This Theme we are learning about animals and their connection to our community. How do they live? How do they help us? Why are they integral to our lives? How can we help them? These are all questions we will be asking ourselves and each other as we explore this Theme.
Last week I had a play-doh area with small toy animals set out where we had been making animal tracks. One student would cover their eyes, another would lay tracks in the play-doh and they would have to guess which animal made the tracks. This was a fun game and everyone stayed at this center for a good part of the morning. At least until one of the students wandered over to the book basket.
I always have a basket of books related to our Theme set out and it's available for them to look through at most parts of the day. In the midst of the animal track game one of my friends asked for me to read The Mixed-Up Chameleon by Eric Carle. This classic book has been used over and over again in the education realm in a multitude of creative ways. As I read it more students milled over and it spurned a discussion on predators and their prey and the ever popular concept of camouflage and how it's used by animals in their environment both to obtain food and hide from becoming food.
That's when the play-doh area came to life though a game of Predator/Prey. Some of the children were small fish made out of blue play-doh, others were big fish made of yellow play-doh. The big fish "hunted" the little fish based on the "rules" we collaboratively came up with after learning about camouflage. The big fish could only see the little fish in two cases:
1) It was hiding by something that was a totally different color and not using its camouflage to protect itself.
2) It moved.
In the afternoon we spent a good amount of our time in our outdoor classroom. They extended the earlier lesson and started the predator/prey game, but this time they role-played with each other until one came to me with a dilemma.
"Ms. Stephani we have a problem"
"Oh no! What!?"
"I can't hide anywhere because the other kids can still see my face, it's not camouflaged."
Now this was where I had to be on my toes. I could have said "Pretend it is" or "Awwww, that's too bad". Now neither of these would have been poor responses, but they wouldn't have extended the science lesson from earlier. So I did what anyone with a nice pallet of Snoozaroo professional face paint would do: I painted all of their faces to match their shirts and in return, they painted mine a lovely shade of bright orange to match my sweater (the pictures of which were somehow mysteriously deleted).
3) You could be seen if you made a noise.
In my experience, open-ended lessons have always led to better learning. The students have not forgotten what they learned in this lesson. In fact, they have asked me to repeat it every day I've seen them. They now notice animals and insects trying to blend into their environment everywhere . This is an important educational assessment because it means that they can generalize what they have learned to real life situations, and that's really the point, isn't it?
"Look! Worms are brown like the dirt to hide from birds!!!" Why yes, they are.
"That bird is brown like the ground, I could hardly see it till it moved!"
"The alligator in the book is green like the slimy water it's swimming in!" Gross.
What more could I have asked to come out of this day? Nothing. Did I get all of the other activities I had planned and ready completed? No. I put them away and brought them out the next morning. It wouldn't have mattered if I hadn't done that anyway because they learned more from this than they would have from anything else I had planned. Why? Because they were invested in it. We can only truly learn when we take control of our own learning whether we are 3 or 33, it's just the way we are wired. That's why open-ended lesson planning is so important.