Teacher Feature: Infants Explore Nature

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Brittany Brown. Her older infant classroom decided to spend a day doing a survey exploration of nature. She wanted to introduce the group to the different aspects of nature to see what they were most interested in exploring. Below you will find a reflection from Brittany and images from her lesson on nature.

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What were your topics of exploration?

We spent the day exploring nature and the environment around us.

What were your learning objectives? (What did you want your children to take away from the lesson?)

I wanted my students to have a better understanding of their environment. I noticed that the children were becoming increasingly interested in exploring the natural world they encounter every day and thought it would be an excellent topic for our group to focus on. I wanted the lesson to be as hands on as possible, and to teach them that it’s okay to interact with the different things you find (bugs, dirt, flowers, trees, grass). I tried to focus on nature in a more broad terms to start because I wanted to see which aspects in particular caught their interest. We could then move to doing a more in depth study on those topics later in the week.

What was most successful about your lesson?

I believe the most successful parts of our lesson were the hands- on materials I brought along to the museum visit. The great thing about exploring nature in the Natural History Museum is that we are able to provide the children with multiple touch points. In addition to the books and objects I brought into the gallery space, we were also able to observe real insects as well as view amazing nature photography. Seeing the children’s reaction to the variety of insects, objects, and images gave me a clear picture of their interest and provided inspiration for future lesson plans.

What could you have done differently? What recommendations would you have for another teacher trying out this lesson?

I decided to spend the entire week exploring nature. While I valued the general exploration of the topic, I think ultimately, it would have been better to break down the topic, maybe focusing on just trees, flowers, or insects. I believe the focused study would have given them a greater understanding of specific topics. Also, I would recommend using as many sensory based activities and books as possible when developing a lesson. I believe the combination really helps children better understand what’s being taught.

Here are a few images from their unit on nature:DSCN3140Brittany began by taking her group up to the Insect Hall at The National Museum of Natural History. On many mornings there is an interpreter in the gallery with different insects for the children to meet.  

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The children got to meet a live caterpillar and compare it to the Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar. The group practiced using gentle hands and loved exploring the texture of the caterpillar.

DSCN3157Brittany then had the group observe the display of chrysalis and butterflies. She explained that the caterpillar they just saw would eventually become a chrysalis and then a butterfly.


DSCN3164 DSCN3176To reinforce the information she was sharing with the group, Brittany read The Very Hungry Caterpillar. She was sure to point to the corresponding exhibits as she read.


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DSCN3197Brittany then led the group around the gallery to look at the other insects. She brought along a sensory bag full of dirt, small insects, and foliage for the children to touch in the exhibit.


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The group went up to see the Wilderness Forever: 50 Years of Protecting America’s Wild Places photography exhibit. The class had fallen in love with the book Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson so Brittany read the book in front of one of the photographs in the exhibit.

DSCN3230The last stop was to the edge of the Butterfly Garden (located outside of the Natural History Museum) to interact with plants and insects in their natural environment. Brittany encouraged the group to feel the textures and smell the different plants.

This class had a wonderful time learning about nature! Be sure to check back for our Teacher Feature next week!

Teacher Feature: Toddler Class Explores The Moon

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Melinda Bernsdorf. Her toddler classroom was learning about opposites and decided to spend a week learning about the sun and the moon. Below you will find a reflection from Melinda and images from her lesson on the moon.

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What were your topics of exploration?

In our classroom, we have been talking about opposites. This week, we looked at day and night, something very familiar to the kids, and discussed the differences between these two concepts. We talked about the noticeable differences in the level of light, and the different objects we see in the sky during day and night. We started in the atrium of the National Museum of the American Indian. There is a large skylight that has metal work resembling a sun which lets sunlight shine into the space. There is also a set of prisms, and as the outside light shines through, rainbows move across the walls. We then looked at the amazing star scape on the ceiling of Our Universes in the National Museum of the American Indian. To focus our attention, we brought “telescopes” we made earlier in the week, and found shapes in the stars. To deepen our discussion on the moon, we talked about the texture of the surface, and each child was able to imprint their own Styrofoam moon with finger shaped craters. We also talked about how our actions are different in the day and night. There was lots of discussion about sleep and play.

What were your learning objectives? (What did you want your children to take away from the lesson?)

Exploring opposites is always a great way to involve our kids in scientific discovery and early math skills. I want the kids to become more familiar with the vocabulary on these subjects. We compare and contrast, and talk about observation and investigation. In this lesson, I wanted to bring the attention of the children to a more complex conversation about an everyday experience. I also wanted them to have a great immersive experience, reading about the sun and brightness in the atrium where they could see it shining through the prisms, casting rainbows on the walls, as well as talking about the moon and stars while sitting with “telescopes” under a night sky.

What was most successful about your lesson?

The kids really enjoyed the telescopes. They recognized their work from earlier in the week and felt a sense of ownership and pride as their art project became a tool. They focused on the stars and moon longer when using the telescopes, and having a tactile object that related to the lesson helped lengthen their attention span.

What could you have done differently? What recommendations would you have for another teacher trying out this lesson?

Trying to extend our lesson with the Styrofoam moon would have worked better in the classroom. I was hoping for an art activity that would lend itself well to the museum environment, however I ended up asking toddlers to sit for too long. Between the time in the atrium and then the time under the stars, we became a bit antsy. When I attempt this lesson again, I think we might talk a little more about the moon and its surface on a different day. I would also like to expand this project by having the kids paint the newly-cratered surfaces of their Styrofoam moons with a mud or clay based liquid, and decorate the other side of the Styrofoam with orange and yellow tissue paper. This will give them a tactile object that represents both the moon and the sun. Like the telescopes, these could be made ahead, and brought with us to the museum to bring both aspects of the lesson together.

Here are a few images from their unit on opposites:

DSCN3274Melinda took the group straight to the National Museum of the American Indian for their lesson. When they first pulled into the museum she had the group stop and observe the light coming from the ceiling portal.
DSCN3277Melinda then showed the group an image of the sun and asked them to compare it to the light that was coming out of the portal. They talked about the shape and the amount of light they could see.
DSCN3282Melinda gave each child the chance to look closely at the image.
DSCN3284She also referenced a book they had read earlier in the week about the sun.

DSCN3300They then headed up to the Our Universes exhibit. The ceiling of the exhibit has a moon and is covered in stars. Melinda passed out telescopes that the children had made to help them look closely at the night sky. While the children were looking, Melinda read them Moon Game by Frank Asch.
DSCN3298The group loved looking closely at the book through their telescopes. 

DSCN3317Melinda then shared with the group an image of the moon and styrafoam circle. She talked about how the moon is covered in craters and that they were going to use their fingers to squish the foam and make their own craters.
DSCN3313They enjoyed the sensation of the foam squish beneath their fingers.
DSCN3324One little girl especially liked comparing her circle to the moon.
DSCN3329Melinda also had the group look at the House Post from the Dís hít (Moonhouse) of the Kwac’kwan Clan. She pointed out the circle shape and how the carved image on each post could reflect the different phases of the moon.

DSCN3335 DSCN3337They took one final look at the sun coming through the portal and compared the two images of the sun and moon before heading back to the classroom.

This class had a wonderful time learning about opposites! Be sure to check back for our Teacher Feature next week!

Teacher Feature: Infant Classroom Explores Flowers

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Noel Ulmer, Nessa Moghadam, and Katy Martins. Inspired by the spring weather and blooms, their infant class decided to paint with flowers.  Below you will find images from their painting experiences with flowers.

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Here are a few images from their unit on the flowers:DSCN2973Nessa began the lesson by reading Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert. The team had the children sit in high chairs so they could have a nice flat and accessible surface to do their painting.

DSCN2977The children were first provided with silk flowers to touch and explore.

DSCN3003The children used all their senses!

DSCN2999Then it was time to try out painting with the flowers.  The teachers had pre-made sheets with a vase for the children to add their flower prints.

DSCN3008The teachers added a clothes pin to the shortened stem of the silk flower so they would be able to get a better grip. This was great activity for them to work on their fine motor skills. In addition, the babies began to notice that the painted blossom leaves marks where ever it lands.

DSCN3012DSCN3030The children were interested in exploring the painted flower in many different ways, including smelling and touching the wet paint.

DSCN3023They had a great time!


DSCN3045The teachers decorated their room with images of flowers, art prints, and images of the children. After painting, this little girl came over to check out the paper flowers on the wall.

This class had a wonderful time learning about flowers! Be sure to check back for our Teacher Feature next week!

Teacher Feature: Toddler Class Explores Liquid

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Logan Crowley. His two year old classroom was learning about the senses and decided to spend a week learning about how a liquid, solid, and a gas feel. Below you will find a reflection from Logan and images from his lesson on liquid.Liquid_Cover

What were your topics of exploration?

We were learning about the five senses. During the week of this lesson, we were exploring the sense of touch and learning how to describe how things feel. We also wanted to compare the textures and properties of various things. I chose to focus on the three different states of matter (solid, liquid, gas) and for liquid, water seemed like a great choice.

What were your learning objectives? (What did you want your children to take away from the lesson?)

I didn’t expect my toddlers to necessarily be able to identify and define the states of matter, but I wanted to get their brains firing and thinking about how things felt when they touched them and what words they could use to describe what they’d felt. I also wanted to engage their sense of touch in general and give them an opportunity to experiment with water.

What was most successful about your lesson?

Even though a lot of them just ended up pouring the water on the ground rather than into the empty cup, I think I was definitely on the right track in that they loved to practice pouring and it let me know that they’d probably enjoy more opportunities to pour in the future. I was also surprised with how engaged they were with the book. Finally, even though we ran into some trouble with our original plan (we were told the kids could not walk barefoot in the water feature), the kids were great about it and still had a fantastic time playing with the water.

What could you have done differently? What recommendations would you have for another teacher trying out this lesson?

I would have organized the pouring activity a little better, perhaps demonstrating first or having them come up one at a time. I also would have had a backup plan ready for them to be able to play in the water (having them bring sandals or water shoes, perhaps), since I found myself having to improvise when they could not go barefoot.

Here are a few images from their unit on liquid:

DSCN2670It was a cold day but that didn’t keep this class from learning and playing with water. Logan bundled up his group and walked up to the courtyard of the National Portrait Gallery/Smithsonian American Art. This in door space is large and equipped with a beautiful glass ceiling. It makes for a wonderful environment to be in when the weather is not ideal.

DSCN2678DSCN2696Logan began his lesson by providing each child with a pitcher of water and a cup. He invited the children to pour the water and watch as the liquid moved from one container to the next. A number of the children touched the water with their fingers and also sampled it from their glass.

DSCN2683He then read a story Water by Frank Asch. The story explains the different states of water and Logan explained that today they were experiencing water as a liquid.


DSCN2717Logan picked this space because there is large fountain that produces a very thin film of liquid on the floor. Guests are encouraged to interact with the fountain by walking through (with shoes on) and touching it. The children really loved being able to interact with this liquid in so many different ways.

This class had a wonderful time learning about liquids! Be sure to check back for our Teacher Feature next week!

Teacher Feature: Kindergarten Classroom Explores Sol LeWitt

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Rebecca Adams. Rebecca is the Arts Enrichment Educator for kindergarten and has been working on a large mural with the children for the classroom. For inspiration, she decided to spend a day learning about Sol LeWitt. Below you will find a reflection from Rebecca and images from her lesson.

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What were your topics of exploration?

We used the wall drawings of Sol LeWitt to explore the collaborative nature of large-scale artwork, and how using teamwork leads to a successful experience of the creative process in addition to an eye-popping product. This was also a technical exercise in one approach to handling a new medium (professional grade acrylic paint and medium on heavy weight watercolor paper) that mimics the skill set we will employ in painting the classroom mural. The limited palette and ‘hard line’ approach refine (fine motor) brush control and prepares participants to use color intuitively while demonstrating formal knowledge of fundamental color theory & color mixing.

What were your learning objectives? (What did you want your children to take away from the lesson?)

My primary objective was to enhance their understanding of the process required to complete large scale collaborative artworks while practicing and becoming comfortable with a new painting medium and technique. We also used rulers to anchor the underdrawings of these small paintings along with colored painter’s tape to help direct a three to four color palette. This priming technique facilitated their critical thinking skills when confronted with the “problem” of building a balanced, non-representational composition using unfamiliar tools & materials. It also gave them an opportunity to use a similar “recipe” as Sol LeWitt and expect different outcomes.

What was most successful about your lesson?

The most successful part of our lesson was watching and discussing a 10 minute video clip of studio assistants working on Sol LeWitt’s wall drawings. The magic of seeing teamwork reveal a polished, larger than human scale product helped the children connect to their own efficacy as an artistic “unit.” This conversation exercise in confidence building made teaching a combination of a new skill set more attainable. It was clear to them that communication and cooperation was far more important and effective than individual virtuosity. Another strong factor of the lesson was how the multi-sensory nature of this particular set of tools and materials kept them engaged and asking thoughtful questions throughout, while building a new vocabulary (e.g. “palette knife,” “bold,” “dull,” “transparent”) Their fine motor skills were assessed and greatly improved as well.

What could you have done differently? What recommendations would you have for another teacher trying out this lesson?

I would suggest working in small groups of about three to four children at a time. It is helpful to have a “half-finished” and a “finished” prototype on hand to show the children. I also think it is helpful to have a “conclusion” circle so that the children can see others’ artworks, ask questions, and re-review the inspiration video.

Here are a few images from their unit on Sol LeWitt:

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Rebecca decided to pull a few students at a time from the classroom for this lesson so that she could have more one-on-one time with the students. Rebecca began her lesson by talking about Sol LeWitt and his work and then showed a video on his murals: “Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective” (http://youtu.be/c4cgB4vJ2XY).

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She also shared with the group Sol LeWitt: 100 Views edited by Susan Cross and Denise Markonish.

DSCN2302Rebecca illustrated the first step in the process.

DSCN2308The children then got straight to work using rulers and tape to design their paintings.

DSCN2311She then asked the children to select three colors and start painting between their lines.

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Rebecca gave the children high quality acrylic paint which required the added step of using a palette knife to mix in medium to make the paint a bit more fluid. The children also needed to combine their paints together to get the color they desired.

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The children really embraced the multi-step process and were able to hone their fine motor skills throughout the project! Sol LeWitt is a great way to get ready for painting their own mural in the classroom. The group will use a grid and also need to work collaboratively to create their one large scale painting.

DSCN3139Here is a sketch of what the children decided to include in their classroom mural.

DSCN3138Looks great so far! Can’t wait to see the final product!

 

This class had a wonderful time learning about murals! Be sure to check back for our Teacher Feature next week and watch to see the finished mural at the end of the school year!

Teacher Feature: Toddler Classroom Explores Pandas

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Megan Gallagher. Her two year old classroom was learning about the animals and decided to spend the day learning about pandas. Below you will find a reflection from Megan and images from her lesson.

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What were your topics of exploration?

Our toddler class had been discussing animals for several weeks. This lesson was specifically on giant pandas. We started the lesson in the classroom with a sensory activity. I created a “panda forest” in the sensory table with bamboo, dirt and panda figurines. The children were encouraged to explore the items in the sensory table while we discussed pandas. We had been talking a lot about how pandas eat bamboo and many of the children enjoyed pretending to feed the bamboo to the panda figurines.

We then took a walk to the Smithsonian Castle to see the “Panda Cam” they have set up that live streams video from the pandas at the National Zoo. We had a special circle time at the “Panda Cam.” In addition to our daily circle activities, each child was given a piece of bamboo to hold while we read two books about pandas. The first book was Five Hungry Pandas, which is a counting book about pandas eating bamboo. The second book we read was My Panda Book which features photographs of pandas engaged in different activities and encourages young readers to consider what the pandas are doing on each page.

What were your learning objectives? (What did you want your children to take away from the lesson?)

I wanted the children to take away the concept that pandas are real animals that engage in behaviors unique to them. I also wanted to give the children many different ways to contemplate pandas, so that the concept they formed would be as complete as possible.

In addition I wanted to make sure that my lesson had a sensory component and gave the children the opportunity to interact with some of the real objects we have been discussing.

What was most successful about your lesson?

I was happiest with the sensory exploration part of my lesson. Giving toddlers the chance to touch and engage with different textures is critical for their development and I am always looking for ways to incorporate sensory based activities into my lessons. I was also happy that the kids were able to see and play with real bamboo. I like to involve some of the real objects we are discussing in my lessons whenever possible. I feel it gives the kids the best opportunity to fully understand a concept.

What could you have done differently? What recommendations would you have for another teacher trying out this lesson?

If I was going to teach this lesson again I would bring along a tablet with a video of pandas being active as a backup for the “Panda Cam.” The panda on the live stream was asleep the entire time we were at the Smithsonian Castle. The kids still enjoyed watching the camera, but I think they would have been even more engaged if they were able to watch pandas moving around. I also definitely recommend bringing a manipulative for the kids to hold, as there is nothing to touch at the “Panda Cam.”

Here are a few images from their unit on pandas:

DSCN2555Megan began her lesson with a panda themed sensory bin. She added live bamboo, organic soil, and small plastic pandas for the children to explore.

DSCN2598As they played, Megan explained that pandas love to eat bamboo and the children began feeding it to their pandas.

DSCN2615The children loved the sensory table!

DSCN2632Since there are no actual pandas on the national mall, Megan decided to take the group to the next best spot for viewing pandas: the Smithsonian Castle. The Castle offers a live stream of the giant panda enclosure at the National Zoo. You can also access this camera on the National Zoo website: http://nationalzoo.si.edu/Animals/WebCams/giant-panda.cfm. To add a hands on component to her lesson, Megan brought along a piece of bamboo for each child to hold and explore during their visit.

DSCN2641Megan also read two different books about Pandas: Five Hungry Pandas by Alexis Barad-Cutler and My Panda Book. The class enjoyed comparing the images of pandas found in the books and on the screen.

This class had a wonderful time learning about pandas! Be sure to check back for our Teacher Feature next week!

Teacher Feature: Two Year Old Classroom Explores Bats

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Elaine Mullally. Her two year old classroom was learning about animal habitats and decided to spend a week learning about caves and the animals that inhabit them. Below you will find a reflection from Elaine and images from her lesson on bats.

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What were your topics of exploration?

We  began the lesson by reviewing the features of a cave habitat (dark, stalactites, and stalagmites) and then focused on which animals call it home. This particular day we learned about bats and introduced the word echolocation.

What were your learning objectives? (What did you want your children to take away from the lesson?)

I wanted the children to be able to identify caves as a dark habitat that might be challenging for an animal to live. Since this lesson focused on the bat, I also wanted them to be able to understand how they have adapted to live in this environment through echolocation.

What was most successful about your lesson?

The most successful part of the lesson was the echolocation game we played during circle time. The class was very excited to pretend to be insects while I pretended to be a bat using echolocation to find and eat them. The silly bug and bat goggles helped them get into character. They were also able to demonstrate the way sound bounces from a bat, to the insect, then back to the bat’s ear by rolling a ball back and forth.

What could you have done differently? What recommendations would you have for another teacher trying out this lesson?

I would have chosen a different activity or game to play in the museum, or perhaps just find a book to read after observing the cave. It was a little too much for them to play a silly game twice and control their bodies in the museum.

Here are a few images from their unit on the bats:

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Elaine began her lesson by re-introducing the group to caves. She then ready My First Book of Animals Homes by Eric Carle. The pages of the book are split so the top and the bottom pages turn independently, allowing the children to match which animal goes with each habitat. The students were excited when they were able to match the bat with the cave.

DSCN2341 DSCN2342Elaine explained to the group that because of their environment bats need to use echolocation or a special type of hearing to catch their food. She used the green glasses as a way for the children to assume the bug character and black sunglasses with sharpie darkened lenses to become the bat.

DSCN2345She gave each child the opportunity to be the bug and then played a game where a ball represented sound traveling from the bat bouncing off the bug and returning to the bat.

DSCN2347Elaine would roll the ball to the child and then have them roll it back.

DSCN2359To show she had echo-located the bug she would come over and tickle the child.

DSCN2369She then took the group up to a cave in the Gems and Mineral Hall in the National Museum of Natural History.

DSCN2381Elaine reminded the children of the echolocation game they played in the classroom and then challenged them to send their “sound” or ball around a stalagmite to the bug.

DSCN2400The group had a great time using their echolocation in the museum.

This class had a wonderful time learning about bats and caves! Be sure to check back for our Teacher Feature next week!