Object of the Month: Rocks Gallery at the National Museum of Natural History

img_2453Our inaugural Object of the Month is actually not so much an object, but a gallery. The Rocks Gallery in the National Museum of Natural History is tucked at the back of the Janet Annenber Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems, and Minerals. Recently renovated, this gallery is great because it is often a little quieter than the adjacent galleries, objects are at varying heights, there is space to move, and most importantly, you can touch the objects.

Twos and Under

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This gallery is an ideal space for infants and toddlers – it provides them with the chance to explore different textures and build vocabulary. With all of the touchable rocks, you can walk around the gallery feeling things that are hard, bumpy, and smooth. Don’t limit yourself to what is in the gallery though, consider bringing a stuffed animal or a favorite blanket to juxtapose them with the hard rocks. Each time you touch a rock, consider singing a song or rhyme that uses the vocabulary to describe it. While in the gallery, stop and read a touch-and-feel book. Extend the visit outdoors by collecting rocks and saving them in a clear container so their collection is a visible reminder of their experience. Return to the gallery again and again noticing different physical characteristics of the rocks like color and size.

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Preschoolers

At the back of the gallery is a window that looks out towards the Capitol.  On the ledge of the window stands a selection of rocks that were used in making important buildings around Washington, D.C. You can touch all of these materials, so a great place to begin is by inviting preschoolers to observe by looking closely and touching. Ask them questions about what they notice or how the rocks are the same or different. You might even want to write their answers down and make a chart of their observations. If it is just you and your child – do the same by adding your own observations or that of a sibling.

After exploring the materials, you could reading The Three Little Pigs and think about how different materials make for stronger buildings. Bring in some straw, wood, and bricks and compare it to the rock in the galleries. Another approach would be to match the materials with the DC buildings by sharing photos or discuss explore how rocks are taken from the ground in places called quarries.  After leaving museums you could look for rocks embedded in the ground, pick up a collection of rocks to create your own home, or visit some of the buildings referenced in the exhibit.

This is just a small taste of what a parent or educator can do with this gallery. Have other ideas, please share them with us and the rest of our community.

A Playful Experiment

Originally posted May 2014:

This past week I had the chance to attend one of SEEC’s seminars: Play: Engaging Learners in Object Rich Environments. During the two-day workshop, we explored the meaning of play and how to use it when teaching with objects. We began the seminar by defining play as a group. Some of the key words were: fun, tools, free thought, child directed, social, emotional, intellectual. To help us articulate the discussion, we also read Museum Superheroes: The Role of Play in Yong Children’s Lives by Pamela Krakowski, which distinguishes play as:

active engagement, intrinsic motivation, attention to process rather than the ends, nonliteral (symbolic behavior) and freedom from external rules.1

I reflected on these concepts and how they related to my own teaching. I wondered how I could incorporate more play into my practice, especially when I was in the museums. I decided to try out some new play strategies on a recent visit to the National Gallery of Art with a group of preschoolers.

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Asher Brown Durand The Stranded Ship 1844 oil on canvas National Gallery of Art Gift of Ann and Mark Kington/The Kington Foundation through Millennium Funds 2003.71.1

My first playful endeavor was completely spontaneous. I began the discussion by asking the children to describe this painting by Asher Brown Durand. One  girl pointed toward the artwork and said:

The sun is always moving through the sky.

I took this opportunity to ask the rest of the class whether they had ever noticed the sun moving through the sky too. They immediately offered their own examples. At that moment, I decided we should play the Earth. I asked everyone to stand up and slowly turn their bodies. I grabbed a parent and had her stand in the center pretending to be the sun.  As we moved, I explained how it was actually the Earth’s rotation that made it look the sun was moving in the sky. This was a completely unexpected and child-initiated moment, which was great. I think it was the playful element though that really made the experience memorable. If I hadn’t asked the children to get up and pretend to be the Earth, they would have been less likely to understand and remember the concept of rotation. By having them participate in the experience the concept was made real, tangible.

Part of the seminar was inspired by our colleagues at Discovery Theater. This session was, as one would expect, more theater driven and honestly, really challenged me. As the class continued to describe the Durand painting, I added secondary questions to enliven the discussion. For example, when the ocean was observed, I asked them to show me with their bodies how the ocean was moving and then I asked them to make the sound of the waves.  The kids were happy to illustrate both for me so when it came time to talk about the clouds and wind, we added sound effects and movements again. These exercises captured the essence of the painting, encouraged different learning styles and made everything more fun.

photo 2 (3)As the last part of the object lesson, I laid out several objects and asked them to work together to recreate the painting. They needed no instruction, but went right to work, collaborating until the composition was complete. Was it exactly like the painting, no, but they had used these tools to create their OWN composition. They were quite proud and were completely engaged in the activity. I saw them looking back at the painting, rearranging objects and making their own decisions.

All in all, the visit felt playful and meaningful. I am continuing to think about how to make my lessons more playful and how play can be a tool for learning within the museum environment.  If you have any ideas, please share!!!!

1. Journal of Museum Education, Volume 37, number 1, Spring 2012, pp. 49-58.

It’s been quite a year!: Teacher Feature Highlights

Written by Alex Francis (Liaison and Curriculum Development Specialist @ SEEC):

What a year it has been here at SEEC!  It has been a privilege to bring you Teacher Feature each week and offer a peek into the magical experiences our teachers provide their students. As our school year comes to a close I wanted to take the opportunity to share some of my favorite moments caught on camera during Teacher Feature. Being able to regularly join the classes has only confirmed how AMAZING these teachers are at creating age appropriate and exciting learning opportunities for their students! Here is visual proof of some of the things I believe they are especially great at doing! If you want to read more about the lessons be sure to look back at our archived Teacher Features and  to stay tuned in to the blog in the Fall for the triumphant return of Teacher Feature.

Teacher Feature 2014-2015 Greatest Hits:

1. Use of Authentic Objects in Museum and Classroom Experiences.

 

2.Lesson Introductions

 

3. Sensory Experiences

 

4. Classroom Lesson Extensions

 

5. Use of Technology

 

6. Community Visits

 

7. Museum Visits


Thank you teachers for a great year! We can’t wait to see what’s in store next!

Teacher Feature: Toddlers Explore Oceans

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Laura Bonilla. Her toddler classroom was learning about oceans and Laura decided to create a sensory bin full of bubbles and ocean animals. Below you will find a reflection from Laura and images from her lesson.

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What were your topics of exploration?

We were learning about the ocean as a habitat.

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

I wanted to provide an ocean inspired sensory experience.

What was most successful about your lesson?

The kids loved the experience and the bubbles nicely replicated sea foam. I was also amazed at how long the bubbles lasted.

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

I recommend teachers use a powerful mixer to create a large pile of bubbles. I would have also included more objects for the children to use in the sensory table.

Here are a few images from their unit on oceans:

DSCN3705This class had been learning about oceans all month and used this lesson as a way to review the topic. Laura began by reading Smiley Shark by Ruth Galloway. They had read the book before and the children were able to help identify the different sea life depicted.
DSCN3715Then it was time for sensory fun. Laura had the children help create the bubble mixture. She started by adding dish soap. The children used their gross and fine motor skills to help Laura.
DSCN3718Next Laura added corn starch. The corn starch acted as a binder for the bubbles making them last longer.
DSCN3719Lastly, Laura used a hand mixer to create the frothy bubbles. The children were mesmerized and couldn’t wait to get wet.
DSCN3741Then the kids were off! Some of the children liked the discovery sensation when they found a sea creature under the bubbles and other focused on washing the animals in the frothy water. Laura spent time narrating their play and sharing information about the different sea creatures in the bin.

 

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

Teacher Feature: Toddler Classroom Explores Safari

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Meg McDonald. Her toddler classroom was learning about safari’s and decided to go on one in the museum. Below you will find a reflection from Meg and images from her lesson.

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What were your topics of exploration?

We had been studying jungle animals and this week we focused on going on a safari. We began by discussing the items we might need to have a successful safari. We decided on binoculars, safari hats and vests. Throughout the week we spent time creating these items so everyone could have them for our safari. The day of the lesson each child was decked out in the vest, hat, and binoculars and given a wooden puzzle piece of a jungle animal.  It provided the children with something tangible to hold while we read Rumble in the Jungle by Giles Andeae and took our safari through the exhibit.

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

I wanted the children to gain some understanding of the natural habitat of some of their favorite animals and how we can observe them during a safari. Many books and movies mis-represent the habitats of these animals and I wanted to provide them with authentic information and exploration. I also wanted to provide them with authentic and exploration. I also wanted them to have practice with matching through the puzzle pieces and photographs.

What was most successful about your lesson?

I feel that the most important measure of success is if the children enjoyed what they were experiencing and in this case they definitely did. They got very excited when they found their specific animals and as well as all the animals that we had been learning about previously. They also really liked the photographs and even asked to go back and see them again.

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

Instead of giving them the wooden animals I would have given them a small photo that had a more realistic representation of the animal. I think that would have made a more concrete connection to the photo exhibit.

Here are a few images from their safari:DSCN3497DSCN3506Earlier in the week the group discussed the type of gear they might need for a safari and worked on making their own for the museum safari. The group got all dressed up and then headed straight to the Into Africa  exhibit at National Museum of Natural History. DSCN3545Meg had the group gather at the front of the exhibit. She passed out different animals found in Africa and invited the children to let her know when they saw the same animal in her book: Rumble in the Jungle by Giles Andeae.
DSCN3526DSCN3554They stayed very focused and attentive through the book, carefully watching for their animal to reveal itself. Some of the children worked together to help identify the animals of the different group. 
DSCN3569DSCN3570 DSCN3578Then it was time to head out on their safari. The binocular encourage lots of careful looking and sparked many conversations about the different animals.

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

Teacher Feature: Two Year Old Classroom Explores Baseball

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Ashlee Smith. Her two year old classroom was learning about baseball and decided to spend the day learning about what’s inside the ball. Below you will find a reflection from Ashlee and images from her lesson on baseball.

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What were your topics of exploration?

The Fireflies have been exploring baseball all summer. During this week, we talked about the baseball itself. We explored what a baseball looks like from the inside out and how it is made. We talked about how all baseballs (MLB) have to be the same size and weight and that baseballs are still hand-stitched.

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

I wanted the group to understand the materials used to make baseballs and provide them with the opportunity to explore textures of the materials found inside (yarn, string, and cork). I also wanted them to think critically about the shape and weight of the ball, exploring questions such as: “what other known objects are spheres?” and “why is the baseball the weight that it is?” Through the baseball lesson, I was also able to introduce the group to Alexander Cartwright (the proclaimed father of baseball).

What was most successful about your lesson?

I invited each child to help me create our own baseball with a cork, yarn and rubber. They really enjoyed the experience of using the materials to create a ball of our own.  We also ventured to the Hirshhorn Museum after circle time and they were happy to find the spheres that we just learned about!

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

The children in my class seemed to really enjoy exploring what makes up a baseball. If I could recommend something to another educator, it would be to have more materials to explore. I had materials for the kids to touch, but splitting into small groups with more materials may help them relate to the objects a little more!

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

DSCN3343Ashlee began by asking the group to look closely at the ball and think about its characteristics. The group was able to describe the ball as round and Ashlee introduce the group to the term sphere. She then had the group try to guess what might be inside.

DSCN3357Each child had a chance to touch and explore the ball before making their predictions. One child exclaimed, “a tiny crocodile!” and another said, “a rock!”
DSCN3365The class was very surprised to learn that baseballs have many different layers and at the very center is cork.
DSCN3378After explaining that the next layer of the baseball is rubber she then began demonstrating how the rubber is then wrapped in string and lastly covered in leather.
DSCN3396Ashlee then invited each child to take a turn wrapping the baseball in string.
DSCN3420After a quick snack the class headed over to The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden to see Spatial Concept Nature by Lucio Fontana. Ashlee began having the group compare the ball to the sculpture and reinforce the concept of a sphere. She then read the group Pete the Cat: Play Ball! by James Dean.
DSCN3427 DSCN3433Ashlee ended her lesson with a fun game that asked the children to use their imagination to pretend that the ball was something else. The game is called “This is What?” The child says “this is a ___” and the group responds with “a what?” You repeat this exchange three times and conclude with the group saying “ohhhh it’s ____.” The children had a fun time playing this game! One child claimed the ball was an apple and other made it a hat!

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

Teacher Feature: Two Year Old Classroom Explores Rainbows

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Camille Frere. Her classroom was exploring the alphabet and spent the day learning about the letter R. The children in her class are almost all 3 years old and beginning to show great interest in their names and recognizing letters. Based on this interest, the teachers decided to guide their exploration with the alphabet, spending a day or two exploring a topic based on the first letter of the word. Providing children with the opportunity to build early literacy skills by exposing them to words and letters through books, songs, language, and storytelling is extremely important in their development.  While there is no expectation that the children will be reading or writing at this point it is important to expose them to letters in a way that provides them with multiple examples of the same concept, especially as they continue to show interest. Below you will find a reflection from Camille and images from her lesson on the letter “r”.

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What were your topics of exploration?

The overarching theme was the alphabet. The day of the lesson, our class was studying and exploring the letter “R”. We looked at Rain and Rainbows to build connections between letters and concepts.

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

The basic goal was to familiarize the class with the letter “R” and offer them some words and concepts that begin with the letter so that they might recognize it in the future. Since we had been having an unusually rainy week, I thought it would be interesting to have penguins create a rain mural with tissue paper. I also wanted to explore rainbows and the different way they can be created. Since there was no chance of see a rainbow outside, we took the class to the gem hall to see some indoor “rainbows”.

What was most successful about your lesson?

I think the most successful part of the lesson was watching the kids having fun throwing tissue paper “rain” onto the mural. It was also extremely delightful to watch the class excitedly point out rainbows throughout the museum.

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

It was a busy and rainy day at SEEC. While our trip was delayed by circumstances out of my control, I believe I could have been more prepared more for the unexpected. I also would have liked to have the class create their own rainbow mural to accompany the rain collage that they made. I would recommend that a teacher create some of the materials ahead of time (pre-draw clouds and set out appropriate paints to make a smooth transition into the next art project).  It also might have been a good idea to make real “rain” from colored water and have the children use this to make their mural.

Here are a few images from their unit on rainbows:

DSCN3451Camille began by reading the group A is for Artist by Ella Doran. The class had been reading it throughout the unit so they were able to help identify the images on the page and even remember which letter they started with. When they reached “r” Camille pointed out all the different words that start with “r” on the page.
DSCN3456Camille explained that today they were going to focus on rain and rainbows. She had prepared a simple cloud illustration with the word rain. Camille put small pieces of tissue paper in the cloud to show how the moisture collects and when it gets very heavy it will start to rain.
DSCN3471 DSCN3482Camille then spread liquid glue onto the paper and invited the friends to come up one at a time and spread the rain out below the cloud.
DSCN3490Since it was a rainy day the group stayed in the National Museum of Natural History in the Gem and Mineral Hall and hunted for rainbows. They spotted one created by light passing through a prism. The group talked about the different colors in a rainbow and the ones they saw on the wall.
DSCN3494The children also discovered the rainbow colors on a map!

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