Wednesday, 3 April 2013

The marvel of marbles

It is a bittersweet thing to pack up a centre that, for a few months now, had expanded from one small table to over half of the room. While not all students are ready to say goodbye to the marbles and marble-maze building inquiry that grew to include almost every student in both classes, most have moved on to new explorations that have grown out of the changing seasons.


I have loved the "marbles and movement" inquiry because it captured everyone's imagination from the moment the materials arrived. It had been a busy time in our class, with several science and sensory explorations on the go surrounding snow, colour and light. Before the winter holiday break, I had suggested we wind down the bey blade centres which had also grown around the room for several months. I knew that I needed a hook, but I wasn't sure what would catch. So it is that we had an ice and snow table, celebrated Chinese New Year with a drum and symbol centre, we had our first turn with the Kindergarten team's beautiful new light table, we tested celery and napa cabbage in coloured water, and we created and painted with "ice pops", along with other small sparks from students or the outside world. Students were engaged and excited when each new provocation was set out, but nothing lasted in a meaningful way like the bey blades had in the late fall. I looked at the "Inquiry Process in Early-Learning Kindergarten" chart, posted over my sink for my daily reflection. I was wondering: where was the investigation, leading to student ownership of communication?

I cleaned out a shallow sand table and placed in a snap-together marble track and a large container of marbles. I had other toys and tools to support the play, but resisted the temptation to put everything out at once. I wanted to see how the students would interact with the materials before adding a challenge. The morning students signed in, chose entry activities, all the while peering over at the newly repurposed sand table with its colourful invitation to play. By "welcome circle" time, there was a buzz. "What is that for?" and "Where is the sand?" We talked about their wonderings and I sent them to "tip-toe off to centres". Armed with the camera and clipboard, I went off to watch and listen to the play.

For the next few weeks, I played and documented mainly at this centre. The first week, I was talking with my usual lunch companions, the wonderful Kindergarten teachers at my school. D offered up some large cardboard tubes to add to the table. They were such a hit we made a trip later that week to the "Creative Zone" for more tubes and building materials. Meanwhile, I looked online for video provocations to spur the challenge on. I often find little movie clips to spark conversation at carpet, and link them on my class site for students to access at home. I found several simple home-made marble runs on YouTube to share, brought the tubes and boxes I'd been gathering, and stocked up on masking tape. As a class we created a picture story about our new centre to share with parents on the display wall. Note: I cannot share this story here as it contains students' identifying features. Earlier in the year we had also been sharing our stories with our families through class-made Voicethreads, but these projects had also come to a natural end as interests waned. Whenever I found myself immersed elsewhere in the class, joining a group at the snack table or setting out art materials, students would come find me asking for photos or movies of their play. I mentioned this one day at sharing time, and a student asked if we could: "make a marble book to show our families what we are making". Thus our Voicethread "Marbles in Motion" was started. (click here to view Voicethread book)

At first the marble play surrounded the table and the snap-together track, but it wasn't long before tubes were spreading out along the floor, hanging from the wall, and soon taped onto the back of a shelving unit. The Voicethread story grew as students found new areas to explore and began to try building their own mazes inspired by the videos shared in class.

I wonder how this project might have unfolded in a full-day early-learning Kindergarten class, with more time each day to delve into project work. It is my goal to someday soon start an audit trail of current inquiries happening in my two classes. I regret now, looking back at the wonderful learning we have shared with this project, that I wasn't able to capture the surprising directions my students took their explorations with a visible audit trail. Sharing here, however, allows me to reflect on what we have done as a group, and what interesting tangents were followed by small groups of students in the different classes. In part two, I will share some of the ways students began to communicate with each other in order to further their building projects.

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