My year with the Peep Explorer’s Guide

I am concluding our school year using the Peep Explorer’s Guide as our science curriculum. The first thing you need to know is that the Guide is user friendly. A brand new teacher right out of college or a seasoned preschool teacher without prior science expertise will both be successful with this curriculum. Teachers who are already strong in planning science for young children will love the format. It seems they thought of everything!  There are six fun units complete with activities as well as classroom close-ups, sidebar photos and illustrations, simple materials lists, suggested safety rules, and reflective questions. There is also plenty of room for teacher’s flexibility as the units can be used in any order. The activities, too, can be modified as needed. The amount of time spent on each unit can be individualized according to the student’s interest. It is a guide. There is no mandate to do every activity or work in a specific order.

What my students learned this year with the help of Peep:

Fully embedded into the inquiry cycle, they learned to observe, describe, ask, explain, experiment, express ideas verbally and through representational drawings and demonstrations.

They learned to adjust their ideas, form theories, test theories, solve problems, design a test, practice data collection, find answers to their own questions, and communicate their ideas to others and reflect. In other words they became scientists.

They also learned science content! They learned that shadows happen when light is blocked; water flows down; some objects float and some sink; plants grow better with soil, water and light; adding white to a color changes its shade. They learned that vibration is needed to make a sound, some objects roll and others slide, and smooth balls roll best.

They also increased their science language ability. They added words such as shadow, reflection, sink, float, suspended, flow, seedling, prediction, and many others to their vocabulary.

What did I learn this year?

One skill that I improved this year was the ability to wait. I tried to let the children have the experience of the discovery. Sometimes teachers get caught up in the excitement of the students’ learning. They want to explain it all. But being told about something does not compare to having it happen to you. Children learn more profoundly when they experience a concept for themselves.

The same is true for ideas. This year I learned to let them lead the way. If it comes from them, naturally it will hold their interest more. My students didn’t choose the topics for our units, but they certainly guided the direction that our exploration took. They did this by answering our “What do you want to know?” questions at the beginning of each topic. They also showed me their interests and through observation I was able to interpret their ideas.

One of the biggest changes for me this year was the use of the Peep videos. Previously I had protested the use of media, preferring hands-on learning only. However, I found the Peep videos were so well produced that they fit effectively into the units. Sometimes the videos were a pre-explore viewing and sometimes a post-explore, but always they added to our discussions and led to more exploration. For example, the video Making Things Sink and Float was used after our own exploration. It led to discussion about how the video children’s exploration was similar and different than our own. Watching the video Tracking Down Sounds got the children very enthusiastic about trying the sound-making activity on our playground fence. And Peep Plants a Seed was a favorite, helping students understand the length of time it would take for their seeds to grow.

The Peep Explorer’s Guide actually helped me become more comfortable teaching science because just about everything I needed to know as far as subject matter is in there. For example, in the Exploring Sound unit, simple definitions of sound, pitch, timbre, and volume are given. I appreciated that; it was helpful when it was time for me to explain these concepts in simple language for the children.

With Peep by my side, I was always ready to go, because with every unit the materials list was there for me. I also followed the Guide’s recommendation to do teacher-exploration prep ahead of time. (Yes, I really did play with shadows at home!)

Finally, the Guide helped me go deeper into topics, something that is easy to neglect. Teachers often want to include so many topics in their science curriculum that they end up glossing over the content. The science becomes superficial. This year using the Guide, we went with fewer topics but gained a much deeper understanding of each of them. The learning was richer and more meaningful due to the amount of time we spent on each topic and the variety of ways it was explored. We really experienced it!

Thanks Peep!

 

 

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Focused exploration: Which ball rolls the farthest?

This was to be our final focused exploration and I very much wanted it to be the children’s own idea. They proposed testing which ball travels farthest. I liked that they wanted a prediction chart, which we’d used in the past. I prepared one with four columns for different types of balls. The children used it numerous times in order to run their tests. They insisted on testing EVERY ball we had!!!

Since we learned last week that balls roll better on floors than carpets, we took the experiment to the hallway. (This also gave us lots of rolling space.) The children agreed it was important to use the same ramp at the same incline for every ball. It seemed to me that they were beginning to understand the need for validity on a 5 year-old level! Here they were, designing an experiment using the scientific method and insisting on consistency.

Children made predictions by placing their photographs beneath the ball they thought would roll farthest. I asked them, Why did you choose that ball? and received a variety of different answers that represented early theories. One child said, I picked the golf ball because heavy balls keep going. His friend tried to change his mind, No, pick the tennis ball. It has air inside. It has mad power!

The trials began with lots of shouting and cheering. Children took turns placing balls on the ramp as others marked the point at which each ball came to a stop with yellow tape.

The styrofoam ball had a disappointing roll and some of the children speculated it was because it was light in weight. One child said the styrofoam ball failed to roll well because it was white. When the white golf ball had a decent roll, she reconsidered. Upon further inspection, she decided it didn’t roll well because it wasn’t completely round. She found a dent in one side and cleared up her own misconception. It has a flat part that made it roll too slow.

What should we do with the balls that hit the side wall? I asked. The children yelled, Do it again! They seemed to understand that it was “not a fair test” if something interfered with the roll.

Our final trial involved two balls, which had both rolled the entire length of the hallway. Interestingly, they were of equal size, but one was hard plastic and hollow while the other was solid rubber. In the end, the hard plastic ball rolled farther.

After thorough scrutiny, the children came to realize that material, size, and weight had little bearing on the result. It’s the smoothness and roundness that counts!  It was a good feeling for me to hear such an accurate conclusion as we ended our year of STEM activities.

Next week, in my final post, I will be reviewing my experience using the Peep Explorer’s Guide.

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Balls and Ramps

Engage, explore, reflect!

This week I used the Peep Explorer’s Guide activities to bring another challenge to our balls and ramps exploration. During our “engage” conversation, I asked a few new questions that I hoped would propel the children deeper into their investigations. Imagine you have two ramps at different inclines. If you used the same ball on each ramp would there be any difference in the way it rolled? Would one roll faster? Would one roll farther? Upon hearing my proposal, the children began to make their guesses.

I know. The higher ramp will make the ball go faster, Alexia announced, but the lower ramp will make it go farther. Why do you think so? Because balls speed up from higher up. And the lower ramp slows balls down so it rolls longer and goes farther. Some children had different answers.  The lower ramp makes balls faster because it is closer to the ground, Jonathan supposed.

I also speculated aloud about the qualities of the balls. Do heavier balls roll faster? Do larger or smaller balls roll farther? What about the materials? Plastic, rubber, leather, hollow, solid—do any of these attributes change how the ball rolls? I wanted to make sure to stimulate the curiosity of each one of the children. Jaidin said, Hard balls with no air inside roll best. They go faster and farther. He spoke confidently although he was not able to explain why he thought so.

I invited the children to explore these ideas over a period of three days. I let them know I was available to help them if needed. I would be taking pictures and videos for them to review later during our “reflect” conversations. I urged them to use chart paper to draw their observations. During this time, I found the ramp area was never without at least one or two children fully engaged in exploration.

I asked them to keep in mind that we needed a question for next week’s focused exploration.

There were a few spontaneous discoveries that were very exciting. Alexia endeavored to get a ball to go UP a ramp. She and Xavier worked dilligently with a variety of balls and ramp positions until finally…triumph! The following quick video reveals their delight.

Another noteworthy find: Carmen learned, balls roll better on the  floor than they do on the carpet. She was learning about the effect of texture on the motion of an object.

Building Trackways”, another activity in the Peep Explorer’s Guide was very popular. Angel was especially fond of his “bridge ramp”.

At the end of the week, we gathered to review our data, photographs, and drawings. This was an opportunity for the children to show what they had discovered. It was very helpful to have the visuals to reflect on. Children remembered how they made their ramps, which balls they used and the results of their trials. They used this knowledge to construct theories. In the photo below, Chenniel explains that balls sometimes stop on straight tracks. If it’s not tilted a little, the ball won’t roll.

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After some dialogue, the children decided on our focused exploration question. Check out next week’s blog to find out “Which ball travels the farthest?”

 

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Further exploration of balls and ramps

This week the children moved on very naturally from their sliding/rolling concentration to explore more elaborate ramp designs. They began to pay closer attention to the relationship between a ball’s physical makeup and its speed. Where is that blue ball? Xavier asked. Not the one with the holes, the small one… Why do you like that one best? I asked. Because it goes fast. Really fast.  I prodded further, Do you have any ideas about why it goes so fast? He thought for a bit before responding, It’s faster because it’s really round and smooth. That’s why. That’s why it rolls fast.

Victor wanted to know if size made any difference to a ball’s speed and rolling ability. He brought his basketball from home to conduct an experiment of his own.

He had to do quite a bit of engineering to make a ramp that would support the basketball! Some of his peers worked collaboratively with him. After several trials, he determined his ball wasn’t faster than a tennis ball, but it had “more power”. It can knock stuff over better.

This week the children also watched the Peep video, “Building Ramps”.

 

In this live-action video, some girls invent a game, which then inspired some of my students to try to make up their own games. Victor and Xavier’s game had each of them holding one end of a ramp. They tried to move the ball back and forth between them. At first, a boy would raise his end a little higher for each turn. Soon they were holding the ramp above their heads. I approached and wondered aloud, I wonder if you could hold that ramp at shirt level and still be able to play that game? This challenge proved more difficult than I would have guessed. There was considerable discussion about who would hold his end up versus who would hold his end down. There was some annoyance when the ball slowed to a stop in the middle every time the boys held the ramp level. Neither child was dissuaded from his task. I had to remind myself not to interrupt or give too many suggestions and let them discover the phenomena by themselves. At last they figured out how to alternate lifting and lowering their sides in rhythm. Their joyful exclamations were my reward for not interfering. Come and see!  We’ve got it! They shrieked. Yes, you certainly do.

 

I was pleased to witness this learning experience and proud that the boys now had some concrete understanding of gravity. I began to think about how to plan for a progression of further learning. Suddenly, I turned back to them and saw they were trying to make the ramp longer by holding two ramps together. I stopped planning and went to get the tape!


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Slide vs. Roll

We started the week off with the animated video, “The Whatchamacallit”. The children quickly made the connection between the chute the characters slid down and our playground slide.

This prompted some further discussion of the difference between “sliding” and “rolling”. Rolling is when a thing turns over and over, explained Jonathan. If something slides, it just goes down without any turning. I encouraged the children to gather some classroom materials and make predictions about which objects would slide and which would roll. They became engrossed in this exercise.

When Angel said, That round bead will roll, I began using my probing questions. Why do you think that? How do you know? No one answered right away. Each child took their own “thinking time” before coming up with a response. The round bead is like a wheel, and wheels roll. That is why, said Chenniel. And if it has corners, it can’t roll, added Lilly.  Destiny predicted, My key won’t roll. It is just too flat. Without prompting, the children placed their objects into two piles: “Things that roll” and “things that slide”. One object, (a broken crayon) could roll or slide and the children were unsure about which collection to include it with. Finally they agreed to place it in the middle between the two piles. This child-initiated sorting activity looked like a Venn diagram to me!

Sliding and rolling had caught their attention and became the center of their exploration this week. This is a perfect example of emergent curriculum. I had planned to cover sliding and rolling in a day or two. The children showed me they needed a week. It is important for a teacher to be flexible enough to allow students to persist with an idea. This is another reason why I find the Peep Explorer’s Guide a useful classroom curriculum tool. It does not dictate any rigid sequence for presenting the activities and does not stipulate when teachers have to move on. We are able to individualize the lessons according to the children’s needs. My students are fully engaged in the inquiry cycle. They are questioning, exploring, making adjustments, finding answers, coming up with new questions, and are very excitedly composing theories and absorbing new ideas. There is no need to rush them on to the next phase.

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Intro to balls and ramps

Our new topic is the sixth and final unit in the Peep Explorer’s Guide. The topic of balls and ramps is a lot of fun and appeals to many types of learners, especially kinesthetic learners – those who learn while moving.

We began the unit during circle time. I showed the children some wooden molding in a variety of lengths and asked them what they thought we could do with it.  I got some interesting responses as children came forward in turn and demonstrated how the molding could be used as a cane, hockey stick, baseball bat, and a twirling baton. In order to have a common vocabulary, I suggested that we all use the word “ramp” when referring to the molding.

Next, I brought out a series of balls: a tennis ball, wiffle ball, handball, baseball, rubber ball, golf ball, and so on.  We discussed each ball’s purpose and examined its properties—round, hard, soft, fuzzy, smooth, bumpy, has holes, has stitches, etc. Some children discussed what materials the balls were made of and there were a few conjectures about that.

Finally, I offered one ball and one ramp and asked the group, What could you do with these? Victor rushed forward and held the ramp vertically. He placed the tennis ball on the high end and watched it fall. He readjusted the angle of the ramp and replaced the tennis ball. Children cheered as his ball rolled down the ramp.  I asked if anyone had another idea about how to use the ramp and ball together. Xavier placed the ramp horizontally on the floor, placed the tennis ball on it, and used his hand to give the ball a little push. We watched it roll to the end of the ramp.

I let the children know that ramps and balls would be available in the block area for them to explore. Since this is free exploration time, I gave no directions except for safety rules. I also set up a table with some small ramps to investigate by working in pairs.

In our block area, I observed Victor and Xavier each using balls and ramps independently. They were clearly pleased with simply placing balls on an inclined ramp and watching them roll down.

After several minutes of repeating this practice, they looked at one another and came up with the idea of connecting their ramps. At first they tried to do it by holding the ramps, but they found that unstable and their hands kept getting in the way of the ball. We need something to hold them up, suggested one boy. And we need something to put them together and hold them together! added another.

It was a challenge to say the least, but with perseverance and the ingenuity to use other furniture and classroom materials, they constructed a ramp that satisfied them. This is a really good one, says Victor. It has levels.

As the week went on, the designs of the ramps became more sophisticated. I’m looking forward to seeing what develops and hearing their explanations and early theories.

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Focused exploration of sound

I started planning for this week by looking at last week’s list of things the children still wanted to know about sound. Curriculum that is child-driven often will engage them with a greater intensity than teacher-selected focus areas. Of course supportive guidance is commonly necessary to help children clarify and define their quest.

The children were very interested in volume. The questions they still had about sound reiterated the idea of loudness. Those questions included, Which is louder, a frog or a bird? How does a microphone make your voice louder? and finally, the question we decided to focus on, What materials sound the loudest?

The children decided we could find the answer to our question by hitting several objects with a hammer and listening to the sound each one made. They selected the objects for our test – a piece of wood, a pillow, newspaper, rock, metal, and plastic. I photographed the objects and the children made their predictions during our large group circle. Each child did this by placing his or her photograph beneath the photo of the object they predicted would be the loudest.

Later, in small groups, the children took turns hitting the various objects with a hammer and discussing which made the loudest sound. I found it interesting that they used the process of elimination. Every group immediately eliminated the pillow and newspaper. They went back and re-tested before rejecting the wood and the plastic.

They tested the metal and the rock repeatedly and engaged each other in dialogue. I liked that they were much more interested in finding the true answer than being “right” with their prediction.

My role at this point was to make sure that each child’s ideas were heard, and I found myself repeating their thoughts back to them: So you said the plastic was louder than the paper, hmmm, does everyone agree with that? Three out of four groups concluded that the rock and the metal were both equally loud. The fourth group determined the rock was the ultimate material for loudness.

This culmination of our month-long sound exploration was more about promoting the inquiry cycle than it was about the science content. We did not get into discourse of sound waves and decibels. The children came up with their own question. They designed a test as a method of finding an answer to their question. They made their predictions, carried out the test and formed conclusions. These conclusions led to more questions – Does it matter if you use a different hammer?  Does it make a difference if the materials are on the rug or on the floor or on the table? This is the nature of the inquiry cycle: my young scientists are now considering variables!

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More sound experiences

This week we continued our sound exploration by doing more of the activities suggested in the Peep Explorer’s Guide.

The children enjoyed using palm pipes to make sounds. After some free exploration with the pipes, we sat down to discuss what we’d experienced. One child noticed the long pipes made “deeper sounds” and the shorter pipes made “squeakier sounds.” I took this opportunity to introduce the terms “high” and “low” when describing pitch. We took turns tapping each pipe and calling on a friend to describe the sound as “high or low”.

Previously, the children had demonstrated some understanding that vibration was needed to make sound. I tried to reinforce this concept by playing a game with different instruments. The children were given an instrument and encouraged to “make a sound”. Next they were asked to determine where the vibration was occurring. Chenniel used the guiro and was able to explain that the stick vibrated as it “jumped in the lines”.

Victor played the bongo and said, It’s coming from the air bouncing around inside when I hit it!

The gong was a clear favorite with the children, who were very impressed with its loudness. It was also a great tool for them to learn with, as they noticed the sound stopped immediately when they touched the metal with their hands. No vibration = no sound.

Outside, the children listened for sounds as we walked the perimeter of our playground and tried to guess what was making a particular sound. Being located near a highway, we heard a lot of traffic sounds. The children noticed two things: Rhianalise said, The big trucks are louder than the cars and the little trucks and Jazlyn said, The closer trucks are louder than the far away trucks.

We continued to search for outdoor sounds. Footsteps walking on pavement and climbing metal steps were two things we heard. Rhianalise found a gate chain that “makes a clacky sound”.

We watched the live-action video Tracking Down Sounds:

In one part of the video children make interesting sounds by running objects against a fence. Watching this motivated the children to want to do the same. We selected several items of various sizes, shapes, and materials and duplicated the video activity on our playground fence. Here is a short video clip of the fun: 

As we prepare for next week’s more focused explorations, I asked the question, What more do you WANT to know about sound? I filled in the “W” part of our K-W-L chart with their responses.  I was pleased to see there’s been a lot of growth in their ability to generate questions, as compared to our earlier experiences with the K-W-L chart—this is the inquiry cycle in action!  One question was, Which material is the loudest? We must now design a test to help us find the answer.


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Exploring sounds

This week was an open exploration week with Sound.  I found that I referred to the Peep Explorer’s Guide more than usual.  I really like its simple definitions of timbre, volume and pitch. These ready definitions helped me simplify my explanations for the children. The recommended activities are also plentiful and I want to try them all! I started with just a few. …

Here, Victor explores one of the interesting instruments available in our science center. Victor noticed that each tube of the xylophone makes a different sound. It depends how big they are, he surmised. Long ones sound more like other long ones. Small ones sound different.

Recording voices was another popular activity.  I included a small digital recorder, which was simple enough for the children to operate without adult assistance.  In this picture, Victor is playing back a recording he made of Xavier’s voice. Xavier is delighted and says, That was me. I heard what I said! 

 

Here Iliana is closing her eyes and listening very hard as Destiny makes one of 5 different sounds from behind the painting. It’s the frog! she exclaims, and she is correct! Everyone had a turn to be the sound-maker and the sound-guesser.

I think it’s a rain stick, guessed Angel when Xavier made his sound.  Triangle! guessed Sulexy as Chenniel tapped the metal triangle.

I created the game of “Listening Cans” many years ago by saving 12 identically shaped cans. I filled them with different sounding material: coins, salt, a rubber ball, water, a bell, and gravel, making sure there were two cans with each item.  It was important to add the same amount of each item, too, so they were sure to sound alike. I then covered the cans with tape so there would be no distinguishing features. The children’s challenge was to “Shake and Match” by listening. I now see that educational toy manufacturers are making these shakers, and a colleague lent me one she’d purchased. The children used both sets with equal interest. The advantage of the manufactured set is that they are self-correcting because they have a transparent end. The disadvantage is that children often can’t resist peeking before guessing. (The other advantage of the teacher-made set is that it’s free.)

Lilly ‘s strategy for finding a matching pair was to shake one can at each ear.

Jonathan said, Yay! I found 2 that rhyme!  When I asked him what he meant by that he responded, They sound the same!

We are looking forward to more sound exploration activities next week.

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Introducing “sounds”

I began this topic as I do with others, asking children what they already know (about sounds). Their answers usually guide me to areas where they still have questions or to aspects of the topic they haven’t previously considered. When I have a sense of their prior knowledge, I have a better idea about what vocabulary to introduce and which activities would have just the right amount of challenge.

In the past, I’ve included ‘sound’ lessons as part of a unit on the five senses. It is new for me to offer this topic as an exploration over multiple weeks.

When I asked, What do you know about sound? I was surprised that many of the children were unclear about the word “sound” itself. One boy told me, A dinosaur makes a sound, and a lion and a cat. When I asked if he could make a sound he shook his head, No. Trying to help him make the connection that voice = sound, I asked, Can your mother make a sound? Again he shook his head, No.

Many of the children got hung up on animal sounds and told me the names of different animals that made sounds, or imitated the animal sounds themselves. So the discussion could progress, I next asked how sounds are made.

One child interjected, I can make a sound!  I can make a sound! and she proceeded to snap her fingers. Well, that’s a very good sound, I said. Can you show our friends how you did that?  I liked that she demonstrated the rubbing of her fingers together.  This model would be important information for them to have as we begin to discuss vibration’s relation to sound.

Destiny wanted everyone to know she could make bird sounds.

 

Jonathan thought for a moment and then said, You can make a sound by stamping. He proceeded to demonstrate, then said, Yeah, that’s a sound.

Iliana picked up a cereal box and began to shake it. Well there’s a different sound, I commented.

Lilly demonstrated a sound she could make with her mouth by clicking her tongue.

Xavier said, Instruments make sounds, like a drum or a kazoo. I wanted to investigate Xavier’s comment a little further, since he had named two very different instruments. How can you make a sound with a drum? You hit it with your hand, he said. And how do you make a sound with a kazoo? You blow air into it, was his reply. Hmmm, I thought aloud. Those are two different ways to make sounds.

We completed our “K” chart (What we Know), listing all the children’s responses.

The Peep animated video we watched was called Sounds Like.  In it, Chirp struggles to find a quiet place to show Peep his bird imitation. They end up getting lost and use sounds to navigate their way back.

Since the children were so interested in animal sounds, I located a lotto listening game. It came with a CD that played farm animal sounds and the children had picture game boards to cover (much like BINGO). Some struggled with this; being city children it was hard for them to tell the difference between a goose, a turkey,  a rooster, and a chicken. It was a quick learn, however, and they enjoyed the game and asked to repeat it. One thing I noticed is that the dual-language learners really excelled at this game. I think they have become very trained listeners over the year, as they try to make sense of an unfamiliar language.

Visit the Exploring Sounds unit in the Peep Explorer’s Guide. I also think children would enjoy the Where’s Quack game on Peep’s website. In a game of hide and seek, you find Quack based on the sound of his voice.


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