Saturday, July 14, 2012

Emergent Curriculum in Action

As I looked to bridge the long summer days spent outside in the Pacific Northwest with our annual return to the classroom in early September, I decided to create a small science corner with a display of seeds and seed pods, along with containers of fall blooming flowers. The idea was to generate conversation and begin the habits of careful observation and inquiry. The display also gave me a chance to get to know the students in the North Room as I listened and watched them interact with the natural materials, tools to assist in observation, and with each other.  It turns out that small seed, planted in late August as we prepared the classroom for students has been watered and fed and is really starting to germinate.

In the weeks that followed families brought in seedpods from their gardens for students to explore.  We opened them and counted and sorted seeds.  We looked at the different shapes and learned about the many ways seeds travel. So far this year we have taken weekly trips to many of the local parks, including the Colman Park P-patch.  In the parks we looked closely at plants and leaves and seedpods and thought about the ways they grow. We considered their variety as we drew the many interesting shapes.

Both inside and out we have been reading books about seeds and plants.  We have generated lists of questions about seeds.  As we practice asking questions, we hold off on finding quick answers so we can grow more comfortable with the process of inquiry.  What at first glance looks like a simple question with a quick answer, given some time, can bloom into a question that scientists have already spent hundreds of years exploring.  It is exciting to join this group and feel the connection with those who have asked these questions before us.  All the while we are learning to listen to each other.  One question leads to the next, a related question that is clearly following a shared path of inquiry.

Our visit to the Colman P-patch led us to wonder about the Lake and Park School having a garden of our own.  Like the City and Country School that inspired Camille to found Lake and Park, we all felt we could learn so much if we were able to add an outdoor “classroom” in the form of a garden we can tend throughout the seasons.  The P-patch has the space available and the students are enthusiastic as we begin to plan and to prepare the beds and paths, and to learn what it takes to make a garden grow.  We hope our whole school community will want to be involved.

Already Walter’s Aunt Stephanie, a Seattle Tilth educator and local gardener, has visited the classroom, bringing scarlet runner bean plants for exploration and dissection.  This was a perfect plant to use to introduce the plant life-cycle because on a single plant we could see both the blossoms and the pods.  Children picked the pods and opened them to reveal the beans/seeds.  Stephanie answered children’s questions and inspired more questions such as, “where does water come from anyway?”

And so our curriculum grows, turning and winding as the children’s skills and understanding develop. The prospect of tending our own garden together now exists like a seed in the good soil our inquiry has created. We all share the anticipation and excitement of helping it thrive.

A garden is a natural focus for building community. With a common purpose, everyone contributes meaningfully. As we nurture the plants in our garden, and eventually provide our own snacks and food, we also support each other as creative thinkers and doers. During the winter months our garden also served as the focal point for researching the origins of common vegetables we planned to grow in the spring.  Our connection to places across the globe is deepened as we till the soil in our own neighborhood.

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