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.

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!

Teacher Feature: Preschool Classroom Explores Architecture

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Jessie Miller. Her three year old classroom was learning about architecture and decided to spend a day creating models. Below you will find a reflection from Jessie and images from her lesson on architecture.

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What were your topics of exploration?

During our exploration of architecture, we talked about the process architects and builders go through to create houses. With the help of Chris Van Dusen’s book If I Built a House, we discussed what kinds of things we would want to include in our own dream house. After the architects make blueprints they often create models of what they want to build. The students used their previous knowledge of architecture and their new ideas from the story we read to create their own model of a house. Each child was given a shoe box as a starting point and they used materials such as cardboard, paper, ribbon, tape, markers, scissors, etc. to build their model homes. During this activity, we talked about making sure the houses have a solid foundation on which to build and what kinds of essential elements they needed to function as a home. It was also a way to show them how models are created to help architects visualize what they want something to look like before they actually begin building it.

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

The class had been studying architecture for a few weeks prior to this lesson and I wanted them to have a hands on experience related to this topic. We had read countless books on architecture, created our own blueprints, observed the architecture around us, learned about building materials and tools, and even met with some real architects! I wanted the children to use all this knowledge they had learned and apply it to this project. After this lesson, they should understand the concept of what a model is and why they are an important tool for architects. I also wanted the class to take on the role of the architect and see how they can use their own ideas to create something. They should also be able to compare the things they were putting in their model to real life. For example, if they added cardboard to the top of their shoe box it could represent a roof or if they cut a hole in the side it may be a door.

What was most successful about your lesson?

This lesson was a great way to have the class express themselves in a creative way without many restrictions. They were given a lot of space and a range of materials to work with, which allowed them to all work on a project at the same time but at their own pace. There were three adults and twelve children so there were extra hands when the children needed help with something. I think the most successful part of the lesson was that the children were able to create something of their own and have fun with it. The lesson was structured in a way that allowed them to move around a lot and not be confined to sitting in one place or having to wait long periods of time to get a turn. The Wallabies really impressed me with all of the conversations they were having about what they were building and how they were able to take their ideas and turn them into something real. This lesson also leaves the children with a final product they can keep and be proud of.

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

This was a fun activity for the Wallabies but it takes some time and effort to complete. We were able to do the activity on the floor of a large art space which was much more conducive then tables in the classroom. However, because of the amount of children and materials it could get a bit cluttered at times and the clean up is a process as well. One issue that arose was how much tape the children needed. Because they still needed help from teachers to get tape, it was hard for me to pass it out as quickly as they needed it. Therefore, I would have more of that ready for them beforehand. Doing this activity with smaller groups could be helpful as well so the teachers can work with more children one on one. It is also important to either have a set time when everyone stops or have something for them to do once they begin finishing the activity. Some children get really detailed with their models, while others may rush through it quickly so it is important to be mindful of this difference.

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

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Throughout the week the group studied blueprints and worked on their own sketches.

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The group even visited with Natural History Museum’s building manager to look at blueprints for the museum and learn about the role of an architect.

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For this lesson, Jessie wanted to focus on the children creating models of a house of their own design. She read the group If I Built a House to inspire them to think creatively about what their dream house might include.

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Jessie then explained that each child was going to get a box and could use any of the materials she collected (string, ribbon, cardboard pieces, dot paint, straws, etc) to create their model. Jessie had the group work together to help build her model before beginning to work on their own.

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The children were able to get lots of fine motor and problem solving practice during their construction.

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When the children were finished, they would describe their house to one of their teachers. This little girl explained: “I love the house. The strings are woggly and there are dots on the bottoms and dots on the top. The cotton balls are windows up top.”

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

 

Teacher Feature: The SEE Program Explores the Cape Buffalo

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Emily Sparling. She is the lead educator for the Smithsonian Early Explorer Program. This SEEC program meets for two hours twice a week in the Q?rius Jr. room at the National Museum of Natural History for children 18 months-2 years and their adult caregiver. The class was learning about the types of animals you would encounter during an East African safari and decided to spend a day focusing on the Cape Buffalo. Below you will find a reflection from Emily and images from her lesson.

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What were your topics of exploration?

Our class was exploring the big five safari animals from East Africa and specifically the special characteristics and adaptations of each animal such as the lion’s retractable claws, the leopard’s amazing strength, the shock absorption in elephant feet, and the strong “helmet horns” on the Cape buffalo.

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

My overarching objective throughout the unit was to help my students begin to develop careful looking skills. With this particular lesson my goal was for the students to begin to notice the way our skulls protect our brains and the way the Cape buffalo’s horns help it protect its brain.

What was most successful about your lesson?

With each animal we would first visit the Mammal Hall at Natural History to see an actual specimen and then on our second museum visit explore something a bit more abstract in relationship to that animal’s characteristics. I think giving the children a concrete interaction with the animal allowed them to connect with some of the more abstract explorations. In this particular lesson we visited NGA to look at some intricate helmets and a large bust of a bull. Despite the fact that the helmets were a bit above eye level (we had to lift each kid up), I was really amazed at how closely they looked at them. Perhaps the most successful part of the experience, though, was the crepe paper finish line. Art is cool but crepe paper is better…after our visit we let the kids try on helmets and “charge” through a crepe paper finish line to demonstrate how a buffalo might charge.

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

Unlike some of the other classes at SEEC, our program has a parent/caregiver + child model. This lesson occurred during the height of spring break on the National Mall and as such crowds were larger and security tighter making it considerably more difficult for my families to navigate through the museums. I think I could have been a bit more thoughtful about those dynamics while planning my trip. Sometimes in the process of planning for learning I forget about planning for creature comfort! I think wherever your classroom is,  staying attuned to the environment is important. Thankfully crepe paper is highly portable and there was plenty of green space for the kids to run it out once we left the museum!

Here are a few images from her lesson on Cape Buffaloes:

DSCN2796After a quick gathering in their classroom Emily and her class headed to the National Gallery of Art. Their first stop was Head of Bull by Gaetano Montia. Emily reminded the group about the information they had learn about the Cape Buffalo and showed them a few images. She then asked the group what were some of the differences and similarities between the two horned animals.

DSCN2818The group next went to see The Morosini Helmet. Here, Emily wanted to emphasize how the Cape buffalo horns act as an extra layer of protection for their brain just like a helmet does for people.

DSCN2826Emily brought along different types of helmets for the group to wear and compare to the art work. 

DSCN2857Since the object is displayed high on a pedestal, Emily took time to lift each child and allow them to closely examine the object.

DSCN2864The group then headed out to try using their strong helmets. Emily had two adults hold the streamer tight and invited the children to run at it and use their heads, just like a Cape buffalo uses their horns, to break through.

DSCN2873 DSCN2878The kids loved trying out the different helmets.

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

Teacher Feature: Two Year Old Classroom Explores Frozen

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Shawna Williams. Her two year old classroom was crazy for Frozen and Shawna and her co-teachers decided to embrace the film as a way to introduce many different sub-themes including an introduction to Norway. Below you will find a reflection from Shawna and images from some of her lessons.

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What were your topics of exploration?

We were doing a unit of study on the book/movie Frozen. Within that theme we explored: ice, magic, castles, Norway/Arendal, winter, ice harvesters, Fjords, communication, love, Harry Potter, the life cycle of a snowman, and coronations.

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

We wanted to expose the children to geography, language, math, science, and life lessons by using the movie/book Frozen.  By acting out scenes, singing, dancing, dressing up and reciting quotes we wanted to bring the book/movie to life.

What was most successful about your lesson?

The children were truly engaged. I believe these lessons were successful because almost all of the children either had read the book or watched the movie and had already fallen in love with the story. Every day, the children looked forward to the lesson and were excited to learn. Not only was it a fun theme the children really enjoyed, but it was also a content topic rich with educational opportunities.

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

I had a lot to share with the class about Norway and I felt like I could have organized my objects a bit better for easy use. I would suggest to teachers that they should have a clear vision for their lesson but not to forget to have fun with it because when children see your enthusiasm they won’t help but feel excited as well.

Here are a few images from their unit on Frozen:

DSCN2222Shawna began her lesson by showing the children a globe. She explained that there were seven continents and Norway is located in Europe. She took time to show each child the country on the globe and then invited them to try and find the matching spot on the larger globe.

DSCN2218While the children waited they practiced counting to seven on their fingers.

DSCN2214Shawna showed the group a few images of the country and then read them a Norwegian folktale, The Three Billy Goats Gruff.

DSCN2242 DSCN2247Lastly, the group spent time looking and discussing the Norwegian flag and then took turns painting their own. 
DSCN2263 DSCN2266 DSCN2269Since they had spent time in the classroom talking about the people of Norway, Shawna took the group up to the Mammal Hall at the National Museum of Natural History to see if they could match some of the animals on exhibit to ones that also lived in Norway. The children had such pride when they made their match.

DSCN2279The last stop for the visit was a large map found in the Hall of Human Origins. Here, Shawna re-emphasized the location of Norway and reiterated the information they had learned about the country.

This class had a wonderful time learning about Frozen and Norway! Be sure to check back for a new Teacher Feature next week!

Teacher Feature: Infant Class Explores Music

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Katy Martins, Nessa Moghadam, and Noel Ulmer. Their infant class was all about sound so they decided to do a unit learning about music. Below you will find a reflection from the team and images from their lessons.

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What were your topics of exploration?

We were exploring music and dance.

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

We wanted to expose the class to new sounds and spaces and encourage them to try out new ways to move their body (for example: clap their hands, bounce, etc.).

What was most successful about your lesson?

We found that this topic was a great way to get the whole class involved. Each child was given the opportunity to explore different instruments and experiment with their new environment no matter their level of mobility.

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

We suggest to other educators to have a plan for helping each child enjoy the museum visit. Bring along boppies and blankets to help those children who can’t sit up or aren’t quite as mobile.

Here are a few images from their unit on music:

DSCN1808The class started their unit on music at the National Museum of American History to see guitars from the 1960s. The educators brought along instruments for the children to use and a print of Juan Gris’ Guitar, Newspaper, Glass to use as an additional comparison. 


DSCN2160The teachers also invited a parent to come in to play a guitar for the class. Throughout this lesson the children were shown prints of guitars, a collection of different types of guitars, and given opportunity to hear and play the guitar. By providing multiple touch points it illustrated to the children that the same object can sound and look different but still have the same name. 
DSCN2194The class then moved on to the piano. A SEEC educator from the toddler classroom came to play some music with the children. 
DSCN2209They had a wonderful time exploring the keyboard and hearing the different sounds it could make.

DSCN2486Katy, Nessa, and Noel then introduced the children to a genre of music, Bollywood. The class went up to the Beyond Bollywood Exhibit: Indian Americans Shape the Nation (http://smithsonianapa.org/beyondbollywood/)  at the National Museum of Natural History to listen to music, play some instruments, and try out some dance moves.

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DSCN2476The educators brought along a blanket for the children to help make the space feel cozy and welcoming. The children had a wonderful time using the instruments and seeing themselves in the mirror. 

DSCN2512The group then hopped into the strollers to listen to some of the Bollywood music found in the gallery.

DSCN2531Their last stop was outside of the exhibit to see large mirrors with images of different dancers. The educators helped demonstrate some of the poses and a few of the infants even tried them out.

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

Teacher Feature: Four Year Old Classroom Explores Don Quixote

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Emma Cowan-Young and Carrie Heflin. Their four year old classroom was learning about Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes and decided to spend a day talking about the royal court. The class began this exploration because the students were very interested in the Camelot unit done in another classroom. Emma and Carrie liked how the other class had discussed chivalry and being knightly to one another, so they decided to do a similar unit but with their own spin. Carrie had recently seen The Man of La Mancha and realized it would be a great  way to connect the castle and knight theme with a wonderful story of someone who uses their imagination to make the world a better place. Below you will find a reflection from Emma and images from their lesson.

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What were your topics of exploration?

This lesson was a part of our exploration of the literary masterpiece, Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. In particular, this lesson focused on the part of the story where Don Quixote visits a Spanish roadside inn, which he actually believes is a magnificent castle. He envisions the grumpy innkeeper as the lady of the castle, and the young, poor waitress as a beautiful princess named Dulcinea. I took Don Quixote’s visions as an opportunity to teach the class about medieval castles, more specifically, who used castles during this time period.

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

I wanted the class to be able to identify the people who used castles. I also wanted the children to differentiate between the people who lived in the castle (i.e. Queen, King, Prince, Princess) and those who worked in the castle (i.e. knights, squires, stable boys). By taking the children to see a real crown that belonged to a member of royalty, I was able to illustrate how important those kings and queens were during the medieval time period.

What was most successful about your lesson?:

I believe that the most successful part of the lesson was the children’s comprehension of the importance of the royal family. In much of the literature they are exposed to, kings and queens, princes and princesses, are presented as fictional and magical characters. Through this lesson, I believe the children understood better that royal families were once real (and in some places still are) and had jobs overseeing their land or territory.

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

If I were to do this lesson again, I would pick a more accessible object. The Gem Hall at Natural History is not the most ideal space for a museum circle, and the cases were at a height level that made it difficult for the children to see with ease. A possible replacement object could be a portrait of a royal family adorned in their fanciest attire.

Here are a few images from their unit on Don Quixote:

DSCN2061Emma began her lesson at the National Museum of Natural History in the Gems and Minerals Exhibit. She gathered the group in front of the Maire Louise Diadem. 
DSCN2064Emma had printed out images of the court before the lesson and had the group work together to identify the different members of the royal court. She then had the group decide which people would work vs. live in the castle. 
DSCN2080The group then spent time looking at the diadem and Emma brought along a crown for the children to try on. Emma then went into greater detail about the duties and role of the royal family.

DSCN2093Emma ended her lesson on the royal family by reading King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub by Audrey  Wood. She asked the children to show her a thumbs up if they heard one the names of the people who work or live in a castle.

DSCN2099On the way out of the gallery, the children took a closer look at the diadem.
DSCN2105When the group got back to the classroom they began making their own diadems.

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DSCN2122 They were a huge hit!
DSCN2126Previously during this unit, the class made their own sock horses. This child was excited to try out wearing his crown while riding his horse.

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