Brainstorming and Research
Before diving into the program, you will need to find out what your particular group of students knows. Initiate a discussion where the children can tell you what they believe to be fact and what they want to find out. Don't worry if they are initially incorrect. Scientists do not know everything either. Science and engineering are both about 'figuring it out'. Observe and listen. Guide but do not correct their thinking. It is ok if you do not know all the answers yourself. As they research and work through the project, they will discover new truths and adapt their thinking to what they learn through doing. You will be learning along with them.
Children are naturally inquisitive. This project makes use of what they already know and gives them the opportunity to tell you what they want to know. A few simple questions from the 'Principal Investigator' (teacher) are the only catalyst they need to begin new levels of research.
The older students (5th and 6th grade) at Montessori School of Corona explored the solar system through classroom materials and activities. They shared facts about the planet Mars, made a list of facts they thought might be true and created a list of questions they wondered about. Some of their facts were not accurate and other facts were contradictory, but the important thing was to put on the table what they believed. It is perfectly acceptable to 'not know' or to disagree about what facts are true. Questioning is the key to research.
They also discussed where they might find additional information about Mars (textbooks, encyclopedias, Internet, library, magazines etc.) and were given an assignment to do further research. A second 'meeting' was held to share what they had learned and discuss what features they might see on the surface of Mars. As the project progresses, students will learn more and revise their thinking correcting their inaccuracies and contradictory facts, just like scientists in the real world.
The younger students (3 through 5 year olds) at Montessori Children's House in Cypress, did not know very much beyond our planet Earth. They did know a lot about islands and other landforms found on Earth and this particular group of students also had previous experience with a project known as "Imaginary Islands". The teachers decided to let the children create a landscape based on what they already had learned about islands and use the MER REP project as an extension of their Imaginary Islands curriculum. After a short discussion about the variety of features found on our planet Earth, the children set about to create two islands: Farmers' Island and Hunters' Island. They were able to utilize knowledge they had already acquired in a new way.
[When these two schools exchange rovers, they will be in for some surprises. The 'planet' they land on will be very different from the landscape they created. The younger students will learn about Mars and the older children will be exposed to a world with two very different types of islands... one inhabited by farmers and the other by hunters. What will they learn? What will they take from the process?]
It is up to the individual teacher to decide how much time needs to be spent on research and when to begin designing the landscape. Follow the child. Take as much or as little time as you need.
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