Louesa Byrne’s Kindergarten class at Thompson Elementary generally spends a good part of their afternoon learning time dedicated to project work. Students investigate their own inquiries, often working in small groups. Last Wednesday afternoon when I visited the class, the students were going to engage in whole-class project time, pursuing related projects together. Louesa has had the Reggio-inspired geometry kit and the students have enjoyed building with the materials, but there are small amounts of materials included and this is not conducive to whole class construction.
Louesa noticed the students interest in the geometric materials and had also been noticing how some students were “stuck” when working with the construction materials in the class in that they usually built the same kinds of things. She also noted that some of the students did not choose the construction materials at all. As a way to inspire her students to construct and build with materials as well as to consider the learning outcome for geometry in kindergarten (attributes of three-dimenstional objects) she developed the building project.
The class had also just begun a study of community and some drawings of buildings and places that were important to them were posted in the classroom so the student had already begun some thinking around buildings.
Louesa began by showing the students colourful images of buildings from around the world. These images were also presented alongside construction materials around the classroom. Louesa asked the students to consider which materials would be good choices for different structures and in making different shapes. She provided each pair or small group of students with a large piece of paper on which to construct their buildings, to provide a space and boundary for them.
The students then chose what materials they wanted to work with and spread out around the classroom. Many had their own ideas about what they would build while others looked to the images, some for inspiration and others tried to re-create the buildings.
As the students built, they were noticing each others’ constructions. As is typical for this age, I overheard one student exclaim, “Their’s is higher!” and immediately turned back to his tower to find a way to make his taller. This was an opportunity to for me to provoke his thinking about measurement but I didn’t, I sensed that he was very in the moment with the competitive aspect of his building and didn’t want to pull him away from that.
Louesa paused the students and passed out pieces of white paper for observational drawings of their buildings. I found it fascinating that for some of the students they went from looking at a 2D images, constructing a 3D building and then back to 2D representation. Lots of interesting things happening in their brains! One student drew a square on his paper and then looked at me and said he didn’t know how to draw the next part of his building because “it went up” and he didn’t know how to make it come up off the paper. I asked, “How else could you look at it? What shapes can you see?” and I slightly moved my head to the side to model looking at his building from a different perspective. With this, he was able to record a side-view of his building. Another student, who had created the Great Wall of China recorded a birds eye view of her construction.
I noticed the students using some rich mathematical language and discourse even though they didn’t approach this project as a “math lesson”. There was talk of curved and straight edges, what 2D shapes they noticed in 3D shapes, how a cube shape created with straws and connectors was “like a dice” and how certain 3D objects stacked on others while others didn’t. There was also a lot of visual-spatial awareness and problem solving as well as elements of comparative measurement.
As it got close to 3pm, Louesa let the students know they had a few more minutes to complete their buildings and drawings. She then led them on a walk around the classroom so they could have a look at each others’ buildings.
We then gathered on the carpet to have a debrief of the project time. Louesa and I shared some of the things we noticed such as teamwork, learning as you were going and problem-solving as well as more specific things to this project such as thinking in 2D and 3D and drawing from different perspectives. This was such an engaging learning experience for the students and not once did I feel a sense of being rushed or in having to finish or complete a particular task. The learning and joy was in the process of the experience.