Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Autumn - a chance to develop inquiry skills

Many schools seem to have got into the habit of collaboratively planning one major ( often school wide) study a term. While this may have some advantages it often means that the idea of introducing small seasonal studies, or current events like volcano eruptions, are overlooked.

Autumn is too good not to take advantage of.

All too often the results of Autumn studies seen in many classes ( usually Junior rooms) are superficial, to say the least, but this need not be the case.

If there are deciduous trees in, or near, the school grounds what a brilliant opportunity to develop a small integrated study.

The study could be prefaced with the provocation, 'Why do some trees lose their leaves?' Such questions introduce an inquiry approach to the students.

A good idea is to listen to the students' answers to the question and for these to be recorded and displayed as, 'Our prior, or first, ideas'.

The teacher could start the thinking process off by bringing along a few leaves to show to the class followed by a walk to visit trees in the school ground or nearby park. This is a chance to get the students to develop skills of sensory awareness - skills all too often lost in today's busy world.

Get the students to throw leaves around, to kick them with their feet, to select a range of leaves, or to collect leaves in different stages of colouring ( a good idea is to use a digital camera to collect stages of change). Children could be asked to write a few thoughts about what they can see, hear and what they are wondering about - these thoughts can be tidied up back in class and new questions to research added to the display. On idea is to do a three line poem: one thought about leaves on the tree; one thought about a leaf falling; and one thought about the leaves on the ground. After refining these thoughts make up a simple haiku.

Back in class students could do detailed observational drawings -this will be more impressive if students are instructed to look carefully for patterns and to draw what they see with care - continually looking back to the leaf they are drawing to collect accurate visual data. If drawn in black ink they can be coloured in and added to the wall display. While drawing student's can be asked what thought have come to mind.

At this stage students could head to reference books or to the computer to research what it is that makes some trees lose their leaves and why. Their answers could be added to the display. Innovative teachers could get their students to digitally record the stages of leaf colouration. Another idea is to count the number of leaves in a defined strip from the base of the trunk to several metres away from the tree and graph the results.

During literacy time poems could be introduced and selected lines used for handwriting. How to write up report or thoughts could be drafted during this time.

Students could also choose a particular tree to study - perhaps one in their own garden or street. Interesting vocabulary could be added to the display.

Teachers usually have range of creative ideas to call upon but one idea is for students to draw /paint/crayon 'magic' Autumn leaves to make a composite Autumn tree for the class wall.

If teachers were to really study Autumn leaves with such an intensity then the results would be anything but superficial.

We all love seeing the colour of Autumn - it is a sign of the end of Summer and the beginning of Winter.

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