The children began to show more advanced inquiry skills last week, exploring the relationship between their actions and the outcomes. Those inquiry skills continued today as we tried the “shadow theater” activity from the PEEP science curriculum. Students looked at shadows they cast on a big white sheet. They also tried to identify friends from the other side of the sheet. Some began coming up with reasonable explanations for the changes in the shadows they noticed. “My hand looks so big because it is next to the light.” I also heard them making predictions: “It will get smaller if I put it next to the sheet.” Then they tested their predictions and came up with conclusions: “See! I told you! Next to the light makes a giant hand!”
It seemed time for a conversation to reflect together on these observations. I worked with 3-4 children at a time and tailored my questions to the developmental level of each group. When working with three year olds, the conversation revolved around “What makes the shadow?” and “What will happen when I shut off the light?” If 3s can answer that the light (or the sun) causes the shadow, or indicate that a person or object is also needed, I recognize that they are constructing knowledge. Some of the older 4s were able to inform me of all the steps needed to explore shadows. “You have to have a sunny day, or a big light. You have to use your hands or things like puppets. And a thing to shine on. Maybe a blanket or the ground.” Using photographs I had taken, they recalled other information they wanted to share: “When you move, the shadow moves. When you jump, your shadow jumps. If you put something close to the light the shadow gets bigger.”
Hearing these basic, foundational observations from the children, I felt it was time to try a more focused exploration. First, I gathered students to fill out the “W” (Why) of the KWL chart. (This is always the hardest part of the chart to complete.) When you ask a four year old what they want to know about a subject, they usually don’t know. Many times they don’t even know what there is to know! I find I’m much more successful by asking, “What questions does anyone still have about shadows?” Undoubtedly, I will get statements in response. Our shadow KWL was no different. I tried several ways to discover what they were still curious about or unsure of. “Does anybody have a “Why?” question?” I asked. I also added prompts: “Why does my shadow….”Children finally began generating questions, one of which sparked a lot of debate.
“What makes a better shadow, the sun or a flashlight?” Some children insisted the sun made the best shadows and others had different opinions. I agreed this would be an excellent question for next week’s focused exploration.