Where we are in place and time - Artefacts
How do you teach artefacts to young children? Isn't it a difficult concept for students? This was my conversation with a teacher. When the unit of inquiry seems to be challenging to teach, connecting with our students' cultures, collaborating with parents, and teaching it appropriate to the level of students are just a few powerful strategies to use in class.
A couple of years ago, I taught the same unit of inquiry to children 3-4 year olds. We explored the central idea, ''Interpretation of artefacts contribute to our understanding of people's histories.'' For our provocation, I asked parents to send any items in a sealed bag from their home country. After collecting all the items consists of a pair of wild goose pagoda from South Korea, a plate with Pharaoh from Egypt, a mask from China, an old bell from Italy, a bracelet from Africa, Angklung and a traditional doll from Indonesia, we are all set to plan the provocation.
The next day, we spread out all the items in the classroom. Our goal for the day is to let the students explore and satisfy their curiosity. We will observe and listen, and take note of the children's comments including the questions. Our role is to talk as little as possible and let the students engage and interact with each other. We spent the whole morning listening and observing. It was a sight to see the fascination of students as they explore each item. Some students sat down in one area and share about the artefact that is familiar to them.
A group of students played with the plate and thought it was a musical instrument. A few girls were talking about the bell. Some of the student's comments were, ''why the doll look like that? why there is a man on the plate? what is this? (referring to the angklung), why there are two birds? Is this for playing? (bracelet). Students' questions are valuable in driving the inquiry. In the afternoon, we gathered the students to process the activity and find out their ''prior knowledge'' and what they are thinking. To start the discussion, I used one of the student's question and asked about the plate. My student from Egypt stood right away with a grin on his face and shared that the man is from his country. I could see the students interest and more questions came up. At the end of the day, I wrote a note to the parent and invited her to come and share some information about it. Needless to say, more parents came and some students volunteered to do the presentation. It was amazing to see our English language learners presenting with confidence in class.
As most of the learning experiences were facilitated by the parents and students, I guided the students through follow up activities such as using chalk talk to find out their understanding of what is an artefact. The students were grouped and did a rotation looking at different pictures, drawing and writing about their ideas. We processed the activity and called the students individually to explain their drawing. In addition, we also implemented sorting out activity, venn diagram and learned some songs. We collaborated with the visual arts teachers for this unit of inquiry. Math was integrated with the unit and we looked at patterns, shapes and colors and made comparison. They made their own model using various materials of their choice.
To further deepen our inquiry, we explored our local community and visited a museum in collaboration with our Mandarin teachers to find out about artefacts in China. Upon reflecting on their experiences at the museum, the students shared that people keep artefacts for other people to see, and people can copy and make them again. They further commented that artefacts in the past looked different because the people back then were poor, no computer and other things that can help them make nice artefacts.
In teaching the unit of inquiry, I was again reminded of the following:
1. The power of listening and observing - take your time to find out your students' prior knowledge and what they are thinking. Make sure to take notes.
2. Provocation is too important to hurry the process. Provide adequate time for students to explore and engage with each other and process the information.
3. Students questions are valuable, sometimes my planning evolve around the questions I collected from the students. Allocate a space to display the questions and challenge their thinking as you go over them .
4. Integrating cultures is a powerful way to making connections. Students cannot relate to something they are not familiar with.
5. Collaborate with parents - they are a great source of information plus students love to see them in class. Research says that parental involvement greatly influence the attitude and motivation of students towards learning.
6. Maintain an inquiry journal - my notes provided me with useful information in assessing my students' conceptual understanding and I refer to them too for writing my reports comments.