pencils for sketching. We made our Plasticine pictures on small canvas boards I found at the dollar store. The children were extremely excited to do their work with “real artist materials.” For me, it is very important to give the children beautiful and authentic art materials to use and work with. Their art is more than deserving of quality materials and in my experience, they seem to take their art more seriously when they perceive materials to be “special.”  For this project, the strength of the canvas boards was an added advantage, as it made it easier for the children to spread the Plasticine.

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During the planning process, I really didn’t meddle too much in what the children were sketching or wanting to create, thinking the children would figure out on their own what was going to work and what wasn’t. For example, the first group of children who visited the studio realized that creating people with Plasticine was a big challenge, and advised their classmates accordingly during reflection time. Spreading the Plasticine was also a challenge for some (and a great fine motor muscle workout!). Some children took a few sessions to complete their backgrounds, pausing and coming back later to give their fingers a rest. Other children wanted to persevere and complete their backgrounds so they could get to adding their flowers or bugs or animals. If you’re wondering how long it took the children to complete their pictures, it varied between one session (about half an hour) to a few days, depending on each child.

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Y.A.: “I want to make a picture of a cat.” 

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A.J. spreads the Plasticine to make a sky. “I’m mixing the colours. A little bit of dark blue and a little bit of light blue.”

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Y.A.: “I’m making my grass like Barbara Reid. I’m rolling snakes and making them flat like grass. I’m doing a pattern: light green, dark green, light green, dark green…”

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R.A.: “I’m making a little mousey like Barbara Reid. It’s just like The Subway Mouse.”

Here are some of the children’s completed art works. I have them displayed on a low chalkboard ledge in our classroom and the children can often be found admiring them!

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S.C. “I made a rainbow and a little girl is camping in the tent.”

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Honestly, the children were SO proud of their completed art works. They loved showing them off during reflection time and talking about the process they used to make them. During one reflection session, we started talking about how Barbara Reid gets her Plasticine pictures in the pages of her books. One student remembered that Barbara’s husband photographs her art for her so the pictures can be used as illustrations. One student suggested that we take photographs of our work and use the pictures to make a book by writing our own stories. I loved that the children were inspired to create their own stories, so we set up a story-writing invitation.

At the writing table, I gave the children some mini easels to place their art on. I put out plain paper and some black pens. The children could choose to write about their own work or a classmate’s work that inspired them. This proved to be a popular invitation! Some children returned each day to write a new story! We loved listening to each other’s stories during reflection time – some children’s stories were so popular, the class asked them to read it aloud more than once.

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E.H. “Once there was a little ladybug. She wanted to rest on a flower. The red flower was wet but the purple flower was just right. The End.”

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“I went out on a stormy day.”

We are still in the midst of our story writing. I was interested to see the emergence of a narrative voice in the children’s work and am curious about exploring this further with the class. Stay tuned!

3D Shape Challenge

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In preparation for September, I have been looking back at photos from our learning last year and reflecting on what made certain provocations successful (or not). In doing so, I came across a series of photos from an exploration we did on 3D shapes. This particular learning story caught my attention because I noticed how I had started with one question/idea for my students to explore and then changed it as I observed the children interacting with the materials.

In my first provocation, I asked the children if they could build a tower using 3D shapes. I put all the necessary materials at the math centre: clipboards, pencils/pens, sticky notes, an iPad, a basket of 3D solids. I also asked the children to self-document their learning with the iPad and/or the writing materials.

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While several children visited the centre and were eager to share their learning about how they were able to stack the shapes (based on their properties), I noticed there was a group of children who didn’t seem interested in this centre at all. I usually encourage the children to self-select their centres based on their interests, but there are some centres which I would like all the children to try at some point. In my experience, most children will eventually want to come and see what a centre is all about, especially after we talk about it during reflection time and other children share their learning problems/successes. At the beginning of the week, however, I was starting to question whether or not my provocation/question for the students was engaging enough for all my learners. It became clear that some students may need more of a challenge.

During the course of our reflection time, we noticed that no one in the class had used a sphere in their tower. Why was this? The children all agreed that there was no way a sphere could be used in a tower design (“It’s too rolly polly!,” “It doesn’t have any flat sides!,” “It won’t balance.”). After this conversation, I issued a challenge to the class: let’s see if anyone can build a tower using ALL of the different 3D shapes. Interestingly, the group of children who had not been at all interested in visiting the math centre suddenly chose it as their first choice during discovery time. In fact, the math centre went from having two or three children in it at a time to being completely jam packed. It seems that in this case, some children needed the promise of a challenge to spark their interest and creativity.

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The children discovered that indeed it was possible to build a tower using a sphere (“You have to put it at the top because nothing else will balance on it.”) and many interesting reflections were had about strategies for using all the shapes, how the properties of the shapes affected the planning process, and how the children were inspired by their classmates’ ideas.

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It was interesting for me to look back on this exploration as a reminder that provocations evolve and change as the children engage (or in this case, don’t engage) with the materials I have provided for them. This is a part of my pedagogy I want to keep in mind as I make plans for the upcoming year.

For anyone who is interested, we also used a riddle song about the shapes to learn about their properties. You can find a link to the tune/lyrics here: http://webcheck-test.eharcourtschool.com/hspfw/review-hspmy/http/ma/math04_preview/se/nsmedia/activities/jingles/k_what_am_i.html

Butterfly Inquiry: Inspiring Young Authors with Tap the Magic…Egg?

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As mentioned previously on the blog, my students were totally inspired by the book Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson (you can read about it in Books That Inspire Young Authors). When it came time to design some provocations for the writing table for our butterfly project, I was thinking about how I could give the children an opportunity to show their learning about the butterfly life cycle. Since the children were already familiar with the cyclical nature of Tap the Magic Tree, it seemed like a good jumping off point for talking about the cycle of how caterpillars grow and change. As a class, we brainstormed a version of Tap the Magic Tree called “Tap the Magic Egg” (which, of course, the children were completely excited about!). After some modelling with the entire class, we placed some inspiration books, book covers, newsprint, and sample vocabulary at the writing table. As with our other Tap the Magic Tree experiences, this centre was immediately jam packed with children creating their own life cycle stories. I was able to assess the children’s understanding of the concept, but each story was unique to the child who wrote it. We certainly got a lot of enjoyment out of hearing the stories read aloud at reflection time!

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You can read more about our butterfly project by clicking here.

Snap Cube Workshop: The Spinner Project

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If you are a regular follower of the blog, you will know that the students in my class LOVE snap cubes. They love them so much, we dedicated an entire centre in my classroom to them (you can read about our journey to embrace the the snap cube craze here: https://thecuriouskindergarten.wordpress.com/2014/03/10/snap-cube-workshop/ and here: https://thecuriouskindergarten.wordpress.com/2014/03/10/snap-cube-workshop-inspiring-young-authors/).

The Spinner Project evolved out of a popular way the students used the snap cubes at the snap cube workshop: they spun them. Constantly. At least once a day someone took a cube and tried to spin it. With some investigation, we learned that the children were trying to recreate “Beyblades,” a popular toy many of them had at home. (This isn’t the first time I had heard about Beyblades. In fact, for the last 5 years or so, I have been wondering what to do with the children’s interest in these toys.) The trick to coming up with an engaging and meaningful inquiry I find is coming up with just the right problem/question. It was during one of our reflection discussions that the question jumped out at us. Two boys were talking about spinning the cubes and each had made a spinner that was slightly different. We were trying to figure out if one spinner worked better than the other, and why. And viola!

The next day, we posed the following question: Can you build the best spinner? The children were so excited about this question! Before discovery time, we spent some time talking about what the word “best” would mean. The children came up with three criteria which we posted at the snap cube centre:

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In addition to creating our criteria, we talked about the tools the children could use to assess the success of their spinners. For “spinning super duper fast,” the children decided capturing the spinner on video would be a good way to measure this. For design, we would take pictures of our spinners and/or save them to show at reflection time. And for “spins a long time” we showed the children how to time their spinning spinners using the timer on the iPad.

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There were so many interesting discoveries made during this project! Here are some images and ideas we captured of the children’s experimentation:

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The spinners got more and more elaborate as design became the focus of the children’s attention. We learned that, generally, the more elaborate the design, the slower the spinner spun.

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The students were fascinated to explore the paths and patterns of a spinner’s movement.

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Many children worked collaboratively: K: “We attached our spinners together and made it so BIG! It spins so much faster when they are together.”

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In a large group discussion, we brainstormed a list of things that spin.

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J.K.: “Mine is a square, but when it spins it looks like a blade, sharp. I was just experimenting to see if I can make the best one.”

 

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Problem solving and experimentation were evident: S: “Mine is flat and I can still spin it. What if I add another cube on top and then I can use that to spin it – like a handle? [He tries it.] Hmm…that slows it down. So that is a bad idea.”

J: “My spinner is the best because it spins the fastest and for 29 seconds. Also, if you put a red block beside a while block it turns pink when it spins because white and red make pink.”

M: “I discovered you can make a spinner with just one cube. It’s small and it’s good to just use one cube because it won’t break and you can fit it in your pocket!”

Have you explored a spinning inquiry with your students? What questions/ideas did you explore?