Last Friday-- 27 May-- we boarded a school bus to travel to Carnegie Mellon University's CREATE Lab. My 20 kindergarten students, carrying small suitcases full of circuit-building materials, were set to present their learning to a room full of CREATE Lab researchers. Mr. Jeremy (Jeremy Boyle, teaching artist who has worked with us all school year) met us outside and we walked together to the Lab meeting room. I have no idea what my students thought college was going to be like. We had been talking about it for weeks, but all they knew was that they were "going to college" for a day of teaching and learning.
Once we settled into the meeting room, looked around, asked initial questions and shook hands to greet our new friends, children began their presentations. In partners, children opened their suitcases and taught the group something they have learned from our integrated project work this year, what Mr. Jeremy and I have named "Innovation Time." Topics included: What is a circuit? - What can be inside a toy? - What is a switch? - What can be conductive? - What is power? - What happens when you add more electrical power? - What can you do if you don't have more power? (series-parallel circuits) - When does polarity matter? (with a motor and with an LED) - What is a potentiometer?
As children shared what they know about circuits they became more and more comfortable with the idea of presenting to an audience (beyond our classroom). They asked, "Does anyone have any questions?" and if asked a question that other children in the class planned to teach about (a question about polarity, for example, came up early in the group presentation), the other children would say "someone else is going to teach that" or "don't tell them, shhh" (almost like it was secret what they were presenting to this group of researchers).
What was evident through children's presentation of their learning was that young children (ages 5 and 6) have the capacity to know a lot about circuits and can appropriate what they know for their own expressions. With materials that are easy for small hands to use and a learning environment that promotes both exploration and expression, robotics content that may seem appropriate only for older children is not only appropriate for children of this age group, but is profoundly engaging and empowering.
Children's presentation of learning was only the first hour and a half of our day. Next, children got to learn about the GigaPan project, visit the Snakebots Lab, had a lunch meeting to explore the traits that make a robot a robot, take a tour of the High Bay and the Machine Shop (Illah told all of us to put our hands in our pockets) and finally we all walked across the street to learn about the ChargeCar.
This was a life-changing day for my students. We are still talking about all that we learned. Children are drawing and writing in books that tell all about what they did and learned. My students will continue to think about what is inside of things and how things work and this project (and this special day at college) have instilled in them the belief that they have the power to change how things are made. They can create new circuits to do new things, things that help the world-- bring people together, help the environment, and anything else they can imagine.
An enormous thank you to everyone in the CREATE Lab for this fabulous learning opportunity.
Melissa Butler, teacher
Pittsburgh Allegheny K-5
Pittsburgh Public Schools
[The specifics of our scope and sequence this past school-year, as well as the depth of meaning-making that is evident from children's work samples from this project are for another post. Jeremy and I are both working on organizing this data and reflecting on it to plan for next school year.]