Today began with our annual Blue Book celebration. We use the Blue Books to capture all of our learning - they are fat with papers and pictures and artifacts by the end of the year. Today we simply numbered the pages and marveled at what was to come.
Did your child greet you with a cheery "Hello!" before you greeted him or her this afternoon? We talked about this "next step" in conversational art today. Younger children at Prairie Creek are taught about the "back and forth" of greetings and conversations. When someone says, "Hello!" You respond with "Hello." Today, we talked about initiating greetings with people. Children who are first to say "hello" to adults or ask them about them about their days are rare enough that it tends to make an impression. I set the Herons a challenge to see if they could get noticed for their friendliness by greeting adults before being greeted by the adult. It's a great skill to practice.
Our schedule today listed "This We Believe" about midway through the afternoon. Usually this is a series of guided conversations that helps us develop our group norms. I'll be writing about it a lot more soon. But not today. Today we were all about the cicadas. And, as I told the Herons, one of the things I believe about our classroom is that we have to be flexible when something interesting happens and there is no more important work than exploring a something we discover.
We were outside for PE (which, during guided recess is often less structured than it will be later in the year) when several kids found some cicada shells...they were to add to the collections that had come in from home this morning (we had well over 50 shells in the classroom). Then the yelling began. They had found a young new cicada adult, its wings still green and uncurling. Then they found another, and another. Several students found dead adults on the ground, their lifespans spent. Soon everyone, even the kids who had been in the Theater of Dreams came running. Calls of discovery went up from all around the woods. Children came back toward the building with their hands full of cicadas in various life stages.
We got out our nature journals and talked about observational drawing and how it helps us to see more as scientists. The focus is not on the finished image but on the things we notice when we sketch. Hand lenses and microscopes revealed levels of wonder. We filled the white board with things we knew about cicadas, things we wondered and hypotheses (one of my favorite being that the soil under pine trees is better for cicadas somehow because that's where we found a lot of the shells.)
While the students sketched and observed, I did some preliminary research to deepen our work. We found a video of a molting larva and then discovered the crazy, crazy life cycle of the cicada killer wasp. Several students went back outside to bring in a new adult for observation.
After school I was in a meeting when I heard excited yelling, "MICHELLE!!!" again. Several extended day Herons had found a larva that had not yet molted. As they watched (and recorded for their classmates who could not be there) the cicada slowly emerged and unfurled its wings.
No, this was not the theme I planned to start the year with. It may not last longer than a few days. But a big part of working and learning in a progressive school is watching carefully for opportunities to engage in authentic learning. It does not matter whether or not these kids will remember that female cicadas have long tapering abdomens that they can slit branches with or that male cicadas have drum like "timbals" on their sides that expand and contract to make sound. What matters is that students learn to be alive to the wonder in the world around them.