I attended Learning to Learn: Trees, Birds, Bugs, and Clouds Can Teach K-1 Children What It Means to be on Fire with Learning, a TC Calendar Day presented by Heidi Mills. Throughout the workshop, Heidi spoke about how teachers can start with a science unit (for example, leaves) and then create a unit of study incorporating literacy, math, and social studies. While the idea of writing cross-curricular thematic units is a great idea, many of the teachers at the workshop expressed that they just simply don’t have enough time in the day. Most schools at the workshop follow the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project curriculum and must use their writing workshop time to study small moments (or whichever unit they are in). This reminded me of many of our own reactions to The Girl With The Brown Crayon. We wondered how Vivian Gussin Paley had the time to study just one author. I agree that it is hard to find time to incorporate science into the curriculum, but I think it can be done in schools where children have choice time every day.
As a kindergarten teacher, my children have forty minutes of choice time each day. Recently I implemented an apple study, as many of you do, over the course of a week. During read aloud, I read apple books and during choice time, students explored apples further. There were five stations and each child went to a different station throughout the week. At one station, there was a math game. At another, children tasted different types of apples and rated them. There was a word study apple game, a writing activity, and a reading activity. I think if a teacher is lucky enough to have this extra time in his/her day, choice time is a great way to incorporate science units.
In her workshop Learning to Learn: Trees, Birds, Bugs, and Clouds Can Teach K-1 Children What It Means to be on Fire with Learning, Heidi Mills spoke about Expert Projects. She explained how in the real world, children develop expertise in an area. Heidi talked about Personal Passion Projects where children share something with the class that they know a great deal about. Through this project, a child teachers the class about their identity/who they are.
Children pick something that they are interested in and, at home, design a presentation for the class. The teacher is responsible for teaching the children how to design a presentation. Heidi suggests using both primary and secondary sources (for example, an object as well as a poster).
Because their expertise is connected to what they are doing at home/their identity, they must bring in resources from home. It is important to teach parents how to support their children with their project. It must be their child’s own work. Children have to be able to read their work.
Before presentations begin, the teacher can teach children to talk like a teacher with authority. They are the experts and have to teach the class! At the end of the presentation, the child could ask if anyone has any comments or questions and try their best to answer.
I love the Personal Passion Projects idea. I wrote a vague outline because I think a teacher needs to tailor it specifically for his/her classroom. While I was listening to Heidi explain the projects, I thought of Cynthia Ballenger’s work, as well as other researchers who write about how important it is to incorporate children’s home culture into the classroom. This seems like a great way to get to know your own students and for students to learn about new cultures.