February 25, 2015

Penguin Study: A Kindergarten Teacher’s Perspective

Kindergartners learning how to be penguins!
I am currently away from Friends' presenting at the annual conference of the National Association of Independent Schools in Boston. Thank you to Mandy, Jen, Dacia, Meg, and everyone back at school for managing a tricky situation earlier this week when we found ourselves with no heat in the elementary building.  

We have a guest blogger in my absence:  Kindergarten co-teacher Katelynn Regan kindly offered to write this piece on her class's study of penguins and how our Kindergarten team integrates different kinds of learning, while focusing on science. Thanks, Katelynn!

On a particularly warm Wednesday morning, our youngest elementary students dove deeply into their new science unit. As we do to introduce all our new units, the magical wooden box we call “John Paull’s Favorite Things” was full to the brim – filled with clues that would reveal the new topic to our curious, yet patient, Kindergarteners.

One by one, each item was carefully selected and placed onto the circle rug by our dearly devoted Teacher Candidate, Shannon. She placed pictures of Antarctica, a person swimming, a cartoon character of a tiny man in a black and white tuxedo, a toboggan, flippers, krill, and an assortment of silky, soft feathers.

These clues quickly led many of our Kindergarteners to believe we would begin to study… PENGUINS!!

Instantly there was a contagious outpouring of excitement and thoughtful connections from everyone in relation to these loveable, flightless, aquatic birds. Each Kindergartener engagingly shared all that he or she knew about penguins and spoke of what they had hoped to learn during our new study.

Shannon followed this unforgettable introduction with a lesson on the different physical characteristics of a penguin, (feathers to keep warm, wings for swimming, and big bellies to slide on the snow). Each Kindergartener then participated in a hands-on integrated art activity using a variety of materials to create and build their own penguin characteristic.

As many of you may know, at Friends’ School science is taught with the intention that every student gets to become a scientist and participate by “doing”. This philosophy rings true in everything we plan as science teachers.

So with our penguin study underway and Kindergarteners innately interested in families, we role-played penguin families.

Beth referenced the infamous documentary, March of the Penguins, to support our teaching of what penguins do to survive in Antarctica. As the short clip depicted the interaction and roles of both the mom penguin and the dad penguin, the Kindergarteners were ready to take these roles on for themselves, even with the introduction of “a penguin egg” or foam ball borrowed from P.E.

Our Kindergarteners took on each role very seriously and we saw everyone giving this a try whether they were successful or not.

Upon reflecting with the Kindergarteners about this lesson, we heard them share, “one of the most challenging parts was the transfer of the egg from the dad to the mom;” “one of the funniest parts to do was the dads huddling together when waiting for the moms to get back from the ocean!”

Katelynn Regan
In another lesson, the Kindergarten class teamed up with the 1st grade class for a presentation on The Arctic and Antarctica from CU Science Discovery.  The kids worked through a series of stations exploring what adaptations animals (including penguins) have in order to live in these two regions. The kids used “blubber mitts” and explored real animal fur and various fabrics that may be used to stay warm in below freezing temperatures.

At Friends’ School,  teachers continually schedule developmentally-appropriate presentations to begin or culminate a unit of study. This is an excellent resource for teachers and parents alike to reach out and participate in the local community through supporting place-based educational experiences.

It has been my pleasure to share with our school community what our Kindergarten students have been exploring and learning in our most recent science study. These five and six year olds truly inspire the awe, excitement, and love for this beautiful world that surrounds us. I am forever grateful to be a part of all the learning and growing on a daily occurrence in our Kindergarten classroom.

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