“How do plants eat?”
This question was asked by a 4 year old in Monica Edwards-Jones’s pre-K class at Woods Elementary in Chicago the other day. On the previous day, the children had planted seeds in dirt and had put other seeds (beans) in cups of water and their curiosity about plants was engaged.
Mrs. Jones made that child’s question the next day’s focus question for all the students. Making the children’s questions the focus of study is one of the things good inquiry teachers do.
The children discussed all the possibilities they could think of. “Do you think a flower could eat macaroni?” “I think a flower eats seeds.” In a ‘turn and talk’ they discussed their ideas with a partner. One child says, “I think it eats water.”
Mrs. Jones had a packet of onion seeds on hand as she posed the question “how do these seeds grow to become onions?”
“I know how I eat and you know how you eat. We take food on a fork and put it in our mouths and chew it and it goes into our tummies and we grow. But how does a plant eat?”
She brings out a bouquet of carnations and invites the children to investigate the flower for anything that would let it eat … maybe a mouth of some kind.
She tells them “when my mother gets flowers, she always says you have to cut the bottom off. I don’t know why she says that. Maybe I should ask her.”
Mrs. Jones cuts one of the carnations to a shorter size.
She holds up tiny bottles of food coloring in different colors and asks the children to choose which color to put in the water. The children choose red and watch closely as she pours each into a separate plastic cup with a carnation flower in it.
“We fed it red water. What do you think will happen?”
The children make predictions, and Mrs. Jones listens attentively to each one and concludes the lesson by saying, “So for the next couple of days, we’re going to watch the flower and see what happens? I’ll put it on the science table. There’s a journal there and you can draw what you observe. If you see something amazing happening don’t forget to tell me. If you see something weird, be sure you tell me about it. Tell your family. Tell your friend.”
“I’m going to cut another flower. What color should I put?” Green is the clear favorite. And that flower will go to the science table as well to await any changes and the children’s observations of them.
“I have to go over how we observe things.
1. Do not touch. You could knock the cup over. Sometimes we can touch things. But, not this time.
2. How do we observe things? Children respond, “You look with your eyes.”
After the science lesson, children choose stations to work at, and those who choose the art station draw the carnations and review the words for the parts of the flower — stem, leaves, flower.
At the science station, two boys use large lenses to observe the flowers in colored water.
“It took me a while to relinquish control,” Mrs. Jones said. “I was so used to telling the children everything, instead of letting them explore and come up with their own observations and questions. But I’m so eager to keep learning new ways of becoming a better teacher. I’ve been teaching 19 years, 10 of them here at Woods. I was surprised and happy that I was picked to have this opportunity to learn how to teach inquiry science. I couldn’t believe they would let a pre-school teacher do this program (Inquiry Science Institute). Since then I’ve been looking at videos on Vimeo and TeacherTube to get an even better idea of what this looks like in the classroom. I’m teaching differently than I did last year. And I’m looking forward to taking Advanced Inquiry this summer.”
The astronomer Carl Sagan once said, “Everybody starts out as a scientist. Every child has the scientist’s sense of wonder and awe.” Early childhood classrooms like Mrs. Jones’s are where science teaching must begin, and it must be high quality and consistent. The foundation for later work in science is laid in the primary grades. Children enter school with a wealth of scientific ideas, not all of them accurate, and with an abundance of curiosity. That combination presents a golden opportunity for teachers, and Monica Edwards-Jones is tapping that vein.
Note: Woods Elementary is slated for closing at the end of this school year.