I'm having a blast traveling around the Upper Peninsula of Michigan as a trainer for the Great Start Regional Resource Center 4C of the U.P. It continues to be a wonderful way to network with other folks in the field of early childhood education and to share a lot of ideas. One of the more popular trainings this summer has been "It's Not Rocket Science, But Sometimes It Feels Like It!"
During this training, we really have an opportunity to have a lot of fun with science, after we try to figure out what makes science so scary for some of us in the first place. The bottom line of it all, tends to lead us straight back to our own experiences with teachers and the subject matter. Most of which all points to the relationship (or lack there of) that we had with our teachers. If you had a teacher who did not encourage you or did not have the means to make the subject matter fun and understandable for you, chances are you were discouraged, and subsequently do not have the confidence and love of science.
Looking at science from a different perspective, we have the opportunity to try new things, rebuild that confidence, and have the knowledge to build positive relationships with children and explore the world that is around us with different eyes.
We learn that it is perfectly okay not to have all of the answers, and to allow the children to explore, contemplate and research their thoughts, drawing their own conclusions.
Sometimes things take time.......
Sometimes things happen very quickly and you need to ready and watching (or you just might miss it!)
Sometimes things don't always work the way we expect or that we think they are "supposed to."
But, if we just take some time to relax and explore, we can find the beauty, fun, and excitement again!
Because, like my 9th grade biology teacher said "science is everywhere!"
One of the best things about reflecting on our past experiences with a subject matter and taking the time to "re-frame", and regain an open mind is that as educators we can change the way in which we approach things for our students. Are we promoting a safe place for learning? Are we modeling and giving children options to promote continued exploration and curiosity in all subject areas? Because, of course, we don't want to be "that teacher" from the past!
Here are a few quick tips for encouraging curiosity:
1) Answer questions with questions. EVEN if you know the answer! Use open ended questions and only ask the kind of questions you would ask your best friend (thank you Dan Hodgins). For example.....
Q (child) : Why is the sky blue?
R (adult) : I don't know, why do you think the sky is blue?
(child): I don't know either, maybe someone painted it blue? (this is a guess or the child's hypothesis)
(adult): Hmmm, I don't know, how do you think we could find out?
(Giving the child control to design the research or experiment is important!!! We live in a world where we no longer have to memorize or have all of the answers, we just need to know what resources are out there to help us find out. Giving children an opportunity to design their own research or path is crucial to making them independent learners! If we just give them the answers, the investigation stops. They might know why you think something is the way it is, but it robs them of the opportunity to learn, explore, and discover. This also gives ownership of the investigation to the child. Your job is to be there to support, and to help them acquire the resources they need, and to keep them safe! You keep going and encouraging more investigation until they have exhausted their curiosity.)
2) Keep an open mind, allow children to brainstorm any option. Just because you might think it is "crazy" doesn't mean it isn't worth investigating! I mean, think back in history, think of all of the "crazy" thoughts that when investigated actually ended up being true! Don't get stuck in a mind set that the world is flat, when a child might be expressing an idea that it is round! Most investigations and observations are based solely on the information we currently have available. A lot of questions have more than one answer, and as we continue to investigate, more "answers" or possible solutions to problems will evolve. When we have open minds, so will the children.
3) Supply a lot of resources, and ask children to communicate their needs. What do you want me to do? What can I help you with? And then, after you have helped them to acquire resources, stand back and them do the investigating!
4) Model your thought process... talk out loud, especially when things don't go the way you anticipate. Hmm, I wonder why that didn't work? I thought it was "supposed" to..... That's not what I thought would happen.... Let's try it again, What could I do differently? Wow, that's neat, I didn't think this would happen..... etc. Make sure the children know that you don't know everything, and that it is okay not to have all of the answers, it is okay, and quite normal to have to try, try, and try!
5) Give the children language and vocabulary throughout the investigation. If you are using equipment, use the proper names, it is okay if you don't know what it is called. You can always model how you find the information you need. What is that called again.... hmmmn, I don't remember, let me look at the instructions. Oh, yes, this is a pipette. Then, use the word in context during the investigations. Chances are that if you "forget" what that something is called again, a child will be able to help you name it OR remind you where you can find the answer.
5) BUILD positive relationships with children. Your positive relationship with each child is crucial for a creative, curious, and engaging learning environment!
How else do you support your children's learning and scientific investigations?
P.S. If you are in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, I will be presenting this training in Escanaba on Monday night and Manistique on Tuesday night this week! Stop by www.4c-up.com for more information and/or register! Additional training dates are being scheduled for the fall, so check the website for frequent updates!