Monday, December 8, 2014

Searching for an Inquiry Question

Our Kindergarten learning community has spent most of the Fall considering our city, Richmond, during our project time. We have traveled into the city and unpacked our experiences, perspectives and questions. What did we notice on our trips? What questions do we have about our city and the many things that we have seen? We have listened carefully to the conversations of the children, brought the pertinent topics back to our circle and reviewed the documentation with the children to spark new thinking. 

We listen for concepts that could sustain months of investigation. We are looking for topics that spur an emotional response and answer the children's personal questions. We are seeking an inquiry question that provokes debate and research.

We shared the photographs of our trips into the city with the children. The expressions on their faces reveal the excitement and curiosity that these trips generated for each of them.

We retraced our journey and sketched what we saw outside the windows of the train

After the children drew the landmark we asked the children, "Did you see this place in the beginning, middle or end of your journey."  The intention of this question is not to determine accuracy but rather to build a shared perspective of our journey and our city. This shared perspective will anchor our conversations and research in the months to come.

Identifying the shared perspective is a priority during investigative research but we are simultaneously  listening for what we like to call the "knotty problem". The questions that light a fire, build momentum and create contagion within the classroom.

Anna asked the children to consider designing a city for children. It was a challenge that generated interesting conversation and work. The children began designing places for the city. Many of these places satisfied their desire for fun or were inspired by the field trips to the city. 

Mary Tobin overheard several children considering the role money played in a city designed by children. She brought the question to our project circle.
Where do you get the money to pay for the candy in the candy factory?

Nathan: The government puts your money in the bank and then you get the money and go to the candy store to buy what you want.
Miles: Everything is totally free and you do not need money.
Harper: We could make our own money and then put it in the bank.
Dyson: I have lots of money in my piggy bank but I never use it but we could use construction paper to make money.
Luke: The government calls someone to make the money. We could make money for the city we are making.
Lenore: My thought is that we do not need to get money from the government we could make our own.
Brian: There could be a money factory.
Nathan: Or we don’t use money at all.

The children were obviously giving thought to the frameworks that exist in  society and support order and productivity. As the conversation continued the children also began to consider the idea of a city without adults. A city designed by kids might allow for too much freedom and circumstances might become chaotic. 
'You might get too much toys in your kid’s house and there would be no place to walk."
"Your house might explode."
"We need parents because they could say no more toys and no more ice cream."
"It would be hard to stop without parent telling you to stop."
"I have another question. If you don’t have parents you would need community members (referring to police and hospitals) to stop you."

As the teachers reviewed the documentation we found this conversation interesting. Did the children feel that the only way for them to feel safe or in control was to have adults monitoring the environment and managing their choices and behavior? Where did the children perceive the locus of control?

Later that week the children began to consider the needs of the city and the children's wants and desires became less of a priority. Tucker had created an Electric Station for the city. He was one of the first to consider the needs that  young citizens of the city might need to function together and live.

Lenore: I don’t need electricity from the electric station because my Target has light bulbs.
Tucker: But how do your light bulbs turn on
Lenore: Well I guess I need some energy.
The children asked for wire and attached the wires from the station to each building and location.
Lenore drew a waterfall next to the station and explained that this is how the electricity is created. She also suggested that all wires did not need to return to the station.  “We can get power from other  lines.”

We returned to the discussion considering the needs of young citizens in a city. A group of children determined that power (or energy sources), food, water and taking care of our bodies are needs that should be addressed. 

Lenore: We haven’t put light into cars, They need a wire connected to them.
Dyson: Cars have batteries. If they have a wire attached they won’t be able to drive. Cars have gas too. They only have one at a time though. They are both power.
Evan: I think we need Chick Filet.
Brian: Yeah if they are hungry they can eat there.
Mary: Will  the citizens just eat out all the time?
Brian: Hey we need a grocery store.
Lenore: If you don’t eat food your throat would get dry and you would  not be able to talk.
Luke: We need clean water with ice. You get clean water from a company and it will send  the water to our houses in pipes.
Dyson: We get  clean water from washing machine.
Luke: There is a pipe inside your cabinet and you can see it going out of your cabinet. The river water goes into a company and the company cleans the water and it goes through the pipes and the pipes are hooked to the river.
Dyson: Refrigerators can make fresh water.
Brian: If ice is in a hot place then it melts into water. You have to wait until winter and then get ice and then you let it melt.
Evan: We need toothbrushes because if we do not have toothbrushes our teeth will rot and fall out.

It feels like things are bubbling. Connections are being made. Opinions are forming and debates are occurring. The Kindergartners are definitely feeling some cognitive dissonance. As Kindergarten teachers we welcome this state of discomfort as ripe conditions for learning.

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