Patterns in our Learning Spaces: Launching the Investigation

Fall in Kindergarten has been extra exciting with our integrated mathematics and literacy unit on environmental print.  The students have been eagerly pointing out and reading the many labels placed throughout the classroom.  They feel a sense of pride when they are able to help out by putting the glue sticks away, looking carefully at the labeled trays to place them in the correct spot.

Last week, my co-teacher and I kicked off our investigation of patterns in the learning spaces around our school.  Ultimately, we want the students to notice patterns in their school environment, such as dance teachers teach in the dance studio, the librarians work in the library, the science teacher works in the science room, and so on.  Although there might be connections between materials in the various learning spaces, such as pencils used for drawing and sketching in the homeroom classroom, art studio, and science room,we also want the students to realize that each learning space has specific learning materials.  The music room will have egg shakers and bells for musical accompaniment, while the wellness (gym) class will have balls for throwing, catching, and kicking.

Before all of this though, my co-teacher and I thought it was important for the students to become experts in their most familiar territory: the kindergarten classroom.  We wanted them to consider two important questions in the launch of the investigation: “What materials do you notice around our classroom that we can use for learning?” and “What can we tell people about these objects?”  The last question was especially crucial, since we wanted to the children to come to the understanding that sharing information about quantity would eventually help us see relationships and patterns between the objects in our classroom learning space and the objects in other kindergarten learning spaces.  We hoped it would come up organically in our conversation that day.

After talking as a whole group about some examples of learning materials in our classroom, we sent the students off in pairs to find 3 materials to share with the group.  We watched and listened as the children walked carefully around the classroom, whispering excitedly to one another as they found a learning material to share with the class.

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The students took turns sharing the learning materials they discovered in the classroom space as I charted them on the easel.  Many children made the “connection” sign quietly as ideas were shared, showing that they also found those materials important.

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Because the students were still so engaged with the task, my co-teacher and I made the split decision to start the conversation about the connections between our classroom materials and materials used in other spaces.  As we read over the list, students raised their hand to share another space where they might use pencils (art studio), the SmartWall (music and dance), and books (the library).  They even pointed out that each learning space also has specific and special materials.  While we have book baggies to store our independent reading books in the classroom, the music room does not have this item.  However, the music room has instruments instead.

The idea of quantity still had not come up in our discussion yet, and we were approaching “antsy-kindergarteners on the rug” territory.  My co-teacher and I decided to give out one more conversation task to see if some magic could happen.  “So,” I began, “If we’re going to teach people about the learning materials in our classroom, what might we tell them?  A student said that our tables are an important classroom material.  What could we tell people about the tables?”  We quickly assigned turn-and-talk partners and the children chatted animatedly with each other.

As we circulated around, we smiled as we heard several partnerships share, “We could count the tables and tell them how many we have,” and “If we counted the tables, we could tell people how many people fit at the tables.” A-ha moment!  The children already identified quantity as an important element to share with others!  In addition, they highlighted the importance of sharing the table rules, explaining the materials one could use at the table, and detailing the lunch routines at the table.  With this seed of figuring out “how many” finally and firmly planted, we unveiled the next-time work to our kindergarten investigators.  They would be in charge of counting the collections of learning materials in our class and making labels to represent their inventory!  The smiles and silent cheers of excitement were the perfect ending to our math time.   Now, the students are eager to begin their inventory work this week in the classroom.  We cannot wait to see how they work independently and collaboratively to take inventory in our classroom!

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