We tend to blame the coronavirus pandemic for disrupting our established and well-arranged lives. For forcing us to cut down on our outings, our trips to the mall, and to start doing business as unusual. So, while we are all “nesting” in our homes (lucky we have ones), we are in a way ‘passively’ making this world a better place. We are letting wild animals roam freely in their natural habitats as the humans they usually avoid are now on a lockdown. We are reducing our footprint by undertaking less non-essential trips. We are earning more while doing less by simply focusing on and getting in touch with ourselves, our families and closest friends. We tune in to feelings of concern and develop our sense of empathy every time when we hear the latest news. During these unprecedented in the modern era times of change and transition, we are setting the stages for a world of heightened humility, greater intimacy, and a deeper understanding of our place in the overall ecosystem.
In this blog post I draw a parallel between what is going on in our world today and how teachers can plan their lessons to inspire lifelong learning.
When finishing up one content area and preparing to move onto the next one, we are facing a pathway of possibilities. More often than not, a powerful and memorable transition does have a greater impact than what has passed before and what is to come next.
By finding a connection between the lesson you are finishing and the one you are going to unfold before the students, you add to the momentum and generate excitement about learning. Transitions that inspire reflection and evoke a sense of wonder create hunger for knowledge and feed into the profile of lifelong learning that you are building of each learner.
The bridge is where you need to cross with your students in a way that creates that feeling of not knowing something and wanting to know more, wanting to go forward. It is in the phase of the transition where knowledge evolves from one state to another.
Powerful, memorable and at times, even dramatic, connections between the old lesson and the new, between the old life and the new, let learners see the interconnection of everything around.
With the rapid advancement of technology, communication, the Internet, air travel, etc, our world is becoming increasingly interconnected and interdependent.
Evidenced by the recent world events, from pandemics to supply chains, one small change or event in one place or area of the world can trigger something having a significant impact sometime, somewhere else.
By gracefully and effectively transitioning from one unit or subject to another, educators let students acquire the ability to recognize patterns and make connections among concepts, ideas, activities, events, etc.
Every theme should naturally flow into the next one with something as simple as a question or example.
Teachers lay the foundations and erect the bridge on prior knowledge by generating questions that will in turn generate discussions and form the pathway towards the new knowledge.
While asking students questions to get them thinking and tap into their prior knowledge, continuously ask yourself: What can I do next to build upon this lesson? How can I make it flow?
Amazing Plants Unit
In our previous unit we talked about jobs and about robots taking over some occupations. In line with the idea that everything, living or non-living, has a purpose, or a job, the question “What is the job of a seed?” served as a solid bridge between the two units.
With an astonishing ease, kids remarked “To grow into a plant!” With young second language learners, educators need to be reminded that our role is to assist children in acquiring world knowledge parallel to the second language.
And the readily available Scholastic lesson plans and ideas make this mission a great success.
Day 1: What’s inside a seed?
We kicked off the unit by opening up beans and flower seeds and looking closely inside. At first, kids get one dry and one soaked bean and perform the task of dissecting and comparing both. The activity aims to illustrate what a seed needs to sprout and grow, namely water and warmth. Students draw what they observe inside the soaked bean and label the parts – seed coat, new plant.
Day 2: “Where do we find seeds?”
After looking at some flower seeds the day before, on our second day we investigated where else we can find seeds. As part of our investigation, I brought apples and oranges and challenged students to tell me what they think we would find if we cut the apple and the orange open. Students make guesses and with some guidance come to the conclusion that seeds are found in the flowers and fruits of plants. Students explore the fruits with their senses and after cutting them in half, each team gets half an apple and half an orange. Students are invited to use their magnifying glasses to discover the seeds in the fruit. Last, we draw and paint the apple and orange half, write “apple” and “orange” next to the drawings, and glue some of the seeds on the paintings where they were found.
As an add-on activity that ignited children’s curiosity and enthusiasm for thinking and behaving like scientists, I brought a handful of different types of seeds (lemon, grapefruit, watermelon, apple, avocado – that really sparked hilarious reactions and confusion) and challenged children with the task of naming the fruits and vegetables which have those seeds.
Day 3: Seed Sorting
It is almost considered as a universally accepted truth that we know things by what they are not rather than by what they are. That is why on our third day I prepared plastic bags of seeds, mixed with twigs, and sand and asked students to sort the objects into two groups – seeds and not seeds – after reminding students about the important job of a seed.
Day 4: How do seeds get around?
Listen to the Song and Draw
We did an exciting listening comprehension activity where students listen to the song “Plants Are All Around” from Our World, Amazing Plants Unit 5, Level 6 and draw what they hear.
Later in the unit, we revisit the drawings and try to interpret its content thus expanding our knowledge. Why are there bees and butterflies around the flowers? Do flowers need bees and butterflies? Why do bees and butterflies like flowers? What can we do to take care of the bees and the butterflies attracted by our plants? Thus, we extended the lesson by creating a bee-watering station.
Flower Scavenger Hunt
On the day I had a Professional Development meeting, I asked my students to go to the playground, armed with their magnifying glasses and their bare eyes along with the substitute teacher. There, they had to explore and draw some of the beautiful flowers around our playground.
The next day I went on a mission of locating these flowers.
Hands-on Project: Vertical Garden
Planting a vertical garden represents an unparalleled opportunity to reinforce the concept of inter-dependence. Children get to see for themselves how giving water to the top plant drains downwards and benefits the plant at the bottom. Kids work in pairs and select the kind of flower they want to grow – Poppy, Mini Sunflower, Safflower, Portulaca, Morning Glory, Heavenly Blue Daisy.
The idea of pairing up kids is to encourage ‘natural’ communication between them as they engage cooperatively in the tasks while using the new language.
Kids document the process of planting and growing flowers by keeping a journal of the progress of the flowers’ growth.
Photography and Nature
I have ‘installed’ a mini photography station where I expose beautiful photographs of plants and let the students become fascinated in photography and nature.
Through photography I encourage kids to inspect closely the details of nature, such as the leaves of a sundew plant, the wings of an unexpectedly discovered moth. We capture snapshots of flowers, potted plants, bugs, materials. We label the things and use the hard copy of our photographs as vocabulary picture cards. Photography helps us see the world in greater detail while the interactive nature of technology enables students to assume ownership and control over their learning. It gives us an opportunity to pause, reflect, think about our physical and human world and how they are all connected.
Surprise, Excite and Fill With Wonder
Provoke children’s exploration and inquiry by setting up an environment filled with surprises which stimulate the senses – from gifting kids with exotic plants to treating them to exotic fruits and introducing them to an entirely plant-based lunchbox.
The first meal of the month
In line with this year’s goal of nurturing cooperation, collaboration, and support among the students, we divided the class into 4 teams. Every team comprises of one student who generally needs support or time on finishing the assignments, one student who works quickly and accurately and who feels responsible enough to encourage and keep the struggling child working, one student who works quickly yet makes mistakes, and another student who completes the assignments accurately and thoroughly by putting in a lot of time.
At this stage of their development it is incredibly important for kids to assume responsibility, see the differences in abilities, and take action in the form of understanding and support. By assigning struggling kids working buddies within a team, students learn the importance of cooperation in life and the transformative power of helping.
In the meantime, we tracked down the germination process and recorded the seeds which are fastest to sprout (Poppy seeds), the seeds that took the longest time to sprout (Safflower seeds), and the ones in-between. Then, we named all the kids who work slowly and need support – Safflowers, the kids who work slowly, thoroughly, and diligently – Mini Sunflowers, the kids who complete the work quickly and hastily as Poppy, and the students who are quick and accurate in completing assignments – Morning Glory. The bottom line being: we are all different and grow at different rates, achieve different heights but we all deserve love, care, and attention.
In the context of our monthly theme, we arrived at the idea of splitting into team A, B, C, and D which stand for a type of a plant (flower, vegetable, fruit). Kids conduct their own research in an attempt to find the names of plants that begin with the letter of their team. Once they compile a list of 4 options they start discussing and shortlisting the most suitable names for their team until they select the ‘winner’. That’s how we ended up with team Avocado (among Asparagus, Artichoke, Apple), team Broccoli (among Banana, Bamboo, Blueberry) , team Cocoa (among Carrot, Cucumber, Corn), and team Dragon fruit (among Daisy, Detroit Dark Red Beet, Dandelion).
Within these groups, kids not only brainstorm questions to be asked at the end of every Show & Tell Q&A session, but they also sing and act out songs from our GrapeSEED lessons. In this way, kids learn to take on different roles – such as a team leader, dancer, singer, coordinator – and negotiate responsibilities. The teacher defines the members’ roles and goals and gives children the freedom to choose which role they want to assume, making sure there is a rotation among members. Two very important aspects of team-based work is to keep the same team for a considerably long period of time in order for the members of the group to get a real sense of the dynamics of group work. Second, it is crucial to reflect on how the team functioned and what worked well and what didn’t. All you want is for learners to recognize the power of teamwork and to be able to discern, appreciate and tap into each other’s talents and strengths.
The Comeback of Nature
Children have noticed the impact of people staying home and how, in now quiet and traffic-free communities, nature is making a comeback. The outbreak of the coronavirus disease inspired us to find ways to help the Earth heal and give plants and animals a chance to thrive. In a way Covid-19 helped us transition into a state of heightened appreciation of nature and awaken the desire to harness this momentum. Given this circumstances, we hold regular discussions about how our own actions can impact the planet: How can we use less? Recycle more? Instead of buying new, how can we buy second hand? We are learning that we can all do our part and that we don’t have to be passive in this world. We can be creators and life-changers long before we “grow up”
With each and every consecutive Show and Tell time children become more and more adept at standing up in front of an audience and delivering the content of their mini-lesson clearly and confidently. For this sharing session, we reversed the approach previously taken with one that starts with looking at the items (plants, photos) brought by the appointed kid and then discussing and brainstorming as a teams what to ask the presenter.
Let Their Imagination Soar
One can be remarkably astonished at the altitudes at which children’s imagination can soar. Briefed with the task of coming up with imaginary plants, kids invented the pencil flower which basically comprises of a set of pencils for one to use, the Ferris wheel flower whose petals move around, the burger flower whose buns open up like the leaves of the Venus flytrap and so on and on.
Preschool Monthly Themes with Powerful Transitions
Theme-based yearly plan for kindergarten students which outlines major themes, activities, actions, and projects