Week 4: Children’s theories about shadows

We began this week’s shadow explorations by reviewing questions the children had at our last discussion: Some of you thought that flashlights make the best shadows and some of you thought the sun makes the best shadows… Immediately, the children began to voice their opinions, “The big flashlight!” “The sun” “Two flashlights works best!” and one child commented, “The sun shadows are bigger.” 

My next question was, “How can we find out?” The children didn’t really understand what I was getting at. They were each convinced their opinion was correct and they didn’t consider the need for evidence. I tried to clarify my question: “How do we know for sure that you are right?”  One child suggested, “We can look at the pictures.”  “Oh, so you say if we compare the shadow pictures that we took outside and inside we will be able to see which is better?” Some children agreed and others were skeptical.  “We can try it again”, one child suggested.

This is how our next activity began taking shape. We were no longer in “open exploration”, but had moved into “focused exploration”. Our inquiry cycle had used prior information to generate new questions and deeper inquiry.

Carmen was armed with the biggest flashlight we had.

We photographed a nice shadow of Destiny’s fist.



Outdoors in sunlight, we photographed children’s shadows:

Equipped with our photographic evidence, we met in small groups to discuss the results. All of the children agreed the sun made the best shadows. Some of the comments I heard: “The sun is much better than a flashlight, it makes bigger shadows.”  “The shadows are darker from the sun.” “The sun shadows show more parts.” “The outside shadows are better because they can move around a lot.”

I was curious if they had developed any theories about what they experienced, so I asked. “Do you have an idea why the sun shadows are better?”

At first the children began to describe the qualities again, saying “They are better because they are longer, darker, and so on.”  I changed my question to try to clarify the response I was seeking. “What is it about the sun that makes those outdoor shadows so good?” Now the answers came rushing forth. “It’s bigger, the sun, it’s so much bigger than the flashlight.” “It’s high up in the sky so it can shine on a lot at once.” “You don’t have to hold it like a flashlight.” “The sun is really hot so it warms up the shadows.” 

The theories children come up with don’t have to be scientifically sound. What I am trying to do with these young children is help them think about their experiences and challenge them to construct explanations based on their existing knowledge. It will take many experiences for children to develop a conceptual understanding of a topic of study, but we are now well implanted in the inquiry cycle. I can’t wait to see what ideas they formulate and what conclusions they reach as we enter our second unit on Water in the PEEP science curriculum.

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