March is a great time to study the human body because it makes a logical segue into Nutrition Month. For our two kinder classes, my partner and I decided to set out a few provocations to see how far the students would delve into the body before we moved on to learn about the four food groups.
To start things off in March, we had “Mr. Torso”, a life-sized, human torso which became an internal organ puzzle that could be taken apart and reassembled by the students. In small groups I was able to present the torso to the students and answer their questions about the organs and how they worked. What the students seemed to be most interested in, apart from the functioning of the large intestine which elicited plenty of giggles, was the brain.
In the torso puzzle, you can remove half of the brain and then take it apart in three pieces of hard plastic. I could not imagine anyone being motivated to learn about the brain using chunks of grey plastic, and yet, an inquiry began to take shape one morning with one of our classes.
I asked the students what they wondered about the brain, and the questions that arose were terrific;
“How does your brain control everything in your body?”
“How come our brain has water inside?”
“How does our body talk to our brain?”
“How does the blood get to the brain?”
“How does your brain make you think?”
Amazing! We set about having a Knowledge Sharing Circle where they talked about what they knew. They also shared books from the classroom library, sat with friends looking for the answers and watched short animated videos that helped explain the way the brain works. Every student was involved somehow in the brain inquiry.
Now here comes the part of the story where the knowledge building is reserved for me as a teacher keen on re-enacting the same exciting inquiry-based lesson. When I did the same provocation with my second class the next day, the brain inquiry seemed to spark a little at first and then fizzle out. Puzzled and frustrated, I found myself wanting to lead the students into formulating their questions, and much as I tried to duplicate the energy and excitement of the previous day, I was trying a little too hard to draw out ideas and questions like; “Do you have any questions about what our brains DO?”, or, “Try starting a question with HOW…” Much as I tried, there was no spontaneous interest or individual ‘wonderings’, just a few students who were looking at me and trying to follow my prompts. So after eventually getting only one question which, I believe, even the student who offered it was not quite convinced that was really what he had wanted to ask; “Does the water in the brain… pump…to make the brain… change shape?,” I did my best to clarify the question with the help of the group, realizing that I probably should have asked them what organ they were interested in learning about, rather than expecting them to be as interested in the brain as the first group was. It’s not a student-led inquiry if the teacher comes up with the questions, after all.